The Salt Meadow Unit - Connecticut’s first National Wildlife Refuge - was acquired in 1971 under authority of the Migratory Bird Act by private donation. Ester Lape donated her land to protect the wetlands, perpetuate the property as a wildlife sanctuary, and provide opportunities for environmental awareness.
Consisting of 370acres of forest, , shrubland and meadow in Westbrook, this unit serves as the refuge headquarters and a visitor contact site. The interpretive trail offers people a chance to watch the amazing courtship flights of American woodcock, wading bird like egrets, herons and glossy ibis, nesting tree swallows, and many other animals and plants.
Salt Meadow Unit (Headquarters)
This unit is conveniently located just off Interstate-95 in Westbrook, CT. Take Exit 64 and go south on Horse Hill Road (Rt. 145). At the stop sign, turn left onto Old Clinton Rd. The visitor parking area is about 1 mile down the road on the right. There is a large brown McKinney National Wildlife Refuge sign at the visitor entrance. Once you reach the end of the visitor driveway and parking lot, you'll see two stone buildings on the right. The large one is refuge headquarters. Proceed up past the buildings to enter the information kiosk and trail system.
One of the largest coastal wetlands left in the state, this 421-acre unit consists of and upland habitats. Great Meadows is a very significant area for over 270 species of migratory birds, including waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. Northern harrier, green-winged teal, great blue heron and kingfisher are just some of the unique species found there. This unit of the refuge also serves as a nursery for juvenile horseshoe crabs, a nesting area for diamondback terrapins, and the last place the state endangered saltmarsh pink can be found growing wild in Connecticut.
The Great Meadows Unit has trails with an observation blind and two observation decks.
This unit is located just moments from Interstate-95 in Stratford, CT. Take Exit 30 and proceed southeast on Lordship Blvd. (Route 113). Then turn onto Long Beach Blvd (across from Duchess restaurant). The refuge parking area and welcome kiosk are near the end of Long Beach Blvd., on the left side of the road.
A barrier beach, Milford Point is considered one of the best bird watching areas in Connecticut. The adjacent mudflats, sand bars, and marshes provide waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds with a safe haven for feeding and resting during their long spring and fall migrations. Over 50 species of shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl use this 23-acre refuge unit. The barrier beach, which protects the from high tides and storms, provides essential nesting and feeding habitat for several protected species including piping plovers, least terns, and American oystercatchers.
An observation deck at the refuge entrance offers visitors a year-round overview of this unit. Visitors are encouraged to walk the water line around the unit, but they must stay off the dunes and out of designated bird nesting areas.
This unit is located a few miles off Interstate-95 in Milford, CT. Take exit 34 and turn left off the exit onto Route 1 North. Turn right onto Lansdale Ave. and then make another right onto Milford Point Road. This will lead to the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center, where parking is available. Please drive slowly as speed limits are low in this residential area. The refuge may be accessed by walking a short distance along the Audubon Center's boardwalk, and then to the west along the shoreline. Please do not use the private road.
Outer Island, located off of the coast of Branford, is the southernmost of the Thimble Islands. It was privately owned until 1995 when Elizabeth Hird donated it to the refuge to protect the island’s natural resources and provide access for education and research. This five-acre island, composed of granite outcroppings, boulder and cobble beaches in the intertidal zone, and small salt marshes, provides habitat for migratory birds, marine life and is an important pollinator stopover site.
Outer Island is especially popular with families, schools and local day camps. PRO TIP: When visiting Outer Island or other island units, plan your visit at lower tides in order to explore and find creatures in the intertidal zone.
This unit is located in the Thimble Islands chain off the coast of Branford, CT. This unit must be accessed via the Thimble Islands Ferry (fee required) or by private vessel from the nearby Stony Creek boat ramp.
The forest, shrublands and beaches of the Norwalk Islands are recognized as regionally significant habitat for colonial nesting birds like herons and egrets, vital nesting and migratory habitat for neotropical birds, and high-quality wintering grounds for waterfowl.
Sheffield Island's nature trail and sandy beach offer visitors an excellent vantage point to observe and photograph water birds, beach life, and other scenes of nature. Guided tours of the nature trail, beach and the historic Sheffield Lighthouse are often available during summer.
Visitors may reach the island by private boat, or - in summer - by taking a scenic ferry ride with the Norwalk Seaport Association. Ferry tickets are available at their dock, located near Norwalk's Maritime Aquarium. Private vessels will have to pay a small docking fee if using the Seaport Association dock.
The Chimon Island Unit has historically supported as many as 1,200 breeding pairs of herons, egrets and ibises. To protect habitat, the West Beach is the only portion of the island open to the public. Passive public uses like wildlife observation and photography are encouraged there. The nearest public motorboat launch is at Veterans Park, and it requires a fee.
This unit may be reached by private vessel, such as a kayak, as there is no available docking facility. Visitors in motorboats may anchor off the island's West Beach.
At 33 acres, Calf Island is the largest offshore island in Greenwich. It is located south of Byram Harbor, approximately 3,000 feet from the mainland, and is connected at low tide to Shell Island. The Island boasts a diverse coastal habitat including tidal wetlands, intertidal flats, rocky intertidal shore, sandy beach, mixed forest, and coastal shrubland. The island provides excellent wading bird foraging habitat and is located less than a mile from Great Captain’s Island, which contains one of the largest heron and egret rookeries in Long Island Sound. Calf Island also has several significant geological features that offer a glimpse into the region’s ancient past.
A private vessel, such as a kayak, must be used to reach the island. There is no ferry service or available docking facility. Motorboats may anchor off the island's crescent beach. The nearest boat launch is at Byram Park and it requires a fee.
Rocky shores, shrublands, and grasses cover five-acre Falkner Island, located three miles off the coast of Guilford. Each year during the breeding season, the island is home to over 2,500 pairs of nesting common terns. The island also hosts Connecticut’s only breeding colony of roseate terns, a federally-listed endangered species. There are usually about 25-30 roseate tern pairs in addition to the common terns. In total that’s more than 5,000 terns breeding on a very small island!
Every summer, refuge staff closely monitor the tern colony for population information, breeding pairs and nesting success. PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE ISLAND IS CLOSED year-round to protect wildlife habitat. The refuge and its partners sometimes host public "Open House" events, which usually occur in September.
Although not owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we have a strong partnership with many parks and other entities in the City of New Haven. Places like Beaver Ponds, West River, Cherry Ann and other sites throughout the city are designated by the Service as "Urban Oases" - green spaces enjoyed by both people and wildlife. To find out more about these wonderful places, follow this link.