Those of all ages and species joined the celebration  at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary Sunday in honor of 50 years of the sanctuary’s popular Fern and Feather day camp. Former campers brought their children, while campers, counselors, and staff past and present brought their memories. Gus Ben David brought a cane toad.

A fitting tribute to the day camp, which has been educating generations of children about Island ecology.

“Just having people be out here and having a great time and enjoying nature, that’s what we do,” Felix Neck director Suzan Bellincampi said. “Having people come back to share in what was a really special time for them.”

The Flying Elbows provide tunes, including "Happy Birthday." — Alison L. Mead

In the distance, Sengekontacket Pond glittered in the October sun as children played lawn games. Music was provided by the Flying Elbows and the Chandler Blues Band with Gordon Healy. Songs included a round of Happy Birthday to Fern and Feather.

A horseshoe crab sculpture and nature paintings by Island artists were among the items in a silent auction and raffle to raise money for the Fern and Feather Day Camp Scholarship Fund, which helps send Island students to the day camp. To celebrate the half century milestone, Felix Neck is trying to raise $50,000 for the scholarship fund.

Soup, hot dogs and cider from Little Rock Farm were on the menu, and children transformed into brightly colored animals at the face painting table.

Others looked through scrapbooks of Fern and Feather campers through the years.

“I’m thrilled to see people out there hugging and talking to each other here in this beautiful place,” Ms. Bellincampi said during welcoming remarks.

David Stephens, a Fern and Feather camper during the first year, 1964, shared his memories. “I now have an appetite for the sublime stink of a salt marsh,” he said. “There are a lot of wonderful places on Martha’s Vineyard, but Felix Neck is among the most precious.”

Suzan Bellincampi, current director of Felix Neck. — Alison L. Mead

Susan Whiting, a counselor during the first year, recalled how different the place was back then: “quite primitive.” But the mission was the same, she said: to make the kids aware of their Island, from the different habitats to the critters, and to foster a love for the Vineyard environment.

As former and current campers made clear, those lessons, along with camp memories, linger. Chelsea Barbini, who now lives in Pepperell, was a camper in the 1980s. “I just remember the campouts were always a blast,” she said. The night walks and blueberry pancakes were also a hit.

These days, her son Taylor, 7, and daughter Phoebe, 4, attend the camp.

“I loved it,” Ms. Barbini said. “I remember being upset when I was too old to go.”

Ms. Bellincampi is the second director of Felix Neck; the first was also in attendance. “What we all know is Felix Neck wouldn’t be what it is now without one man and some friends,” Ms. Bellincampi said, praising Gus Ben David, the first director of the sanctuary.

The day started out with a live animal show by Mr. Ben David, a well-known naturalist. In front of a growing crowd, Mr. Ben David brought out animal after animal. Excitement grew each time he returned to his red truck for another creature. Would this one be a snake? Maybe one of his birds?

Jake Loomis says hello to a Pixie frog. — Alison L. Mead

Mr. Ben David started the show by releasing some homing pigeons—they would head right to Mr. Ben David’s house, he said, with their mysterious bird GPS. As the white pigeons flew off, several bird experts in attendance pointed out a hovering turkey vulture nearby.

Children in face paint, including Mr. Ben David's grandchildren, asked questions and shared their own nature experiences--I saw a snowy owl! one young naturalist volunteered. Mr. Ben David pointed out some “old timers” in the audience who good naturedly heckled Mr. Ben David and asked questions of their own.

During a tutorial about the proper care and handling of snapping turtles, Mr. Ben David brought out a snapping turtle like those seen in Vineyard ponds. “They fascinate me,” Mr. Ben David said of the turtles. The audience also met an alligator snapping turtle, larger and more fearsome than the first (don’t worry; they do not live on the Vineyard). Mr. Ben David gamely demonstrated how the alligator turtle snaps at its prey.

Children gathered round for a peek at a Pixie frog—so big and heavy he can’t hop—and a cane toad, the largest toad in the world. “How would you like to find that guy in the garden in the morning,” Mr. Ben David said, demonstrating how the toad’s eyes can disappear inside its head.

The grand finale: a Eurasian eagle owl. — Alison L. Mead

There was a small spotted salamander, a species only found in Edgartown on the Vineyard. The first Island spotted salamander was found by a Fern and Feather camper in 1990.

For aspiring naturalists, books from Mr. Ben David’s personal library were up for grabs with a donation; titles included Know Your Ducks and Geese, Snakes: the Keeper and the Kept, Last of the Curlews and The Care and Maintenance of Red-Tailed Boas.

Back at the animal show, Mr. Ben David held out a tiger salamander. “Look at that treasure!” he said. A few minutes later, a South American boa constrictor wrapped around his left arm.

The finale was a Eurasian eagle owl, its golden eyes alert as Mr. Ben David showed it off. Owl still perched on his gloved hand, Mr. Ben David had one more thing to say, some advice that didn’t have to do with reptiles or birds.

“All right, all you young people, I want you to look ahead, listen to me,” he said. “Remember this. Each one of you is special.”

Photo gallery: Turtles and Frogs, Memories and Fun at Fern and Feather Birthday Party.