Apropos Bristow Sanctuary

Land Trusters,

Apropos Cam Hutchins' presentation to the Town Council and Kevin Moynihan's query to the Conservation Commission Chair Cam Hutchins, we undertook an overview assessment of the Sanctuary by Audubon Connecticut's chief Ornithologist and Director of Bird Conservation - Patrick Comins. His report is attached.

I've also scheduled a Woodlands Habitat review for Bristow to be undertaken by a Forester on the afternoon of June 7th.

Bristow is an underused and under appreciated park. Could be so much more...

Chris Schipper

March 14, 2016

Chris Schipper
New Canaan Land Trust 

Dear Chris—

Thanks for providing Audubon Connecticut a tour of the Harriet Bristow Bird Sanctuary with you and others from the New Canaan Land Trust.  This is a special site deserving increased protection, and stewardship.

Audubon Connecticut is the state office of the National Audubon Society.  As part of an organization that was founded over 100 years ago, we appreciate the history of the Bristow Sanctuary.  Created in 1924, and adopted by the New Canaan Bird Protective Society (later the New Canaan Audubon Society or NCAS), it has served the community for almost a century.  We know that NCAS recently became part of the New Canaan Land Trust.  So, we now share a common mission of protecting habitat for birds…and people.

The Bristow sanctuary provides high quality habitats for birds, particularly in the migration seasons, and ample opportunities exist to improve the habitat types within the sanctuary and enhance the quality of stopover habitat it offers.  The location of the property within the otherwise highly developed landscape of southwestern Fairfield County, combined with the variety of habitats present, make the area a key stopover site for many species of migratory land birds in spring and fall migration.  With multiple riparian corridors, a freshwater pond, and a variety of habitats from mature woodland to shrubby edges, the sanctuary can provide for the food and shelter needs of hundreds of species of birds including warblers, tanagers, vireos and woodpeckers. In fact we noticed that when it was first created in 1924 nearly 100 bird species were recorded.  One can imagine the significant potential the sanctuary has for serving as a stronghold today for common and threatened species.

But this potential can only be realized if there is a renewed focus on stewardship.   Some general suggestions are attached to this letter, but if you’d like more specific recommendations for enhancing stewardship of the site, please let me know.  Otherwise, we thank you again for the tour, and want to express our support to the Land Trust and its efforts to enhance protection and stewardship of the site.

We look forward to working with you and others in New Canaan to prepare the Bristow Bird Sanctuary for another century of support to birds and people in your community.

Patrick M. Comins, Director of Bird Conservation  

Management recommendations for the Bristow Bird Sanctuary
Renewed focus on stewardship of the property will help to build on the rich 92-year legacy of this bird sanctuary in New Canaan.  These efforts will not only provide high quality habitat for birds, but also foster a valuable community asset from aesthetic, educational and outdoor recreational perspectives.   Bird watching is one of the fastest growing hobbies in America and birds and their habitats make for an exceptional outdoor classroom to advance the concepts of ecosystems, geography and for building basic scientific observational skills. “Where birds thrive, people prosper” is a foundation of Audubon’s Bird Friendly Community program and the Bristow Sanctuary offers a tremendous opportunity to bring these principles to bear in the heart of New Canaan.  In the year 1924 alone nearly 100 bird species were recorded in the park and the area still has potential to support similar diversity of birds today, especially with enhanced stewardship with bird habitats in mind. 

Some specific recommendations for habitat enhancements in the sanctuary are provided below:
Repair fencing around the perimeter of the property to reduce cat-induced bird mortality in the sanctuary and greatly improve conditions for nesting birds.  

Remove invasive species and replant with native trees and shrubs selected for their value to birds and other wildlife from Audubon’s Native Plants for Birds database. 

Enhance vegetative structural diversity in the sanctuary, especially around the pond area.  Planting a variety of native vegetation around the pond, from low growing wildflowers to small and large shrubs and smaller trees as a transition to the transition existing mature woodlands will provide more habitat for a wider variety of birds.  This will be especially productive habitat because of the close proximity to the freshwater that migrant birds require for bathing and drinking.

Seek to establish “stadium effects” wherever possible and where such efforts won’t interfere with existing functional habitats, particularly where such an effect can have an east-west orientation.   A stadium effect is where vegetation transitions from low shrubs and wildflowers into smaller and larger shrubs, small trees and eventually into the mature canopy.  

Increase nectar availability in the sanctuary.  Many birds of conservation concern are insectivorous and improving the abundance and diversity of pollinators will provide a stable forage base for these birds. 

Include host plants for native insects in landscape plantings to further increase forage availability. 

Consider consultation with a forester familiar with Audubon’s Healthy Forest principles to advice on specific treatments such as crop or mast tree releases, creation of canopy gaps and girdling of select tees to enhance habitat for woodpeckers and cavity nesting birds.

Further improve the habitat for cavity nesting birds by including a variety of nest boxes throughout.
Bird abundance, diversity and viewing opportunities can be further enhanced through providing seasonal supplemental food through a series of feeders maintained by local volunteers.

Consider further increasing habitat diversity through select cuttings of trees to create more extensive areas of shrubland, young forest and perhaps meadow habitats in the sanctuary.   Early successional habitats have become a major conservation focus in recent years because of the maturation of habitats in the Northeast has created a critical shortage of young habitat types. Such habitats are especially in demand in the migration season when even forest interior species switch over to scrubbier habitats because of the cover and foraging opportunities they provide. 

Increasing community awareness of the bird sanctuary through improved signage and environmental educational programming in the sanctuary.

Engage the community and build stakeholdership through providing volunteer opportunities to improve the habitats of the sanctuary.

Work with local schools and community groups to utilize the sanctuary as an outdoor classroom. 

Consider contacting our Audubon Greenwich Center to discuss conducting an Audubon At Home Assessment on the property for additional specific management recommendations