Saturday, August 7, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 7

Yes, the White-tailed Kite is still here at Stratford Point, Milford Point, and between at Short Beach. Tomorrow will be one week since it was found. I have been getting a ton of questions via email and in person, so here's more information on Stratford Point and the White-tailed Kite. Please pass this along to anyone and everyone. Here are some more contributed photos of the ever-amazing but more elusive kite and then the FAQ.

1) What and where is Stratford Point?
Stratford Point is what we call the 28-acre coastal grasslands management area that is manged by the Connecticut Audubon Society and owned by Sporting Goods Properties, a subsidiary of DuPont. It is located at 1207 Prospect Drive in Stratford, Connecticut. You cannot miss it on a map or if you come to that address in person. It is a very spectacular and unique property situated on the mouth of the Housatonic River and Long Island Sound. It is open to many forms of passive recreation, including all birding, when the gate is open and we are here.

2) So what's the gun club?
Stratford Point was for decades a Remington gun and skeet shooting club where millions of lead shots were fired into the waters of the Housatonic and Long Island Sound. Remediation is making progress but ongoing. That pollution is the only current sign of the past, and being 24 years-old I do not remember the club at all. Hopefully we can forget about that unfortunate history in this beautiful natural habitat. For ease of understanding it is referred to as Stratford Point now.

3) Where's the kite usually?
This is complex. It roosts near Stratford Point and moves around quite a bit during the day now. We do not know the exact tree or even small area, and have only a general idea. If we did it would understandably not be public information. Suffice it to say if you come to Stratford Point in the early morning you have an exceptionally high chance of at least seeing it, probably getting great views. It always comes back in the evening, most of the time hunting briefly, a couple times going right to the trees in the back and staying out of sight. In the early part of the week (August 1-3) it was exceptionally conspicuous and stayed at Stratford Point nearly all the time. It has since explored a lot more, and it goes to Short Beach and Milford Point for prolonged periods. It also occasionally stops over in the Stratford Great Meadows Important Bird Area. Between its supreme hunting skills (not needing to hunt or be visible for too long), the knowledge it now has of the area, and the people with shiny things chasing after it or staring at it, I think it moves around to keep away from the crowds and relax. On the hotter days it sometimes stays out of view completely in the shade of a cool tree.

4) When does the gate at Stratford Point open?
When I open it. All this means is that most of the time, some weekdays aside, I am the first or only one there. There is no set time or schedule. I open the gate when I arrive. When Twan or Miley get there they may open it earlier. I do not open the gate mostly until later in the 7 o'clock hour so the kite can be left alone to hunt and feed after sunrise. This is critical to keeping it here. It needs to feed a lot in the early morning, and it seems like now it cannot or will not do that properly with crowds on the property itself. You are welcome to watch it from outside of Stratford Point property on Prospect Drive, or down on the beach, but please do not venture onto the site when it is not open. Let the kite hunt. The gate is open roughly from 7 to 7 lately, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, and sometimes closed. But as said the kite is spending much more time away from the coastal grasslands management area.

5) Where can I find these supposedly amazing pictures of the kite?
The infamous photos, including those taken while it fought a Peregrine Falcon, were taken by several great photographers and are on this Connecticut Audubon Society blog. Check entries below this one or in the archive to the right. You will also find more information on the bird, how it was found, a HD video I shot of it last Sunday, Stratford Point sightings, etc.

6) What else can I see at Stratford Point?
Nearly any kind of bird you like. Fall migration has been underway here since early July. Swallows are moving through every day with Chimney Swifts. Yellow Warblers, and sometimes anything from a Common Yellowthroat to Prairie Warbler, are going through too. Earlier today I had a group of 8 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher feeding before going towards the Stratford Lighthouse to keep migrating. Bobolinks and Orchard Oriole are common. Falcons, from the infamous Peregrine to American Kestrels, are often seen. Right now we have a ton of shorebirds either feeding, roosting, or flying by, nearly every kind you can imagine all the way to an occasional fly-by Whimbrel. We have terns from Common and Least to Roseate and Forster's, even once in a while a Royal or Caspian. You can see nearly anything during this migration period, and I totaled over 50 diverse species yesterday. We are finding a lot more lately with prolonged periods of time spent there and so many more eyes.

7) Where is the kite RIGHT now?!
I can probably answer this in the moment, but keep your eyes on this CT birding email list, and please help me and us out by posting information or at least passing it along to someone like myself in Stratford or anyone at the Coastal Center in Milford. This helps everyone.

8) How was the kite discovered?
Dennis Varza, a legendary and well-known name in Connecticut, found it flying around Stratford Point from Short Beach on Sunday, August 1 around 8AM.

9) Who are you?
I am the young guy with a white Audubon Science and Conservation staff t-shirt and a Yankees hat. So please feel free to ask me where the kite is, tell me you saw it, inquire about something else, or simply introduce yourself.

10) Thank you so much!
If you want to thank me or the Connecticut Audubon Society please donate to the Connecticut Audubon Society. It makes all of this possible. Please consider joining here too. Either way you would be doing a great service, and we thank you. We are all thrilled that so many people have had a great time with this spectacular raptor.

Photos 1 © Julian Hough; photos 2-4 © A.J. Hand


  1. ~ being from Stratford , living on the river my entire life as the generations of my family before me , I was a bit taken aback by one of your comments ~

    " Hopefully we can forget about that unfortunate history in this beautiful natural habitat. "

    Had there never been a gun club at Stratford Point you would not be standing there enjoying the sights you are reporting on ~ and let me add a few other short thoughts ~ there are no better advocates for protecting our enviroment than those that are most keenly aware of it and gunners consist as a great proportion of that group ~ it is to easy for any of us to look back in history and express strong disapproval for a time and place that we were not a part of ~ history is history ~ museums and zoos are filled with wildlife that would have been far happier in the wild but to condemn the good they have done would only intentionally underestimate the good that those that built those museums and zoos believe they have done ~ so just enjoy the Stratford Point and be happy that you can walk those fields that the Remington Gun Club kept from being a condo development and the gunners and sportsmen that advocate for our wildlife and fisheries , as they are the true keepers of our habitat ~

  2. Your point is understood, however, I believe you are looking too far into one line made in my quick entry.

    Your first point is an unknown. Who knows what would have become of the land if not utilized by the gun club, and it is irrelevant. "We" have preserved some areas of Stratford, such as Long Beach, to some degree. "We" have restored others, such as the tidal marsh areas on Long Beach Boulevard. I highly doubt the state of things as it is now will remain forever. There will be more development, restoration, and preservation.

    Similar to that point is the fact that nearly all of the land in "Lordship" was a marsh, and that Stratford Point was an island. If not for human development and progress in town it would be an incredibly expansive natural area not connected to the rest of the upland that is the remainder of Stratford. This could be said for nearly anywhere in America, and it becomes a bit arbitrary to continue down the "what if?" road.

    The "unfortunate" aspect comes with using lead shot. Is it a fortunate thing they decided to use lead for shot and fire it without thought into the mouth of the Housatonic? I doubt you would agree that it is. I understand this was the material of choice, and it is the best, but you would not find a responsible hunter today firing lead shot and then letting it end up in the ecosystem. This lead has been responsible for poisoning untold numbers of waterfowl over the years, including species that are a part of the Connecticut Endangered Species Act. This is also ignoring what it could do to every other living organism in the food chain in the estuary. Remington saved the land from total development, yes, but it was abused, and this has taken a toll on it that when totaled will last a few generations at least. So do I appreciate that fact? Of course, and it goes without saying...but it is still an unfortunate history about the pollution, and the time and money that must be used to correct this error...(continued below)

  3. I take pride in the gun club's history as a story of success in Stratford, as I take pride in the Shakespeare theatre, or even the Army Engine Plant. They were both very important localities for two very different parts of our culture and life. However, the recent history of stagnation at Shakespeare is unfortunate. What the plant did in terms of polluting our waterways is also unfortunate. I find there is almost no better way to say it than I would like to have my cake and eat it too - be an economically prosperous entity while simultaneously protecting and preserving key habitat. I wish this could have been the case a few decades earlier, and I hope it is our future. I see no reason why it could not be.

    I am a lifelong Stratford resident. I have been involved with conservation, birding, the environment, etc. for different parts of my entire life. I can assure you I have a total understanding of how hunting and fishing funds and ensures conservation. I have argued for it to people on numerous occasions. I enjoyed fishing for countless hours with my late uncle, also a hunter who cared deeply for the natural world. On a basic level, I cannot forget about the history of the site. The work we do is indeed involved in the lead pollution. I want the public to move on and think of it as a beautiful natural habitat, a place that needs further and constant care, but with nearly unlimited potential for people from all lifestyles to enjoy.

    You have to understand that I hear on a daily basis about how no one knew about the site. I am trying my hardest to get people in the birding community, Stratford residents, and random visitors who enjoy the outdoors to understand this is an open space - not a gun club. It often confuses people, and the notion of the old gun club as a blocked off area that no one could access is pervasive. People do not believe this is a place they can walk into and enjoy, as you refer to. Most had no clue until the White-tailed Kite came to us. So, yes, I am promoting the notion of a beautiful natural habitat over the idea of a private access only club.