EXETER, R.I. — You can hear them before you can see them. As soon as you open your car door in the parking lot of Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge, an Audubon site in this town in the middle of Rhode Island, the sound of house wrens hits you.
It’s springtime in Rhode Island, and that means the peak of the spring migration season is right around now, early- to mid-May. Time to take it outside and look at some birds.
Fisherville Brook is a peaceful and pristine 1,010-acre parcel of land where you might find, in addition to the noisy house wrens, a worm-eating warbler, a pied-billed grebe, and a Baltimore oriole.
“For me, it’s almost like another language,” Laura Carberry, who lives on the site and manages it for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, said after leading a recent walk there. “You learn the bird songs, and it makes you slow down and observe more. It’s really just getting yourself present with where you are. Get outside. Enjoy where you are.”
Miantonomi Memorial Park
Miantonomi Memorial Park (120 Hillside Ave., Newport, R.I.; 401-845-5800) is the highest point on Aquidneck Island, which makes it an inviting stopover for birds on the migratory flyway. That half-ounce bird you see there might have powered itself from South America to Newport on nothing more than its own two wings; from there, it might continue on to Canada.
The elevation of the tower in the park, which allows people to look down on the treetops, also means that birders can avoid getting “warbler whiplash,” or the sort of neck strain that comes from looking up for the colorful migratory birds, explained Lauren Parmelee, senior director of education for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.
Birders have spotted prothonotary warblers there, and on a normal day they may see various other warblers, flycatchers and about five million catbirds, which sound like a cross between a house cat and the “Star Wars” droid R2-D2.
“You never know what you’re going to find at Miantonomi,” Parmelee said a few hours after a recent trip.
Parmelee goes there several times a week in the spring. More and more people have gotten interested in birding in the past year, Parmelee said. Virtual bird lessons were jam-packed.
Parmelee stressed that you should be ethical while birding. Don’t trespass. Follow local rules. Don’t give birders a bad name. And you should also be careful about ticks, something that might involve tucking your pants into your socks.
“Once you get started on birds, you sort of get hooked,” Parmelee said. “It’s like treasure hunting.”
Honorable mentions from Parmelee: East Shore Road in Jamestown, R.I. and the Rome Point trail in the John H. Chafee Nature Preserve of North Kingstown, R.I..
Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge, Charlestown
No Rhode Island birding list would be complete without some coastal adventuring, and Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge (1040 Matunuck School House Road, South Kingstown, R.I.; 401-364-9124) is tops for that on our list.
The federal property has an array of habitats that make it a magnet for migratory and shore-hugging species. Jason Major, a Rhode Island-based wildlife photographer, went out with his Nikon DSLR and 600 millimeter lens on a recent weekday in May to check out what was there.
He saw a bunch of yellow warblers playing among the trails, eastern towhees, and some osprey flying overhead.
For the migratory species, “they’ve traveled hundreds of miles just to get here,” Major said. “Whether they’re spending a week here or nesting here for the season, they’re impressive travelers, and we get to enjoy them for part of the year.”
Honorable mention from Major: The Florence Sutherland Fort & Richard Knight Fort Nature Refuge in North Smithfield.
When you’re going about your bustling day in Providence’s capital city, staring at your phone, distracted because you missed a belt loop or you still need to file your taxes, you might miss some incredible stuff.
Peter Green doesn’t miss it. He is an urban wildlife photographer whose downtown apartment gives him terrific views of Providence raptors. He wrote a book by that same name. Once he started to pay attention, he noticed a lot more: hawks and eagles and owls and even wood ducks nestling in a city tree.
One place you can see birds downtown is actually on your computer, where the Audubon Society has a livestream of a peregrine falcon nest on the Superman building in Providence. Over Mother’s Day weekend, three eggs hatched.
“It’s always exciting,” Green said. “It’s like an inanimate object is suddenly cracked open, and there’s a living thing inside, and that little tiny fluff ball is going to grow up to look like this amazing, perfect falcon.”
They don’t know where the male and female are from because they don’t have bands on their legs. That’s a testament to their recovery as a species, which was once on the endangered species list.
“They’re thriving in the wild, and there are a lot of nests,” Green said. “It’s a good sign.”
Three places in Providence you might catch a glimpse of the peregrines on the Superman building: just below the building at 111 Westminster St.; the corner of Benefit and Benevolent streets; and just where Memorial Boulevard turns into South Water Street on the Providence River.
Your own personal Dead End Oasis
April Alix bought her house in Cumberland in April of 2019, at the end of a dead-end road overlooking a vernal pool. It wasn’t long before she set up some feeders and gave it a name on eBird.org, an application that lets you track what birds you saw: The Dead End Oasis.
“I’m telling you, I feel invigorated to get up early — which is not who I am as a person — and set up a chair outside, and just watch birds,” Alix said. “I have found an insane amount of birds just coming to visit my backyard.”
That’s the great thing about birds: You don’t have to go far to see them. It can be your own backyard, or out of your apartment window in the city. It can be the parking lot of some Stop & Shop. It can be anywhere in Rhode Island.
Alix is something of a professional bird appreciator. She works as the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership as a conservation program coordinator. That’s a lot of syllables to say that she helps kids enjoy the environment in Providence.
“As a born and bred New Englander, it’s your first pop of color after we went through stick season,” Alix said. “All the trees are blooming, the flowers are out, and all of a sudden, the birds are here.”