2014-09-18 / Nature

Cooler Weather Propels Fall Migrations

By Jack Kelly


The Belted Kingfisher has a wingspan of 20 inches and a body length of 13 inches. (Photo by Bob Weaver) The Belted Kingfisher has a wingspan of 20 inches and a body length of 13 inches. (Photo by Bob Weaver) Recent cold fronts sweeping through our region have brought a large number of avian visitors to Aquidneck Island. Migratory movements are dependent on many factors including temperature, weather conditions and wind direction. The northerly winds are instrumental during the fall migration cycle in aiding birds in their flights south to wintering grounds.

Newport County is a major stopover destination for a multitude of species, and local bird watchers and nature enthusiasts have reported the arrivals and departures of numerous songbirds, shorebirds, seabirds, wading birds, and raptors. The richly diverse habitats of our area, which include meadows, fields, wetlands, scrub brush and wooded lands, as well as sandy beaches and rocky coastlines, offer the hungry migrants an opportunity to fatten up for the next leg of their incredible journeys.


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 Norman Bird Sanctuary has been the site of numerous observations of varied breeds passing through our region. One stunning specimen, a female Belted Kingfisher, was sighted foraging in the Red Maple Pond area. Kingfishers are heavyset birds with large heads and thick, sturdy bills, but they have short tails and small feet. Their body structure is adapted for plunge diving from a perch or from a hovering position.

The Belted Kingfisher is one of a handful of avian species worldwide, where the female is more colorful than the male. Both the adult male and female have slateblue upperparts and blue crested heads, a white neck collar, and a bluish breast band. However, the female has rufous flanks connected by a rufous belly band, while the male is white below.

Though Kingfishers have a widespread nesting range, which in cludes the northern tier of the continental United States, southern Canada and southern Alaska, the species is not numerous. It nests in deep burrows in high, exposed banks, usually along rivers, streams, ponds and lakeside bluffs. Belted Kingfishers dine on fish, aquatic crustaceans, and amphibians, which are captured in the bird’s bill during dives into the water.

Members of this unique breed are diurnal singular migrants that winter across the southern tier of the United States, as well as in Mexico and Central America. However, it is not uncommon to find a few late season stragglers north of the normal wintering zones.

It has a loud, sharp, and incisive voice that emits a rattling “krrrrrrrrr,” which varies in pitch. It sounds somewhat mechanical and woodpecker-like.

Another interesting sighting at the sanctuary was of a Solitary Sandpiper. This shy shorebird species favors the edges of secluded muddy ponds, streams, and various wetlands during its migration to the tropics. It is usually a solitary migrant, but groups of this breed may be observed during fall migration.

The average Solitary Sandpiper has a body length of 8.5 inches and a wingspan of 22 inches. It has a dark back and wings, speckled with white spots and a white under body with dark legs. The head and breast may have a sooty brown wash to the plumage and it has a very prominent white eye ring.

This species nests in trees near the boggy and marshy areas of the boreal forests and muskeg of southern Canada and Alaska, using the old nests of songbirds. It feeds on aquatic insects, invertebrates and small fish and has a distinctive movement of bobbing and teetering its tail while walking or foraging. Solitary Sandpipers winter on the southern Gulf Coast of the United States and further south into Mexico, Central America and South America.

As early fall descends, the numbers of migratory birds making long treks to southern wintering sites will multiply. This is the best time of year to observe this incredible display of the natural world. Migration Notes:

Local observers have reported that migrant raptors including Red-tailed Hawks, Ospreys, Merlin Falcons and Peregrine Falcons have been sighted passing along the southern coast of Aquidneck Island in recent days. A second juvenile Bald Eagle was spied near Gooseneck Cove recently. This young bird appears to be about 2-3 years old. Raptor migration usually peaks in the first week of October.

Gooseneck Cove salt marshes have been very active with wading bird species including Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons. A male Belted Kingfisher has been sighted feeding in the early morning hours as well as two Ospreys. Migratory species seen in the past week: Sachuest Point/Third Beach: Black-bellied Plover Semipalmated Plover Semipalmated Sandpiper Solitary Sandpiper Short-billed Dowitcher Red Knot Greater Yellowlegs Lesser Yellowlegs Least Sandpiper Staging of approximately 700 Tree Swallows Brenton Point State Park: Red-tailed Hawks Cooper’s Hawk Merlin Falcon Peregrine Falcon Wilson’s Warbler American Redstarts Black-throated Green Warbler Pine Warbler Prairie Warbler Nashville Warbler Baltimore Orioles Common Yellowthroat Summer Tanager Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

For the latest sightings through the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, visit asri.org or call 401-949- 5454.

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