New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Shorebirding Early September"- the Long-billed Dowitcher

     September 1, 2012- Bond's Cove, Stratford- With the Shorebird numbers low and the Shorebirding a bit slow this late summer, there is one location in the state that usually holds a small pocket of birds including a rarity or two. Bond's Cove is a small cove just north of the former Bond's Dock (now the town dock) and the famous cottage that was known as "Katie's Cottage". Katie's Cottage was a small fisherman's shack situated on the western shore of the Housatonic River. The camp house turned cottage received it's name from one of its previous owners; Katherine Hepburn.

     Originally built as a fisherman's and hunters camp/boat house, the cottage was rich in history and Connecticut heritage. One of the owners of the "cottage" was a famous decoy carver/artist and Stratford resident Charles "Shang" Wheeler (one of my most important artistic influences), in fact I dedicated my latest book to Shang Wheeler. Since this report is regarding Shorebirds, I will stay on topic, but because of this trusted birding location has a rich history, I felt it was important to share a bit of it.

     Shang Wheeler is regarded as one of America's finest decoy sculptor/carver/artists, in fact he and his work is ranked in the top ten decoy art and artists. He was an Oyster boat Captain for the Milford Oyster Co. Mr. Wheeler's decoys are sought after and prized by all collectors, his Black Duck and Mallard decoys stand alone displaying his mastery with a knife and brush. He is known as the "master of the Stratford School" of decoy carvers, and one of the original wildlife conservationists. Mr. Wheeler was also a State Senator for CT.

     Mr. Wheeler owned the "cottage" for a few years, using it as a base camp for his fishing and duck hunting boats. After years of sitting vacant, the cottage was  deteriorating. A few years ago, a group of concerned citizens and historians wanted to preserve "Katie's Cottage" as an historic Ct. coastal landmark. The cottage would become the Shang Wheeler Memorial Museum. Seed funding was obtained and plans were designed to restore the cottage to its former glory adding necessary modern remodeling to facilitate a charming museum. The building would be located near its original site, and was carefully dismantled and stored ready for reconstruction. Because Mr. Wheeler total decoy output may not have exceeded five hundred birds, and most of his decoys were located in many private collections across the country, it would be difficult to obtain enough of his original work to display in the museum. I was commissioned by the board to carve a complete replica collection of his most important work; and honor that I held close to my heart!

     Sadly, after a few years the program was cancelled for many reasons, and unfortunately the Musuem will never stand again on the banks of the Housatonic River. The cottage is gone, and so is this rich CT heritage and history. However, Shang Wheeler will live on through his beautiful art and carvings, and his memory also preserved with a section of Nells's Island marsh (a marsh that he loved). A wonderful tribute for one of America's first conservationists'!

     Just north of "Katies Cottage" is Bond's Cove. Because of the rich tidal flow in this small cove, and its perfect tidal fluctuation (mud flat at low tide- excellent roosting structures at high tide) it has always been an attractive fall migration stopover spot for Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. In fact Shang Wheeler noted this in his earlier journal entries. The Cove also attracts other species of migrating Shorebirds such as Short-billed Dowitcher, "Peeps", Willets, and the more uncommon species such as Marbled Godwit and Long-billed Dowitcher. It is also a roosting location for Yellow-crowned Night-Herons with a few Black-crowned mixed in. The Herons are often roosting on the pilings, so much in fact that just about every piling may have a Heron standing atop of them (this will be shown in a later report). The trees that line the Cove are just about always hosting an array of roosting Night-Herons, Egrets, Great Blue and a few Green herons.

     The birds feed on the small mudflats at low tide in the Cove, and roost on the docks and pilings at high tide. The high tide roosting docks are located on private property owned by Stratford Marina, But the pilings roosts and low tide feeding mud flats are easily seen and viewed from the bridge over the head of the Cove on Broad St. off of Ferry Blvd. Often the feeding birds are just below you on the flats.

     From the X-dock, (from l to r)- Greater Yellowlegs (GtrYlgs),  4 Short-billed Dowitchers (S-b Dw),
Gtr Ylgs (center), 2 Gtr Ylgs (right) and Long-billed Dowitcher (extreme right)

     Long-billed Dowitcher (second from left)

      Long-billed Dowitcher (center)

     S-b Dowitcher (left) and Gtr Ylgs (right)

     Long-billed Dowitcher (squatting extreme right)

     (From l to r)- Gtr Ylgs, 2 S-b Dowitcher (center), Long-billed Dowitcher (right)

     Landing Short-billed Dowitcher-

     Long-billed (left) and Short-billed (right)-

    Long-billed Dowitcher wing stretch-

     Gtr Ylgs (left), Short-billed (center) and Long-billed (right)-

     Walking Long-billed Dowitcher-

     Good study of a Long-billed Dowitcher-

     Short-billed (left) and Long-billed (right)-

      Long-billed Dowitcher-


     Greater Yellowlegs roosting on the pilings-

     Semi-palmated Sandpiper (second from left)-

      Long-billed (left) and Short-billed (right)-

     Greater Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers-

     Long-billed (center)-

      Semi-palmated Sandpiper-

     Greater Yellowlegs and Short-billed-

     Long-billed Dowitcher (left)-

    Long-billed (with open wings)-

     Stretching Long-billed-

      Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, and Semi-palmated Sandpiper-

     Short-billed Dowitcher-

    Long-billed (center)-

     Short-billed Dowitcher (left) and Willet pair (right)-

     After spending an hour and a half at Bond's Cove, I decided to stop at Sandy Point in West Haven on the way home. The tide was dropping which would expose more of the sand bars and (hopefully) numbers of Shorebirds would be present.

     On the path out to the "high" sandbar, these "Killies" were stranded in puddles left behind by the higher receding tide-

     Just in the small cove on the left were a few shorebirds including a single Willet.....

       .....and a lone Semi-palmated Sandpiper with a longer bill-

     Black-bellied Plovers were present in a few loosely formed flocks-

     Also a few Semi-palmated Plovers. The 'longer billed" Semip-palmated Sandpiper joined the Plovers-

     The Willet took off and landed on the beach near me-

     Small groups of Egrets were in the area, and kept flying back and forth from the cove to the lagoon-

     Two juveniles-

     Two hen Green-winged Teal were relaxing on the sand bar-

         Laughing Gulls-

     Schools of Menhaden were splashing on the top in shallow water along the sandbar; the Osprey were having a field day......

     But they weren't too successful-

      The fledgling Oystercatcher (with the growth on its forehead) was still present with its parents-


      Nice studies of a Short-billed Dowitcher-

     While I was photographing this Dowitcher, two Forster's Terns flew in; one landed in the water and the other on the sandbar-

     Early September Seabirding and Shorebirding Continues..........

     3)- "Herons and 3 Stilt Sandpipers"

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