Wheeler marsh is an ~615 acre Spartina alterniflora-dominated low salt marsh at the mouth of the Housatonic River, and is a wildlife management area managed by the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection for waterfowl and marsh bird hunting and the benefit of other wildlife. Milford Point is an 8.5-acre barrier beach with two large state-owned sandbars that are generally not covered by mean high water. The smaller of the two is often covered by storm or spring tides and the larger sandbar has recently become contiguous with the mainland. The Connecticut Audubon Society has a nature education center located on the barrier beach, and the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge owns the 8.5-acre point proper. The area has much potential for education and research, and has been the site of Manomet International Shorebird Surveys since 1998, and location of an ongoing migrant banding station.
The marsh, sandbars, and barrier beach are some of the most important shorebird migratory stopover areas on Long Island Sound, providing foraging areas and resting areas for tens of thousands of shorebirds each year. Numbers of some species of migrating shorebirds (especially Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers) may elevate this area to the level of national or global significance. The marsh, barrier beach and sandbars provide nesting habitat for several species of regional and national concern. Two to five pairs of Piping Plovers nest in area annually. Common and Least Terns have nested in the area with up to 100 pairs of each species in recent years; it is an important tern staging area, including some Roseate Terns, with 1000+ terns recorded annually. Seaside and Salt Marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows nest in the marsh. The marsh may be a globally significant migratory stopover area for Saltmarsh and 'Acadian' Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows, as an extremely high percentage of the world's population of the 'Acadian' (subvirgatus) subspecies may use the marsh in migration. There has been an American Oystercatcher nesting area with 2 pairs. Species among 10-20,000 shorebirds recorded annually include small numbers of Red Knot, and significant numbers of Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers. There is a regionally important Clapper Rail and Willet nesting area in marsh. The marsh serves as an important waterfowl stopover and staging area, and one of Connecticut's most significant nesting areas for American Black Duck and Gadwall. It's also one of Connecticut's most significant feeding areas for egrets and herons, and is particularly important to Black-crowned Night-Herons, which, however, can cause problems for other nesting bird species. The marsh is a Peregrine Falcon foraging area in migration/nesting season, Horned Lark nesting area, important heron/egret foraging area in nesting/post-nesting dispersal seasons, regionally important stopover/wintering area
Access to the USFWS property is limited to protect wildlife in the nesting season. The CT DEP Wildlife Division, USFWS and Connecticut Audubon Society use interns and volunteers to monitor nesting Piping Plovers and Least Terns.
Serious – Introduced animals (cats,
Mute Swans), predators, pollution, habitat conversion (succession on barrier
beach, invasive or non-native plants), disturbance to birds or habitat (by
recreational beach-goers and domestic animals), hydrologic changes (rising sea
level). Minor –None Potential – Development on adjacent
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State of Connecticut Department of Environmental
Protection, Connecticut Audubon Society (lease agreement with State for barrier beach property
on which nature center sits).
Primary: Brackish tidal marshSecondary: Estuary, marine, barrier beach/dune, sandbars, river.
Primary: Hunting/fishing, nature and wildlife conservation. Secondary: other recreation or tourism, suburban/residential, research.