2017-06-22 / Nature

Nesting Season and the Birds Among Us

By Charles Avenengo

An osprey nest at Goose Neck Cove. (Photos by Carmen Rugel) An osprey nest at Goose Neck Cove. (Photos by Carmen Rugel) The frenzy of spring bird migration is over and the nesting season is in full term, the morning cacophony of birdsong having somewhat subsided, as the birds are now hunkered down quietly attending to their parental duties. Some are sitting on their eggs, others are feeding their young, while others are even well into their second broods of the season.

In all, while it is difficult to ascertain exactly how many species of birds are nesting on Aquidneck Island, an estimate is just over 90 species. It is possible this number may be slightly higher, but evidence of all those nesting this year hasn’t yet been uncovered.

Correspondingly, field activity of birdwatchers slows down in late spring. Nationally, some bird clubs even take a recess during June and July. One rationale for this decrease is that in addition to hardships encountered in the field, such as rain, biting bugs and poison ivy, birdwatchers simply let the birds get on with their nesting duties in privacy. Locally, while not at a complete stoppage, bird reporting has diminished considerably since the peak of migration in May.

Male eastern bluebird. Male eastern bluebird. Despite the slow-down, one group that is currently hard at work is a cadre of volunteer observers gathering information for the Rhode Island Breeding Atlas 2.0. Sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the University of Rhode Island, and other outfits, this fiveyear effort is an attempt to catalog exactly which species are nesting in the state.

Launched in 2016, some 260 volunteers fan out throughout Rhode Island every spring and early summer to document nesting. It has been reported recently that their efforts have uncovered 145 nesting species statewide. The first state breeding bird atlas, completed in 1987, tallied 164 species of nesting birds.

Female and male bobolink. Female and male bobolink. Locally, as gleaned from various reporting websites and personal observations, Aquidneck Island has some noteworthy species of birds currently producing their next generation.

Leading the charge in public interest are raptors. Newport This Week recently reported on ospreys and peregrine falcons, which by all accounts, are doing well. Additionally, two other raptor species are represented on the island, redtailed hawks and Cooper’s hawk. There are at least a dozen nests of these two species on the island.

Another species of public interest that has received much attention is piping plovers. Listed as Federally Endangered, Fish and Wildlife Field biologist John Veale said, “This year we have the usual two pairs of piping plovers.” Veale explained that one set habituates the Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge of Second Beach and the other pair frequents the Sachuest Point Refuge portion of Third Beach. “We’re excited because the Second Beach plovers hatched 21 days ago and should be fledged within a few days. That would then be considered a successful nesting,” he said.

Tree swallow. Tree swallow. Veale indicted that the Third Beach hatchlings were a little younger, having hatched a week later.

Then, the Norman Bird Sanctuary has Eastern bluebirds again. Completely absent for decades on the island, in 2001 and 2002 they were found to nest at the sanctuary. However, despite concerted efforts by the staff, they once again disappeared until a pair showed up again this year.

Another interesting report from the Bird Sanctuary is of orchard orioles. Unlike their cousins, the Baltimore orioles, which are more common on the island during breeding season, outside of migration season, orchard orioles locally are scarce.

Bobolinks are another species of interest. Classified as a type of blackbird, bobolinks are considered a grassland species. In New England, grassland species are in trouble because of disappearing habitat as grasslands revert to woodlands. To illustrate, local birdwatchers went out to the fields at Braman’s Lane last year. They tallied over 40 bobolinks. This year, however, only three, and possibly a fourth were observed. Fortunately, both Sachuest Point and the Bird Sanctuary have breeding bobolinks in their fields. Seven were counted earlier in the month at Sachuest Point, while at least three have been observed at the Bird Sanctuary.

An interesting report recently came out of e-bird. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s Lauren Parmalee reported that last week she and fellow local naturalist Reada Evans spied a whopping number of at least 22 American oystercatchers on the shoreline just north of New England Boatyard in Portsmouth. Presumably, this high count consists of family groups that include recently fledged young. The high number is notable because it wasn’t so long ago that it would have been difficult to find 22 oystercatchers in the entire state!

For the most part, many species are on the rise due to local conservation efforts, but others are in decline. And so goes the circle of life.

Naturalist Charles Avenengo has been chasing Aquidneck Island wildlife for more than 40 years.

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