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Charles Island


Milford, CT

Anchor Site(s)

Charles Island Natural Area Preserve (managed by CT DEEP as part of Silver Sands State Park)

About the Site

Charles Island Natural Area Preserve, designated a Natural Area Preserve by the State of Connecticut in 1999, is a small densely wooded island important to Connecticut’s waterbirds. Geologically it is a coastal moraine segment, formed by an unsorted glacial deposit (a mixture of rocks and sediment). It is also a “tied island,” tied to the mainland by a connecting bar or tie bar consisting of pebbles and cobble. This 14-acre site hosts one of the state’s largest remaining breeding colonies of heron and egret. Designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, it provides nesting habitat for rare bird species, including great and snowy egret, long-eared owl, and least tern. Throughout history, plans for the island have included a tobacco plantation in 1657, a fertilizer plant, a hotel in the 1880s, and a Catholic men’s retreat center in the 1920s and 1930s. All eventually failed, leaving only a few remains of the retreat center.

Ecological Importance
  • Audubon designated Charles Island an Important Bird Area because it supports state-threatened species, including snowy egret and glossy ibis as well as year-round and migratory waterfowl and wading birds.
  • Charles Island was designated a Natural Area Preserve by the state in 1999 due in part to supporting populations of state-threatened snowy egrets and endangered roseate terns.
  • Charles Island and the surrounding waters are an important habitat for creatures residing at the bottom of the sea, including many different types of shellfish.
Recreational Opportunities
  • Open for passive recreation from September to April only.
  • Bring your binoculars to identify rare shorebirds, wading birds and raptors!
  • Fishing is allowed along the sandbar, but be sure to check the tides. There is even an after-hours fishing parking lot located on East Broadway. 
  • Identify seashells on Silver Sands beach using CT DEEP’s shell guide, available in English or Spanish. 
Dive Deeper

Audubon Connecticut
Audubon Connecticut’s website provides a detailed look at Charles Island and nearby Silver Sands State Park, including historical records of rare bird populations using these properties 

Natural Resource Inventory of Milford 

The Milford Open Space Steering Committee prepared a 63-page guide to the history and usage of natural resources in Milford, Connecticut, including mentions of Charles Island and Silver Sands State Park. 

Connecticut History 

This article explores the historical usages of Charles Island, as well as plans for the island that never came to be before the island was acquired by the State of Connecticut in 1960. 

Places to Visit
  • Silver Sands State Park, once the site of a municipal landfill, was designated a State Park in 1960. But its development as a park began in the late 1990s. It is now a popular site for swimming, sunbathing, fishing, walking on a boardwalk, and birdwatching. Check out CT DEEP’s State Parks web site for directions and advisories.
  • Head to the nearby Walnut Beach and walk along the boardwalk or go fishing on the pier. Visit in July and you may get to see sand sculptures! 
  • Take a walk in Nancy’s Meadow, a land parcel along the Housatonic River featuring a small walking trail. The meadow is the perfect spot to do some birdwatching. 
Get Involved/Events
  • Stay up to date with local conservation news on the Milford Land Trust’s News Page. Events include fundraisers, beach cleanups, and even craft workshops. 
  • The Milford Point Coastal Center of the Connecticut Audubon Society offers a variety of programs and events. Check their calendar for current listings. 
  • Check out the Milford Historical Society’s page for local tours, open houses, and more! 
Field Notes
  • Charles Island is closed to the public from May 1 to August 31 to protect nesting heron and egret colonies.
  • Attempting to cross the connecting bar to Charles Island can be dangerous. Visitors should consult local tide predictions. Uninformed visitors have been trapped on the island and swept off of the bar at high water!
  • Dense stands of poison ivy are found throughout the island.
  • A Good Spot and a Healthy Place: A Short History of Charles Island. History. Web. June 12, 2021. 
  • Natural Resource Inventory Report and Recommendations. Milford Open Space Steering Committee. Web. June 14, 2021. 
  • Silver Sands State Park. Audubon Connecticut. Web. June 14, 2021. 

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