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Rhode Island Hotspots

Rhode Island

January 27, 2024

Janice Zepko and Tim Souza

Clouds, rain and snow were all in the forecast for the weekend, but seven members braved the weather to enjoy some winter surprises in RI.  A light breeze with temps in the mid-30s made our first day quite bearable.  Day two was not as pleasant, with rain throughout the morning, and snow-covered roads on the drive home in late morning.  Rather than following our usual stops on this long-running Rhode Island trip, we planned more of a hotline route, using eBird reports to guide the way.  

Day 1

The Barrow’s Goldeneye previously reported at Colt State Park in Bristol had not been seen for a week, but we were lucky enough to spot a female on our last scan of Narragansett Bay before heading out. We did not find the male, however.  Also of interest were three species of shorebird, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin and Sanderling, hunkered into a corner where they blended into the beach shells and rocks perfectly.  A Peregrine Falcon flew by close in and low enough for us to see it was carrying breakfast in its talons.  The many Brant, Bufflehead, and lesser numbers of Common Goldeneye were all floating on waters very close to shore.  There were over 300 Canada Geese feeding in the grassy fields opposite the bay and 4 Horned Larks flew in, with one calm bird giving us spectacular scope views.

A Cackling Goose was reported feeding with 150 Canadas at St. Barnabas Church in Portsmouth, but when we arrived there after a nearby rest stop at Grafik Coffee Co on Rte. 138, there were no geese in sight.  From there we headed directly to Fort Adams State Park in Newport to try for a Dickcissel, reported to be feeding with a Lark Sparrow and several Song Sparrows near the Eisenhower House earlier in the week.  This was the second minor disappointment of the day, because our search turned up very little in the way of sparrows, excepting one Song, one Whitethroat and one House Sparrow.  We did pick up Mockingbird and Carolina Wren during the search and snuck in a scan of the ocean waters to find our only Razorbill and two Common Loons before retiring the spot.

We scoped out the fields near the Newport Country Club looking for the reported Ross’s Goose, but again no Ross’s and actually no geese at all.

Brenton Point State Park on Ocean Dr in Newport was next on the list of planned birding stops.  At this location we found all three scoter species in small numbers, Common Goldeneye and Eider, over a dozen Harlequin Ducks, Bufflehead, Long-tailed Ducks, Common Loons, Horned Grebes and 40+ Purple Sandpipers flying back and forth with occasional stops on the rocky shoreline lasting long enough for us to get a good count.  As we were finishing up, one of us noted an up-to-date report of the Ross’s Goose at Jamestown Reservoir, so off we went, across the bridges to a new birding location.

Jamestown Reservoir did turn up excellent views of a Ross’s Goose (see photos) and also there were a couple dozen Canada Geese, two Common Mergansers, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Turkey Vulture and a Red-bellied Woodpecker.  Since we were on the west side of the bridges, and the forecast threatened to cancel birding for the next day, we decided to try for a reported Chat and hit some of the coastal spots in the area before dark.  We missed completely on the Chat at John H Chafee Wildlife Refuge but did manage to find two Black-headed Gulls along the shore at Scarborough State Beach, and the waters held a dozen Black Scoters, 3 Long-tailed Ducks, two Horned Grebes and the grassy area beside the parking gave us thirty more Horned Larks.  

From there we headed towards Pt. Judith, parking at Camp Cronin Fishing Area. Here we saw our first and only Bonaparte’s Gulls for the trip, another dozen Purple Sandpipers, one Common and two Red-throated Loons, a Surf Scoter and a lone Double-crested Cormorant.

Our last birding spot of the day was in Galilee at Salty Brine State Beach, adding more of the same seabirds.  

Day 2

Rain, rain, rain, but several of us ventured to Easton and Green End Ponds to pick up a few new species for the trip.  There we found 10 Coot, 6 Hooded, 12 Red-breasted and 6 Common Mergansers, 6 Ruddy Ducks, 3 Lesser and 1 Greater Scaup, 2 Mute Swans and a Wood Duck lurking at the water’s edge, where branches hung low providing cover.

Before the rain became very heavy, we headed back to Fort Adams State Park to try for the Dickcissel once more.  Again, we failed to find the bird, but did find a couple of flocks of sparrows, giving us more Songs and Whitethroats, a Tree, a Chippy, and a Lark Sparrow for our efforts.  We managed to rack up 63 species and some added several “life-birds” to their lists.