Category : Birds

Life Abounds Along Rhode Island’s Rivers and Coves

Laptew Chronicles
Rhode Island’s Web of Life

Part 1

River Otter

River otters can live 10 to 20 years.  These three and half to four foot long mammals depend on clean water and a healthy supply of fish, frogs, snakes, mice, birds, crayfish and mussels. 

otter swims along surface of the pond
The river otter is a long, sleek, muscular animal

North Kingstown otter in Annaquatucket River
When otters dive their ears and nose close

River otters digest and metabolize food so quickly that food passes through their intestines within an hour.

The web feet and slim profile allow otters to fly through the water

The web feet and slim profile allow otters to fly through the water

Click to enlarge any of these images

Snowy Egret

The snowy egret stalks the marshes, coves and rivers for small bait fish such as mummichog, spearing, sand eel or sand lance

egret charges mummichog

Snowy egret charges a school of mummichogs

egret strikes

The egret strikes with lightning speed

egret strikes at mummichog

The snowy seizes the mummi behind the gills

snowy egret squeezes a mummichog with its powerful bill

A good squeeze and a shake and the mummi is about to be eaten

 

Snowy egret gulps down a fat little mummichog

Snowy egret gulps down a fat little mummichog

Muskrat

These semi-aquatic rodents feed primarily on aquatic plants and they can be found in slow-moving-streams, coastal and freshwater marshes, lakes, ponds and swamps.

muskrat swimming to shore

A muskrat swims toward the shoreline

A muskrat heads to a feeding station with a mouthful of weeds
With a mouthful of weeds the muskrat heads for its den

They are prodigious and can  produce up to 3 litters per year, each with 6 to 7 young.  Breeding takes place from late March through July.

 

Osprey – The Fish Hawk

When the ospreys return to Rhode Island they start tidying up their nests with sticks and grass.  Osprey mate for life and return to the same nest year after year.

An osprey bringing marsh grass to nest

Osprey building nest with marsh grass and twigs

An osprey carries a load of nesting material

A full load of nesting material

 

An osprey hold a herring in its talons

Osprey grasps herring in its talons

River Herring

Alewives and blueback herring  have an enormous impact on the environment and they are a vital component to the food chain.

A group of volunteers help the Rhode Island Dept. of Fish of Wildlife scoop out and transport herring to an aerated truck.  These herring will be transferred to the Pawcatuck watershed where they will fortify 1300 acres and 8 stream miles.
A group of volunteers help fish and wildlife scoop herring

Herring Heroes scoop and transport fish

River herring stack up in a shallow pool

River herring stack up in a shallow pool

Herring transport truck

Worker dumps herring into transport truck

Check back for Rhode Island’s Web of Life – Part 2


Herring Gull Lives Up To Its Name

Not all herring gulls are at the landfill

It’s nice to see a herring gull actually eating a river herring and not a french fry.

herring gull grabs an alewife

A herring gull grabs an alewife in the Narrow River

With an expandable throat, these most common of all the “seagulls” in our area, are quite capable of wolfing down an entire river herring.

herring gull swallows an alewife in one gulp

herring gull swallows an alewife in one gulp

Getting to Know Big Blue

Learning the routine of fish and fowl is the first step to getting interesting imagery

budding birch tree

Budding birch tree will soon fill out

The woods are still pretty barren, but most trees are about to bud and it won’t be long before their full size leaves once again shield the animals of the forest from casual view.

great blue heron flies through the brush

Great blue heron flies through the brush

It’s taken a little while, but I’ve got the timing pretty well pegged for finding Mr. Blue either feeding or rousting for the evening.  It’s great that indeed these are “creatures of habit.”

Great Blue Heron Flaps its Massive Wings

Quick and Nimble Means a Meal

Tide Line Buffet

This collage of shots shows what happens in less than half a second  

Sandpiper pulls out a worm

Sandpiper pulls out a worm

Sandpipers stalk the surf line and when the waves recede they look for meals in the mud and sand.

Yesterday, I also found a number of ducks at the southeast corner of Mackerel Cove, Jamestown, Rhode Island…including this rather vocal specimen.

Red-breasted Merganser Ducks

A red-breasted Merganser with something to say

Buds, Birds and Bugs

Springtime on the Narrow River Pussy Willows These are among the first trees and shrubs to bloom, however, this year they are opening up just as fast as the skunk cabbage. Color Returns to the Forest I love watching the countryside come to life with splashes of color everywhere. It won’t be long before the [...]

On the Lookout for River Herring

Hunting for Herring

Yesterday afternoon I went looking for river herring…I wasn’t the only one.

A great blue heron swooped in and kept an eye open for returing alewives.  We were both out of luck.

A great blue heron flys through the trees

A great blue heron flys through the trees

Last night was a return to winter-like conditions with freezing temperatures that shut down the run of herring.  It seems both me and the heron were out of luck.

 

The Last Few Days Have Been Ducky

This is a great time of year for watching birds, especially ducks.  The display of colors is breathtaking and seeing the same ducks return to the same ponds, puddles, creeks, and rivers is a welcomed sight.  The quacking in the marsh behind my house is another matter.

The Sucker Run Revisited

For a 12 year old kid, the annual sucker run was a springtime ritual

April 1962

Samuel Slater Mill - Blackstone River, Rhode Island

Samuel Slater Mill

It was a different world back then.  Although I was born in Pawtucket, the city credited with starting the American Industrial Revolution, I never thought of myself as a city-kid, I thought you had to live in Brooklyn or the Bronx to live in a real asphalt jungle.  After all, I only had to walk three or four miles and I had ponds, rivers, creeks and lakes to explore.

 

 

 

Each spring (usually during school break in April) I would mount an expedition to the northern reaches of the Moshassuck River to see if the suckers had returned to spawn.  The Narragansett Indians named the river “Moshassuck”  meaning “river where moose watered.”  I can assure you I never saw any moose on my treks north, but on more than one occasion I saw some moose-sized rats.

Blackstone River at Flood Stage in Pawtucket

Blackstone River at Flood Stage in Pawtucket

The Moshassuck river once held salmon, but that was before the dams were built to power the early textile factories and base-metal works in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  It was so polluted back then it was blamed for Rhode Island’s cholera outbreaks of 1849 and 1854. The river was much cleaner in 1962, in fact on most days the river ran blue…indigo blue, or navy blue, even lipstick red, depending on what dyes the finishing plant was dumping into the river.

 

The Pawtucket Falls on the Blackstone River

The Blackstone River runs near the Moshassuck River in Pawtucket and Lincoln, RI

The four mile journey to the fishing grounds would take me over the railroad tracks,  by the slaughterhouse and the incinerator, past the dump, alongside Lorraine Mills and finally to the poison ivy & sumac covered shores of Barny Pond in Saylesville…can you hear John Denver singing “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” in the background?  Barny’s always deserved at least a few casts; what it lacked in big largemouth bass at the time, it made up for with huge crappie and sunfish.  From Barny it was up the road to Lincoln Woods and then to Butterfly Pond — all that effort just for the chance to see, never mind catch one of those elusive white suckers.

 

March 2012

Back to Barny Pond

After leaving Dick’s Sports and Hobby Shop, Captain Jim White and I retraced the route we would take as kids, fifty years ago.  Despite the fact that the two of us use to fish the same small ponds, streams and rivers, we never ran into one another on any of our angling sorties.  This trip would hopefully result in our finding at least one or two suckers preparing to spawn.

Barny Pond

Barny Pond

Barny Pond Dam House

Barny Pond Dam House

Falls at Barny Pond

Falls at Barny Pond

We stopped by Barny Pond for a few casts with the fly rod.  When my back cast wrapped the leader around a power lines across the street, I soon remembered why I had become so proficient at roll casting at an early age.

 

Off to Butterfly

Ten minutes later we were on our way to Butterfly Pond, on the way there Jim pointed out the hills where he use to hunt rabbits and quail. Jim went on to explain, “In those days you wouldn’t get a second look as you rode your bike down the road with a shotgun strapped to the side.”  I commented, “Your right!  In fact if some old Yankee saw you ride by, he would probably think, “Now there goes a good boy.”  Nowadays you would have a SWAT team waiting for you in the corn field.

Chase Farm, Lincoln, Rhode Island

Chase Farm, Lincoln, Rhode Island

When we arrived at Butterfly Pond we immediately saw trout rolling on the surface as the 75 degree temperatures set off a hatch.  We surveyed the water, but didn’t see a single sucker.  Perhaps it was too early?  Perhaps there were no more suckers?  Was the run a thing of the past, like hunting in the nearby hills?

Waterfall at Butterfly Pond

Waterfall at Butterfly Pond

 

Last Chance at Lincoln Woods

We headed back down stream to Lincoln Woods where a covered bridge greeted us at the entrance to the park.  Five decades ago suckers stacked up near the bridge, but would they be here today?

Covered bridge at the entrance to Lincoln Woods State Park

Covered bridge at the entrance to Lincoln Woods State Park

 

Lincoln Woods State Park

Lincoln Woods State Park

 

We pulled the van over to the side of the road and eagerly looked into the tannin stained water for signs of life.  At first all we saw were a few small sunfish and a couple of small bass, then over a patch of gravel we saw the unmistakable torpedo shape of a white sucker feeding on the bottom.  I can’t describe the joy that seeing that one fish brought to me.  It wasn’t the first cliff swallow to return to San Juan Capistrano.  It was nowhere near as amazing as the multi-generational migration of the Monarch butterflies that covers up to 2,800 miles, but to me it represented all the wonderful things it represented 50 years ago.  It’s about renewal.  It’s about being in tune with the cycles of nature.  It’s about wilderness and where you can find it.  It’s about survival.  And finally, it’s about tradition and the fun of sharing the experience with someone.

Despite the many changes in the world today, it’s nice to see some things continue on…especially spawning rituals that were established when the glaciers first melted.  Let’s hope there IS one born every minute — in the waterways that benefit from their presence.

Slide show from 3/16/2012:

I was more than satisfied to take a series of photos that show off the beauty of a lowly bottom feeder and its habitat.

Check out the full size images by clicking on the pictures below.

Suckers Heading Upstream

Suckers Heading Upstream

Suckers Heading Upstream

suckers and shadows

Suckers and shadows

A school of white suckers

A school of white suckers in pre-spawn mode.

 

suckers in the shallows

School of suckers in the shallows

All images are © Laptew Productions, all rights reserved 2012
9 years ago Comments Off

Top