Trip Report: Block Island, RI
October 3-5 2008
Friday, October 3
Pick-Up’s, Departure and Ferry Ride (Oh My):
Remember the famous words “The bow of the boat is the best place for birding”?
That would be the case on some days but not that day. Those who chose to report to the bow were welcomed by crashing, swelling seas that saturated most of the group within minutes. The remainder of the group either hunkered down outside on the side deck or down on the bottom deck where tummies were a bit unsettled for many of the passengers on the boat. But our tough group forged ahead knowing it could only get better from here.
Arrival to Block Island – Just after Noon
We reported to the Water Street Inn and unloaded luggage and travelers went off to their prospective rooms to settle in for a short time before meeting back on the street for our first birding venture. The weather was beautiful; 65 degrees or better with warm sun but with a high south, southeast wind.
We headed straight to Sachem Pond where we found white caps on the pond. As we exited the vans we concentrated on the warblers by the guardrail and in the pines; Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers. We slowly made our way to the north end of the Clay Head Trail spotting warblers around a puddle. As we approached the North End we had almost 360 degrees of spotting. To the north were Double-crested Cormorants sitting upon a rock with a couple of Common Eiders swimming nearby. To the south were cormorants as well. Perched upon a dead tree was a Merlin who took part in some in-flight display with another Merlin showing off their aerial wizardry. We spotted what were Ruddy Ducks, but the view was distant. In the bushes near us were BT Green, BT Blue, other warblers.
On the return to the van we took a side path to find a Wood Thrush (good spotting Christina) and other warblers. The Wood Thrush is a tough find on Block Island.
We headed back to our hotels and freshened up for dinner.
Our Welcome Dinner was at The OAR, which was a first time restaurant for EcoTravel. What a pleasant surprise as we were seated in an enclosed outdoor patio with a great view. The décor was, off course, oars of all shapes, sizes and color. 900 in all! The food was very good and SOME desserts even came with cherries atop! We took the opportunity to present Don Lukaszek with his Block Island 10th Anniversary framed Certificate of Appreciation which he well deserved for his many years of support and travel with EcoTravel. We also recognized Dan Schwab who had traveled from Monroe, Michigan to join the group. Our group consisted of travelers from 5 states!! Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Michigan. That may be an EcoTravel record.
After dinner we headed back to town. Some retired to their rooms and others went heading off to stroll about town or sat on the deck of the Harborside Inn for libations.
Saturday, Oct 4
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 a Killdeer, a very friendly waitress, and a tie-dye clad cook. We filled every seat and had a wonderful breakfast.
We headed back to Sachem Pont and the North Wood Walking Trails with another day of nice weather; sunny but not as breezy as Friday. We headed up a path to the right of the Clay Head path and found a very busy stand of live and dead evergreens covered with bittersweet and poison ivy. This spot was so active that most of the group stood there for well over 2 hours taking in the huge variety of birds: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, BT Blue and BT Green Warblers, Blackpoll Warbler, Magnolia and Palm Warblers, Northern Flickers, Gray Catbirds, Scarlet Tanagers and a Chat. The Peregrine Falcons and Merlins continued to fly overhead, and swooping in after a Northern Flicker was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
We made our way back to the van and headed to the banding station. A long, bumpy ride brought us upon a rustic, banding building sitting adjacent to an apple orchard with a picturesque view of the shore of Block Island from the front porch. A demonstration of banding techniques and data collection was guided by Kim Gaffet, former 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. Great views of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
We enjoyed our first picnic lunch and the group agreed that the sandwiches were tasty and hearty. After chit-chat and cookies, we gathered for a group picture. Easier said then done. We “patiently” sat for more photos than we could almost tolerate, but we managed.
What a good looking group!
After lunch we headed to the Spring Street Garden, finding White-crowned Sparrows and a Lincoln’s Sparrow amongst the multitude of birds. The group headed back to the Inn for a short respite before heading off to the south part of the island, past Southeast Light for a walk at Dicken’s Farm. A couple of people chose to stay back. There was an incredible falcon show with Merlins abundant and Peregrine Falcons on the ground, perched in trees, and overhead. Fantastic!
Other birds included a group of Great Cormorants, distant views of Northern Gannets, and very cooperative Savannah Sparrows.
We chose to head in various directions for dinner. We broke off into smaller groups and the clan that chose to stay out birding with Joe arrived later on to the Monhegan Café for dinner and a bird count. It seems our bird count is getting quite high and we were in range of possibly breaking the EcoTravel record of 109. This gave us the motivation and push we needed to make Sunday a record breaking day.
Sunday, October 5
The day began again with an early meeting at the van at 5:45am. Don L. noticed that he could not see Orion which indicated that it was going to be overcast. We were missing a few people from our group and the waitress at Bethany’s, TOOK NOTE. She again was gracious and friendly and had a very thick Boston/Rhode Island accent. Her advice to us travelers was to not call 911 in an emergency. It takes too long for them to respond. Fortunately we did not have to worry about that. We are grateful for her willingness to “give up” all her seats to our group and we will be sure to send her a note of thanks.
After yet another great breakfast we headed back to Saturday’s popular birding spot; a much different day in regards to weather, wind and birds. The skies were overcast with light wind and some light rain. At first we thought we would have no luck but we were patient and explored around the area and came upon a Red Maple that housed quite a variety of species: BT Green, BT Blue and YR Warblers, Pine and Blackpoll Warblers. Also making brief appearances were Ovenbird, Winter Wren, Vesper Sparrow, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Hermit Thrush, and a fly-over Purple Finch.
After birding in the rain for about 1 ½ -2 hours we decided to head to the eastern part of the Island near Great Salt Pond called Andy’s Way. Here is where we hoped to beat the birding count record. We walked the shores and kept a keen eye on the marsh and grasses and spotted a Great Egret standing next to a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. We located Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlin, and across the pond … 2 mergansers. It took some time of discussion and comparison but finally determined that they were Red-breasted Mergansers based on their size and shape and head color.
Before leaving Andy’s Way, we walked toward the marsh grass and spotted Savannah Sparrow, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. We boarded the vans and drove over to the Coast Guard Station and scanned the beach for record breakers. We finally spotted our Oyster Catchers who had eluded us up to this point. After the CG Station We stopped at the park for lunch and joined Jim behind the tennis court who was spotting Savannah Sparrows and what we determined what a red-cheeked something or other?
Just before departure we realized we had to head out to look for the suddenly extinct, very rare, Silver-plated Digital Camera which fortunately had not gone extinct but had simply taken roost in Henry K’s back pack.
The group headed back to the Spring Street Garden and was able to add to the list with Lark Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, and more.
A last attempt was a stop 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 that is built from wood from an old barn in Pennsylvania, surrounded by cobblestones from Bridgeport, Connecticut. There is a nature trail and gardens maintained by the elementary school, text panels and look out spots. While standing on a mound the group was FINALLY able to spot some Sanderlings bringing our count up to 113.
It was about time to prepare for departure so Joe and Andy put the vans in the ferry line while the rest of us got in our last licks at shopping, restrooms, coffee etc. On the return to Point Judith the conditions on the bow were much improved over Friday although still quite windy. A flock of Surf Scoters were spotted in flight making our official bird count 114! Congratulations to the group for smashing the weekend record!
Despite the larger than usual size of this group, participants had great fun, were patient and helpful to each other, and overall were extremely warm and kind. Thank you all for making this trip a great adventure.
Andy, Priscilla, and Joe.