Listing of some of the great CT birding spots. Connecticut has more than its share of great birders , but the one area of the state that receives less attention than it deserves is the northeast quarter. I'll define this area as anywhere east of the Connecticut River and North of Willimantic (Windham), although, of course, I may stretch the boundaries at any time. 2013 - I'm traveling more - to the SW so far, and I'll add some info about my adventures there.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
NE Ct Birding Hotspots - Mansfield Hollow
Mansfield Hollow (State Park)
Without a doubt this is one of the most under-birded spots I know, even though there is some activity. At times it is probably the best spot in NECT. It's a large area, and of course includes the Mansfield Hollow Lake (flood control impoundment) Which is fed by 3 rivers, the Fenton River, the Mount Hope River, and the Natchaug River. Because of the reason it was created, the water level varies much more widely and quickly than any naturally created lake. After an exceptional rainstorm or period of rainy weather the water level may come up as much as 20 feet, and has come up considerably higher than that. The Lake was created by the Army Corps of Engineers, and they control the dam and all the land around the lake up to the maximum possible level of water. The water has never come anywhere near that level, but it has been pretty high. At times the water backs up for a considerable distance on the Fenton River, flooding the leased crop fields near its banks. The lake is a good spot to view several varieties of water related birds, ducks, shorebirds, raptors, marsh birds, etc.
I divide the the area generally into two sections, the Northwest and Southeast Lakes, since they are connected only by tubes through a causeway across the middle of the impoundment. Basset Bridge Road (off Ct Rt 195) crosses the causeway, and there is boat launch area where the road meets the lake. The boat launch is sometimes a good spot to view ducks (especially in spring) and raptors such as Ospreys and Bald Eagles. There were Three Eagles sitting in a dead tree opposite the launch at 1 time in spring '08. A scope is needed to see most birds well here.
The north end of the Northwest Lake is a hotspot for warblers and other migrants in the spring. There is an old road that runs along the normal waterline here, though it is sometimes partially submerged. To reach the area take Ct Rt 195 north from Willimantic or south from Mansfield and turn onto Rt 89. There is a parking turnout immediately past the high causeway that passes the lake, on the right. From there you can climb directly down to the old road. Another way to get there is from a turn-off on the right about half a mile further, JUST BEFORE Atwoodville Rd. It's unmarked but there is a stop sign where it turns onto Rt 89. Follow this old road to the yellow gate and park. Follow the road on foot til you come to the lake. A good place to see ducks and raptors as well as spring migrants.
The BEST spot for birding, particularly after migration is over, is an area called the Field Trial and Wildlife Management Area. It is on the southeast side of the Southeast Lake. To reach it take US Rt 6 north (east) from Willimantic until you see signs for Ct Rt 203 on the right at a traffic light. At that light take a LEFT and follow that (unnamed) road to the stop sign. Turn left over a bridge and turn left again onto N Windham Road, immediately past the bridge. Drive to the gate and park in the lot on the right. Follow the old road past the gate. Birding can be good anywhere along this road all the way to where it meets the lake. Some of the best habitat is in the fields on the left and the pine stands which end at the bank over the Natchaug river. Most any of the birds that summer in Ct can be found in this area.
One other area related to Mansfield Hollow is the dike between the lake and Windham Airport. Take US Rt 6 north (east) from Willimantic until your see the Airport on the left. At the north end, the high dike is prominently visible and there is a parking lot off Rt 6. Birds such as Meadowlarks can sometimes be seen from the dike in the airport grass. At least four kinds of swallows swoop back and forth over the area and many water and marsh birds can be seen to the north in and around the lake. When the water is low enough many shorebirds can be seen on any exposed mud flats. A scope is needed from the dike.