Posts Tagged ‘Milford Point’


Clapper Rail

Friday, July 14th, 2017
Bird Finder for July 14, 2017

Bird Finder welcomes a new contributor this week: Genevieve Nuttall, Connecticut Audubon’s Osprey Nation coordinator. Genevieve is working on a masters degree in conservation biology and biodiversity at the University of Connecticut.

Clapper Rail
Rallus crepitans

by Genevieve Nuttall
Where to find it: Despite its large size, Clapper Rail is not an easy bird to locate. These marsh birds are known for their elusive nature and are more often heard than seen. The grasses that make up salt marshes hide these wading birds and provide crucial habitat for feeding and nesting.

To find a Clapper Rail in Connecticut, visit well-preserved salt marsh habitat. Clapper Rails can be found at Hammonassett Beach State Park in Madison, Barn Island in Stonington, Sandy Point in New Haven, the East River marsh in Guilford, and at Connecticut Audubon’s Coastal Center at Milford Point.

Try listening for their distinct call first, then use the call to locate the bird. It may be very difficult to find, even if it sounds like it is right in front of you! Also take a look in canals or ditches; they may be wading and feeding in the waterways.

What it looks and sounds like: Because Clapper Rails are secretive and because their mundane colors blend into the marsh, you’re likely to hear one before you see it, so listen for their loud, boisterous grunt calls accompanied by “klacking” noises that sound like kek-kek-kek. You can find a recording of the call here.

Clapper Rails have the body of a chicken with a long, pointed bill good for probing for insects or crabs in the water and mud. Although they have the general appearance of a shorebird, they belong to the Rallidae family which consists of various terrestrial or aquatic rails and coots. Clapper Rails have inconsistent pigmentation among individuals, but both females and males can be identified by a grayish-brown body with dark stripes lining the belly.

When to find it: You can generally spot these migratory birds from April to late summer in Connecticut, and most migrate southward after the breeding season is over. The northern range of Clapper Rails does not extend much past Connecticut, so we are lucky to have the opportunity to see these birds in our state! Many individuals stay along the coast of southern United States into Central America year-round.

Breeding facts/special interest: During the breeding season, a male and female will pair up and work together to raise young. Nests are constructed in the marsh, and the adults use the grasses and sedges of the marsh to weave a basket-like nest into the ground. These nests are well-hidden and blend perfectly into the vegetation.

The female will lay up to 16 eggs per clutch, and the eggs hatch after 3-4 weeks of incubation. Clapper Rail nestlings are precocial, meaning they are able to walk and feed shortly after hatching. After just one day of care from the parents, the puffy, black nestlings are ready to leave the nest and learn the ways of their new marsh habitat. If a nest is flooded or preyed upon, many pairs will nest again until they succeed!

Conservation Status: The IUCN status for Clapper Rail is “Least Concern.” In the past, wetland damage, hunting, and egg collecting posed major threats to this species. Current regulations have helped population numbers remain stable, but Clapper Rails are still susceptible to the effects of wetland pollution and degradation, and they will not thrive in damaged marsh areas. Population numbers are not well-understood since the birds are difficult to find.

As with all salt marsh-nesting birds, threats will increase as sea levels rise with global climate change.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

April 6, 2017
Pectoral Sandpiper
Calidris melanotos

by Greg Hanisek, editor of The Connecticut Warbler, the journal of the Connecticut Ornithological Association

Where To Find It: This is an uncommon species in Connecticut, but also a wide-ranging one. I found a Pectoral Sandpiper this morning in the muddy cow pastures on Sand Bank Road, in Watertown (also a good place for Wilson’s Snipe, the Bird Finder subject from a couple of weeks ago), and a few have been seen regularly this week at Hammonasset Beach State Park.

Pectoral Sandpiper favors short-grass habitats, both inland and on the coast, but it also occurs in saltmarsh and on beaches. In addition to the two locations above, the sod farms at Rocky Hill Meadows and the gravel bars at Connecticut Audubon’s Milford Point Coastal Center can all attract Pectorals.

When To Find It: In spring, April is the key month. The astute shorebird aficionado will be looking in late March, and the Big Day planner knows it will probably be gone by the sweet spot in mid-May. This spring the Hammo birds arrived on March 29. In fall they can be found across the breadth of the migration season, from July (or even late June) to November, usually singly or in small numbers. The range of reports in eBird for fall 2016 was June 26 to Nov. 14. The high count was 11.

What It Looks Like: The Pectoral Sandpiper is one of nearly 20 species in the genus Calidris that have been found found in North America. These include notoriously tricky identification problems such as the five small North American species known as “peep” and their small Eurasian counterparts known as stints.

The Pectoral fits the basic plumage pattern, but it’s larger with yellow legs and a distinctive brown-streaked breast pattern that cuts off sharply to create a sharp demarcation between breast and belly. Least Sandpipers are mainly brown with yellow legs, but they’re the smallest of the “peeps,” six inches to the Pectoral’s eight-plus. In spring migration the largest “peep” — White-rumped Sandpiper — can show a similar breast pattern, but it is most common mid-May to early June while the Pectorals are mostly gone by early May. Of course other features such as the rump pattern easily separate them.

Conservation Status: Birds of North America Online offers this: No measurable effect of tundra disturbance at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, during oil exploration in late 1960s on breeding abundances or nest densities 20 years later (1988-1989), or of tundra fragmentation on breeding abundance, nest density, or nest success. However, abundance of breeding adults was lower in the vicinity of recently constructed roadways near oil fields. Losses of wetland feeding and roosting areas, especially along migratory routes, and probably on wintering grounds, is undoubtedly important. Little information from South American wintering areas, but not considered to need high conservation priority there.

Of Special Interest: Pectoral Sandpipers migrate southward from Arctic breeding areas in largest numbers through central North America to winter primarily on the pampas of south-central and southern South America. Most individuals that breed in Siberia migrate east, or perhaps even along the Great Circle route over the Arctic Ocean, to Alaska or Canada and then on to South American wintering areas.

Individuals at the extremes of this range potentially make a total return-trip migration of more than 30,000 kilometers, a distance comparable to that flown by the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) and other migratory champions. Small numbers winter regularly in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, mainly Australia and New Zealand (Birds of North America Online).

Photo by Dick Daniels,

Bird Finder for July 28: Sanderling

Thursday, July 28th, 2016
sanderling 09-16 bSanderling
Calidris alba

by Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation
It’s late July and that means fall shorebird migration is getting under way, and one of our most ubiquitous shorebirds is the Sanderling. Only the Ruddy Turnstone and the Whimbrel may have a wider distribution. Nesting in the high arctic, Sanderlings can be found after the nesting season and during migration on temperate and tropical beaches all around the world. Look for them now at Hammonnasset, Sandy Point, and Milford Point, among many other possibilities.

In North America, some Sanderlings may winter along the New England coast, including Connecticut, while others will fly more than 6,000 miles to South American temperate beaches.

Beaches are the Sanderlings domain. They characteristically run back and forth following the waves, feeding on small marine invertebrates disturbed by the wave action.
What it looks like: Sanderlings are an easy identification mark. They are very pale, somewhat plump, medium-sized sandpipers with short, black, stout bills and black legs. In breeding plumage, they are rufous on the head, neck and back. Early fall migrants often show some of this left-over rufous plumage. Winter-plumaged birds display a very pale head and whitish cheeks, much different from any other shorebird on the beach.
Where to find it: Sanderlings love hard-packed beaches where they chase the waves back and forth. Nearly any beach along our shoreline is likely to attract Sanderlings, but Hammonasset in Madison, Sandy Point in West Haven, and Milford Point at the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center are particularly attractive to Sanderlings during migration and often all winter long.
How to find it: Look for any shorebirds running back and forth following the waves and you will likely be looking at Sanderlings. Although Semi-palmated Sandpipers and other shorebirds will sometimes chase waves, none do so quite as obsessively as the Sanderling. Sanderlings often roost together in large, compact flocks on the beach.
Interesting trivia:
Question: What is a group of Sanderlings called?
Answer: A “grain”
Photos by Dick Daniels,
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Caspian Tern: Bird Finder for September 10

Thursday, September 10th, 2015
tern, caspian 09-19aCaspian Tern
Hydroprogne caspia

by Frank Gallo, Connecticut Audubon Society’s associate director of the Coastal Center at Milford Point.
Where to find it: Although uncommon, Caspian Terns may be found in Connecticut from mid-April to early November. Two were seen at the Milford Point Coastal Center on Wednesday, September 9. Although they did not linger, there’s always the chance that they will be seen again there or other nearby coastal areas.

If you’re seeing a large, red-billed tern that flies like a gull and has a hoarse voice, you’re probably looking at a Caspian Tern.

Caspian Terns are found on every continent except Antarctica. In North America, they are rather localized breeders on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, and along the Great Lakes, and scattered locations along rivers and lakes throughout the interior United States and the prairie provinces of central Canada.

They winter along the southern portion of both coasts, the Gulf of Mexico, and on down through Mexico to northern South America.

In fall, adult Caspian Terns often travel with the young-of-the-year. While they often travel overland to reach Connecticut, they are most often encountered along the coast at places such as the Coastal Center at Milford Point, Sandy Point in West Haven, and Hammonasset Beach State Park and nearby sites in Madison.

tern, caspian wings up 06-08-2009f1 CAHow to find it: To view the sandbars at Milford Point, come at or near high tide and walk to the observation platform overlooking Long Island Sound. Walking west from the platform for 50 yards to the bend gives a lower but closer look at the bars and the mouth of the river.

At Sandy Point, walk out to either the inner or outer bar and scan the rocks, jetty, and sandbars.

At Hammonasset, park at the Meig’s Point parking lot and either scan Long Island Sound from the overlook, or walk out the moraine trail to scan the rocks and jetty off the end. Also check the coast off the west-end pavilion.

What it looks like: Caspian Terns are our largest terns, and are similar in size to Ring-billed Gulls or Royal Terns, but bulkier. Their wide wings, and slow steady wingbeats, make them appear rather gull-like in flight. They are rather blocky-headed, and have a large black-tipped red bill, a pale gray mantle, black-tipped wings, a white shallowly forked tail, and are white below, with long black legs.

Unlike the similar, more slender, Royal Tern, which shows a white forehead, except briefly during the breeding season, and has just a black trailing edge to the under-wingtip, Caspian Terns retain a black cap in all seasons (although the forehead looks speckled in winter), and show obvious broad black under-wingtips in flight.

What if the bird isn’t there? Check the sandbars, jetties, beaches, and rock outcrops at different tides. Changing tides cause the birds to move from place to place. Caspian Terns are uncommon, so finding one may require multiple visits to appropriate habitat combined with a little bit of luck.

Photos by Dick Daniels,

Bird Finder: Shorebirds on the Move — Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Tim_Lenz3Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Calidris subruficollis

by Andy Griswold
With shorebird migration on the doorstep, it is a good idea to freshen-up on our ID skills for this marvelous family of endearing species.

One species in particular has always been a love of mine, the delicate Buff-breasted Sandpiper, unique in being the only North American shorebird to use a lek for courtship.

What it looks like: This petite 8.25-inch migrant is distinctly long-winged. Note its white underwing, pale buffy breast and face, yellow legs, and scaly patterned back. This distinctive, dove-like shorebird is relatively easy to identify and is not likely to be mistaken for any of its relatives.

Where to find it: Typically, Buff-breasted Sandpiper migrates through the middle of our country, but with regularity can be found both to the east and west of this path. Look for this species mainly in dry, short-grass habitats. This bird in the past has been an annual occurrence at Hammonasset Beach State Park and at our Milford Point Coastal Center, where one or two are reported each year. Sod farms are ideal.

How to find it: Late July and into the early fall is when to look for this species. Concentrate on grassy areas that may offer some damp spots after rains.

What if it isn’t there: Typically one can find the other “grasspipers” in the same habitat including Upland, Pectoral, and Baird’s Sandpipers. American Golden-Plover is also a possibility.

Conservation status: By the 1920s this species had declined from numbers in the millions to near extinction. Although thought to have recovered somewhat, this species is likely again on the decline.

This week’s Bird Finder was written by Andy Griswold, director of Connecticut Audubon Society’s EcoTravel program.

Photo by Tim Lenz, 

Black Skimmer: Bird Finder for July 2

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Black Skimmer
Rynchops niger

skimmer_byHenwellChouby Frank Gallo
Black Skimmers are one of three species of skimmers found world-wide. The others are the Indian Skimmer and the African Skimmer, both of which look very similar to our Black Skimmer. Black Skimmers have a rather floppy flight style, but feed by skimming gracefully over the water, beak submerged, to snatch up fish. They are often active at dusk and dawn and will feed into the night. Their call is a rather dog-like bark.

What it looks like:
Black Skimmers are a large modified tern, nearly as long as a Royal Tern, black above, white below, with a large head, white forehead, and very long wings (44 inches). Their black-tipped red-based bill is unique among Connecticut’s birds, in having the lower mandible longer than the upper. Their pinkish-red legs are short, giving them a rather squat appearance as they stand on the beach.

Where to find it: The sandbars at our Coastal Center at Milford Point in summer are probably the most reliable place in the state to see Black Skimmers, especially in June and in late August and early September. They once bred at Sandy Point in West Haven but are now seen there only occasionally. There are occasional sightings by kayakers at the mouth of the Branford River between West Haven and Branford.

Skimmer,_Black_2012pWhen to look: Black Skimmers are generally seen in Connecticut from May to early November.
Conservation status: Although Black Skimmers are relatively uncommon and occur very locally in Connecticut, they are considered a species of least concern throughout their range, which extends from New England to South America.

This week’s Connecticut Audubon Society Bird Finder was written by Frank Gallo, associate director of The Connecticut Audubon Society’s Milford Point Coastal Center, and edited by Communications Director Tom Andersen.

Photos courtesy of Henwell Chou (top, at the Milford Point Coastal Center), and Dick Daniels,

American Oystercatcher: Bird Finder for May 7

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

oystercatcherAmerican Oystercatcher
Haematopus palliatus

What it looks like: American Oystercatchers are large shorebirds with a long, narrow, orange bill which beautifully contrasts against their black head, brown back and tail and bright white underparts. You can see their white wing patches when they are in flight.

Where to find it: You can find these birds where they feed and nest along the shores of Long Island Sound, including our Milford Point Coastal Center.

How to find it: From the Milford Point Coastal Center building, head straight to the beach and once your feet reach sand, simply stop and listen. When they first arrive in the spring, you are more likely to hear them before you see them. They are very vocal at this time of year, as they initiate their breeding efforts. Their calls are loud “peeps,” “wheeps,” and “whees.” You can hear their calls by clicking on the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library’s site.

What if it isn’t there: You won’t be disappointed, as there are many other shorebirds that use similar habitats, including Piping Plovers, Least Terns, Greater Yellowlegs, and Willets. Plus, you are at the beach and our rough winter is behind us – that’s reason enough to rejoice!

Conservation status: The IUCN lists American Oystercatcher populations as being of least concern, but it is important to note that shoreline bird habitat is impacted by human recreation, development and pollution throughout their range.

This week’s Connecticut Audubon Society Bird Finder was written by Michelle Eckman, director of education, and edited by Tom Andersen. Connecticut Audubon Society photo.

Roland Clement, former chairman of the board of Connecticut Audubon Society, passes away at age 102

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Connecticut Audubon Society mourns the passing of Roland Clement, the former chairman of its Board of Directors, on Saturday, March 21, at age 102. Mr. Clement died at his home in Hamden.

Mr. Clement spent his life immersed in ornithology in New England and throughout North America, and his love of birds carried over to a deep commitment to the cause of conservation.

A true ornithologist at a very early age, after time in the army, Brown and Cornell Universities, he led Rhode Island Audubon, before moving on to the National Audubon Society. At National Audubon Society he had a distinguished career focusing on their sanctuaries and endangered species, and raising public awareness to the danger of pesticides. 

After his retirement in 1977, as he came to appreciate the value of focus on local conservation efforts, he served as Chairman of the Board of the Connecticut Audubon Society, from 1980-1985. In his tenure he oversaw the establishment of the Milford Point Coastal Center, one of organization’s premiere facilities. Located on a barrier beach separating Long Island Sound from the 840-acre Wheeler salt marsh, the Coastal Center is now a wonderful environmental education center, and also a focal point for the study and observation of more than 300 species of birds.

Under his direction, Connecticut Audubon Society came to the rescue when an older building on the state-owned property at Milford Point fell into disrepair. Connecticut Audubon stepped forward and proposed creating an education center there and then, under Mr. Clement’s leadership, raised $2 million to construct the present building.

“Without Roland Clement, it is quite possible the Whooping Crane, California Condor and many other bird populations might no longer grace our skies,” said Alexander Brash, president of the Connecticut Audubon Society. “Roland was instrumental in pulling together the biological needs of a species with sound habitat management and a strong conservation ethic, and then conveying this understanding to the American public. He was also a very principled person, and later in life rose to the occasion on many challenges. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and loved ones.”

Lecturer Enlightens Audience of 130 about Hidden Lives of Snowy Owls

Sunday, February 1st, 2015
View from the Milford City Hall balcony during The Hidden Lives of the Snowy Owl. Connecticut Audubon Society photo.

View from the Milford City Hall balcony during The Hidden Lives of the Snowy Owl. Connecticut Audubon Society photo.

Before last winter, the common wisdom was that the Snowy Owls that occasionally left their Arctic breeding grounds to winter further south did so because they were desperate for food and arrived in our area exhausted and starving.

But according to Don Crockett, who develops the interactive Snowy Owl maps for Project SNOWStorm, that common wisdom might not be true.

Addressing an audience of more than 130 people during a presentation Sunday organized by Connecticut Audubon Society, Crockett said that data collected last winter from birds fitted with tracking devices show that wintering Snowy Owls are probably neither exhausted nor hungry.

In his talk, titled “The Hidden Lives of the Snowy Owl,” Crockett said that an unprecedented number of Snowies spent the winter of 2013-14 in New England and across the midwest.

Keep reading our account …

Lecturer Enlightens Audience of 130 about Hidden Lives of Snowy Owls

Monday, January 26th, 2015
View from the Milford City Hall balcony during The Hidden Lives of the Snowy Owl. Connecticut Audubon Society photo.

View from the Milford City Hall balcony during The Hidden Lives of the Snowy Owl. Connecticut Audubon Society photo.

Before last winter, the common wisdom was that the Snowy Owls that occasionally left their Arctic breeding grounds to winter further south did so because they were desperate for food and arrived in our area exhausted and starving.

But according to Don Crockett, who develops the interactive Snowy Owl maps for Project SNOWStorm, that common wisdom might not be true. Addressing an audience of more than 130 people during a presentation Sunday organized by Connecticut Audubon Society, Crockett said that data collected last winter from birds fitted with tracking devices show that wintering Snowy Owls are probably neither exhausted nor hungry.

In his talk, titled “The Hidden Lives of the Snowy Owl,” Crockett said that an unprecedented number of Snowies spent the winter of 2013-14 in New England and across the midwest.

Nationwide, Christmas Bird Count observers recorded 602 Snowies; over the previous 100-plus years, the most ever seen was 256, Crockett said. In Connecticut, the CBC found a dozen Snowy Owls; the previous record was four.

As Crockett noted, many of last year’s Snowy Owls attempted to make their winter home at the region’s airports because the flat, open expanses resemble the tundra. But the birds had to be trapped and relocated to keep them from interfering with airplanes – more than 120 were relocated from Logan Airport in Boston alone.

This historic influx caught the attention of Connecticut Audubon Society members and the general public. Several owls wintered at the Milford Point Coastal Center – including one that roosted regularly on the Osprey nesting platform – and dozens of people a day visited the Coastal Center to view the Snowies. When Crockett asked how many people in the audience had seen a Snowy Owl in the wild, almost everyone raised a hand.

This irruption of Snowy Owls created an unprecedented opportunity to study the birds, and so came Project SNOWstorm, a research project started in 2014 with the goal of better understanding the habits of Snowy owls through GPS tracking

As part of the project, 22 owls that were trapped to be relocated, from Minnesota to Massachusetts, were fitted with solar-power cellular transmitters, Crockett said. The transmitters sent and recorded GPS positions every 30 minutes. Previous technology would provide data for two GPS positions per day.

Crockett plotted the data on the maps he created for Project SNOWStorm. They showed that the owls are active at night and that the coastal owls were particularly active over the water – hunting waterfowl, Crockett said.

Photo of Snowy Owl at Milford Point taken in early 2014 by Kin Cheng.

Photo of Snowy Owl at Milford Point taken in early 2014 by Kin Cheng.

“Although the Snowy Owls are active in the day, they are also nocturnal, water-loving waterfowl eaters,” he said. “If they are able to go out and catch sitting ducks at night, are they starving? That should make you think they are not suffering, if they can go out and find food.”

The findings corroborate those of Norman Smith of Mass Audubon, who coordinated the trapping of the 120-plus owls at Logan Airport. According to Crockett, Smith found that the trapped owls were generally healthy and of normal weight.

Connecticut Audubon Society arranged Crockett’s presentation to help keep members and the public up to date on the latest research and information from Project SNOWStorm. Because of the great demand, the presentation was held at Milford City Hall rather than at Connecticut Audubon Society’s Milford Point Coastal Center, where it had been originally scheduled.

You can see an album of photos on our Facebook page.

The 40-minute presentation ended with a lively question and answer session, and was followed by a late-afternoon bird walk at the Milford Point Coastal Center – although unfortunately no Snowy Owls were to be found.

Connecticut Audubon Society is currently working to offer the presentation again, in another part of the state.

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