Finding Feathers Long Island

Connetquot River State Park

It seems to be the trend lately that the weather is fine all week long and then a disaster for the weekend. Saturday morning we woke up bright and early, ignoring the threats of rain, and packed up our gear for this weeks adventure, Connetquot River State Park. Having rained steadily for the past 48 hours the ground was pooled in huge murky puddles and the earth gave way beneath our feet to oozes of mud, but the temperature was pleasant enough for us to leave the hats and coats behind. Clouds darkened the sky above us but the rain was so far holding off and we were on our way.

Pulling up to the park entrance I was already excited! Two huge nests sat atop sky-scraping poles across the street and glimpses of water through the chain link fence actually allowed me to spot a male Gadwall swimming alongside a Green-Winged Teal (Which I insisted Steve pull over for so I could snap a quick picture of). Embarrassingly, When we pulled up we were confronted by an $8 vehicle entrance fee. As a rule, I try to always travel light when birding and usually only carry my gear, phone, and ID. It being off-season, and our Empire Pass recently expired, we were not expecting an entrance fee, and here we were with only $5 between us. So, red-faced, we apologized and turned around back out of the park. Now, having already driven 20 minutes to the park, and quickly burning precious morning light, neither one of us were eager to return home to retrieve our wallets. So, a bit of aimless driving and google searches later we found a side street with a bike path leading into the park. We parked the car, double-checking that there were no signs forbidding it and set off down the path and about a mile later we finally arrived at the park entrance.


Green-Winged Teal

Park Entrance


Filled with excitement at the echoing calls of songbirds and quacking of ducks from all around the park, we quickly headed over to an information board nearby. Posted were the usual tick warnings, upcoming events, fishing regulations as well as a park map and trail guide. We gave the map a good looking over and decided to loosely follow the red trail, it being fairly short and running alongside the river. We walked up a long driveway which had a nice sized parking lot (for those who planned ahead and came prepared) and ran along a strip of beautiful old buildings including a park office, rest area, and gift shop/museum. Ahead of us shown the beautiful glittering waters of Connetquot Rivers main pond, covered in hoards of waterfowl from geese to ducks to gulls and more! I nearly began to shake with excitement as I raised up my camera and began popping off photos by the dozens. Distracted and caught up in the action we immediately gave up on our plan of following a trial and set off blindly following along the left side of the river.

Fighting through knee-high grasses, tangles of thorn-covered branches and nets of knotted vines we kept the water tight to our right, desperately trying to get close enough to some of the dabbling ducks to get a clear photo or two. It didn’t take long to realize the diversity of birds here. As any regular Long Island birder can attest to, most of the time when visiting a local lake or pond looking for birds the majority of what you find is mallards and Canada Geese. There was not a mallard to be seen as we gazed out upon the pond. The first duck I was able to identify were Lesser Scaup, and they were abundant! making up nearly 70% of the birds enjoying the water. Upon close examination, next to show themselves were a large group of Ring-necked Ducks, almost blending into the crowd until the distinct white ring of their bill gleamed in the brightly shining sun. Just a few steps further and we passed alongside a small building/house with a few residents of its own watching us trek along. A statuesque European Starling Perched so still atop the peek over the door I nearly had to question its reality. Close by in a thorn bush out front a group of House sparrows called out to one another, their calls returning from a second group speckling a nearby tree. The relentless singing of two Northern Mockingbirds rang out and brought them to view, one hopping through a clear area of grass, the other perched within a tangle of thorny brambles.

Ducks on the river

European Starling keeping watch

European Starling

A small sign posted by the waterfront

A group of Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup with Canada Goose

A group of Ring-Necked Ducks

Ring-necked Ducks (mostly)

Northern Mockingbird

House Sparrows

On we pushed through the tangles underfoot, continuing to keep the water at our side, while the land ahead of us opened up to a large field encircled in tall trees perfect for raptors seeking a quick meal (though we didn’t see any on this trip). Adjacent to the water stood a wooden bird blind, camouflaged between the trees and shrubs, which we eagerly entered in hopes of bringing some of the lakes occupants closer into the land. The same ducks we had been seeing all along circled atop the water in front of us, joined by a few dozen Canada Geese as well as a handful of Mute Swans. Shortly later we were treated to a new visitor, two Common Mergansers came in for a landing. After watching on for a while more we pressed on further eventually running into a sign stating: Bird Sanctuary No Trespassing. Despite being a little more than tempted to continue on into the woods, we thought better of it and turned to head back to the front of the main pond, where we started off. Along the way we took a slightly different route, venturing further up onto a paved pathway aiming to see some different sights then we had just passed through. A wooden fence separated off an area of grass with a lone birdhouse on a pole standing tall in the center of the field, though unmarked I had to imagine it was an area geared towards horses, especially considering the number of horse tracks in the dirt around us. A large pine tree stood proudly against the far end of the fence, its arms draping over creating nooks and caves; from inside we could hear the gentle cooing of a solitary Mourning Dove, napping within its shade. Just before the buildings beside the main pond came back into reach we were stopped once more by a curious little Song Sparrow, hopping along beside us, investigating the trail.

View of the bird blind from across the lake

Bird Sanctuary sign

Bridge at the front of the main pond

view of one of the buildings from across the field

Canada Goose standing atop an overturned boat

Landing male Common Merganser with Canada Geese

A pair of Common Mergansers landing on the river

Mourning Dove

Mute Swan

A pair of Mute Swans on the river

Song Sparrow

Once we were back at the bridge at the face of the main pond we crossed over, deciding to try our hand at the trail we had originally intended on taking. Set up on the bridge were two men, with far more impressive cameras than my own, with their lenses set on the horizon. I always seem to find myself intimidated to talk to other birders, especially when I see them with cameras such as these. I suppose I assume that they know far more than I do on the subject and will find me a pest asking silly questions. For the most part I have found this to be untrue and in general have found that birders are all too willing and eager to talk about their finds and their experiences; as with anything else, however, there are always a few bad apples who are out to make others feel beneath them. I swallowed my reservations and struck up a conversation, and am glad I did! I was told that there is a pair of Bald eagles that make their way over the river consistently each day between noon and two o’clock. Though we did not see any on this trip, perhaps because of the increased risk of rain on its way, now we know what to keep an eye out for on our next visit! One of the men was even kind enough to show me some of the beautiful photos he had gotten of the pair earlier in the week.

We followed the dirt path past a few fisherman and a handful of photographers and hikers out to enjoy the view. The smell of skunk cabbage filled the misty humid air that hung saturated from the expansive puddles, warming in the heat of the sun. The trail led through woods with glimpses of the river peeking through from time to time. Further along, a beautiful stream branched off into the woods to our right, making a pool for a few playful Mallard Ducks, splashing and chasing one another in the shimmering water. Continuing on we came to a fishing spot with a short dock and a breathtaking view of a fairly private area of the river. We jumped at the opportunity and sat on the dock, lying back taking a rest, warming our faces in a few beams of sun that found their way in atop the trees. A handful of mallards chased one another about the tranquil water, quacking and playing so excitedly that it brought both my husband and me to laughter. A few Gadwalls came around the bend and searched the waters edges for a snack accompanied by an occasional American Black Duck. With the long walk back to the car looming in our minds and the rain clouds moving in slowly from the distance we sat another few minutes and decided to start heading back to the entrance.

Gadwalls, American Black Ducks & Canada Geese

secluded fishing site

Mallard Ducks

male Gadwall

Gadwalls, Mallards & American Black Ducks


A Mallard Duck splashing in the stream

Skunk cabbage plant

Stream off of red trail

View of the Red Trail

When we once again reached the bridge at the main pond we crossed over once more and made our way to a bench along the far end of the strip of buildings and museum. A small grouping of bird feeders was set up along the back so we decided to sit and watch for visitors for a bit while we regrouped. An enormous pine tree shaded the feeders and gave a secure hiding spot to a few songbirds that were leery of dropping in for a snack with our arrival. After a few moments, however, the spot came to life and one by one small birds flew from the rooftop and tree branches to the waiting feeders. First, the ever social Black-capped Chickadee made his appearance, as I suspected it would. Soon after appeared a few house sparrows and a song sparrow or two, followed by a handful of White-breasted Nuthatches. A Tufted Titmouse fluttered about within the canopy of the massive pine but would never come out long enough for a decent photo. A Gaggle of Canada Geese pecked and pulled at the grass around our feet seemingly unphased by our presence. Finally, a Dark-eyed Junco came in to sit at the edge of an outstretched branch and bid us farewell before we set off again; this time to explore the gift shop, museum and restrooms.

Male House Sparrow

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Song Sparrow

Dark-Eyed Junco

Canada Goose

Canada Geese

Tufted Titmouse

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadees on the feeders

Before Heading back to the car, which neither of us was excited to do, we decided to look around in the museum/gift shop. It was very small with a few cool displays of taxidermied birds and examples of different eggs as well as a variety of informational fliers and maps and free copies of the Sandpiper and I Bird NY. The gift shop part of the space was not really much, mostly geared toward children but considering this was the first gift shop I have ever seen at a park I don’t know what I was really expecting. Before leaving the park we each took our opportunity to visit the restrooms, which were very clean and well kept, outside of which was again a plethora of information packets for everything from birding to ticks to upcoming events. While washing my hands I must note that I did spot and remove two ticks, One from my shirt the other walking across my forearm (luckily it had not bitten yet). It still being February I will be honest and say that I was not wearing bug spray and hadn’t been too concerned. I had always heard that you could get a tick at any time of year but had never, ever, had an issue outside of the warmer months at which time I take all precautions. I suppose I should have invested more stock into the tick warning posters we had been seeing. As the skies darkened and the storm clouds rolled in we walked out of the park onto the long trail back to the car. This park was amazing, I know I say this a lot but this is definitely a park I highly recommend visiting for yourself and fully plan on revisiting soon! Until next time my friends, Happy Birding!

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