If you are ever traveling up the East Coast and want a beautiful and quaint place to bird -  I would recommend Block Island, 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island.  I just returned from a family vacation there (yes, we were book-ended by both Hurricane Bill and Tropical Storm Danny – but neither caused a problem), and was able to work in a little birding.   The island is further off the coast, but in between Long Island and Nantucket.   Only has 900 year around residents (population swells during tourist season); has no chain hotels or restaurants (but a Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s), several historic hotels and many B&Bs and summer rental homes provide lodging.  During settlement times, almost all trees were cleared for farming and short rock walls were hand-built to define the acreage.  Today the rock walls are protected and really add character to the island – since 1980 a huge conservation effort has resulted in  43% of the land now owned and protected by conservation groups.  Most vegetation is thick, compressed, berry-producing bushes and vines – catbirds, waxwings, and robins galore!  In fact, we picked enough blackberries in our “yard” to make a cobbler for ten!


I had been monitoring the Rhode Island list-serve and communicating with Tom Margarian, staff with Cape May but stationed on Block Island for a radar research project.  He agreed to take me out one morning in exchange for a donation to the conservancy effort --- a fair trade indeed.  I had hoped for two lifers but he got me an unexpected four -  Roseate Tern, Great Cormorant, Common Eider and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (did they drop that “sharp tailed” designation also?).   There were several hundred Common Terns with a few Roseate’s interspersed.   Mudflats at low tide in the Great Salt Pond also contained Ruddy Turnstones, Willets,  Oystercatchers, and Red Knot.  He also gave me a good tour of where seabird watches take place, and the best spots for warblers during migration. Great birder and gentleman.


Most trails throughout the conservation areas are open to the public.


I missed the shearwater migration by about 3 weeks; but still saw some Wilson Storm-petrels and a Gannet in the ferry crossing.  And the warbler migration is yet to come, but I had a very enjoyable birding experience.  Chris from the Nature Conservancy is a year-round resident and really intrigued me about a winter visit – he said their Christmas Bird Count regularly reports 80+ species, with lots of common eiders, and an occasional murre, Dovekie, and Razorbill.  


Great beaches, sailing, surfing and boogie boarding; lots of clamming,  many people biking or renting mopeds to get around – cars come over on the ferry, no car rental available on island. 


Just a delightful place to visit; thought I would share in case anyone is going that direction.


Jean Leonatti
Boone County, Columbia, MO
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