The Harlequins of Sachuest
Rhode Island's Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge is accessed from Sachuest Point Road, off Route 138A. Nearby Newport has restaurants and lodging, including a Holiday Inn (401-789-1051) and an inexpensive Motel 6 (401-848-0600), but the lowest midwinter room rates may be at Middletown's Howard Johnson (401-849-2000). Middletown also has the Newport Ramada Inn (401-846-7600) and the more reasonably priced Courtyard by Marriott (401-849-8000).
Heavy winter snow can block access to the refuge, so call the visitor center at (401) 847-5511 for the latest information; if you reach an answering machine, try the Rhode Island field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service at (401) 364-9124. Those who staff these phones may be able to tell you how many harlequins have been seen at last count. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island's rare bird alert (401-949-3870), a recorded announcement of notable sightings, may also mention recent harlequin totals. You can also access online transcriptions of audiotapes of the past few weeks.
In his fine 1992 book, Bird Walks in Rhode Island (out-of-print at this writing), Adam J. Fry recommends the one-mile side trip to Gardiner Pond, a reservoir that, if unfrozen, allows close viewing of any wintering waterfowl. For rare winter gulls and alcids, the likeliest spots are Point Judith and Galilee on the west side of Narragansett Bay, according to Fry. Just north and west of Gardiner Pond, Middletown's 450-acre Norman Bird Sanctuary has scenic Gray Craig Pond and trails across four erosion-resistant ridges, affording views of Gardiner Pond, Nelson Pond (another reservoir), surrounding wetlands, Sachuest Point, and the ocean. Hanging Rock Trail is the most popular; check other hike descriptions at the sanctuary Web site. Newport's famous Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile National Recreation Trail that winds between mansions and sea, starts at Memorial Boulevard on the west end of Easton's Beach (also known as Newport's First Beach).
Another Rhode Island nature guide, recently revised, is Ken Weber's Walks and Rambles in Rhode Island: 40 Trails for Birders and Nature Lovers.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication