Stewart B. McKinney
National Wildlife Refuge
|733 Old Clinton Road
Westbrook, CT 06498
Phone Number: 860-399-2513
|Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge
Stewart B. McKinney NWR is comprised of ten different units that are stretched across Connecticut's shoreline. The headquarters is located approximately 45 minutes south of Hartford and 30 minutes east of New Haven in Westbrook, CT.
Salt Meadow NWR was established in 1972 and redesignated by Congress as the Connecticut Coastal National Wildlife Refuge in 1984. The refuge was renamed in 1987 to honor the late U.S. Congressman Stewart B. McKinney, who was instrumental in its establishment. The ten units of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge span 70 miles of Connecticut coastline.
Located in the Atlantic Flyway, the refuge provides important resting, feeding, and nesting habitat for many species of wading birds, shorebirds, songbirds and terns, including the endangered roseate tern. Adjacent waters serve as wintering habitat for brant, scoters, American black duck and other waterfowl. Overall, the refuge encompasses over 800 acres of barrier beach, tidal wetland and fragile island habitats.
Salt Meadow Unit, in Westbrook, CT, and Falkner Island Unit, three miles off the coast of Guilford, CT, have both been designation as an "Important Bird Area" by the National Audubon Society. Falkner Island Unit is home to over 124 pairs of nesting Federally Endangered Roseate Terns and over 3000 nesting pairs of common terns. Salt Meadow Unit is used by over 280 species of migrating neotropical birds during the spring and fall migrations.
Getting There . . .
Salt Meadow Unit (Headquarters) Take Exit 64 off of I-95 and turn south on Rt 145. At the stop sign, take a left on Old Clinton Rd. The visitor parking area is about 1 mile up on the right.
Outer Island Unit This unit is located in the Thimble Island Chain off the coast of Branford, CT. This unit must be accessed by ferry (from Stony Creek, CT) or by private vessel. Please check with the refuge for hours of visitation.
Falkner Island Unit This unit is located three miles off the shore of Guilford, CT. This unit must be accessed by private vessel and is closed to public visitation except during the open house. Please contact the refuge for more information.
Milford Point Unit This unit is located 14 miles SW of New Haven in Milford, CT. Take exit 34 off I-95. Turn left off the exit onto route 1 north. Take a right onto Lansdale Ave. and a right onto Milford Point Road to the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center, where parking is available. Please drive slowly as speed limits are low in this area. The observation deck may be accessed by walking a short distance along the boardwalk, and then to the west along the shoreline. Please do not use the private road.
Great Meadows Unit This unit is located off Lordship Boulevard (Route 113) in Stratford and is open to wildlife viewing, photography, environmental education, and interpretation along the trail system. The unit is also open by special use permit for waterfowl hunting during the state waterfowl hunting season.
Sheffield, Chimon, Goose and Peach Island Units These islands are located off the shore of Norwalk, CT and approximately 40 miles east of New York City. A ferry to Sheffield Island leaves from the Seaport Dock, located near the Maritime Aquarium. A private vessel must be used to reach Chimon Island Unit. Peach Island and Goose Island Units currently closed to public.
Calf Island Unit This island is located off the coast of Greenwich, CT. A private vessel must be used to reach the Calf Island Unit.
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The refuge is involved in many extremely important management activities both on and off the refuge. These management activities look at the importance of the refuge in the larger structure of its local ecosystem. These activities range from grassland and marsh restoration to the creation of artificial nesting structures for terns, bluebirds, and black ducks.
Threatened and Endangered Species Management and Artificial Nesting Structures The refuge's primary concern is for its federally threatened and federally endangered wildlife species. From April to September, the refuge staff focuses on the federally endangered roseate tern colony on Falkner Island and the federally threatened piping plovers nesting at Milford Point.
Each year, the refuge looks for new ways to increase the success of these important birds. Increasingly, predation on roseate terns by black-crowned night-herons has become a limiting factor on the production of the colony. The refuge has implemented many management activities to increase protection of these federally endangered birds. Vegetation used as cover by the black-crowned night-heron during nightly hunts has been removed and will continue to be managed. Implementation of new artificial nesting and hiding structures that had occured in the summer of 2003 has made it more difficult for the night herons to reach eggs and newborn chicks.
The refuge and other researchers hope that these measures will help to increase the colonies productivity by eliminating one of the factors contributing to nest failure. Threatened and endangered birds are not the only birds which utilize artificial nesting structures. The refuge and its partners create and maintain boxes for swallows, bluebirds, black ducks and owls as well.
Areas of the Milford Point Unit and other adjacent public and private properties are managed by the refuge and several partners (Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Connecticut Audubon Society, and The Nature Conservancy) to benefit federally threatened piping plovers. Piping plover nests consist of a small scrapes on a sandy beach. Within these nests, plovers lay three to four camouflaged eggs. Because the eggs are laid on the ground and are very difficult to see, the nests are easily destroyed by mammalian and avian predators or by unsuspecting humans who accidentally step on the nest.
In order to decrease the amount of disturbance around the nest and reduce the chance of accidental nest destruction, refuge staff, partners and volunteers symbolically string the historic nesting areas in April. This closure of small sections of beach also aids state endangered least terns who are also ground nesters. Volunteers then monitor the birds and report their findings to the refuge. Each time four eggs are laid in a plover nest, refuge staff erect a wire exclosure around the nest. These exclosures are topped with netting and prevent avian and mammalian predators (such as crows, gulls, fox, and coyote) from attacking the nest and eating eggs or chicks. The piping plovers are able to fit through the holes in the exclosures to carry on their daily activities.
Connecticut Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Invasive Plant Management The refuge manages Connecticut's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, which restores grassland and wetland habitat throughout the state. In partnership with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Wildlife Division, and through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the refuge restores an average of 200 acres of wetland habitat and 80 acres of grassland habitat a year. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program works with local communities and citizens to restore public and private lands to their historic natural uses. Equipment and technical advice from this program have been used extensively throughout New England and New York. Wetland restoration includes the removal of contaminated soil, dredge spoil, and exotic, invasive vegetation and the reintroduction of historic hydrology and benefits a number of native species such as black duck and spartina grasses.
Grassland restoration includes the tilling or burning of non-native vegetation and the planting of native grasses such as switch grass, coastal panic grass and little and big blue stem. Grassland succession is maintained through mowing or burning of these areas to benefit various species or birds and animals. In fact, the 9 acres of grassland fields behind the refuge headquarters are maintained for use by ground nesting woodcock.