2015-04-02 / Nature

Feathered Friends Back in Town

By Jack Kelly


Male Osprey enjoys a fish while awaiting the return of his mate to Toppa Field. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Male Osprey enjoys a fish while awaiting the return of his mate to Toppa Field. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Despite the recent unseasonably cool temperatures across Newport County, nature is displaying signs that better days are on the way. Local bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts are reporting an uptick in the numbers of migratory birds moving into the area. Sightings of wading birds such as Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, as well as shorebird species including Piping Plovers, Killdeers, and Greater Yellowlegs, are being recorded daily.

At Toppa Field, the male Osprey from the pair that nests on the cell tower has arrived and is patiently waiting for his mate. This impressive raptor only leaves the nest to fish and quickly returns to eat his meal.

Piping Plovers have been observed foraging along the shoreline at Middletown’s Third and Sachuest beaches. Last spring witnessed two pairs nesting in the rocky and sandy habitats. The pair that nested at Sachuest Beach produced four eggs that hatched in early June. Despite repeated intrusions by beachgoers and attacks by predators, the pair nurtured and protected three surviving chicks to juvenile status. The avian family departed the beach in late July. The pair that nested at Third Beach was not as lucky and their eggs fell victims to predators, most likely crows.


Piping Plover chick with mother, minutes after hatching on Middletown’s Sachuest Beach last year. Piping Plover chick with mother, minutes after hatching on Middletown’s Sachuest Beach last year. The Piping Plover population saw a drastic decline in population beginning in the late 1940s due to increased shoreline development and the escalation of human activity along beachfronts. Approximately 30 years ago, the species was on the brink of extinction when it was declared endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was tasked with the protection of the Piping Plover and its remaining habitats. Locally, a program was begun that included monitoring of potential nesting areas by USFWS staff and volunteers. To date the program has shown great success in the protection of the shorebirds and the education of the public in how to avoid intrusions into these critical areas.

The adult Piping Plover is 7.25 inches long and has a wingspan of 19 inches. The birds display a sandy gray plumage above and white below, blending in well with beach colors. Breeding adults have a black-tipped orange bill, pale face with a black “eyebrow” between the eyes, orange-yellow legs, and a black neck ring that may be partial in males.

The female will scratch out a nesting site in the sand and rocky habitat, and lay her eggs on the sand with an incubation lasting 28-30 days. The chicks hatch precocial, meaning that they are able to stand and move about within minutes, and the chicks accompany adults to the water’s edge to forage. At this early stage, the chicks are very pale gray with yellow legs, about the size of a cotton ball, and can be easily stepped on by beachgoers. If the chicks are disturbed, they will not feed and their chances for survival are slim.

The Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex will conduct training for volunteer monitors on Saturday, April 18, at 10:30 a.m. at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Middletown. For further information, contact Sarah Griffith at sarah_ griffith@fws.gov or 401-847-5511 or 401-364-9124.

A note for local birders and wildlife enthusiasts: The National Audubon Society in partnership with the Bahamas National Trust and the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program began a Piping Plover bird banding program last year. A number of Piping Plovers that winter in the Bahamas have been banded with a pink flag leg band that is engraved with a two character code. These organizations are asking anyone observing and recording these numbers to report them to bahamaspipl@audubon.org.

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

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