H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Preserve and Christmas Tree Farm
Location: Sasco Creek Road, Westport
Directions, via Google Map: Signs on Sasco Creek Road indicate each of the preserve’s three parcels.
Habitat: Evergreen and Christmas Tree plantations, field, shrub, limited deciduous forest
Size: Approximately 74 acres
Description and species: Widely known as wonderful birding location in the fall and winter, the preserve offers a variety of species year-round. In early spring, visitors stand a good chance of finding American Woodcock here. At dusk one may be able to witness the amazing courtship flight of the male. Spring migration brings in birds of open, shrub, and edge habitat types including Yellow Warbler, Field Sparrow, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Song Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Gray Catbird, House Wren, Cedar Waxwing, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and many more. Several of these species spend the summer here, with some like the House Wren and Tree Swallow utilizing nest boxes placed on the property. You may also see a few other swallow species – Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows – gracefully flitting about in the area. The Christmas trees can host a surprising number of Song Sparrow, Gray Catbird, and other species that nest right in these growing evergreens. Who knows, you may come to purchase a tree for Christmas that helped raise a family the preceding summer!
The most notable part of the fall season is the terrific sparrow migration that brings those “little brown jobs” through the preserve and tree farm in October and November. This can include more Song Sparrow as well as Field, Savannah, White-throated, White-crowned, Swamp, and perhaps even a rare Clay-colored or Grasshopper Sparrow. There will likely be Eastern Towhee and Dark-eyed Junco present, as well as warblers like Yellow-rumped, American Redstart, and Palm. Other sightings often include Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Phoebe, Winter Wren, both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and the rare Blue Grosbeak.
During winter months the evergreens tend to be the stars of the show and the Christmas tree farm at times hosts rare birds such as White-winged and Red Crossbills. One is often likely to find an inconspicuous Brown Creeper amidst the cold and snow along with Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and perhaps a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Even during this frigid and harsh time of year the preserve can hold a handful of Eastern Bluebirds, a beautiful reminder that spring is never far.
Recent sanctuary management practices at the Smith Richardson Preserve are targeting non-native invasive plant species, including the dreaded Mile-a-Minute Vine, while at the same time maintaining the early successional “old field” character of the sanctuary. Birds that rely on such open, young habitats are among the most imperiled in Connecticut. Habitat management at this sanctuary is carried out in cooperation with the Natural Resource Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while Mile-a-Minute removal is done together with the University of Connecticut and and the Connecticut Invasive Plant Workgroup.
All photographs on this page by Twan Leenders/The Connecticut Audubon Society