Block Island, Rhode Island
October 1 – 3, 2010
Friday, October 1
Well maybe “The bow of the boat is the best place for birding” was not the smartest thing I said all weekend but everyone figured that our pretty quickly. After the passing of a tropical depression that built for days before racing up the east coast, the ride to the island was one of the roughest we have ever experienced but without a doubt the most productive with two new species for our thirty plus years of birding Block Island. Both Cory’s Shearwater and Great(er) Shearwater were in respectable number with ten or more of each species; both more commonly found further out to sea. The place to watch was on the upper covered deck toward the stern, exciting all with spray off the bow flying by at 40mph. “Shearwater” was the common call heard while the hardy held on tight. The remainder of the group held on tight to their unsettled tummies as did many aboard the boat, hunkering-down inside. Our group was tough and the entry into Old Harbor was welcomed with applause. The 11AM ferry was the last of the day, all the others cancelled. Unfortunately, one traveler was not able to make it across this day and would have to catch-up to us early on Saturday.
We unloaded luggage at Water Street Inn and travelers went off to their rooms to freshen-up before meeting back on the street for our first on-island birding venture. The weather was damp with intermittent showers allowing us some time to look for birds.
Our first stop was South East Lighthouse to see what additional species the tropical blow might push in. We enjoyed better looks a Northern Gannet and more passing shearwaters. A couple of travelers were able to see Eastern Kingbird, just the second time we have recorded this species for the island. We watched in awe as a few very large private yachts made their way in the “snotty” weather. We were all glad to be on terra firma.
From here, we headed to the gardens at Spring House. This garden over the years has produced some great finds and did not let us down with an all too brief look for just a couple of observers at a juvenile Blue Grosbeak touting its bright ochre feathering. Indigo Bunting also made an appearance as did some of the many Ringed-necked Pheasant found on the island.
After making our way north to Sachem Pond, the wind had not subsided significantly. A single male Ruddy Duck on the pond gave us the chance at a decent look. Side trails were the way to go this afternoon, staying out of the wind. The day’s tally was 49 species. Not too bad considering the winds and that we only found two warblers species in Common Yellow-throat and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
On our way back into town, we stopped to scan the inner part of Great Salt Pond and were able to find a Pied-billed Grebe and have a wonderful study of side-by-side Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.
Our Welcome Dinner was at The Oar, which has become our restaurant of choice for the evening celebration. We were seated in the enclosed outdoor patio with a great view and an impressively long table. The décor was, off course, oars of all shapes, sizes and color; 900 in all! The food was very good but the much desired Key Lime Pie was “fresh-out!” We will have to remind them to keep a couple of pies for us next year!
Saturday, Oct 2
We met before dawn in front of the Water Street Inn and took advantage of the very clear morning by doing some “sidewalk star gazing.” We headed off to Bethany’s, the airport diner where we were welcomed by the sound of Killdeer, Fish Crow, a couple of very friendly waitresses, and some great coffee. We filled nearly every seat and had a wonderfully filling breakfast.
Warblers and others were flying off the north end of the island despite the strong northwest winds. A lone and first Connecticut Audubon record of Eastern Meadowlark was one of the better sightings of the weekend.
We headed back to the north end Walking Trails with a more promising day of nice weather; sunny but still breezy. We headed up the paths to the east of Corn Neck Road and south of the Clay Head path and found a very busy morning. This spot was so active that the group slowly shuffled along taking in the huge variety of birds: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers, Blackpoll Warbler, and Palm Warbler, Northern Flicker, Gray Catbird, Scarlet Tanager, Savanna and White-crowned Sparrow, and numerous raptors. Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, and Merlin supplied the “hat trick” for falcons, and Northern Flicker were plentiful along with many Red-breasted Nuthatch and Brown Creeper. Golden-crowned Kinglet were plentiful with a few Ruby-crowned Kinglet amongst them.
We made our way back to the van and headed to the banding station. The long, bumpy ride brought us upon Elise Lapham’s lovely home sitting adjacent to an apple orchard and touting a commanding view of the eastern shore of Block Island from the front porch. A demonstration of banding techniques and data collection was offered by Kim Gaffet, mayor of Block Island, and her able young assistant Jamison. Trip participants were able to help with the releasing of birds, often a memorable moment for many. The highlights of the “in-hand” species were Brown Creeper and Nashville Warbler.
We enjoyed our first picnic lunch and the group agreed that the sandwiches were tasty and hearty. After a bit of time to relax and cookies, we gathered for a group picture. The photo session went very easily. What a good looking group!
After lunch, we headed back to the Spring House garden, in hopes of finding more hidden treasures. We stopped at Overlook Garden which is a piece of property owned by the Block Island Land Trust. The spot is the former site of a very large hotel that burned down in 1966. There is a pavilion on the grounds, built of wood from an old barn in Pennsylvania and surrounded by cobblestones from Bridgeport, Connecticut. There is a nature trail, gardens maintained by the elementary school, information panels, and great look out spots.
With word of a Red-headed Woodpecker, we headed back up north with a brief stop at the east side of Great Salt Pond which yielded a nice look at Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. We did not find the woodpecker but did get into a couple of spectacular mixed species feeding flocks which helped us twitch additional warblers, tanagers, and vireos including Magnolia Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. We enjoyed great looks at more than one Yellow-throated Vireo, a first ever for Connecticut Audubon on the island.
After an evening tally of the species we had seen over the first two days, people wandered off on their own for dinner though most ended up at Mohegan Café.
At 830PM, some diehard nature lovers ventured into the dark to view the night skies and our spectacular Milky Way. The laser pointer made it easy for Don L. to point out many constellations, Jupiter’s moons, the Andromeda Galaxy, and numerous Messier Objects. Fantastic!
Sunday, October 3
The day began again with an early 5:45AM meeting at the van. Our favorite airport diner waitress Linda had made it back to the island and was, as always, gracious and friendly with her very thick Boston/Rhode Island accent. We are always grateful for her willingness to “give up” all her seats to our group. Linda’s house is for sale and she will ultimately be moving off island. We would be happy to see her again next year.
After yet another great breakfast, we headed back to the island’s popular north birding spot; a much different day in regards to weather, wind and birds. The skies were soon to become overcast, the wind having persisted through the night. Already at 98 species, we had to work hard to add seven more for the day.
After a brief stop in town, we headed back up to the flats on the eastern side Great Salt Pond in search of a reported American Golden Plover from the day before and Nelson’s Sparrow and Saltmarsh Sparrow, historically the place to find these two elusive marsh sparrows. We were “skunked” on all three but all enjoyed nice views of Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, and Laughing Gull.
After lunch in the very private dining area of the Harborside Inn, we headed out for our trip around the southern terminus of the island, passing many small ponds, puddles, and lakes. Wonderful views of Wood Duck were punctuated by a couple more species added to the list, Green-winged Teal and Veery.
At Dicken’s Farm, the falcons were the show, all three species delighting travelers with their adept flying skills. Great Cormorant cruised along the southern cliffs of the wind blown fields ripe with goldenrod and bayberry.
It was about time to prepare for departure, so one last stop was made in hopes of an oystercatcher at the Coast Guard Station on Great Salt Pond. No oystercatcher was found but the effort did allow for some a quick view of an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.
After loading the luggage, the leaders put the vans in the ferry line while travelers got in their last licks at shopping, restrooms, coffee, ice cream, etc. On the return to Point Judith the conditions on the bow were not much improved over Friday; still quite windy but easier on the tummies. A number of Northern Gannet passed close to the boat and the Great Cormorant sat vigil as a small group of Black Scoter flew by the Point Judith breakwater.
Considering the wild winds of the weekend, the group did very well with a very respectable total of 105 species, of which five were new species on Block Island for Connecticut Audubon Society.
Participants had great fun, were patient and helpful to each other, and extremely warm and kind. Thanks to Joe and Priscilla for all their efforts and to all of the travelers for making the trip a grand adventure.
I hope to see you next year.