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  • Writer's pictureKaren Hogan

New England NWR Trip May 2014

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

During our 10 day trip to the New England Area in May 2014 we visited 14 National Wildlife Refuges in 5 states, including New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhodes Island.


Karen and Teresa at Stewart B. McKinney NWR--Salt Meadow Unit 5/14/13

When planning our next National Wildlife Refuge birding trip it made sense to plan our trip around spring migration. We decided to bird the second week of May.  We thought about visiting Magee Marsh for the Greatest Week of Birding but the number of refuges in the Michigan/Ohio area is limited. After studying the National Wildlife Refuge map, we decided we would visit the Refuges in the New England area.  Karen’s Son, Greg and his girlfriend Katy moved to Connecticut the summer of 2012 and I had not had an opportunity to visit them. They offered to let us stay at their house while we visited the New England area National Wildlife Refuges. Karen researched the National Wildlife Refuges in the New England area and planned for us to visit all the refuges within a 2 hours drive of Greg and Katy's house.  We would leave their house in New London early each morning to visit a Refuge and return to their house each night to join them for dinner. We decided to visit Block Island National Wildlife Refuge during the first weekend of our New England Trip. Katy and Greg would travel to Block Island with us, both enjoy birding and they were looking forward to exploring part of Rhode Island they had not yet visited.

The mileage from Lexington, Kentucky to New London, Connecticut is 833 miles, approximately 13 hours by car.    The mileage from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to New London, Connecticut is 620 miles but we decided it would be more fun to ride together, so we planned to meet at Charleston, West Virginia which would add some driving time for Karen.

We began our trip on May 8, 2014. As always, our timing was impeccable, we arrived at the State Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia within 5 minutes of each other. We both needed a birding fix, so we headed straight to Springhill Cemetery, a birding hotspot according to ebird. The very scenic Cemetery was across highway 64 and a truly fantastic birding hotspot, we spotted 35 birds after a couple of hours. We loaded my car with Karen’s gear and reluctantly left the Cemetery. We parked Karen’s car at the Yeager Airport parking deck and headed to Hagerstown, Maryland.

Spending the night in Hagerstown, Maryland would reduce our 11-12 hours drive on Friday to 7-8 hours. We would be driving around New York City and then east on 95 to New London, it was likely that Friday afternoon rush hour traffic could add a couple of hours to our driving time. Our goal was to reach Greg and Katy’s no later than 5 pm, we had been invited to attend a feast with their co-workers and friends.

After a 4.5 hour drive from Charleston we arrived at the hotel in Hagerstown. We were both completely exhausted after we unloaded our car but Karen couldn’t resist, she turned on her computer to check the National Wildlife Refuge website to see if our article had been posted on the site. She apparently had been checking everyday for the past 3 weeks.  She started screaming and jumping around. I was almost asleep and told her to wait until morning, I wanted to get enough sleep for the drive the next day. She was so excited she stayed up a couple of more hours sending the article to friends and family.


May 9, 2014 Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

The next morning we left the hotel at 7 am, our arrival time at Greg and Katy’s house would be around 2-3 pm. Karen was navigating, and directed me onto Highway 78. I had wanted to take Highway 81 towards Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Danbury, Connecticut to avoid New York City traffic. I had driven this route many times with a van full of dogs from a Kentucky Humane Society for adoption in the New England area.

We were making great time when suddenly Karen pointed at a sign and demanded I get off the next exit. The sign was a familiar one; brown with white lettering, Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. It was only 10 am when we arrived at this beautiful Refuge just 26 miles west of Manhattan’s Time Square. This refuge was established in 1960 and has 7768 acres of varied habitats. We only had a couple of hours for a visit just enough time for the wildlife drive, a stop at the headquarters and visitor center.

Karen and Teresa at Great Swamp NWR, May 9, 2014

Tree Swallow, Great Swamp NWR, May 9, 2014

Tree Swallow, Great Swamp NWR, May 9, 2014

Chipping Sparrow, Great Swamp NWR, May 9, 2014

Canada Goose, Great Swamp NWR, May 9, 2014

Lincoln's Sparrow, Great Swamp NWR, May 9, 2014

After talking to the folks at the headquarters we couldn’t resist the boardwalks at the Wildlife Observation Center.

Karen and Teresa, Great Swamp NWR, May 9, 2014

It was 2 pm by the time we left the Refuge and got back on the highway.  Our concerns about rush hour traffic were confirmed as we checked traffic by GPS on our smart phones, Merritt Parkway and Highway 95 were extremely slow moving with heavy traffic and many accidents. We sent messages to Greg and Katy letting them know the traffic situation and our possible time of arrival. We were disappointed we would be unable to help prepare food for the feast, but Greg and Katy had it under control preparing enough food for us all. We had a great time at the feast and enjoyed the company of their friends and the delicious dishes based on the title of Movies.


Saturday May 10, 2014 Block Island National Wildlife Refuge

The next morning we headed to Pointe Judith to take the 9 am Ferry to Block Island. I had purchased ferry tickets for my CVR and each of us.  It was very foggy morning as we loaded my car onto the Ferry, backing into a very tight spot in the bottom deck of the boat. We left our car for the higher decks to find the middle sitting deck completely occupied with passengers, so we moved to the top deck where there were available seats. This was a good choice since most folks on the middle deck were sick by the time we crossed the 13 miles to Block Island, about an hour ride.  The waves were choppy causing the boat to rise and fall as it plunged into each wave. Katy, Karen and myself were all seasick unable to take photos or talk. Most of our efforts during our ferry ride were focused on keeping breakfast down.  Greg managed to avoid the queasy sickness and took video and photos during the ride over. We were all happy to say land ho when Block Island appeared on the horizon but the motion sickness only went away about an hour after we were on land. We all dreaded the ride back the next day at 5 pm which prompted us to look for non-drowsy Dramamine at the pharmacies on the island.

Only 7 miles long, most folks visit Block Island by bicycle but we were all grateful to have my car on the Island. During our 24 hours stay we visited many of the birding hotspots, most of the National Wildlife Refuge areas, both lighthouses, the Bluffs, several sandy beaches and much more. Of course we were there before the start of the summer season. Our visit 2 weeks before Memorial Day weekend meant we had a parking spot right in front of our hotel.

When we got off the Ferry Saturday morning we drove on Corn Neck Rd north to Block Island National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge was established in 1973 and has only 127 acres. Our first stop was the beach area we accessed by driving down West Beach Road. We walked along the beach and got some good looks at a Mute Swan, Red breasted Mergansers and some Cliff Swallows building nest along the bank.

Red-breasted Merganser, Block Island NWR, May 10, 2014

As we headed back to our car we met a couple from Michigan who volunteer on the Island. They were putting up signs to warn folks to stay out of the areas where the Oyster Catchers were nesting.

As we left the West Beach Rd it was almost noon, no longer seasick and definitely hungry, we headed back to Old Harbor where we had a delicious lunch at a Taco Restaurant.  We found the Nature Conservancy, a small brown building on High St with excellent maps of the Block Island trails.

We had a couple of hours before check in at the hotel so we drove to the North Lighthouse. At the very north point of the Island we saw a seal at the edge of the beach in the ocean. As we walked on the west side of the lighthouse there were many nesting Black-backed Gulls in the grass covered dunes. The fog reduced visibility but we could still see hundreds of Gulls on the beach west of the Sachem Pond. Block Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to one of the largest gull colonies in Rhode Island.

Great Black-backed Gull, Block Island NWR, May 10, 2014

Karen and Teresa, Block Island NWR, May 10, 2014

Shorebird, Block Island NWR, May 10, 2014

It was now after 3 pm and we headed back to Old Harbor to check in at the hotel and unload our car. After check in Karen and I decided to hike the Middle Pond trail. Katy and Greg stayed at our room to rest and later took a walk around town to look for a restaurant for dinner.

As we hiked the Middle Pond Trail we were treated to a beautiful sunset looking across Middle Pond toward the Long Island Sound. We saw a Nashville Warbler and a Peringin Falcon. We heard many Pheasants as we walked the trail, which we listed on ebird. Pheasant have been introduced to Block Island as a game bird but we assumed the Pheasants we heard were living in the wild. As the sun went down we headed back to our hotel to meet up with Greg and Katy for dinner. Everything on Block Island was convenient and within walking distance, our hotel was across the street from the Ferry landing and we had dinner at a restaurant below our hotel.  Our room for the night had a shared bathroom down the hall with a large gathering room on the second floor. Our actual room for the night had to full size beds but very little floor space for all our gear. Katy and Greg were in one bed, Teresa and I the other. I should have spent the extra money for a separate room for Katy and Greg because sometime in the night I was awaken with shock when a pillow hit me in the face. Not sure if I got the pillow for Teresa's snoring or was I snoring. Anyway, another lesson learned better not to sleep in the same room as your adult children.


Sunday May 11, 2014 Block Island National Wildlife Refuge

The next morning was a bright sunny day, hard to believe the forlorn sounds of the fog horn had dominated the quiet Island life the day before. We walked to a bagel shop for a breakfast of delicious pastries. We then headed to the Mohegan Bluff and walked down the steep stairs to the beach. The Bluff provided a spectacular view of the coastline of Block Island.

Greg, Katy, Teresa and Karen Block Island, May 11, 2014

We then visited the Southeast Lighthouse with some great looks of the cliff swallow and barn swallows nesting along the banks of the shore. It was approaching time for low tide so we headed to Andy’s Way. At low tide we had more access to the beach and a better look at the birds in the area, including sandpipers, Oyster Catchers and Gulls.

Black-bellied Plover, Block Island NWR, May 10, 2014

American Oystercatcher, Block Island NWR, May 11, 2014

We visited Mansion Beach and hiked part of The Maze. We saw Black and White Warblers, Yellow Warblers, Black Throated Blue Warbler and Prairie Warblers and American Redstart.

Yellow Warbler, Block Island NWR, May 10, 2014

 We headed back to Old Harbor for a late lunch of Lobster Rolls at 3 pm, we would need to be at the ferry dock by 4 pm to load our car for a 5 pm departure.   We were all apprehensive as we backed my car into the tiny parking space on the bottom deck of the ferry. This time we knew to head straight for the upper deck but what a surprise, a completely calm sea made for a smooth ride home. We all were able to use our binoculars to look at the Northern Gannets flying overhead as we headed back to Pointe Judith.

Back in New London we had pizza from a local Pizza Shop and enjoyed some time in Katy and Greg’s home.  Early Monday morning Greg headed to work and would be out of town at a conference the rest of our visit. Katy was on vacation for one week, just finishing her first year of Law School, she would begin an internship the following Monday.


Monday May 12, 2014 Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, Rhodes Island

Monday morning Karen and I drove to Charlestown, RI for our next National Wildlife Refuge visit. Karen had visited Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, one of the 5 refuges in Rhodes Island when she visited Greg and Katy in November 2013. Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1970 and consist of 409 acres of diverse upland and wetland habitats including grasslands, shrub lands, wooded swamps and freshwater ponds.

We decided to hike the Ocean View Trail for our first hike. At the end of the ½ mile trail we climbed the observation platform where we were treated to a view of the Ninigret Pond, the largest coastal salt pond in Rhode Island. We saw Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker and a Prairie Warbler.   Our second hike was the Watchaug Pond Trail and no sooner had we started down the trail, mosquitos swarmed us, we went back to the car to put on our bug baffle shirts and lots of bug repellent. We enjoyed the wooded trail to Watchaug Pond and returned to the Kettle Pond visitor center on the Toupoysett and Burlingame Trails where we saw a wild Turkey.

Hermit Thrush, Ninigret NWR, May 12, 2014

Hermit Thrush, Ninigret NWR, May 12, 2014

Thrushes Breeding, Ninigret NWR, May 12, 2014

As we hiked the Foster Cove Nature Trail we heard the rush-and-jumble song of the House Wren. We were both starting to recognize this different calls of birds and even more important realize that the call we just heard was a different call than what we usually hear. We spent a good deal of time tracking down the House Wren in the trees right along the trail and Brown Headed Cowbird high up in the tops of some of the trees.


Monday May 12, 2014 Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge


Chipmunk, Trustom NWR, May 12, 2014

Eastern Towhee, Trustom NWR, May 12, 2014

Trustom Pond was established in 1973 and is one of the 5 National Wildlife Refuges in Rhode Island. This Refuge is comprised of 787 acres and the habitats include beaches, dunes, woodlands, fields, and ponds. Trustom Pond has one of the only undeveloped coastal salt ponds in Rhode Island. We enjoyed the 2 plus miles of hiking trails at the refuge and the views of the salt pond at this refuge. We were stumped by many birds we heard calling in the fields, shrub land and woodland areas. We realized that trying to see ducks, shorebirds and wading birds with binoculars and our cameras was very difficult and sometimes impossible to get an ID of the birds we could see in the distance. We left the refuge with low bird counts due to our inexperience at birding.

Karen and Teresa, Trustom Pond NWR, May 13, 2014

Tuesday May 13, 2014 John Chefee and Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge

We realized from the John Chafee NWR webpage that this refuge located on the Pettaquamscutt Cove would be difficult to visit. There are no trails at this refuge and the only viewing areas are from a couple of bridges and some fishing access points. The John Chafee NWR was established in 1973 to protect the wintering population of American black ducks. This 550-acre Refuge is made up of tidal salt marshes which is home to the Salt Marsh Sharp-Tailed Sparrow. We finally pulled out the 3 small spotting scopes we had brought with us to look at some peeps on a marshy area.

By noon we were hiking and birding at Sachuest Point NWR. Sachuest Point NWR is an important wintering area for migratory birds and the home to one of the largest wintering population of harlequin ducks. This refuge was established in 1970 and totals 242 acres.

We hiked the 1.4 mile Flint Point Trail and the 1.5 Ocean View Loop where we saw Common Eiders, Black Scoters and a Red-tailed Hawk soaring over head.

Red-tailed Hawk, Sachuest Point NWR, May 13, 2014


Wednesday May 14, 2014 Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

Wednesday we visited 2 of the 10 units, Salt Meadow Unit and Milford Point Unit of Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. The 10 units include the Salt Meadow, Milford Point, Great Meadows, Chimon Island, Calf Island, Outer Island, Sheffield Island, Falkner Island, Peach Island and Goose Islands. Many of the Units are Islands and require advanced planning for a visit. We had only enough time to hike the 2 miles of trails and explore the 9 acres of shrubland at the Salt Meadow Unit in Westbrook.

This Refuge was established in 1972 and originally called the Salt Meadow NWR and renamed the current name in 1987. The refuge was established to provide habitat for nesting, resting and feeding of many bird species including the endangered Roseate Tern.

As we approached the trail we could hear the bee buzz call of the Blue-winged Warbler. The tiny black masked yellow bird was sitting at the top of a short bush along the trail.

Blue-winged Warbler, Stewart B. McKinney NWR May 14, 2014

As we hiked the trails through the woods we heard high pitched chirps that seemed to be coming from the base of many trees. We were stumped, somewhat convinced it was the chip note of a bird. Finally we saw the little ground squirrels responsible for the confusing call. We saw a Baltimore Oriole female gathering strands of fiber from the vine stems to use to weave her nest. I saw a warbler size bird that was brown with a yellow throat moving in the leaf debris in several locations. Familiar with the broad black mask of the male Common Yellowthroat, this was my first good look at the female bird of this species. We enjoyed the amazing walk through the woods with the nice view of the marsh habitat but were surprised when we heard the click clack of this high speed train as it sped along the boundary of the refuge.

Teresa at Stewart B. McKinney NWR, May 14, 2014

Baltimore Oriole at Stewart B. McKinney NWR, May 14, 2014

Great Egret at Stewart B. McKinney NWR, May 14, 2014

After talking to the Refuge Manager at the Headquarters Building we decided to head over to the Milford Point and the Coastal Center at Milford Point. We found Piping Plovers along the beach nesting within wire cages to prevent folks walking along the beach from stepping on the nest. At the Coastal Center we watched Yellow-crowned Night Heron hunting for food.

Piping Plover at Milford Point, May 14, 2014

Piping Plover at Milford Point May 14, 2014

Peeps at Coastal Center at Milford Point, May 14, 2014

Yellow-crowned Night Heron at the Coastal Center at Milford Point, May 14, 2014

Yellow-crowned Night Heron at the Coastal Center at Milford Point, May 14, 2014

We look forward to returning to this area and plan to visit the other units of the Stewart B. Kinney National Wildlife Refuge.


Thursday May 15, 2014 Mashpee and Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

On Thursday we visited Mashpee NWR and Great Meadows NWR. Mashpee NWR is one of the eight refuges comprising the Eastern Massachusetts NWR Complex. Mashpee NWR was established in 1995 and has 341 acres owned by the US Fish and Wildlife System. Eventually the refuge will total 5871 acres managed by Federal, State and private conservation groups. This refuge was established to protect the resources associated with the Waquoit Bay area for the protection of wildlife. Most of the refuge is closed at this time but we were able to access one of the open roads for hiking at the Quashnet River Conservation Area and the Jehu Pond Conservation Area access point.


Mashpee NWR, May 15, 2014

Mashpee NWR,M ay 15, 2014

We headed over to the Great Meadows NWR Sudbury Unit so we could stop at the refuge headquarters to get our blue goose stamps. The Great Meadows NWR was established in 1944 with 85% of the refuges 3850 acres made up of freshwater wetlands. The Great Meadows NWR consist of 2 units just 20 miles west of Boston. We hiked the Weir Hill Trail and the Red Maple Trail.


Friday May 16, 2014 Great Meadows, Assabet River and Oxbow National Wildlife Refuges

Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Friday morning there was a light rain as we hiked along the Dike Trail at the Great Meadows NWR Concord Unit. We observed Red-winged Blackbirds gathering nest materal, Wood ducks, Song sparrows and many Canada Geese with their young. There were posted signs warning of over protective Canada Geese with young. We kept our distance as we walked past the watchful eyes adult Canada Geese guarding their young.

Red-winged Blackbird, Great Meadows NWR, May 16, 2014

Red-winged Blackbird, Great Meadows NWR, May 16, 2014

Tree Swallow at Great Meadows NWR May 16, 2014

4Wood Duck at Great Meadows NWR, May 16, 20141

Song Sparrow at Great Meadows NWR, May 16, 2014

Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge

At Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge we stopped at the visitor center and hiked 3 of the 15 miles of trails including Otter Alley, Taylor Way, Winterberry Way, Puffer Pond Trail and Kingfisher Trail. Plenty of mosquitos we donned our bug baffler shirts and hats. The Assabet River NWR was established in 2000 when the US Army transferred 2332 acres to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. During the military ownership the land was used for ammunition storage and troop training. This refuge has large wetland and forested areas.

Ammunition Storage building, Assabet NWR, May 16, 2014

Karen and Teresa at Assabet NWR, May 16, 2014

Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge

As we hiked the trail at Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge we had moderate to heavy rain. We got great looks at a Veery, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and an Ovenbird.

Veery at Oxbow NWR, May 16, 2014

Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Oxbow NWR, May 16, 2014

Ovenbird at Oxbow NWR, May 16, 2014

Swallow at Oxbow NWR, May 16, 2014

Saturday May 17, 2014 Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

On Saturday we visited Parker River NWR.



Common Yellowthroat Parker River NWR, May 17, 2014

Common Yellowthroat at Parker River NWR, May 17, 2014

Eastern Kingbird at Parker River NWR May 17, 2014

Yellow Warbler at Parker River NWR, May 17, 2014

We planned to be back at work on Tuesday May 20, 2014 so we would need to pick up my car at the Charleston, WV airport and then I would have a 5 hr drive home and Teresa would have a 3 hour drive. We decided we would try to stop at a couple more refuges to bird on Sunday May 18th. After a check of the map we saw a refuge in New York and one in New Jersey that would be along the route home. After birding at the refuges on Sunday we would drive to Charleston Sunday night and spend the night. Then we would both head home on Monday May 19th.


Sunday May 18, 2014 Shawangunk Grassland and Wallkill National Wildlife

Refuges

Shawangunk Grassland National Wildlife Refuge

As we started down the trail we heard a Willow Flycatcher. He sat at the top of the tree for some great looks and photos. We enjoyed the Tabor Trace Blue Loop trail with great looks of Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Indigo Buntings, Northern Harrier and several species of Sparrows including a Grasshopper Sparrow.

Flycatcher at Shawangunk Grassland NWR, May 18, 2014

Bobolink at Shawangunk Grassland National Wildlife Refuge May 18, 2014

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey

Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1990 and is comprised of 6000 acres of swamps and floodplain forest. There are 5 nature trails at this refuge including the Wood Duck Nature Trail, Liberty Loop Trail, Dagmar Dale Nature Trail, Timberdoodle Trail and Winding Waters Nature Trail. Parking at the refuge headquarters parking lot we hiked the Dagmar Dale Nature Trail through grasslands and hardwood forest to the Wallkill River.

We observed our first species of bird in the parking lot, Chipping Sparrows. Along the beautiful scenic trail we enjoyed good looks at Warbling Vireo, Bank Swallows, Prairie Warblers and Song Sparrows, just to name a few.

Chipping Sparrow at Wallkill River NWR on May 18, 2014

Prairie Warbler, Wallkill River NWR, May 18, 2014

Priarie Warbler, Wallkill River NWR May 18, 2014

Song Sparrow at Wallkill River NWR, May 18, 2014

American Goldfinch at Wallkill River NWR, May 18, 2014

Teresa and Karen at Wallkill River NWR, May 18, 2014

National Wildlife Refuges visited from May 9, 2014-May 18, 2014

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey 5/9/14

Block Island National Wildlife Refuge, Rhodes Island 5/10/14, 5/11/14

Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, Rhodes Island 5/12/14

Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge, Rhodes Island 5/12/14

John Chafee National Wildlife Refuge, Rhodes Island 5/13/14

Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, Rhodes Island 5/13/14

Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Connecticut 5/14/14

Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts 5/15/14

Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts 5/15/14, 5/16/14

Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts 5/16/14

Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts 5/16/14

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts 5/17/14

Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, New York 5/18/14

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey . 5/18/14


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