2015-03-19 / Nature

Mating and Migration

By Jack Kelly


Great Blue Heron stalks prey in the Easton’s Pond moat while displaying head, breast and back breeding plumes. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Great Blue Heron stalks prey in the Easton’s Pond moat while displaying head, breast and back breeding plumes. (Photo by Jack Kelly)

The heavy snows and constant freezing temperatures that besieged Aquidneck Island from late January through the early part of March have abated at last. The weather patterns that punished local residents with icy roads, impassable sidewalks, and high snow drifts also took a mighty toll on local wildlife populations. Deep snow packs and frozen freshwater sources denied many birds the vital sustenance needed to survive the brutal elements. Thousands of wintering and residential birds including songbirds, seabirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors, were lost to winter’s cruel onslaught across the reaches of Rhode Island. However, with the recent warmer temperatures and spring only days away, the wildlife survivors must now answer nature’s call to migrate, breed and nest.

One avian story of survival concerns a Great Blue Heron that braved the recent weather and wintered over in Newport’s frozen wastelands. This magnificent wading bird, with a wingspan over six feet and a body length of nearly four feet, was observed in recent weeks seeking prey in the open waters of the Easton’s Pond moat as well and adjacent yards. While the Great Blue preys mostly on fish, it eats reptiles, amphibians, and small birds as well. It will also hunt small rodents in dry fields.

In spite of almost intolerable conditions, this bird has begun to display head, breast and back breeding plumes, and distinctive colors it will need to attract a mate. This is a testimony to the survival of this species, in the face of the elements that threatened its existence.


Male Snowy Owl on saltmarsh restoration area at Sachuest Point. (Photo by Rey Larsen) Male Snowy Owl on saltmarsh restoration area at Sachuest Point. (Photo by Rey Larsen) Other harbingers of spring have been sighted in the region, including American Woodcocks and an Osprey. The American Woodcock is such a singular shorebird species that it has accrued numerous colloquial names, such as “timberdoodle” “bog sucker” and “night partridge.” It nests in mixed habitats near open meadows and streams. The males are known for their early spring aerial display and mating flights, which are performed at dusk. Rising into the early evening sky, the males fly in circles, producing twittering wing noises, and then give a comical call when landing back in the meadow, and in an attempt to attract females. American Woodcocks have recently been reported at the Norman Bird Sanctuary and Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge.


For the latest updates on avian sightings, visit asri.org. For the latest updates on avian sightings, visit asri.org. It is unknown if the recently observed Osprey is a local nester, but the usual timetable for the arrival of our summering Ospreys stretches from approximately March 20- 26. The Osprey pair that nests at Newport’s Toppa Field/Freebody Park usually arrives during this time. If both mates have survived the migration from South America, it will be their 10th season together in the nest high above the field. This prolific pair has produced 21 fledglings that left on southbound migrations over the past nine summer seasons.

With warmer temperatures just around the corner, local birders and wildlife enthusiasts are preparing for one of the greatest spectacles in the natural world, spring migration along the Atlantic Flyway.

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

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