H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary & Christmas Tree Farm
Sasco Creek Road, Westport
Our sanctuaries are open daily year-round, dawn to dusk.
- 36 acres at the south end of the road;
- a 24-acre Christmas tree farm less than a mile north;
- a 14-acre field habitat across the road from the Christmas tree farm.
Broad, easy-to-walk trails wind through the 36-acre section. There are no formal trails at the Christmas tree farm but visitors are welcome to walk among the conifers; the same is true for the grassland across the road, although care needs to be taken to avoid ticks and remove ticks.
The trails at Smith Richardson are kept in good shape and the habitat maintenance is carried out by the Friends of Larsen volunteer group, overseen by Connecticut Audubon staff. To become involved, contact Charlie Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 36-acre section is one of the few places in Connecticut where visitors can see a significant habitat restoration project while it is in progress.
Until roughly 2016, this section of Smith Richardson was a thicket of weeds and invasive shrubs and vines such as barberry and Asiatic bittersweet.
Many acres of invasive plants and vines with little value to birds and insects were removed. Volunteers and staff replaced them with more than 3,000 native trees and shrubs that provide seeds, fruit, and nectar year-round for birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife. Two new two-acre pollinator meadows buzz with insects. Small plots of seed-producing grasses ripen in fall, in time for songbird migration.
For anyone familiar with the sanctuary in its “before” stage, the results are a stark improvement. The impenetrable tangle of weedy plants is gone, replaced by a mixture of meadows, shrubs, thickets, conifers, and open woods.
All three sections of the Smith Richardson sanctuary offer interesting and excellent birding.
Christmas tree farm
in early spring, visitors can hear and see American Woodcock as they perform their courtship flight. In winter, look for Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and rarities such as White-winged and Red Crossbills.
Tree Swallows, Eastern Kingbird, and Eastern Bluebird are among the species that nest in the section of the sanctuary across the road.
Spring migration brings in birds of many habitats: Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Field Sparrow, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Song Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Gray Catbird, House Wren, Cedar Waxwing, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles among them.
Sparrows arrive in fall — Song, Field, Savannah, White-throated, White-crowned, Swamp, and perhaps even a rare Clay-colored or Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as warblers such Yellow-rumped, American Redstart, and Palm. Eastern Towhee and Dark-eyed Junco might stay through the winter. Other sightings often include Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Phoebe, Winter Wren, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Blue Grosbeak.
Gulls fly over from nearby Long Island Sound. Red-tailed Hawks hunt in the preserve year-round.
eBird Hotspot for the 36-acre section
eBird Hotspot for the Christmas tree farm
There is a small parking area at the 36-acre section and the Christmas tree farm, but no bathroom or other facilities.
Major funding for the restoration was provided grant from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund.
The Staples High School’s Service League of Boys (SLOBS) and the Builders Beyond Borders organization from Norwalk pitched in with teams of young workers during several volunteer work days. Two Eagle Scout projects have also improved the sanctuary. Westport resident Gus Bory built and then led a team that installed three hand-hewn benches in the 36-acre section; and Owen Weber of Southport worked with a team to build and install 450 feet of split rail fence along the road at the 14-acre section.
For an in-depth look at the restoration of Smith Richardson, watch this video produced by Fairfield resident Misty Beyer:
More about Smith Richardson
A time to plant: Volunteer work day at Smith Richardson
Migratory songbirds in abundance at Smith Richardson
A paradise for birds and bugs
Volunteers plant 450 trees
Native plant sale
Jerid O’Connell on why Smith Richardson is important
A neighborhood sanctuary