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August 30, 2013

Conservatory a great place to lose yourself

The Daily Star

---- — The other night, Pat and I relaxed in our hot tub just off the deck in the backyard. It was dark except for some light streaming down from the yard light several feet away. Stars sparkled in constellations dreamed up ages ago by men with vivid imaginations and too much time on their hands.

Suddenly, I saw something pass through the light from the power pole. It was a large moth, probably five inches across. It darted in and out of the light for several minutes before disappearing into the night.

The next morning, I was traveling up Route 7 thinking about what to write about this week when I passed the Joseph L. Popp Jr. Butterfly Conservatory just above Emmons. At that moment things clicked. The cecropia moth near the light pole and the butterflies near Emmons.

Like so many times in the past, I didn’t have time to stop. But my wife and I took our motorcycles for a ride Wednesday and ended up at the conservatory. I had a purpose that time.

I had heard great things about this exhibit and I’m glad we took the time to stop. Sure they have better than 20 different varieties of beautiful, colorful butterflies from around the world, but there are also about 30 species of tropical birds, a few other strange insects, a couple of large lizards, and even a two-toed sloth that lounges in a hammock of sorts.

What’s unique about this 3,000-square-foot, tropical, indoor paradise is that all of the butterflies and birds are free-flying creatures. They fly around the building, landing on the many colorful tropical plants and flowers — often just a few inches away from the wandering visitors.

The walkways lead you by pools of water, koi ponds and exotic plants just teeming with butterflies and birds from the jungles of Central and South America, Africa and even the South Pacific. I may consider myself an adventurer, but I would have had to spend weeks in the tropical jungles and travel thousands of miles to see many of these beautiful species.

The people who run the exhibit are very knowledgeable about the creatures that they house. I learned the silkmoths that closely resemble the cecropia moth in my yard the other night has a lifespan of about 10 days. During that time, they never feed because they don’t have a digestive system. Strange, isn’t it?

This little oasis is a tranquil place. With soft music and natural sounds, you can lose yourself for a while along with the singing birds and fluttering butterflies.

The conservatory has been open for seven years and it definitely took me too long to get there. Do yourself a favor and stop by. It’s located on Route 7, less than a mile east of Interstate-88’s Exit 16, and it’s open year-round. The butterflies are most active on warm, sunny summer days, by the way.

It is a magnificent exhibit that will give you a chance to escape the hectic times of our lives. Wear a bright-colored shirt and the butterflies will seem to swarm around you. I even had one land on my shoulder.

For more information, call 607-435-1147 or visit the website

What’s happening?

The Department of Environmental Conservation will light all of the Catskill Fire Towers at 9 p.m. Saturday. The fire towers that remain are in a pattern about nine miles apart on some of the Catskill’s highest peaks, including Overlook, Mt. Tremper, Hunter, Utsayantha, Balsam Lake and Red Hill. It will be like huge fireflies dotting the Forest Preserve. Several other towers out of the Catskill Park also may be lit. This is a unique experience that hasn’t happened since the early 1970s, when these towers were manned to watch for forest fires. The towers will be lit up for about a half-hour Saturday.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at