Experience Napatree

Volunteers Wanted for Horseshoe Crabs Surveys: Napatree is a favorite spawning ground of these living fossils that as a species are over 400 million years old! During the high tides of the new and full moon during May, June and July, we will be out counting and tagging Horseshoe Crabs as they make their way to shore to lay eggs.

Come experience this wonder of nature and learn about their importance as an indicator of the health of our oceans and as a critical food source to endangered shorebirds. Volunteers can participate in the horseshoe crab counts, recording data, and tagging animals. Please contact Napatreenaturalist@gmail.com in the Spring for the dates and times of our surveys.

Saturday Morning Walks: Beginning mid-June and continuing every Saturday morning at 9:00 AM until Labor Day weekend, join us for free guided walks on Napatree that are customized to the interests of our participants. Whether you want to learn about the history of Napatree before the 1938 hurricane that wiped out 39 homes or why Napatree is a Globally Important Bird Area (as designated by the National Audubon Society), our naturalists will show you that there is always something new on the beach! Saturday walks begin at the entrance to Napatree (1 Fort Road) next to the cabanas and the Misquamicut Beach Club.

Nature on Napatree

While exploring Napatree Point, these are some of the wildlife species and habitats you might see. Details of the plant and animal species highlighted here, as well as the geology of Napatree, can be found in the annual State of Napatree reports in the Napatree Resources. For bird watchers, the comprehensive list of birds seen on Napatree and photos of each species that was compiled by Reynold Larsen will be especially interesting.

American Oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus) are an iconic wildlife species on Napatree and are classified as a species of great conservation concern in Rhode Island. These beautiful birds are most common in the mudflats and shallow mussel beds near the Lagoon in the Fall. Adults have bright red, powerful bills that are capable of opening mussels and oysters. Male and female oystercatchers sometimes mate for life. Males help feed and care for their young, which can be distinguished from adults by the black tip at the end of their bill.

Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus), a federally threatened species, occur at Napatree from March to September. This small shorebird nests in shallow depressions in the sand, where they typically incubate four eggs for about one month. Mortality of eggs and nestlings can be very high, primarily due to predators or flooding during extreme storm tides. Piping Plovers feed on insects and worms in the wrack and on the beach. After the breeding season, Piping Plovers migrate to their wintering grounds from North Carolina to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) are large fishing-eating hawks. They are considered a species of special conservation concern in Rhode Island. Osprey will fly over the Lagoon and Little Narragansett Bay in search of fish swimming close to the surface. They make dramatic dives from up to 130’ and capture fish in their large talons. Osprey traditionally nested on Napatree but did not nest in 2016 or 2017. Careful inspection of the nest platform found it was caked with mud so rain water would not properly drain. In the winter of 2018, three new Osprey nest platforms were installed on Napatree in hopes that they will start nesting again.

Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus), sometimes called Marsh Hawks, are migrants that tend to use Napatree during migration and the winter months. They fly back and forth over the dunes in search of mice and voles moving through the dune grass. Their owl-like face is an adaption to increase their hearing capabilities so they can listen for mice moving through the grass. The white patch at the base of their long tail is a distinctive marking, as is their rocking flight pattern. The presence of Northern Harriers on Napatree nicely shows what a tightly integrated ecosystem it is – sand dunes, dune grass, mice and voles, and Harrier predators.

Horseshoe Crabs (Limulus polyphemus) are common on the bayside shore of Napatree. These prehistoric-looking creatures are more closely related to spiders than true crabs and have changed little in the last 445 million years. At high tides during spring and early summer, females come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand. These eggs become a critical food source for shorebirds that stop at Napatree to refuel during spring migration. Horseshoe crabs can be legally harvested, but not during May. They are used as bait for conch trapping and the medical industry. The blood of horseshoe crabs has special properties used to make sure medical products are not contaminated. Napatree Naturalists and volunteers count horseshoe crabs each summer and report these data to Project Limulus at Sacred Heart University which monitors their populations with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sand dunes are the spine of the Napatree barrier. In fact, the Napatree Point Conservation Area is one of the most pristine examples of a barrier spit habitat in southern New England. Despite their simple appearance, barriers are extremely complex geological formations and are always changing. The dunes grow in the center of the barrier during calm periods between large storms as gentle winds deposit sand on them. During large storm events, wind and wave energy move sand; and in very large storms when the waves overtop the dunes, large “fans” of sand can be suddenly transported to the back of the dune (Little Narragansett Bay side). Since 1938, the Napatree barrier has moved one complete width northward into Little Narragansett Bay. Elevations of the barrier are carefully measured four times a year by Napatree scientists.

Dune grass (Ammophila breviligulata) and shrub islands (beach rose, Rosa rugosa; bayberry Morella caroliniensis) form a complex habitat on the Napatree barrier. Together they are critical habitat for mice, voles, insect pollinators, birds, and predators such as Northern Harriers, red fox, and mink. The shrub islands provide cover for animals and perching sites for birds. During gentle weather, they trap sand and build the dunes. During storm events, when overwashed by sand, their dense underground root and rhizome systems send new plant shoots to the surface as if nothing had happened. Shrub islands are getting larger and monitoring on Napatree shows them to be expanding at a rate of 0.5-1.5 feet per year. The ecology of Napatree’s plant communities is being studied by our scientists.

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