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Wildlife Observation & Photography

Great Meadows aerial viewThe Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge provides many opportunities for photography and wildlife observation.

Salt Meadow Unit Approximately 2 miles of trails at Salt Meadow in Westbrook wind through meadow, forest, and marsh habitats. The 9 acres of shrubland and fields may provide a view of woodcock, bluebirds, tree swallows, wild turkeys and numerous species of butterflies and dragonflies. Down at the marsh, visitors might see great egrets, glossy ibises, snowy egrets, belted kingfishers, osprey and many other species. If you are lucky, you just might catch a glimpse of a red fox, a coyote, or a red tailed hawk. 

The refuge hosts many wildlife events at Salt Meadow throughout the year, some in partnership with Potopaug Audubon Society. These events have included owl and woodcock walks, live birds of prey and bird banding demonstrations, history presentations, and many other interesting programs. 

Great Meadows Unit Located in Stratford, this largest wetland in the state has a nature trail where visitors may see northern harriers, red breasted mergansers, black ducks, pied billed grebe, great blue herons, and numerous other bird species. Informational kiosks and viewing platforms enhance the visitor experience. Tip: Go in spring or fall, when bird migration makes the chances of seeing unique species very high. If going in summer, expect mosquitoes and prepare with repellent and skin-covering clothing.

Milford Point Unit The overlook at Milford Point allows visitors the opportunity to view this 9 acre barrier beach. Shorebirds such as sandpipers, oystercatchers, least terns and even the Federally-threatened piping plover may be spied from the platform. To decrease disturbance to this fragile area, wildlife viewing must be accomplished from the observation deck or the very tip of the peninsula. Fishermen and visitors may walk to the tip of the peninsula by way of a marked fishing access, but are deterred from climbing on the fragile dunes.

Outer Island Unit The pink granite which dominates the geology of the Outer Island Unit in Branford makes for spectacular photographic opportunities. While on the island, it is also likely that visitors will see common terns and roseate terns feeding off shore, while American oystercatchers, green herons, great egrets and snowy egrets feed below at the water's edge. Go at low tide, when beautiful granite tide pools containing small fish, crabs and other creatures are available for exploration. The island is open to the public daily mid-May to late September. Large groups who would like to make a reservation to visit the island can find out more information here.  

Sheffield Island Unit The trail at Sheffield Island in Norwalk allows visitors to view a tidal saltwater pond which is utilized by egrets and belted kingfishers. The beach there is the perfect venue to study crabs, mollusks, seaweeds and other shoreline creatures. Adjacent to the refuge on Sheffield Island, the Norwalk Seaport Association maintains a historic stone lighthouse and keeper's quarters, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Lighthouse tours are given by the Norwalk Seaport Association for a nominal charge, and visitors may combine this with a narrated scenic ferry ride (the most convenient way to access the island for those without a boat). For more information, please visit the Norwalk Seaport Association website

Chimon Island Unit The West Beach at Chimon Island in Norwalk provides a great venue for wildlife viewing, where visitors may see great egrets, osprey, cormorants, horseshoe crabs, shellfish, and other creatures. A memorial to Congressman McKinney is located there.

Falkner Island Unit Falkner Island, off the coast of Guilford, is home to thousands of terns each season from April through August. It is closed to public visitation due the fragile status of the Federally-endangered roseate terns that nest there. However, the refuge conducts an Open House each September in partnership with the Faulkner's Light Brigade. This allows visitors an opportunity to view the research camp and the historic lighthouse that President Jefferson commissioned in 1802. The lighthouse, research facility and the natural beauty of the island allow for many photographic opportunities.

Calf Island Unit The bird life at this island unit located in Greenwich is tremendous and opportunities for overnight environmental education and interpretive programming are available. Many strides in habitat enhancement - such as planting native trees and controlling invasive plant species - have occurred there recently. Call the refuge headquarters at 860-399-2513 for more information on visiting and see the website of our partner organization - the Calf Island Conservancy - for a listing of interpretive tours and volunteer days.

Last Updated: Oct 20, 2015
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