Daily Archives: April 15, 2012

Birding Rhode Island – Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge

Purple Sandpiper

A Purple Sandpiper, a specialty of rocky coastlines in New England.

I can’t say as I’ve ever birded in Rhode Island before.  I can’t say as I’ve ever spent more than a few hours in Rhode Island before.  The conference I was at last week was in Newport.  Newport was very nice, and I certainly enjoyed the seafood!  But…that type of area really isn’t my favorite.  Too many people, with just about every inch of coastline having some kind of urban development.  What I also didn’t like is just how much of the coastline is privately owned, certainly a far cry from Oregon (last year’s vacation spot) where the beaches all have public access.

The exception to the development on the coast were the few protected areas.  Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge was only about 10 miles from my hotel.  I had the chance to get there a couple of times while on my trip, including one great morning on the last day of my trip.  My flight didn’t leave until the afternoon, so I had the morning to putz around.  I woke up early and got to the Wildlife Refuge close to dawn, and then walked around for about 3 hours.
Brant

A pair of Brant, another "new" species for me from Sachuest NWR.

I’ve been birding and taking photos for 11 years now.  Unlike when I started, the thrill of a “new” bird is becoming harder and harder to get.  However, in those 11 years, I really hadn’t spent any time in New England, so I was hoping to pick up a few new species. It didn’t take long for me to get my first.  As I approached the NWR, a small group of Brant (a small, dark sea-going goose) were foraging close to the shoreline.  I spent about 10 minutes with them, getting some decent photographs, before heading into the NWR itself.  Sachuest isn’t huge by any means.  When you pull in, there’s a small visitors center, and several trails leading away from it.  I started walking on the “ocean loop” trail, which basically let you walk along the entire periphery of the peninsula on which the NWR sits. 

The weather was cool and crisp, but with brilliantly sunny skies.  Most of the NWR is composed of grassland and some small shrubs, plus the gorgeous rocky New England coast.  Song Sparrows were singing everywhere, and American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, and Northern Mockingbirds were also flitting around in pretty good numbers.  But it was the coastal birds that I was after, and it didn’t take long for me to find another “new” species to photograph.  Purple Sandpipers are found on rocky shorelines in New England in winter, and I was hoping some were still around.  I found a small flock of around 10 playing chicken with the crashing waves along the shoreline, picking among the coastal moss/veg for…well, for whatever it is Purple Sandpipers feed on.

There really wasn’t a huge variety of birds as I walked around the NWR, but there were certainly good numbers.  I ran across a few more small flocks of Purple Sandpipers, picked up another “new” species in the Great Black-backed Gulls that were foraging along the shoreline, and watched a pair of beautiful Harlequin Ducks bobbing in the waves close to shore.  Most of the action was in the shrubby and grassy areas on the interior, as the coast itself was actually relatively quiet.  There were decent numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, but other than those, a couple of Common Loons, and the handful of remaining Harlequin Ducks, there wasn’t much for waterfowl during my visit.

Great Black-backed Gull

One more "new" species, a Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull found in the United States.

It was a nice morning.  Newport was a nice enough town, but the (often over the top) “old money”, the massive mansions, and the amount of urban development in the area weren’t exactly my cup of tea.  I was glad to find Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge, and it’s certainly worth a visit if you happen to be in the area.