Spring means the animals of the world are in motion again – flying, swimming, running and crawling to their summer homes and breeding grounds.
“Witnessing wildlife in migration can inspire a lifetime love of nature,” explains Frogard Ryan, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. “But it is also a good reminder that it is not enough to just protect them in your backyard, but all along their pathways.”
But what’s out there? Where – and when – should people head outside to spot them? We polled Conservancy scientists and compiled the top five “must sees” this migration season.
The Top Five Must-See Migrations for Connecticut
Massachusetts’s coast provides a wide range of habitats for shorebirds. The first to arrive are piping plovers, which land on Connecticut’s barrier beaches at the end of March. They’re joined in April and May by Greater Yellowlegs, sandpipers, oystercatchers, and more.
To spot them, head to Griswold Point at the mouth of the Connecticut River – where the Conservancy is at work protecting the restoring the barrier beach – or to Stonington’s Barn Island. You might see them scurrying along the beaches and mudflats, on the hunt for insects, sea worms or horseshoe crab eggs. The plovers will be building nests and laying eggs; others take some time to feast before moving on to their Canada and Greenland breeding grounds.
Check out www.ctbirding.org for more locations and recent sightings.
2. American Shad and Striped Bass
American shad wriggle up the Connecticut and Farmington Rivers annually to spawn. From early April (when the shadbush blooms) until late May, watch them swim up and over the fish ladder at the Rainbow Dam in Windsor.
Barriers such as dams and roads have led to a dramatic decline of shad, but with your help we are removing some of these obstacles, creating wildlife passages and helping ensure that the dams that remain become more fish-friendly.
3. Salamanders and Frogs
Vernal pools—shallow depressions that contain water for only part of the year—offer a glimpse of amphibian mating season. This migration is in many ways the foundation of the food web for the surrounding forest area, and it’s one of the reasons that the Conservancy places an emphasis on keeping our forests healthy and intact.
Connecticut is full of productive vernal pools; you can find them at Patchaug State Forest and the Still River Preserve, to name just a few. Or, find someone who was kept awake by spring peepers chorusing last year!
Wait for a cool, rainy night after the first wood frog choruses have been heard (listen for a duck-like quacking). Point a flashlight at the pool’s edge. You may see spotted salamanders and blue-spotted salamanders, wood frogs, peepers and fairy shrimp.
For a field guide to vernal pool critters, visit www.vernalpool.org.
4. American Eels
American eels are a key link in Connecticut’s freshwater food web, snacking on mayflies, tiny fish and other small aquatic species while serving as dinner for larger bass and trout. But what makes the eels stand out is their remarkable journey thousands of miles to the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda, where they mingle with eels from as far as Greenland and South America to spawn. Larval eels then drift into the warm Gulf Stream that carries them to the North Atlantic coast.
You can catch their spring and fall migration in the rivers and streams of the Saugatuck watershed. And find out how the Conservancy is making their journey safer by partnering with Aquarion Water Company.
5. Neotropical Songbirds
Across Connecticut, spring means we no longer have to access Twitter to hear tweets.
Throughout the spring, wooded areas across the state host songbirds from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Tanagers, vireos, orioles and more than 25 species of warblers descend to rest, sing and dine on the insects, fruit and nectar found in abundance in spring.
You can spot them in any natural habitat, but to get a special seat for this show of color and song, spend an early morning walking the trails at the Conservancy’s Devil’s Den or Burnham Brook preserves. Bring your binoculars and your “indoor voice”: you’ll need to pause, stay quiet, and listen for their call in order to find them.
To identify different bird calls, listen to them online at www.macaulaylibrary.org.