2017-05-25 / Nature

Miantonomi Becomes a Spring Hotspot

By Charles Avenengo

Primarily a southern species, this male summer tanager was seen last week in Miantonomi Park. (Photo by Bob Weaver) Primarily a southern species, this male summer tanager was seen last week in Miantonomi Park. (Photo by Bob Weaver) “If golfing is a good walk spoiled,
then birding can be a very good
walk rewarded.”
–Bob Hill,
Louisville Courier-Journal

If you eliminate Block Island, the three best spring bird migration traps in Rhode Island are Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rome Point in North Kingstown and Newport’s Miantonomi Park. Each has a reason for being a “hotspot.” In the case of Miantonomi, migrants arriving from the south are funneled into the park, which is a sole greenway surrounded on three sides by concrete and traffic. Exhausted, the migrants take refuge to rest and refuel before continuing further north.

Eastern phoebe. (Photo by Carmen Rugel) Eastern phoebe. (Photo by Carmen Rugel) With the highest natural point in Newport at 157 feet, the wooded 30-acre park is a relatively recent discovery as a birding hotspot.

For decades, only a handful of local birdwatchers visited the park, which opened in 1928. But things changed in the mid-1990s when a birder from the U.S. Naval complex began visiting during lunch breaks and while commuting to and from work. It was the beginning of the computer age, and the birder posted his sightings onto the newly created birdwatching hotline websites. Intrigued by his reports, birders from across the state began exploring the park. As more birders visited Miantonomi, more birds were discovered, and the park became recognized as a premier location for spring migration. In other words, a hotspot.

This year during migration, Swan Point regularly recorded the most species of birds. However, Miantonomi occasionally outdid its northern counterpart and received some spectacular visiting birds. During this time, the park was the undisputed star of Rhode Island, quickly drawing birders to investigate.

Great crested flycatcher. (Photo by Carmen Rugel) Great crested flycatcher. (Photo by Carmen Rugel) After April’s subpar temperatures stalled northern movement of migration along the Eastern Seaboard, the winds shifted to the south and the heavens sprang forth on April 29 when nine observers in the park witnessed a “migration fallout.” That’s when birds seem to be falling out of the sky. More than one dozen species of migrants landed in the park, much to the delight of the bird enthusiasts.

One sighting would portend much of what was to follow over the next two weeks. There was a summer tanager, normally a species found further south. Over the past few years, Miantonomi has emerged as the most reliable place in the state to observe this southern rarity. Thanks to the sightings from the April 29 fallout and the summer tanager, birdwatchers visited the park by the dozens.

In turn, a number of additional rarities were sighted, including four from May 6 to 12. These were birds more common in the south and considered rare locally. They included a Kentucky warbler, a prothonotary warbler, a yellow-throated warbler and a blue grosbeak. The park also tallied three summer tanagers during this period.

All of these species, except for the yellow-throated warbler, are rarely known to nest in the state.

For most birdwatchers, this was potentially the only chance of seeing these rarities during the year. Sometimes, years pass without a sighting of these species in Rhode Island.

Migration stalled when the weather tuned lousy once again, and activity slowed down in the park. After a quiet week, a wind shift to the south last Wednesday produced another “warbler wave.” Throughout the morning, birdwatchers were overwhelmed as dozens of migrants dropped into the park like snowflakes. Over three dozen notable migrant species were observed by noon, with 17 types of warblers identified.

One tree had up to 10 species of birds on it. At the park’s water holes, a steady flow of thirsty birds was observed at close range. And the fallout produced another pair of rarities: an olive-sided flycatcher, a rarely seen bird in Rhode Island, and a second yellow-throated warbler.

Compared to the seemingly leisurely autumn migration, the spring migration is a hurried affair. Birds race to their breeding grounds to set up shop. Since last Wednesday’s fallout, migration has slowed and is just about done. With that, most of the birdwatchers have sought greener pastures elsewhere in the state. Miantonomi won’t be a hotspot again until next spring.

But happily, some of these migrants remained and are currently nesting in the park. This Memorial

Day weekend the 80-foot stone tower will be open to the public. In addition to the spectacular vistas seen from atop, including views of Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, you can observe these interesting birds with a sharp eye.

During this year’s peak migration period April 29 - May 19:

. About 85-bird species were observed in Miantomomi Park. Sixty species were migrants from the south.

. The tally includes 27 species of warbler, six-species of flycatcher, five species each of vireo and thrush, four-species of bunting.

. Highlighted species include: olive-sided flycatcher, Swainson’s thrush, Tennessee warbler, Cape May warbler, blackburnian warbler, yellow-throated warbler, bay-breasted warbler, prothonotary warbler, Kentucky warbler, hooded warbler, Wilson’s warbler, Canada warbler, summer tanager, blue grosbeak

. Honorable mention:

. Currently nesting of note: Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, ruby-throated hummingbird, eastern phoebe, great crested flycatcher, Eastern kingbird, red-eyed vireo, house wren, gray catbird, Northern parula, black-and- white warbler, American redstart, scarlet tanager (unconfirmed), chipping sparrow, Baltimore oriole.

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