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Migration time for hawks and shorebirds

Hawks and shorebirds are on the move! It is that time of year when thousands of migrating hawks and shorebirds take to the sky and travel across our coastal landscapes. Shorebirds and warblers started south in July, and in a few days, the hawks will join them. For birders in New London County, it is a golden opportunity, because we are home to two premier fall birding sites.

Both Hammonasset and Bluff Point state parks offer excellent birding during migration. Located just minutes from New London, these parks are the envy of birders statewide. Each offer easy, well-marked trails where viewing with or without spotting scopes are sure to reveal at least a few interesting species. Hammonasset even has a Nature Center, where beginners can ask questions about their sightings or directions on where to see specific birds.

Bluff Point, located in Groton, is a one-mile-long peninsula that extends out into Long Island Sound. For this reason, it is a classic coastal land trap, which, in birding language, means that it acts as a funnel; migrating birds follow it into the Sound and can then go no further without embarking on a long-distance flight over water. Birds of all kinds can be found here, resting and feeding before they move on.

Look for shorebirds on either side of the park, along Mumford Cove on the east, but also on the west, where the tidal mud flats of the Poquonnock River meander. Shorebirds known to frequent Bluff Point include oyster catchers, Hudsonian godwits, Baird’s, purple and buff-breasted sandpipers. Within the middle of the park, running the length of the peninsula, is a modest rock ridge; you can observe the hawks where the ridge drops off at the coast, at the end point of the peninsula.

Hammonasset is a 1,000-acre preserve in Madison, which needs little introducing for experienced birders but is a must-see destination for all others. Like Bluff Point, this preserve is a peninsula; however, an abundant ecosystem makes it more than just a geographical site for birding. One could spend days wandering the trails observing birds and still have more to see.

Hammonasset is known for having rare species and those that cannot be readily found in other parts of the state. The American golden plover and the black-bellied plover are two species of shorebirds that sometimes show up during the fall migration. Like so many of the shorebirds, these birds breed in the Arctic and migrate long distances. Some shorebirds, like the rudy turnstone, will migrate close to 6,000 miles and others much farther.

Interestingly, many of the shorebirds passing through these sites are juvenile birds; adult shorebirds depart early and leave their young to travel alone. Yet without any trouble, these inexperienced birds are able to find their way and winter over successfully. Similarly, most of the hawks passing along the coast are juveniles as well. Mature, experienced hawks are able to learn the migration routes that follow the mountain ridges. Juveniles find it easier to follow the coastline and work their way south without confusion.

In just a few weeks, this migration drama will be over and the majority of juvenile hawks and shorebirds will have already traveled through. So be sure to visit the coast where, in the fading filtered light of late summer, you can find a gentle peace now that the crowds have dispersed and the birds have returned.

Robert Tougias is a Colchester based birder. You can email him questions at



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