2015-06-11 / Nature

Wetlands Abound with New Life

By Jack Kelly


A green heron stalks prey at Gooseneck Cove salt marshes. A green heron stalks prey at Gooseneck Cove salt marshes. The wetlands across Aquidneck Island are teeming with new seasonal residents. Migratory wading birds, songbirds, shorebirds, seabirds and raptors can be observed courting, nesting and feeding in the many fresh and salt water resources of the region.

The Gooseneck Cove salt marshes were extremely busy on a recent day. Seven double-crested cormorants pursued a large school of small fish through the marsh’s open channel, driving their quarry into the shallow waters of the wetlands’ northern reaches. This activity drew the attention of four snowy egrets and two great egrets, which were stalking prey in the same area. In a display of species interdependence and foraging cooperation, the wading birds quickly took advantage of the situation and gorged themselves on the morning banquet. The efforts of the egrets aided the cormorants in containing the school in a zone advantageous to the birds.


Snowy egrets and double-crested cormorants cooperate in foraging efforts at Gooseneck Cove salt marshes. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Snowy egrets and double-crested cormorants cooperate in foraging efforts at Gooseneck Cove salt marshes. (Photos by Jack Kelly) The actions of the larger great egrets, quiet and methodical hunters, that use their long, elegant necks in a whip-like motion to spear their prey, were in sharp contrast to the erratic foraging behaviors of the smaller snowy egrets. The delicate, light-bodied snowy egrets dashed and flew after the trapped fish, emitting guttural sounds, while displaying the speed and flight patterns for which they are known.

As the feeding frenzy continued, six common terns, from the nesting colony in Gooseneck Cove adjacent to Green Bridge, joined the fracas. The terns, alerting each other with high, squeaky and grating calls to the presence of prey, splashed down into the water amidst the egrets and cormorants. They brought their captured fish to their mates, left tending nests at the rookery. The frenzy ended as quickly as it began as the survivors of the school made their way into deeper waters and escaped the hungry birds.


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. In another section of the marsh, a green heron silently stalked small fish along the bank. This cryptic bird blends in well with its environment. It is particularly difficult to sight and is usually detected by its alarm call, a loud and piercing “skiew!” or “skyow!” when flushed. The heron is mostly a solitary hunter and is rarely found among flocks of other wading birds. It forages in secluded locations, preying on small fish, tadpoles and other amphibians from just above the water’s surface.

The quiet was broken as a marsh wren began to sing a rich and rapid blend of gurgling, tinkling and bubbly phrases, followed by a series of calls, a low and soft “tuk.” Marsh wrens sing while perched on reeds and rushes, often in view of birders. This petite denizen of saltwater and freshwater marshes builds spherical nests suspended above the water by several reed stalks.


Female adult piping plover broods both of her chicks at Third Beach. Female adult piping plover broods both of her chicks at Third Beach. As the wren sang, an osprey hovered above the marsh. Sighting its quarry, the large raptor splashed down and soon rose out of the water with a 7-8 inch fish in its talons. Rising up and shaking the water from its wings, the osprey quickly departed to the north.

An early morning trip to any of the island's many wetlands is sure to show the boundless beauty and wildlife populations that inhabit our region.

Nesting Notes:

The piping plover pair nesting at Third Beach realized the hatching of two of their three eggs recently. The adults moved the two surviving chicks to the south end of the beach where they would be more protected from predator attacks from gulls and crows. U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff and volunteers quickly roped off the area where the adults and chicks are foraging and brooding. Give this area a wide berth. The chicks at Sachuest Beach seem to be thriving and growing in recent days and the public’s cooperation in this endeavor is deeply appreciated by USFWS staff and volunteers.

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