Sunday Nature Walk: Special Edition – The Coastline of New England

While Easton, Conn. itself does not border the coastline, one would be remiss not to take note of the amazing oceanic environments that are just a stone’s throw away. While the two may seem separate, the water and the land largely complement each other and many species of animals can be found in both environments. Some fish come up river to spawn, gulls can be seen by lakes, and the meeting places of fresh and saltwater create a breeding ground for an abundance of species.

New England Reefs

While the tropics are home to bright and colorful reefs filled with coral and bustling with life, it is New England that has water packed with more organisms. The plankton in the water are what add to the lack of visibility, but also help sustain an extremely diverse array of animals. Fish species such as toutog (Tautoga onitis), black sea bass (Centropristis striata) and scup (Stenotomus chrysops) are common reef fish in New England and can be found feeding on crabs, smaller fish and other available prey. The Long Island Sound has many reefs filled with life, yet the most views are seen as one ventures more toward the mouth of the sound.

Open Ocean

One of the amazing aspects of the ocean is one can see anything at anytime. Currents can push animals up from areas from great distances and migratory animals can make pit stops along their route and can make themselves viewable. Among the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in nature is the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) which can reach lengths of more than 50 feet and weights of 40 tons. This massive animal spends much of its time raising young along the New England coast. Throughout the summer the young will remain with its mother, learning feeding techniques and other important life skills that all will help heighten the chances of its survival. Like with most animals, the most dangerous time for a humpback is in its first year of life with many of the fatalities occurring once the young leaves the mother.

Humpback whales feed on small fish and plankton and will “herd” prey by blowing bubbles. Other amazing behaviors include breaching, a behavior that has baffled scientists. Some believe this action is a method of communication, while others believe it to be a form of play. The prevailing consensus is that it is likely a combination of both. One can view these creatures on whale watches—which are very active during the fall months—including the highly recommended 7 Seas Whale Watch, whose knowledgable and courteous staff helped me film six different whales on a recent wildlife assignment.

Salt Marshes and Shallows

Usually surrounded by Phragmites and reeds, these important ecological areas are used as a breeding ground for many species of animals. However, for some this area is used as a more permanent home. The fiddler crab (Uca spp.) is a sand-dwelling species of crab that dig burrows. These burrows appear as tiny holes dotting the landscape and can number in the thousands. The males of these crabs possess an almost comically sized claw that is used to spar with other males during territorial disputes.

The shallow areas of marshes and shorelines contain many different fish species, but some gather in such large numbers that it is almost impossible to miss them. The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) gathers in large schools and can often serve as prey for hunting bluefish and striped bass. This can often create splashes in the water as the menhaden attempt to escape becoming a meal and sometimes will lead into a feeding frenzy.

Beach Birds

The coastline provides many opportunities to observe a wide variety of birds. Connecticut itself is home to endangered species such as the piping plover (Charadrius melodus) which lays its eggs near the rocky shores, and the sky is often filled with terns, gulls, oystercatchers and everything in between.

The largest gull in the world is the great black-backed gull (Larus marinus), a monstrous bird with an even bigger appetite. These ravenous gulls often hang around smaller gull species and bully them to steal an easy meal. These gulls are robust and have to contend with rough seas and sudden changes in the weather that the open ocean can bring.

Double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) are expert fisher-birds and spend much of their time by the water. In order to optimize their swimming capabilities, these birds lack the wicking oils that other species have to allow water to flow easily off the wing. Because of this characteristic, these birds can often be seen with their wings spread out in an attempt to dry them. Look for these birds gathered in colonies on rocks and edges near the oceanside.

While Easton may not border any salt marshes or open ocean, these areas are not too far away and all influence the landlocked wilds. Please consider jumping on a whale watch with 7 Seas Whale Watch for some amazing views, check out the scattered coastal Connecticut Audubon centers of Connecticut or simply take a walk on a nearby shoreline!

The deckhands and crew of the 7 Seas Whale Watch. Each individual pays a pivotal role in whale conservation by helping spread their passion for whales. The crew’s love for wildlife and all things environment was nothing short of contagious! Pictured from left to right: staff naturalist Matthew Sheehan, Michelle Morello, Claire Matusiewicz, Tyler Kotula, Natasha Telschow, and Kristen Daley. – Tomas Koeck Photo

Easton has an abundant habitat that supports a large variety of wildlife. Keep an eye out for some amazing creatures on your next walk in the woods, coastline or stream-side. For those who don’t know where to start, Easton and the region contain a wide variety of trails and natural areas. Explore some of the trails to find wildlife through the Aspetuck Land Trust, or explore trails throughout Connecticut at CT Woodlands.

For more nature photos, fun facts, and environmental entries, you might like to follow my nature photography Instagram.

Tomas Koeck
Tomas Koeck

Tomas is a 23 year old award-winning filmmaker, photographer and conservationist with a love for the outdoors and everything that it holds. He began taking photos in 2017 after he bought his first DSLR and soon found himself transferring out of biology at Pennsylvania State University to pursue digital media at Sacred Heart University. 
 
Tomas’s work has found its way into PBS Nature, the National Audubon Society, ESPN, Tamron Optics, and others which have allowed him to land sponsorships with companies like Tamron USA and partnerships with Canon USA. Tomas is currently working on projects with PBS Nature and the Smithsonian Channel and represents his university as an ambassador on Amazon Prime’s The College Tour. 

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