Scene on Campus

Island getaway

Yale's offshore classroom.

When the Peabody Museum announced that it was hosting a botany tour of Horse Island, the largest of the Thimble Islands, the boat was booked in 15 minutes. “It’s just a special place,” says Richard Boardman, operations manager of the Peabody, which has overseen the island since it was bought by Yale in 1972. It’s just off the city of Branford, Connecticut, “but it feels like the Maine coast.” 

Legend has it the 17–acre island, which is a mile and a half from shore, was named for a lone horse found there. Today, the island is populated with birds, including great horned owls, as well as mice, frogs, a few reptiles, and lots of insects. During the tour, held in October, Boardman spotted some seals. “That’s the earliest I’ve seen them,” he says. “Usually they’re not in the Sound until December.”

Horse Island used to be a summer retreat; there’s still an eight-room house and evidence of a tennis court. The island now functions as a “natural classroom,” used for research and teaching. It’s also visited by a wide variety of migrating birds, which are actively studied by Yale researchers. “It’s totally undeveloped,” says Boardman. “I hope it stays that way.”

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