WESTPORT, Conn. -- Sherwood Island State Park , situated along the Connecticut coastline just off Interstate 95 in Westport, Conn., is widely recognized as a premier regional birding site. Here, birders have the opportunity to scour habitats as diverse as coastal forest, salt marsh, and sandy coastline within a relatively small area. No matter the season, this remains a fantastic place to raise the binoculars.
After paying an in-season -- Memorial Day to Labor Day weekday fee of $9 -- you'll see an expanse of salt marshes immediately visible to the left upon entry to the park. In colder months, a slew of possible duck species, including mergansers and American Widgeons can be found roaming the tidal flats. In summer, rails and waders call these tidal shallows home and can be spotted by birders of all ages.
Following the contour of the marsh to the east, the ground gets slightly higher and the salt marsh gives way to pockets of soggy birch groves. In early spring, Wilson’s Snipe are common here, and this remains a fantastic place to find wood-warblers later in the season.
Only a few paces from the salt marsh is a broad, sandy beach, Sherwood Island’s main draw. The shoreline can be packed with sun worshippers in the summer, but for a birder, an off-season visit can be just as enjoyable.
A wide variety of gull species can be found dotting the sand, while Brant and Canada Geese paddle calmly in the surf. Sea ducks, including both varieties of scaup, Buffleheads, and mergansers can be seen with ease even without the aid of a spotting scope, and Northern Gannets can be similarly obliging during migration season. In the dunes that border the beach, winter songbirds are abundant, especially mixed flocks of Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, and American Pipits.
Away from the beach, in the western part of the park, is a small tract of coastal forest. Not only is this area highly productive for migrating songbirds, but Great Horned Owls can be located by the attentive observer. A bird feeding station not far from here is a reliable place to find many common species and even a surprise visitor; the rare Ash-throated Flycatcher put in a visit here last winter.
A unique example of Connecticut’s rapidly diminishing coastal habitat, Sherwood Island State Park gives the birder an opportunity to experience a diversity of birds in every season.
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William Haffey is currently a seminarian for the Diocese of Bridgeport, and has a background in avian ecology and has birded extensively in the United States and Latin America.
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