slides: James Clayton Sattel’s RI Summer: Birds of Aquidneck
Saturday, June 16, 2012
This week's gallery: the many colorful shorebirds that populate our coastlines. According to the RI Audubon Society, Rhode Island' long and varied coastline provides excellent birding opportunities throughout the year. Each season offers its own species: songbirds and shorebirds that migrate up the coast in spring, wading birds and terns that nest here in summer, hawks and swallows that funnel down the shore in fall, and waterfowl that spend winters here.
To see more of Sattel's work, go here: http://jcsattelnewportrisites.smugmug.com/.
Red Tail Hawk
You’ll most likely see Red-Tailed Hawks soaring in wide circles high over a field. When flapping, their wingbeats are heavy. In high winds they may face into the wind and hover without flapping, eyes fixed on the ground. They attack in a slow, controlled dive with legs outstretched – much different from a falcon’s stoop.
Places to spot them: A great place to go in Newport is Sachuest Bird Sanctuary, or Beavertail on Cananicut Island (Jamestown).
Most people admire the majestic white swans that glide along the surfaces of Rhode Island's coastal ponds, but the swans have their critics, too. Some local wildlife managers consider these large, territorial birds a nuisance, pointing out that swans chase ducks and geese, eat voraciously, sometimes attack people, and are not even native to Rhode Island.
Rhode Island's swans belong to the species Cygnus olor, the mute swan. Mute swans are indigenous to Europe and Asia, where for centuries they have been celebrated in art and legend and prized by the wealthy as status symbols. In 1910, mute swans were imported to the United States to grace ornamental ponds on New York estates. Eventually some of these swans escaped and established a wild population.
In spite of their name, mute swans are not completely silent: They can hiss, grunt, and make snoring sounds. But they are quiet compared to some of their noisy relatives, such as the whooper swan, the whistler swan, and especially the trumpeter swan whose bellowing can be heard for up to two miles.
Places to spot them: Swans are common in all of our salt marshes and ponds. I enjoy photographing them at 3rd Beach, and the Portsmouth and Bristol estuaries.
You sometimes see an adult Killdeer in gravel, such as along a rocky railroad easement, or on a dirt road. As you approach, the bird may suddenly develop a broken wing. It struggles in front of you, as if it can barely walk, let alone fly. One or both wings drag pitifully on the ground.
If your instinct to rescue the Killdeer overcomes you, and you try to catch the bird, it almost lets you reach out and pick it up. But somehow, while struggling to keep its balance, the bird manages to stay one step ahead of you. As you pursue it, the Killdeer leads you farther and farther away from its four downy babies crouching on the ground or half hidden under a tiny bush.
When the Killdeer feels that the young are safe from you, its broken wing heals suddenly, and the bird flies away, calling a loud "KILL-DEE" that sounds like a jeer.
Places to spot them: In Newport County many Killdeer nest on the gravel paths that surround our many estuaries. Oddly, they build thir nests on the edge of paths where people tend to take hikes around salt marshes...I almost tripped over this one!
Red Breasted Mergansers are more active and more easily seen in the colder months of the year. As you can see, they have distinctive hair-cuts that make them easy to identify. Sometimes you can see them paddle along in lines, working together to round up schools of small fish.
Places to spot them: They like to swim in or near by salt marsh outlet currents. A great place to see them is along the Bristol Harbor and Poppasquash Road.
Hooded Mergansers live along our salt marshes. They never come within 30-40 feet of the marsh, and they are very quick to glide away once you get within eye-sight of them. You can see them fly in small groups in the dawn and dusk of the day. They love to eat frogs, and small bugs.
Places to spot them: Again, you will have very good luck observing these birds along Poppasquash Road in Bristol.
The White-Rumped Sandpiper is a rarity in most of the US and seen primarily along the North Atlantic Coast. They are very tame and easy for the photographer to get close to. It's funny to watch their deliberate actions, walking slowly to spot prey, then sticking its entire head into the water to grab the fish.
Places to spot them: Its favorite haunts are muddy shores of our salt marshes.
There is no better sight than watching the Canadian Geese in chevron flight. But to many, they are considered pests on the land. I do enjoy watching their behavior patterns before and after lift-off... Also, it's fun to watch them in mid-May with their little ones--but keep some distance, because the male is very aggressive.
Places to spot them: The Norman Bird Sanctuary is a great place to observe this species.
The Osprey is also known as the sea hawk, fish eagle or fish hawk. It travels south during the winter months and returns north in late March--April is nest-building time as seen here in this photograph.
Places to spot them: In Newport County, you can see their nests on the many platforms built especially for them. Many platforms are located along Burma Road, up on the light tower next to the Portsmouth Ramada Inn, and the salt marshes in Bristol. If you are patient, you will see them jumping in feet-first to grab a fish.
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