Improvements to the Larsen Sanctuary in Fairfield benefit wildlife, Long Island Sound, and the 10,000 people who visit each year
The work is one piece of a large network of habitat restoration projects Connecticut Audubon is carrying out on its sanctuaries and in collaboration with others
September 6, 2022 — The Larsen Sanctuary in Fairfield doesn’t feel like it’s all that close to Long Island Sound. But there’s a direct connection between the woods off Burr Street and the sound at Southport.
A Connecticut Audubon restoration project being carried out now will improve and protect both places.
Birds, frogs, turtles, and insects will all benefit. American eels will even benefit.
So will the thousands of people who visit the sanctuary each year to enjoy the plants and wildlife.
And because of the connection, Long Island Sound—five miles away—will benefit as well.
The work at the Larsen Sanctuary is one of at least 20 habitat improvement projects that Connecticut Audubon is undertaking. Those projects encompass more than 450 acres; 12 of the projects are on Connecticut Audubon sanctuaries and eight are in collaboration with other conservation organizations or state and local agencies.
Land preservation and habitat improvement were among the key issues examined in Connecticut Audubon’s 2021 Connecticut State of the Birds report, “Three Billions Birds Are Gone. How Do We Bring Them Back?”
Over the last 50 years, the North American bird population has fallen by approximately 30 percent, or three billion birds. The ongoing habitat projects improve woodlands, shrublands, and fields so Connecticut’s bird have more places to nest, to feed, and rest during migration, and to spend the winter. The improvements are also beneficial for pollinating insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
Habitat restoration also improves the ability of land to store carbon, making these projects increasingly important in the effort to control the effects of climate change.
You can find details about all these projects on our Habitat Improvement page.
The Larsen sanctuary includes the headwaters of Sasco Creek, which flows to the sound through Fairfield and Southport.
It is one of dozens of small watersheds that can carry either polluted water to the sound — or clean water.
The Larsen project will help keep runoff and eroded soils out of the creek by improving the sanctuary’s ponds and the woods and fields surrounding the creek and its wetlands.
The work is being supported by your donations, by generous grants from the Tucker Fund and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Long Island Sound Futures Fund, and by volunteers from the Friends of Larsen group.
Among the leaders of those volunteers is Fairfield resident Charlie Stebbins, a former Connecticut Audubon Board member, whose work improving Larsen and other sanctuaries has been honored with a Conservation Commendation Award from the Fairfield Garden Club.
Two ponds at Larsen usually serve as catch basins to keep eroded soil and silt out of the creek.
But at one of those—Ice Pond—the culvert that is supposed to help control the flow of water has become damaged, draining the pond so that it’s not much more than a stream. A new culvert will slow the outflow and allow the pond’s water level to rise again.
Part of the other pond—Farm Pond—will be deepened. The work at both ponds will improve habitat for green frogs, painted turtles, and other freshwater animals. It will help maturing American eels to reach the ponds after their journey up-creek from the sound.
Larsen’s seven miles of trails include the Fragrance Loop, a short trail near the sanctuary’s entrance. It was designed to provide a sensory experience to the blind and other people with limited vision, and is now being restored after many years.
New plants include white spruce, swamp white oak, sassafras, and American holly. The understory will be rich with textures and fragrances provided by spice bush, summersweet (also known as sweet pepper), and speckled alder.
The woods around the Fragrance Loop are already a prime spot for migrating warblers, finches, grosbeaks, and other birds. Our estimate is that for at least half of those species, the number of birds feeding and nesting in the area will increase over the next decade because of the improvements.
In the sanctuary’s northern section, Deer Meadow is getting an overhaul. Habitat steward Stefan Martin has divided the meadow’s 10 acres into eight sections for restoration planning purposes.
A large area overgrown with multiflora rose, wild grape, and bittersweet will be replanted with wildflowers that provide nectar for insects. The meadow edges will be lined with sassafras, highbush blueberry, gray birch, gray dogwood, staghorn sumac, and winterberry.
A border of flowering dogwood will flank the entrance trail.
Huckleberry, highbush blueberry, elderberry, and northern bayberry — rich with nutritious fruits and seeds for songbirds — will be planted in a wet section of the meadow that feeds the Sasco wetlands and filters water that runs off nearby residential properties.
There’s more about our sanctuaries, including Larsen, on our main sanctuary page. We estimate that about 10,000 people visit the sanctuary each year — birders searching for rarities, neighbors out for a walk, school kids participating in our Science in Nature programs, people in wheelchairs who like the ease of the mile-long Chiboucas Special Use trail.
The habitat improvements will not only benefit wildlife and Long Island Sound, it will make the experience for visitors better as well.
If you’re one of them, make a point of looking for the improvements. And if you’ve never been there, plan a visit. At 155 acres, it has a lot to offer — and it’s getting better.