2014-07-17 / Nature

The Early Birder Gets the Worm

By Jack Kelly


Yellow Warbler forages for insects at Brenton Point. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Yellow Warbler forages for insects at Brenton Point. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Brenton Point State Park, located on Newport’s scenic Ocean Drive, has various habitats which host multiple species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians. The park offers rocky seashores, wide ocean vistas, open meadows, hiking trails through acres of scrub brush and vegetated areas, and hidden wetlands. A recent early morning walk through the preserve produced a series of fascinating observations and discoveries.

The shoreline was alive with various seabirds, including Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, and migratory Laughing Gulls. The gull population was a mixture of adults and first year juveniles, which were feeding on small fish and crabs among the seaweed-covered rocks exposed by low tide. A few of the gulls were attempting to steal fish from dark-colored Doublecrested Cormorants which were fishing in the same areas. An adult Osprey was circling and hovering over the calm waters of King’s Beach, as it scanned for fish below.


White-eyed Vireo sings from a perch at Brenton Point. White-eyed Vireo sings from a perch at Brenton Point. A check of the brackish creek that flows into the wetlands west of King’s Beach revealed two Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, and a Snowy Egret stalking small fish, eels, and snakes. Northern Roughwinged Swallows, Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows plied the air over the adjacent wetlands, taking flying insects on the wing.

One of the first rules of bird watching is that “the early bird gets the worm.” Early morning birders are likely to be rewarded because birds are active during these hours when they are the hungriest. They are most conspicuous when foraging.

Joined by fellow wildlife enthusiast Matt Grimes, we enjoyed a leisurely trek along the trails of the scrub brush habitat. We were greeted by a symphony of avian calls and songs, while observing the birds’ behaviors. Grimes, a longtime birder with over three decades of experience, was able to locate and identify songbirds by their individual songs or calls. As he sorted the notes, trills and phrases, we saw American Redstarts, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers, Whiteeyed Vireo, and Red-eyed Vireo in the shrubbery and trees around us. Along our route we also spied Goldfinch, House Finch, Eastern Towhee, Catbirds, Cardinals, Cedar Waxwings, and other common resident species.


Barely 55 days old, this Osprey fledgling stands on the brink of its first flight. When hatched, the downcovered chicks are 2.2–2.7 inches long, with limited mobility and open eyes. Over a 50-55 day range it will grow to a length of about 20 inches and have a wingspan close to 5 feet. The fledgling made one modest flight around the interior of Toppa Field and landed back on the nest. Barely 55 days old, this Osprey fledgling stands on the brink of its first flight. When hatched, the downcovered chicks are 2.2–2.7 inches long, with limited mobility and open eyes. Over a 50-55 day range it will grow to a length of about 20 inches and have a wingspan close to 5 feet. The fledgling made one modest flight around the interior of Toppa Field and landed back on the nest. The White-eyed Vireo is a migrant to the area and nests in low, brushy habitats with extensive understory, usually near water. It forages in dense cover and is usually detected by its loud, ringing song best remembered as “quick-to-therear.” The Vireo will often open its song with an emphatic “shick!” Adults are five inches long with a wingspan of eight inches. They have a grayish pallor above and below. 

The two Osprey chicks at the Toppa Field nest have successfully fledged and are now accompanying their parents in learning how to fish.

Raptors have been sighted at Easton’s Pond, Easton’s Beach, and Gooseneck Cove at low tide.

The Common Tern rookery on the island rock in Gooseneck Cove has produced at least seven chicks so far, while other eggs are still being incubated in the colony.

Fledgling songbirds have also been observed in a number of habitats, including Brenton Point, the Norman Bird Sanctuary, and other wooded areas on the island. white below, with two distinctive white wing bars, and yellowish blush near the breast. The bird gets its name from the white ring around its pupil. It forages by gleaning insects and larvae from vegetation. This species winters along the far southern Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, and into Mexico and Central America.


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 Yellow Warbler is among the most widespread of the warblers and nests across many habitats in North America. The average adult is five inches long and has a wingspan of 7.75 inches. It has a rich yellow color overall, with the brightest below, and boasts reddish streaking on its breast, although this may be faint or absent on females. The Warbler forages for insects in vegetation. It winters in southern Mexico, Central America and down into parts of South America. It sings a song of rich notes, with the last being the highest and best remembered as “sweet sweet sweet, I’m so SWEET.” Its call is a loud and full “chip.”

While the morning had already offered up interesting sightings, one last encounter was especially pleasing. When a doe and a young fawn crossed a path about 30 yards ahead of us, it just put the icing on a very good morning.

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