Mary Ellen Sierra: For the Love of Nature

We met Mary Ellen Sierra and her husband, Dr. Anand Gothale, at a Candlewood Valley Regional Land Trust fundraising event last year and were inspired by the fact that they maintain a backyard habitat at their home in Danbury. So we were delighted when Mary Ellen agreed to share their story. Read the interview below.

How did you get involved with Candlewood Valley Regional Land Trust?

Our street borders the Elstein Preserve which is managed by Candlewood Valley Regional Land Trust. We regularly mow the border of the property at the street level and pick up any trash that’s been left there. We try to keep it nice, and in fact, there was a man who for about three years would park his car take his lawn chair out with a little can of ice tea and his book and would just set up and read.

In addition to helping the land trust, you also maintain a Backyard Habitat. Tell us about that.

At the Elstein preserve, where we are, there’s a little creek that runs down and pours in to lower Kohanza reservoir. Many deer go down there to drink water and find shelter. And then they come up the hill to our backyard habitat. We have a feeding station and several bird feeders. So they usually come up from the Elstein property to see what “hors d’oeuvres” we put out for them. We put seed and bread, and when the raccoons are lactating or we see that they’re pregnant we put out kibble. So there’s protein for them. We put out different things. We also plant bushes and trees that provide berry’s at certain times of the year. We like to think of our yard as an extension to the Elstein property, because we do enjoy the wildlife. And we’ve been deemed by the National Wildlife Federation as a certified backyard habitat.

What’s involved with becoming certified as a backyard habitat?

You have to show that you provide a number of elements in your yard that include food, water, cover, and places to raise young. You also need to provide examples of sustainable practices. And these include soil & water conservation, controlling exotic species, and organics. I was so nervous when we submitted for our property to be certified. Had we been doing everything right? Well we were certified and we proudly display the sign indicating that.

You mentioned deer and raccoon. Do you ever see any bear or coyote or any of them?

Yes we had a black bear living in the area for a while. He was a younger bear. He wasn’t a little bear but he wasn’t full grown yet. The first time we saw him he was walking literally down the middle of the street. He walked up our driveway and I thought he was going to the feeding station, but he walked up through the yard and into the woods behind our house. He was around for a while. We would see his tracks around the feeding station.

I remember seeing four coyotes together, and again, that have literally come up our driveway from the woods across the street. We have a lot of red fox. We have skunks and it’s kind of fun sometimes. We look out and we’ll see a deer eating alongside a raccoon with a skunk nearby.

Do you make contact with the animals?

We try not to make friends with them because while we love them, other people may not feel the same way. And so we put food out, but we don’t interact. They kind of know when we’re coming. We do this every day. We have two big round feeding bowls and we have two other bowls where we can put leftovers from the house or meat, chicken or other food. But we never leave any bones out there.

We also have over 15 bird houses and have several bird feeders. We get all kinds of wildlife that come there to eat. It’s our way of giving back to nature.

For more information on Candlewood Valley Regional Land Trust, visit