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Great Meadows


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 the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area, in part for helping to protect listed species such as long-tailed duck, semipalmated sandpiper, 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.

Patrick Comins, who was the Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Connecticut in 2014, explains what makes Long Beach West a vital habitat for many birds and plants. He now is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Audubon Society. 

Ecological Importance
  • One of the largest partially unditched salt marshes along the coast of Connecticut.
  • Identified as a globally 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 a 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 Area.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Read about the Living Shoreline Project at Stratford Point, which was recently awarded the “Best Restored Shore Award” in Connecticut. 
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.
  • Go for a walk along the Stratford Sea Wall, located close to Long Beach and enjoy the view of Long Island Sound. 
  • Visit nearby Stratford Point, a property managed by Audubon Connecticut, and birdwatch, go for a hike or check out the lighthouse! The property is open Monday – Friday, 9am – 4 pm. 
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 CT DEEP 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 in the refuge.
  • Motorboat operators should be aware of the changing tides and weather conditions at all times. 
  • Great Meadows. Audubon CT. Web. June 23, 2021. 
  • Important Bird Area Conservation Plan: Stratford Great Meadows, Long Beach/Pleasure Beach, Frash Pond and Adjacent Areas. Audubon Connecticut. Web. June 23, 2021. 
  •  Long Beach West Cottage Removal and Habitat Restoration. USFWS. Web. June 23, 2021.
  • Stewart B. McKinney: National Wildlife Refuge, Great Meadows Unit Hunting Regulations 2020-2021. CT DEEP. Web. June 23, 2021.

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