[CT Birds] A day to remind me what it's all about (fairly long)

Comins, Patrick PCOMINS at audubon.org
Fri Oct 25 18:49:46 EDT 2013

Yesterday I had one of those days that reminded me why I work so hard  at this job to conserve birds and their habitats.   I had the honor of attending the celebration of the protection of the 155-acre Sciongay property in Westbrook, CT.  The Connecticut DEEP, who had help form other partners including the Trust for Public Land, celebrated the permanent protection of this property in the tidal headwaters of the Menunketesuck River.  This means that more than one mile on both sides of the river is now permanently protected, due also to an earlier project to protect the Chapman Millpond property in Clinton.     This acquisition creates a vital buffer to the important tidal headwaters of the river that runs through the Salt Meadow Unit of Stewart B. McKinney NWR and empties to Long Island Sound at Duck Island Roads/Pilot's Point.   This was especially important because the Town of Clinton has been seeking a property on which to dispose of treated sewerage discharge through a community septic system of sorts.   The property has an area of sand dune habitat, which is a nesting area for eastern box turtle and the globally endangered wood turtle that would also be perfect for such a system from an engineering viewpoint.

Why is this project so important?  Many years ago, I worked for the Connecticut Audubon Society and then the US Fish and Wildlife Service and was based at Salt Meadow Unit.   At times I would need to be at work very early for bird surveys.  I found that there was an amazing variety and abundance of warblers and other migrant birds that used the Refuge in fall migration.  An early morning there after the passage of a cold front can be an amazing experience!   I started thinking about why so many migrants might find themselves on this property in fall migration and noticed that there were very few roads to the north of the property.   I then noticed that there is a very dark (at night), relatively undeveloped forested corridor that stretches from Salt Meadow Unit northwards to the Connecticut River in Middletown and beyond.  This corridor can even be seen from space at night and likely is a highway for our nocturnal migrant landbirds.  It can be seen in this photo as the dark corridor just to the east of the I-91 ribbon of light: http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/science/620615main_iss1600_946-710.jpg

I started compiling maps and other images in an attempt to get the word out about this potentially important flyway and even gave a talk several years ago at the COA Annual Meeting that featured this feature prominently.   I eventually started talking a bit less about it, but a few years ago learned that perhaps some seeds were planted after all.  Local municipalities, under the leadership of the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (I believe they were the lead) had made a successful push to officially  recognize a portion of this corridor as the Menunketesuck Greenway, with a goal of protecting land between the Refuge and the Cockaponsit State Forest to the north.  To make a very long story short, a parcel that I thought was absolutely key to protecting this flyway was the area directly to the north of the Refuge across I-95, i.e. this very property, along with the the parcels on the east side of the river.     Now both sides of the river are protected, which will hopefully spur on additional protection efforts to make the entire greenway a reality as a protected corridor.

I'm not trying to play up my personal role in the actual acquisition, those kudos go to Dave Kozak and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Trust for Public Land, funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Sciongay family who sold it for much less than market value, the Town of Westbrook and other partners I'm sure.  Though I am privileged to have helped a little by helping to make the case for that funding (funding that Audubon also plays a key role in securing for all of the partners to access through our Long Island Sound program).   My point is to never get discouraged, sometimes conservation action takes decades and sometimes small seeds you help to plant can bear great fruit when others see the vision and have the means to implement it.

The story gets even better though, later in the day I traveled to Norwalk for the announcement of this year's Long Island Sound Futures Fund awards, where a grant was announced to restore fish passage past the dam that is on the property.  This will allow river herring, blueback herring and and alewife to access over 3 miles of spawning habitat north of the dam.  I'm told (by DEEP fisheries biologist Steve Gephard, who also played a major role in this effort) that the name Menunketesuck means "the river of small silvery and bony fish", apparently the river historically ran silver with these fish that are so critical to the health of Long Island Sound and are now so endangered.

What does this have to do with birds you might say?  If you have ever kayaked the Menunketesuck River, you may wonder why people think Little Blue Herons are a rare sighting.  That marsh is a real hot spot for them and just off the mouth of the river sits Duck Island, a critical heron rookery and probably the most important nesting area in the state for Little Blues.  Also, the Menunketesuck flats are a prime staging area for terns in the late summer and fall, including the federally endangered Roseate Tern.    Think of how much better that bird habitat would be with oodles of small fish to forage on?

Buffer, for a beautiful marsh, more fish for birds to eat and a keystone parcel protected on the flight path to a key migration stopover, what could be better than that?   And partners who did the legwork to make the deal happen to top it off.  Kudos to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Trust for Public Land, US EPA and all  of the partners who made this a reality...I'm proud to have played my small role to help you do your great work!

For more info on this great conservation victory:
And a photo of the property:



Patrick M. Comins
Director of Bird Conservation

Audubon Connecticut
185 East Flat Hill Road
Southbury, CT 06488

Phone: (203)264-5098 x308

Fax: (203)264-6332

pcomins at audubon.org
Audubon Connecticut is on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AudubonCT
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