The Harlequins of Sachuest
Finally I tear myself away from the harlequins and walk east along the Ocean Ridge Trail. Eighty purple sandpipersan unusually large assemblage of this speciesrest on the massive offshore boulders known as Island Rocks. On my home water of Long Island Sound, in contrast, purple sandpipers usually occur singly, where they occur at all. Reversing direction, I come around the tip of the point to Sachuest Bay. As gulls sing an anthem to the sun, a man and a woman stand motionless and watch its flaming descent. In the darkening water I count at least a dozen common loons and glimpse the whiskered face of a harbor seal bobbing between waves.
Though I try, I can't find other specialties of the refuge, such as short-eared owl, snowy owl, northern harrier, and barrow's goldeneye. I do find common eidersmuch rarer on Long Island Sound than they are here. There are many red-breasted mergansers and common goldeneyes, some white-winged scoters, and a few surf scoters. Skulking in the coastal scrub are a gray catbird, myrtle warblers, white-throated sparrows, and tree sparrows. Herring and great black-backed gulls are common but I see no ring-billed or Bonaparte's gulls. In the logbook at the refuge building, visiting bird clubs have recently noted northern gannets and razorbills, but if still around these birds escape me.
In a race with departing light, I follow the circular trail to an observation platform on Flint Point. To the northwest, silhouettes of ruddy turnstones glean the curving shoreline of the gently lapping Sakonnet River. It is after sunset when I return to my starting point. There I see 75 harlequins, the largest single flock of the day. As darkness and cold settle over the waterscape, a couple asks if I've seen any seals and a final birder marches past. The light fades but the vast ocean heaves and crashes with the same intensity. Other birds have gone to night roostsI stand on the shadowy edge of land, alone with harlequins and unrelenting sea. Soon the harlequins rise together darkly and fly straight toward ocean, perhaps to spend the night safely on an island in the distance. I'm pleased to think that today I may be the last person to see them.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication