The Nature of Branford
by Lauren Brown
A the landscape the confronted Branford’s early settler was hugely different from that of today: it was mainly forest, broken only by rivers and tidal creeks. Where these rivers met the Sound lay the vast tidal marshes and upstream, perhaps, some wet grassy meadows.
Over the years, the natural features of Branford have been drastically modified. The 17th and 18th centuries saw large-scale clearing of the forest and the establishment of farms; the 19th and 20th centuries saw a decline of farming along with an expansion of industrial, commercial and residential development. This brings us to the Branford we see today: a landscape dominated by roads, houses, businesses and factories, and most of the forest is now lawns or parking lots.
In spite of the continued waves of building in town, however, Branford is still blessed with a surprising amount of undeveloped land and with a good diversity of habitats, providing room for inhabitants, other than just homo sapiens.
A major reason for this diversity lies in our unusual geology. A fault runs through the town, on a diagonal from the foot of Beacon Hill to the northeastern end of the Supply Pond. You don’t need to fear an earthquake if you live near it, but it is significant, representing a geological gap of approximately 200 million years. On the east side of the fault are hard rocks like granite, formed by heat and pressure around 400 million years ago; on the west side is soft sandstone, laid down gradually as sediment around 200 million years ago. The sandstone is interrupted by volcanic intrusions which have hardened into basalt, also known as trap rock. These basalt intrusions are easily visible: one on Beacon Hill, by the Trolley Museum, another is the Lucy T. Hammer Woodlands.
The trap rock ridges are ecologically special. Rising like islands of woodlands over the surrounding area, they are important stopover spots for migrating spring warblers. They also have fabulous displays of spring wild flowers, thanks to the rich soil formed by weathered basalt.
Most of the inland in Branford is woodland, just as it was 350 years ago, but these are new woods that have regrown after abandonment of farmland and/or repeated logging. These forests, composed of oak, hickory, maple, ash and others, are home for deer, chipmunk, raccoon, squirrels and others. River otter, a species that went into severe decline earlier in the century, have been sighted in Branford’s woods, and a newcomer into our state-the coyote- has also been seen. The worm eating warbler, a species in decline, is seen every year in Branford’s forest. Wooded tracts that are interspersed with ponds and open fields harbor an amazing diversity. Noble Proctor, a noted ornithologist who lives in Branford, has been keeping a list for twenty years of all the birds he has seen on the Branford Supply Pond’s property. The total is 235: half of all the birds ever seen in Connecticut.
One of our most distinctive natural areas is the shoreline, with its rocky coastal woods and broad tidal marshes. Inhabitants of the marshes are the egrets, the great blue heron and – in recent years- the osprey.
And thanks to the efforts of the Town of Branford, State of Connecticut, and the Branford Land Trust and many generous individuals, much natural land is accessible to the public. Beacon Hill, Pisgah Brook, the Supply Pond, the Stony Creek Quarry, and the Stony Creek Trolley Trail are but a few of the areas that are open to the public to enjoy. Branford still has many areas of great ecological interest and exceptional natural beauty.