Photos of the Long Island Sound

Our Plan

Great Meadows

Location: Stratford, CT

Anchor Site(s): Great Meadows Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

About the Site: Great Meadows tidal marsh is a large wetland area surrounded by the highly urbanized Greater Bridgeport Area and Long Island Sound. It is part of a larger habitat mosaic of barrier beach, forest, shrubland, grassland, and shallow open water estuarine embayment which together are a mecca for wildlife along the Long Island Sound. The marsh complex, which is owned by the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, provides habitat for fish, rare plants, and more than 270 species of migrating and breeding birds. Great Meadows marsh, and  surrounding wildlife areas owned by Bridgeport, Stratford, and private property owners, is also recognized by National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area, in part for helping to protect listed species such as pied-billed grebe, Ipswich sparrow, and piping plover. One of these properties, adjacent to the Great Meadows marsh (the designated Stewardship Site) is Long Beach, a barrier beach that is a haven for beach-nesting birds, and includes the recently restored Long Beach West dune and beach.

Comins2Patrick Comins, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Connecticut, explains what makes Long Beach West a vital habitat for many birds and plants (click photo).



Ecological Importance

  • One of the largest partially unditched salt marshes along the coast of Connecticut.
  • Identified as an Important Bird Area by National Audubon Society.
  • Critical habitat for over 270 species of birds providing nesting,  over-wintering, and stopover areas for migratory birds such as waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds including pied-billed grebe, Ipswich sparrow, and piping plover.
  • Contains five rare plant species and serves as breeding or feeding grounds for several species of finfish.
  • Long Beach West and adjacent Pleasure Beach support an extensive and rare coastal barrier habitat known as ridge plain, a system of alternating dunes and swales supporting rare coastal plant communities.
  • Lewis Gut, which channels water into the marsh from Long Island Sound, contains one of the most productive shellfish beds in the state and provides breeding and feeding grounds for several species of finfish.

Recreational Opportunities

  • Pack your binoculars and spend a day birdwatching—either from the shore or from a canoe or kayak.
  • Hike the trails at McKinney National Wildlife Refuge Great Meadows Unit that can be accessed from the end of Long Beach Road or walk along Long Beach which is accessed from the parking area at the end of Oak Bluff Drive.
  • Take a swim or fish from kayak or the shore at Long Beach West and Pleasure Beach..

Dive Deeper

  • Audubon CT: Stratford Great Meadows Unit                                                    Audubon Connecticut’s web page for this Important Bird Area provides a site description, ornithological summary, and list of conservation issues facing this habitat complex. It also provides detailed descriptions of bird use of the area including bird census data dating as far back as 1993.
  • Important Bird Area Conservation Plan: Stratford Great Meadows, Long Beach/Pleasure Beach, Frash Pond and Adjacent Areas
    This comprehensive Audubon document is a great resource to
    better understand the conservation issues facing this Stewardship Area. It describes
    the area’s natural history, habitat types, conservation threats and goals, and
    a proposed action plan. Its appendix lists sightings of hundreds of bird
    species, informative maps, and specific recommendations for improving bird
    habitat for all 27 management units that make-up this proposed Important Bird
  • eBird Occurrence Maps
    The dynamic maps show the migration patterns of dozens of species of birds across the continental United States. Each map consolidates complex data and bird sightings for 130,000 locations that provide insight into migrations. Check
    out the Occurrence Map for blackpoll warblers sighted at Great Meadows to begin exploring this helpful tool.
  • Long Beach West Demolition Video                                                                              Watch a video by US Fish and Wildlife
    Service showing the demolition of 37 cottages at Long Beach West at the Great
    Meadows Stewardship Area.



Places to Visit

  • Listed species, like  least terns and piping plover use Long Beach, adjacent to Great Meadows  for nesting, thereby providing critical habitat for  these and other species who feed, rest or breed here. The site is also a popular area for passive recreational activities, but please obey posted access restrictions along the beach during the spring/summer bird breeding season. A landmark restoration project from 2009 to 2011 resulted in the removal of 37 abandoned cottages and restoration of beach      nesting habitat—see the description of this conservation success story featured in the lower right of this web page.


Get Involved/Events

  • The Town of Stratford Great Meadows and Long Beach web pages provide a good overview of these important sites. In addition to providing a summary of each sites’ habitat value they provide directions to the sites, links to relevant Audubon features, a video of the marsh, and a photo gallery.
  • The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge website gives an overview of the habitat at Great Meadows as well as directions to each site and a list of recreational opportunities and restrictions.
  • The CTDEEP Connecticut Coastal Access Guide  provides an overview of Long Beach along with a map and directions.


Field Notes

  • Waterfowl hunting requires a permit. To learn more, contact the Refuge using the phone or email address on its web page.
  • There is no swimming from the refuge.

Return to the main Stewardship page

Did You Know?

  • Great Meadows contains the largest complex of unditched high marsh remaining in CT.
  • In addition to migrating birds, dragonflies and songbirds use the Great Meadows’ wetlands as a resting area during migration.
  • The remains of an abandoned, once popular, former amusement park occupy the City of Bridgeport’s Pleasure Beach at the western tip of the barrier spit known as Long Beach/Pleasure Beach.  Access to Pleasure Beach from Bridgeport was cut off in 1996 after the bridge connecting it to the mainland burned. The City of Bridgeport, which owns Pleasure Beach, is evaluating re-use plans for the beach.

Long Beach West

Great Meadows

Success Stories

Long Beach West Dune and Beach
Removal of abandoned structures and 35 acres of beach and dune habitat successfully restored along Long Beach West.

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