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Milford Point and Wheeler Marsh

Location

Milford, CT

Anchor Site(s)

Milford Point (part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge) and Wheeler Marsh Wildlife Management Area (WMA)

About the Site

The 23-acre Milford Point unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and CTDEEP’s adjacent 550-acre Wheeler Marsh Wildlife Management Area (WMA)  offer some of the finest wildlife viewing opportunities in Connecticut. The diversity of the Stewardship Area’s habitats, including intertidal mudflats, coastal barrier beach, sandflats, and marshes, are a haven for year-round and migratory wildlife. Restricted areas of the beach provide nesting habitat for rare birds such as piping plover, least tern, and American oystercatcher, while the Coastal Center at Milford Point provides access to the area and educational programs. Annually supporting between 10,000-20,000 migrating shorebirds, including the semipalmated sandpiper, sanderling, and dunlin, the site offers extraordinary opportunities for wildlife viewing from land or non-motorized boat. The populations of some shorebirds, including semipalmated sandpiper, make it an Important Bird Area of global significance.

Shaun Roche of the US Fish and Wildlife Service discusses the undeveloped coastline at Milford Point in Milford, CT and discusses the importance of this protected habitat.

Jennifer Mattei, a biology professor at Sacred Heart University, discusses horseshoe crabs in Long Island Sound and the Project Limulus program she founded, at the Milford Point Stewardship Area.

Ecological Importance
  • The Nells Island brackish tidal marsh within the Wheeler Marsh WMA is one of the largest unditched tidal wetlands in Long Island Sound. 
  • The barrier beach at the Coastal Center is a rare type of ridge plain beach of alternating ridges and swales that formed as the beach prograded, or grew seaward. This ridge and swale system supports rare plant and animal species. 
  • Provides vital migratory bird stopover habitat, which is why it has been designated by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area of global significance. 
  • Among the many state or federally threatened and endangered bird species utilizing this area are are semipalmated sandpiper, American bittern, snowy egret, peregrine falcon, piping plover, and roseate tern.
  • Serves as a nursery for valuable wildlife such as the globally near-threatened diamondback terrapin.
  • Used by red bats (a Connecticut species of special concern) during fall migration.
Recreational Opportunities
  • Pack your binoculars and bird guide—Milford Point and the Wheeler Marsh are both excellent birdwatching sites. See how many different species you can correctly identify!
  • Launch your canoe, kayak, or boat into Wheeler Marsh from the small boat launch at the end of Court Street, Milford. Be aware of tidal cycles while boating in the marsh as there are large tidal fluctuations in water depths. 
  • Spend a day fishing for juvenile bluefish, called snapper blues, or engaging in state-regulated waterfowl hunting at Wheeler Marsh.
  • Climb the observation platform at Milford Point for a stunning panoramic view of Long Island Sound and its wildlife.
Dive Deeper
  • Audubon CT: Milford Point and Wheeler Marsh
    Audubon Connecticut’s website provides a useful description of the habitat and wildlife in this Important Bird Area.
  • Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge
    The official page for the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge details the unique features of each of its 10 units (across 70 miles of coastline) and gives background on the Refuge’s origins.
  • Check out eBird to view which bird species were recently seen in Milford Point, and then add in your own sightings! 
Places to Visit
  • Visit Nells Island at the mouth of the Housatonic River. The island is accessible via boat.  
  • If you have a boat, head across the water to Short Beach where you will find a wonderful waterfront area, complete picnic tables and a handicapped accessible entrance to the beach. You can also travel by vehicle via the Washington Bridge. 
Get Involved/Events
  • The Connecticut Audubon Society’s Coastal Center at Milford Point 
    Check out the center’s exciting activities such as family canoe programs, summer camps, educational events and exhibits, free and guided kayak tours of the area, and live animal demonstrations. Walk-ins are always welcome to browse the many outdoor educational displays, and birds of prey can be watched from the comfort of your home with a live-streaming osprey cam! 
  • The Connecticut Coastal Access Guide
    Use the Coastal Access Guide to search the Wheeler Wildlife Management Area, Milford Point, and the Coastal Center for directions and resourceful information about visiting these areas.
  • Stay up to date with the Milford Community Events Calendar  to find out about everything from local beach strolls to virtual webinars. 
Field Notes
  • To protect nesting birds, parts of the beach are closed to the public during the summer nesting season.
  • The harvesting of horseshoe crabs at Milford Point is banned under state regulations. 
  • The boat launch at Wheeler Marsh Wildlife Management Area on Court Street is an unimproved launch open year-round to car-top boating, kayaking, and canoeing, but is closed to motorized boats to protect nesting marsh birds and other wildlife from early March to late August. Contact the DEEP Wildlife Division by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 860-424-3011 for specific dates. 
  • The boat launch at Wheeler Marsh is open year-round to car-top boating, kayaking, and canoeing, but is closed to motorized boats to protect nesting marsh birds from early March to late August. Contact the State Parks Division by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 860-424-3200 for specific dates.
  • Picnicking and sunbathing are forbidden on the grounds and beach of the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center at Milford Point.
Credits
  • Milford Point. Ct.audubon.org/conservation/milford-point. Audubon Connecticut. Web. June 28, 2021. 
  • Stewart B. McKinney. Fws.gov/refuge/Stewart_B_McKinney/visit/plan_your_visit.html. US Fish and Wildlife Service. Web. June 28, 2021. 

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