Some new beachfront property opened up for Connecticut's shore birds when an abandoned town (left) was demolished and restored to nature on a 35-acre strip of land near Stratford, Conn. Now, birds roost where once there was only rubble. The strip of land, known as Long Beach West, serves as a nursery for some birds, while others spend winter on the beach or stop over during migration.
People deserted Long Beach West after the bridge that linked the area to the rest of the town burned down in 1996. Then the primary visitors to the beach switched from vacationers to vandals. Starting in 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Southern New England-New York Bright Coasts Program, developed plans to ditch the decrepit cottages and make the beach a home for birds.
A healthy dose of demolition cured the vacant, vandalized village problem. From September 2010 to March 2011, $1 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act went to tearing down beach bungalows and restoring the coastal ecosystem.
Along the beach, 37 cottages and their dilapidated septic systems were removed, plus 27 other buildings and four docks. Sand dunes, tidal wetlands and sand flats took their place. There are new hiking trails and beach access. Nearby, the town of Stratford may benefit from the restored beach since intact coastal ecosystems lessen damage from storms and surging seas.
The Long Beach West area contains Connecticut's largest chunk of habitat for piping plovers (Charadrius melodus), like the one in this photo. Much of the plovers' East Coast habitat has been overrun by development.
These least tern chicks (Sternula antillarum) are nesting in the same Long Beach West neighborhood as the piping plovers. And, like the plover, loss of habitat means some populations of terns have taken a turn for the worse.
Adults terns, like this one on Long Beach West, use sand and rocks to build their nests. The natural beach is a welcome relief from rooftops. When terns nest on flat gravel and tar rooftops, sunny days can be dangerous -- the tar can burn chicks' feet or melt and stick in their down.
American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus) brighten the shoreline of Long Beach West with their vibrant bills. The birds are in luck. The beach abuts a highly productive oyster bed.
The oyster beds are part of a connected series of ecosystems on Connecticut’s coast, including a 700-acre estuary that's inland from the beach. As one ecosystem heals, wildlife in interconnected areas are likely to benefit from a more complex natural environment.