Today feels like summer – 78 degrees, sunny and calm, with ocean water temps hovering around 70 degrees. But despite the balmy weather, things are changing during this late summer in Rhode Island. The most obvious sign of the changing of the seasons is the difference at the beach. Two weeks ago, crossing guards checked beach passes and attendants hustled along the boardwalk with chairs and umbrellas. Today, small groups of surf casters sit at the end of the boardwalk watching for fish, and a beachgoer can pick most any patch of sand to sit and watch the tide roll by.
But look a little deeper and you will see that wildlife patterns are changing, too. Murmerations of swallows dip and pitch in unison above the dunes, while great flocks of cormorants land on the salt pond in pursuit of schooling fish. And schooling fish there are! The salt pond is full of all kinds of bait, with none more numerous than peanut bunker – a small, oily fish that is prized by just about every hungry non-human mouth on the pond. As we cruise along in boats we see patches of “nervous” water maybe the size of a tennis-court, and just below the rippling surface the flashing flanks of the countless little fish that are causing the disturbance. Actually, the perpetrators disturbing the peace are more often than not juvenile bluefish, which slash through the school and cause hundreds of the desperate little fish to leap from the water in a desperate bid to escape the snapping jaws.
Back in the air, osprey chicks are mostly grown and by now it’s hard to distinguish the young from the adults. The once-tight family unit at the nearby nest has split up and even though the mating pair will join-up again next year at the same nest, they will migrate separately and spend the winter in different locations. Just yesterday, along with two guests, I spotted a magnificent bald eagle over Weekapaug – a big mature bird with blazing white headdress and tail feathers. We watched as it did lazy circles over the pond and then as it was joined by two immature birds.
Yes, late summer and fall are a magical time of year here on the Rhode Island coast. From a naturalist’s perspective there is so much to see, with so many species on the move during this changing of the seasons; from a beach lover’s standpoint the weather can be sublime and the term “private beach” takes on a whole different meaning.