Important Bird Areas

Barn Island Wildlife Management Area

Connecticut

Barn Island Wildlife Management Area consists of approximately 1000 acres of land in the extreme southeast corner of the state, in a protected enclave sheltered by headlands. It is the largest coastal wildlife management area in the state. The habitat is dominated by 540 acres of deciduous forest and 290 acres of tidal marshes, but there are also significant areas of open salt water, four waterfowl impoundments, and coastal scrub woodlands and thickets. The Barn Island area is popular with birders, and in the fall there are many hunters as well. In the Report on the Barn Island Marshes (1972), by Dr. William A. Niering, Barn Island is referred to as "the finest wild coastal area in Connecticut." Barn Island Wildlife Management Area supports at least 9 State-listed avian species.

Ornithological Summary

Barn Island and the recently acquired 144-acre addition provide nesting, and/or feeding habitats for several state-listed species of birds, including Seaside and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Willet, and King Rail. Barn Island also provides feeding habitats for Great and Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, and Little Blue Heron, and Common and Least Terns, and supports wintering populations of Short-eared Owl and "Ipswich" Savannah Sparrows. Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows are listed as "near-threatened" by BirdLife International, and as such, any site that supports 10 or more pairs or 30 or more individuals of any near-threatened species would meet the criteria of a globally significant site. Research conducted by the University of Connecticut has banded 65 individual Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows in five one-hectare plots within the 290 acres of tidal marsh habitat. There are historic breeding records for Northern Harrier, Black Rail, and Least (1986) and American Bittern (1970) and Yellow-breasted Chat.

There is a state-owned farm within this area, the Stewart Farm, that has fields, thickets and woods around it that are nesting sites for certain high conservation priority species.

Conservation Issues

A 144-acre property adjacent to Barn Island WMA was recently acquired through a partnership between the CT DEP, the USFWS, The Nature Conservancy, the Town of Stonington, Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Connecticut Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, Connecticut Waterfowl Association, Hartford Audubon Society, and New Haven Bird Club. Preservation of this key parcel will serve to preserve the tidal marsh, and upland maritime forest buffer, and will prevent degradation that would have resulted from the proposed development of a golf course on the land. The recent acquisition of the upland borders of the tidal marshes at Barn Island WMA is especially important since the area supports significant populations of nesting Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows. Spartina (cordgrass) is an essential habitat feature for breeding Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed and Seaside Sparrows, and while these plants normally dominate un-ditched tidal marshes, Phragmites has replaced Spartina in many of the Barn Island tidal marshes. Measures are being taken to return the natural tidal flow to these marshes and in some cases this has already been done and has shown that restoration of the natural tidal flow led to replacement of Phragmites with Spartina and other typical salt marsh vegetation. Restoration of some of the tidal marshes led to increased numbers of Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed and Seaside Sparrows, and the restoration also brought large permanent pools that are important foraging areas for waders and shorebirds such as Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis and Least and Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Ownership

State of Connecticut/Department of Environmental Protection

Habitat

Primary: Deciduous Forest (Oak/Hickory/Maple/Other) 62.3%, Secondary: Saltmarsh (28.2%), Shrub, Grassland, Marine.

Land Use

Primary: Hunting/fishing, Nature and wildlife conservation. Secondary: Other recreation or tourism.