Sanjayan's Top 10 U.S. Natural migrations.
It's spring, and that means the animals of the world are in motion again — flying, swimming, running and crawling to their summer homes and breeding grounds. The Nature Conservancy is celebrating this annual pageant of nature with a listing of the “Top Five Must-See Migrations” in Rhode Island.
“Witnessing an act of migration in-person is a thrilling moment that can inspire a lifetime love for nature,” explains Janet Coit, director of The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island. “We hope to connect a new generation to the wonders of our natural world.”
“Migration also teaches us about the need to protect nature at a global scale” she continues, “When you see animals moving en masse you realize it is not enough to just protect them in your backyard, but all along their long journey.”
1. Piping Plovers
Rhode Island’s rarest of the shorebirds return each April to nest on sandy beaches throughout Rhode Island. At Quicksand Pond/Goosewing Beach Preserve, plovers can be found feeding along the shore and the mudflats of Quicksand Pond. The plovers travel north from their wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast and Bahamas. Least Terns, another state rare shorebird, arrive in May to nest on Rhode Island’s beaches.
In addition to piping plovers, a myriad of other shorebirds can be found utilizing the mudflats and shoreline of the preserve. These include sanderlings, great and snowy egrets, dunlin, semi-palmated sandpiper, greater/lesser yellowlegs and more.
2. Horseshoe Crab
In late spring, adult Atlantic horseshoe crabs migrate from their wintering grounds on the edge of the continental shelf, 200 miles off the coast of Rhode Island and nearly a half-mile under the ocean, to Rhode Island's beaches. Once in shallow waters they wait for the right combination of moon and tide and then come ashore to mate and lay eggs in the sand. Often referred to as “living fossils”, this annual ritual has been performed by atlantic horseshoe crabs for 20 million years.
3. Blackpoll Warblers
The blackpoll warbler is a champion long-distant migrant among warblers traveling 1,250 miles every spring and fall. Most impressive is a continuous overwater flight from places like Block Island, Rhode Island and Cape May, New Jersey to northern South America. In order to complete this grueling journey each individual doubles their weight before leaving by gorging on insects in the spring and fruit in the fall.
4. Right Whales
The highly-endangered North Atlantic right whale migration is in full swing off Rhode Island in spring, with a high percentage of mothers with calves moving in near coastal waters from wintering areas off the southeastern states to summer feeding grounds off Nantucket and in the Gulf of Maine. Their numbers peak off the Ocean State in April. Northern right whales are vulnerable to ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, and efforts are underway to reduce these threats by slowing ship speeds during peak migration periods in coastal waters and using innovative gear to reduce the chance of the whales becoming ensnarled in lines and nets. Robert Kenney, a whale expert from URI, puts it quite simply, “Spring is right whale season in southern New England.”
5. Wood Frogs
With charismatic black masks across their eyes, wood frogs are among the earliest of Rhode Island’s spring migrants. On the first few warm days of March, wood frogs emerge from the leaf litter on the forest floor and trek up to a half-mile over land to reach their ephemeral, woodland breeding pools. Some years, these pools are still frozen when the frogs arrive, or they might ice up overnight, leaving the impatient amphibians to hop around on the surface. Remarkably, special proteins in the wood frogs’ blood allow them to freeze nearly solid, so they are well-adapted to handle the starts and stops of a New England spring. By the afternoon, any ice has usually melted, and the males strike up a chorus of loud, snapping hidd-dick squicks: beautiful music, not only to the female frogs, but also to human observers eager to leave winter behind!
After a few weeks, the female woods frogs will have deposited jelly-like egg masses in clusters on submerged vegetation or fallen branches, and the annual reunion will be over. The frogs return to the woods from which they take their name, to spend the next six months hunting creepy-crawlies and dodging hungry snakes.