Flora and Fauna

The Housatonic River watershed boasts a diverse and abundant array of plant and wildlife species. Due to the changes in topography, geology, soils and climate the watershed provides the ideal setting for many types of habitat. The Housatonic River passes through five major vegetative associations: 

Northern Hardwoods - Found in the upper reaches of the river through Massachusetts, this region is characterized by Sugar Maple, Beech, Yellow Birch, White Pine and Hemlock. The valley of Schenob Brook in Sheffield contains unusual Carolinean vegetation, normally found much farther south along the Atlantic Coastal Plain. 

Transition Hardwoods (White Pine - Hemlock Zone) - Dominant species found in this area, which starts in southern Massachusetts and extends through northern Connecticut to Cornwall Bridge, are Northern Red Oak, Basswood, White Ash, and Black Birch.

Some of the rarer plant species found in the region are Bog Rosemary, Marsh Willow-Herb, Canada Violet and Stiff Club-Moss.

Central Hardwoods - Extending from Cornwall Bridge into New Milford, the region supports the growth of Red, White and Black Oak, Hickories, and until the blight of the 1920's, Chestnuts were predominant. Rarer plant species include New England Grape, Hairy Wood-Mint and Wiegand's Wild Rye.

Appalachian Oak - Reaching from New Milford to Derby, dominant tree species include White, Red and Black Oak, Hickories, Yellow or Tulip Poplar, Black Birch, White Ash and Hemlock. Green Violet, Virginia Snakeroot, Green Milkweed, Vasey's Pondweed and Side-Oats Grama are among the characteristic rare plants found in this zone.

Coastal Hardwoods - The tidal portion, or estuary, of the river flows through this zone, characterized by alder, willow, sedge, shrubs, vines, and southeastern Piedmont and Coastal Plain species. Among the rarer plant species, Eaton's Quillwort and Mudwort are found at the mouth of the river.

The watershed provides a number of "critical habitats", or those which support the survival of rare and endangered species. Among the most important critical habitats are the marble ridges and ledges, caves, calcareous (calcium-rich or limy) wetlands and lakes and ponds found in the central portion of the watershed. Since the soil and surface water is less acidic, these areas are very fertile and rich in nutrients and are especially suited to agriculture.

Marble ridges and ledges, such as Bartholomew's Cobble in Ashley Falls, the Great Falls area in Canaan and the Bull's Bridge area in Kent, are home to many types of uncommon ferns, including the Narrow-leaved Spleenwort and the Slender Cliffbrake. Caves, predominantly found in Salisbury, are home to bats, invertebrates and salamanders. Calcareous wetlands, such as Robbins Swamp in Canaan and Beeslick Pond and State Line Swamp in Salisbury, while supporting such lush and diverse plant species as the Spreading Globe Flower and Showy Lady's Slipper, also attract an abundance of insects and game and non-game bird species. Marl (hard water) lakes and ponds provide the ideal setting for many unique aquatic plants, such as Pondweeds, and algal and fish species. Examples found in the Housatonic region are Twin Lakes in Salisbury and Mudge Pond in Sharon. Other habitats, and their associated species, are comprised of: 

Flood Plain Forests - Once abundant in the region until extensively cleared for agricultural uses, today only remnants remain from Falls Village to Kent. Dominant trees include Cottonwood, Black Willow, Sycamore and Silver Maple. Uncommon plants such as Box Elder, Ostrich Fern and Varigated Horsetail are found, along with a wide variety of songbirds. 

High Summits - These are wind-swept mountain summits. In Massachusetts they include much of the southern Taconic Range including Mount Race and Mount Everett, and in Connecticut on Canaan Mountain, Bear Mountain in Salisbury and Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall. These areas contain rare pitch pine - scrub oak plant communities that host scientifically important woody and herbaceous plants as well as lichens and mosses some of which are found nowhere in the world. The slopes of Mount Everett support the largest tract of old growth forest yet discovered in Massachusetts. Sparsely vegetated with low-growing woody and herbaceous plants, lichens and mosses, they support some species which are quite rare south of central Vermont and New Hampshire.

Black Spruce Bogs - These are poorly drained acid wetlands, characterized by a luxuriant cover of mosses, Black Spruce and Larch. Several unusual and rare species of orchids and sedges are found here. The bog areas are extremely fragile and easily destroyed. Examples are Bingham Pond in Salisbury and Spectacle Pond in Kent and Black Spruce Bog atop Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall.

Grasslands - These areas include open meadows, pastureland, grassy meadows, golf courses and hayfields. Several rare breeding birds are limited to this habitat in the Housatonic region, such as the Upland Sandpiper and the Short-Billed Marsh Wren.

Coastal Salt Marshes and Mud Flats - Located in the estuary of the Housatonic River, these areas support Cord-grasses, Spikegrass, Sedges and Eelgrass. The presence of wildlife is also associated with the diverse habitat found within the river valley. Ringnecked pheasant, cottontail rabbit, red fox and woodchuck are found in Openland habitat, while white tailed deer, gray fox, gray squirrel, snowshoe hare, porcupine, ruffed grouse and woodcock are found in Woodland habitat. River edges provide habitat for primarily furbearing species, such as the beaver, muskrat, raccoon, river otter and mink. Waterfowl found in the area include the canada goose, blackduck, woodduck, blue-winged teal, ringnecked duck, common goldeneye, hooded and common merganser, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, and osprey.

Red Oak

White Pine

Photo by: Eleanor Saulys


Bald Eagle

Short-Billed Marsh Wren

Peregrine Falcon

Photo by: Connecticut DEP

Charlels Wheeler Wildlife Management Area