2013-10-10 / Nature

Discovering Natural Treasures

By Jack Kelly

A good friend of mine once told me that “95% of life is simply showing up–it’s what you do with the other 5% that is truly important.” Bird watching and other observations of nature follow the same rule because you can’t see the beauty and the majesty of the natural world unless you look for it. Aquidneck Island holds a vast number of destinations that can lead one to a personal and life-enhancing encounter with the sights and sounds of life that exist in our little corner of the world. These magnificent, wild places are just a short distance from anyone’s door. As fall migration along the Atlantic Flyway reaches its crescendo in the next few days, thousands of southbound birds will still be passing through our region.

During a recent walk in the Third Beach and Sachuest Point region, there were examples of the vast diversity in the avian populations that traverse the Newport County airspace. A small flock of 10 tiny birds known as Golden-crowned Kinglets, was foraging in the pine trees that border the Third Beach parking lot. These kinglets breed and nest in boreal and high-mountain forests just below the tundra line in North America, extending from Alaska to Eastern Canada, and winter in forests across the United States.

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. The average member of this species is four-inches long and has a wingspan of seven-inches. The bird has a golden crown bordered with black, a pale white line above the eye, and a black eye line. Males have orange feathers within their golden crowns that they raise when agitated. The bird has light gray plumage above and pale white plumage below, as well as a complex wing color pattern of black, white, and gray.

This species forages in small flocks for insects and larvae, often hanging upside down to glean prey from bark, pine cones, and needles. The call of this bird consists of high notes that accelerate and rise in a series of “see” calls.

Another interesting songbird species that was observed in the foliage along the beach was the Yellow-rumped Warbler. It is known colloquially as a “butter butt” because of its yellow rump markings. The average adult is 5.5 inches long with a wingspan of 9.25 inches. It has a black mask, a white throat, yellow sides bordered by black streaks with a bluish tint, and a yellow rump.

This species breeds and nests in the forests of the western United States, Alaska and across Canada. It winters in the southern and eastern United States, Mexico, and Central America. It is versatile in its foraging behavior, seeking insect prey from farm fields, brushy habitats, and treetops. It has a call that is a rich but flat “tchip.”

At the salt marshes adjacent to the beach parking lot, a Turkey Vulture was observed circling the area. This species breeds and nests across the continental United States and southern Canada. In the fall, thousands of these birds migrate south to a variety of wintering grounds, including the mid- Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coasts of the United States, the interior of the southeastern United States, as well as Mexico, Central America, and other destinations in the tropics.

The average adult is 27 inches long and has a wingspan of almost six feet. It has a naked (void of plumage) red head, light-colored bill, brownish-black plumage overall, and pale yellow legs. It has long, upswept wings, which show a silver sheen on the edges and tips, and a long tail.

Turkey Vultures forage by gliding and soaring above the terrain, tilting slowly back and forth, and using their uniquely keen sense of smell to locate carrion, even when it is covered or in dense woods. Its sense of smell is so acute that they can detect the presence of carrion from 100-200 feet in the air. It is said that the Turkey Vulture is one of the ugliest birds in the world and “has a face only a mother could love.”

These species are just a sample of what can be observed in the multitude of habitats across our region. Songbirds, wading birds, seabirds and raptors are passing through Newport County on a daily basis, potentially providing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see these miracles of nature. They are waiting to be discovered, enjoyed, and cherished for the wonders that they are.

Note: Due to the prolonged government shut down the Friends of the National Wildlife Refuges fundraiser scheduled for Oct. 26 has had to be canceled. The event will rescheduled at a later date. Anyone who has purchased tickets and would like a refund can visit the refuge gift shop once re-opened.

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