“Sufferin Succotash” – Birding Rhode Island

At 7:00 a.m. on May 3, 2019 my State List for the State of Rhode Island was 0.  Six hours and 10 minutes later it was 84.  Not bad.  Or as I at times say when impressed, “Wowsers”!!  For this accomplishment (and yes, I know I am dating myself), I will let Daffy Duck and Sylvester the Cat voice their opinion: “Sufferin Succotash”!!  Here’s the rest of the story…

Daffy Duck

First I am cutting myself some slack on the cartoon characters reference and their well known idiom, even if you don’t.  Rhode Island was the second of 13 states birded for 50 species in my Eastern Marathon, but this is the 13th Blog Post on the trip and I am a bit tired.  Second, it may be corny – actually doubly so, since succotash is a mixture of corn and lima beans – but the phrase has special application here as 23 of those 84 species were seen at Succotash Marsh.  Granted many more were seen at Trustom Pond, but the puns I came up with for “Trustom” using “trust ’em” just didn’t do it, so “sufferin succotash” it is.

Back to being serious.  There was no sufferin or suffering on this day.  Just lots of good birding in Rhode Island – again with my expert birder friend Mike Resch.  We knew it was going to be a good day when the first bird we saw as we started birding in Westerly, Rhode Island was a Wild Turkey at a busy intersection.  It actually looked like it was waiting for the “Walk” signal to cross the road.

Wild Turkey


Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge is on Block Island Sound in Southern Rhode Island.  There is a large pond, the ocean coast and forested habitat – an excellent birding hotspot.  We would spend just over three hours there and record 64 species – chalk up another state for the 50/50/50 Adventure.  Surprisingly this included only two shorebirds, a Sanderling and a Willet.  But there was a good mix of everything including 6 duck species, 5 raptors, 5 warblers and some of these and some of those.  I got a nice photo of a Mute Swan in flight at least proving that these are not pinioned birds added as ornaments to some pond.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan Flight

The two Northern Gannets were too distant for a photo but they were the first I had seen in 2019, special treats for West Coast birders.  No Eiders but I would see some later.  Another new bird for 2019 was a Blue Winged Warbler.  I had seen one last year in Texas but had not for many years before that.  I would chase its close relative the Golden Winged Warbler later in several states hoping for a first ever photo.  Didn’t know it then but do now – it didn’t happen.

Blue Winged Warbler

Blue Winged Warbler

There were unfortunately no Eastern Bluebirds, Blue Grosbeaks or Black Throated Blue Warblers but we did see Blue Jays, Blue Gray Gnatcatchers, and Blue Headed Vireos.  A better vireo was a White Eyed Vireo.

Blue Headed Vireo

Blue Headed Vireo

White Eyed Vireo

White Eyed Vireo

It is always an adjustment for me that White Throated Sparrows are so common in the East and often much moreso than Song Sparrows which often seem to be everywhere back home.  Certainly fine looking birds, though.  The most common sparrow or sparrow-like bird was the Eastern Towhee, its song constantly reminding us to “Drink your tea.”  I well remember this as one of the first species I was aware of when I first returned as a birder to Maryland where I grew up.  At that time it was called a Rufous Sided Towhee only later being split away from the Western form the Spotted Towhee.

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow1

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Spotted Towhee (from Washington State) for Comparison

Spotted Towhee

There are many birders who think that Yellow Warblers may also be split – if not Eastern and Western forms, then at least the ones in Florida.  Until that happens, the one we saw here will continue to be the same species as ones I would see in Washington.  Even though listing is an important part of my birding, I really don’t care much about these splits.  Yellow Warblers are gorgeous – wherever found and whatever form they are.  The red chest streaks on this one were particularly bold and bright.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

We moved on from Trustom Pond to the Succotash Marsh.  Here we had lots of shorebirds, 10 different species with the most numerous being Least Sandpipers and Dunlin.  As had been the case in Connecticut, we also had both Semipalmated and Piping Plovers with even more of the latter at this spot – at least 10.  We also had the only Black Bellied Plovers of the trip.  None of the shorebirds were up close – that’s why a scope was so nice to have.  So no photos.  And the same was true for the 3 Least Terns and the Common Loon – all in the distance.  A little closer was a Fish Crow.  I was happy to hear its distinctive call – different from an American Crow – and to count it as a new species, but as with our “Northwestern Crow” in Washington, I wonder about it being a separate species or at least would be maybe more comfortable if they were all lumped together – no disrespect to any of them.  At least this one was eating a fish – well, a crab so a shellfish by some accounts.

Fish Crow

Fish Crow with Crab

Another fish eater we observed was an Osprey.  We later saw this one pluck a fish from the water.  I believe Ospreys join Barn Owls as the only or one of only a few species that are occur regularly without being introduced on every continent – except Antarctica.  I have seen them on 4 continents (not Europe or Asia) and in 25 states and believe they have been seen in all 50 although rarely in Hawaii.  A welcomed observation anywhere.



Since I am writing this after the blog posts for the other states, I want to include a bird that was seen frequently in all of the Eastern States – and heard even more commonly – often the first bird I heard in the morning as I left my hotel.  It is so common that I just put it out of mind and did not include it in any of the other posts.  It is the Northern Cardinal.  It may be one of the birds most recognizable by non-birders.  Gorgeous. Loud and deserving of having its picture included.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal Male

Our final stop was at Galilee Harbor where we finally saw some Common Eiders and such “rarities” as House Sparrow and Rock Pigeon.  Our day total was 84 species.  It was just a bit after 1 p.m.  Mike had been very generous with his time and had to rendezvous with family and attend a dance competition with his daughter.  I would spend the night in Rhode Island and then be off to New York.  I did some sightseeing and then got to my hotel early and crashed as I think the travel and jet lag finally got to me.

I met a birder on the trail (elsewhere) whose special project is to get his life list in each state to 100 species.  He has been working on it for a long time.  I am pretty sure that I could have continued birding that afternoon and gotten to 100 for the day.  It would have been my 20th state with that total or more.  Sure glad that is not my project.  And I am sure glad that I was able to spend more time with Mike Resch.  I would see him again in a few weeks in New Hampshire.  He really really knows New England.

With Mike Resch at Trustom Pond

Trustom Pond with Mike




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