Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

October 2015

Vol. 43, No. 5

Bird Finding at Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford, Connecticut

Robert Dewire


Marsh and mud flat in Goshen cove. (All photographs by the author.)

Harkness Memorial State Park is located in Waterford, along the Connecticut coast. To reach the park from Interstate 95 (I-95), take exit 81. If traveling south on I-95, turn left at the end of the ramp. At the second traffic light turn left onto Cross Road. If traveling north on I-95, go to the first traffic light and turn right onto Cross Road. Proceed just under one mile to US Route 1 and turn left at the traffic light. Go to the second traffic light and turn right on Avery Lane. Stay on this road, which changes name to Great Neck Road or Connecticut Route 213, and travel just over three miles. The park entrance will be on your right.

The park is open from 8:00 am to sunset all year. A parking fee is charged weekends from the third weekend in April through the weekend before Memorial Day. After Memorial Day the fee is charged daily until Labor Day weekend, after which charges are assessed on weekends only to mid-September. From then until the third weekend in April, no fee is charged.

The property was left to the state by owners Edward and Mary Harkness in 1950 and became a state park in 1952. The park is 230 acres and is dominated by the Harkness mansion, called Eolia, and its Great Lawn stretching from the mansion to Long Island Sound. Large meadows of grasses and wildflowers, thickets, fresh- and saltwater marshes, a tidal cove, sandy and rocky beachfront on Long Island Sound, and specimen trees dotting the Great Lawn make up the park habitats. The mansion is surrounded with formal gardens along with large cutting gardens nearby. Flowering is at its best in late summer and fall. There is no swimming allowed at the beach.

The western side of the park is bounded by a tidal cove called Goshen Cove. Besides the open water, the cove contains a salt marsh and exposed mud flats when the tide is low. Niering Walk, the trail down to the cove from the parking lot, borders some fine thickets. There is a viewing blind or hide, marked 1 on the map, which looks over the mud flat area. This habitat mix is the best area in the park for birding. Across the cove is a designated natural area, also part of the park, but not accessible to the public. Much of the water of the cove is visible as you walk the trail (NOTE: if it has been a wet spring, parts of the trail may be flooded).

From mid-October to mid-April a nice selection of waterfowl makes use of the cove. Common species such as Mallard, Black Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, and Hooded and Red-breasted mergansers can be found. Less common are Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shoveler. In late March and April, Blue-winged Teal often appear and Eurasian Wigeon has been found in with the American Wigeon. Prolonged cold spells can result in the cove completely freezing over, forcing the birds to depart.

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