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Block Island: A Bird-Watching Paradise

20 05 14 - 14:25 Block Island was named a "Last Great Place" by The Nature Conservancy. Block Island's international fame is that it is home to 15 rare or endangered species. And the island is a critical migratory bird stopover point on the Atlantic Coast. Hundreds of small ponds and fruit-bearing shrubs provide essential water and food for more than 250 species of birds that come to rest there.

Formed by glaciers nearly 10,000 years ago, Block Island, Rhode Island is located 12 miles off the southern shore of the smallest state. The island is made up of a diverse array of geographical features and habitats such as beaches, sand dunes, coastal bluffs, grasslands, scrubland, salt ponds and various other freshwater wetland ecosystems.

These habitats support a unique assortment of wildlife, making it one of the most ecologically significant areas in the state and in the entire northeast. Thousands of migratory shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds also depend on the Island as a stopover point on their journey north and south along the Atlantic Flyway. Over 70 species of migratory song birds visit the island each fall. The Piping Plover, a threatened species, may be found here. Block Island is home to the largest Gull colony in Rhode Island. With nearly half of the island preserved as open space and sanctuary, birding opportunities are virtually unlimited!

Several inns and hotels on the island cater to birders, such as the Island Home Inn and the Inn at Block Island. Guided birding tours are available on foot or by boat and can be arranged via the Block Island Tourism Council. Birders can also explore on their own, and should take in the following areas on the island:

Clay Head Preserve
Located in the northeast part of Block Island, the Clay Head Preserve is privately-owned 150 acre preserve protected by conservation easements and is one of the best places to observe migratory songbirds in North America in the fall. The trail runs east toward the ocean, past Clay Head Swamp. The trail winds up above the clay bluffs for which this area was named. At the top of the incline, trails heading away from the ocean are known as the "maze". These intertwining trails are unmarked and are perfect for hours of wandering.

Fresh Swamp Preserve
Located in the middle of the southern part of the island this preserve is composed of meadow and upland shrub habitat. This preserve was conserved by The Nature Conservancy as an important feeding area for the state endangered barn owl. The state endangered northern harrier nests on the property as well. Other species of interest that occur on the property are the Block Island meadow vole, savannah sparrow, and the federally endangered American burying beetle.

Hodge Family Wildlife Preserve
The most recent large-scale conservation purchase consists of 25 acres and connects to the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge. Migratory songbirds, the state-endangered northern harrier, and the Block Island meadow vole all call this preserve home.

Rodman's Hollow
This 230-acre glacial outwash basin is considered the birthplace of conservation on Block Island. The state-threatened northern harrier feeds and nests here, and the only natural population of federally-endangered American burying beetle east of the Mississippi lives here.

Block Island National Wildlife Refuge
Totaling 133 acres, the refuge is distinctive because it works closely with other conservation organizations in an effort to protect land. Most importantly, the refuge is exceptional because of its location on an internationally recognized island of conservation. As with all National Wildlife Refuges, the refuge on Block Island maintains wildlife conservation as its first priority. However, refuge beaches are open for bird-watching. Visitors seeking an out-of-the-way adventure will be delighted by the impressive landscape and the diversity of wildlife.

For more information, email Mark Brodeur, Rhode Island Director of Tourism.
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