I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.
Mark Nepo, Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives
Everyone agrees. This has been the worst fall migration ever. The fall version is never nearly as spectacular as the spring, but we usually see plenty of warblers in their fall plumage. Not this season. I saw a few Yellow-rumped Warblers at the maintenance shed area at Plum Island on Saturday, October 21st. And at Mount Auburn Cemetery I did see a few Red-eyed Vireos. But that’s it. We have to assume that the hurricanes in the south affected the migration.
Kim Nagy, co-editor of the book Dead In Good Company, A Celebration of Mount Auburn Cemetery and regular contributor here, has written about her adventures in other birding areas in this blog every year. This year she decided to see what was happening on Block Island. Here is her account of her exciting weekend on this compelling birding island….
Block Island, September 2017 by Kim Nagy
It’s said that everything happens for a reason. When Mass Audubon cancelled a much-anticipated group trip to Block Island that I signed up for six months prior, I decided to take the trip myself.
Block Island is a small island located 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. It got its name from a Dutch Explorer, Adriaen Block. About 40% of the island’s land is set aside for conservation, and it is a well-known avian stopover during fall migration.
That week there were a few different hurricanes mixing up the Atlantic, and the ferry service from Point Judith to Block Island was shut down for most of the week. When they were finally running on Saturday morning, the ride was very rough and the sky grew ominous again as soon as we left the shore and were ocean-bound.
By the time we anchored in the harbor an hour later, the sun was shining and the dark clouds had disbursed. Late September is a great time to visit Block Island, as most of the noisy tourists are gone, and the wild parties give way to gentle nights where you hear the roiling ocean, all night long.
The two lighthouses are called Southeast Lighthouse and North Light. North Light was built in 1867, and it is located at the edge of the island. It’s almost 4 miles from Old Harbor, where the ferries land and depart. At the tip of the island, there was a large population of Black-backed and Herring gulls, as well as Sanderlings, Cormorants, and other shore birds. Sachem Pond is a nearby body of water that is ringed in marsh grass and other vegetation. While there were some sparrows and possible warblers, it had quieted down by late afternoon when I was exploring. Initially, I had gotten a ride to the entrance of the path at Settler’s Rock which was about half a mile from the lighthouse, but I decided to walk back to the Gables Inn up Corn Neck Road.
North Light House. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Herring Gull with crab. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Herring Gull flying with crab. Photo by Kim Nagy.
On the long 4 mile walk back, I checked out Andy’s Way, a salt marsh off of Corn Neck Road. Luckily it was low tide, and this turned into a bonanza. After rounding the bend, it felt like hitting the jackpot! There were Snowy Egrets, American Oystercatchers, Golden, Semi-plalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, a Short-billed Dowitcher, Sanderlings, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons and more!
Black-bellied Plover take off. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Black-bellied Plover. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Semipalmated Plover. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Semipalmated Plovers. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Little Blue Herons. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Short-billed Dowitcher. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Snowy Egret catching fish. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Snowy Egrets. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Oystercatcher. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Oystercatchers, adult and juvenile. Photo by Kim Nagy.
That evening we toured the island and watched the sun lower behind Mohegan Bluffs, then slide into the ocean at Dorie’s Cove. The moon was a thin crescent. Later that night, the ocean, finally becalmed, lapped the shore, perpetually advancing and retreating.
Sunset, Mohegan Bluffs. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Sunset with house. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Ocean sunset. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Crescent moon. Photo by Kim Nagy.
The morning sunrise in Old Harbor had muted colors; a palette of apricot, peach, red, orange and pink.
Sunrise first day. Photo by Kim Nagy.
We checked out the Greenway Trails; dramatic cliffs at ocean’s edge. There were several Northern Flickers, Black & White Warblers, Phoebes, Fly Catchers, Baltimore Orioles and more.
Spider web. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Northern Flicker. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Northern Flicker. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Pheasant. Photo by Kim Nagy.
I was fortunate to watch bird banding at the Lapham House with Kim Gaffett, a Master Bird Bander who also works closely with the Nature Conservancy. While inspecting the nets, we found a Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhees, a Northern Waterthrush, and several Catbirds. The birds were gently extracted from the net; weighed, evaluated, banded, chronicled, and released. On the property we also saw a Pine Warbler and Yellow-throated Vireos.
Northern Waterthrush. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Wren release after banding. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Towhee release after banding. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Catbird release after banding. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Pine Warbler with inchworm. Photo by Kim Nagy.
Monarch Butterfly. Photo by Kim Nagy.
As all birders and wildlife photographers know, nothing is a “sure thing” when it comes to this pursuit. When I returned to Andy’s Way for a second time, expecting another avian feeding bonanza at low tide, it was as if yesterday never happened; there were just a few scattered Sanderlings, so I walked the 2.1 miles back to the Inn. It’s a great way to get lots of exercise!
Sunrise on the last day was beautiful again, and since the ferry didn’t leave for a couple of hours, I took a cab to Coast Guard Road, but there wasn’t too much activity beyond Cedar Waxwings, some fall Warbler migrants, and Vireos. It was thought that the strong easterly winds pushed the migrating birds to the mainland.
Sunrise on the last day. Photo by Kim Nagy.
It was sad to leave Block Island, but it will be fun to return, as I booked next year’s trip and added an extra day for even more adventure!
To see more of Kim’s work, please visit Facebook.com/catchlightphotos or