Wildlife & HabitatThe following was excerpted from the plan (CCP) for Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. For more information download a copy (1.49 MB) of the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan.
Physical ResourcesTopography and Soils
Formerly an island, Sachuest Point is now a prominent headland separating Sachuest Bay to the west from Sakonnet River to the east. The uplands are gently sloping and appear generally flat, but dip sharply to the shoreline. The Refuge has the appearance of a hammerhead, with Sachuest Point to the southeast and Flint Point to the northwest.
Upland soils at Sachuest Point are a thin mantle of broken-down outcropping bedrock, mixed with deposits of sand and silt, producing loose, acidic soil of poor fertility. Underlying the soil are Carboniferous Period rocks containing outcrops of Dighton Conglomerate of the Rhode Island formation, volcanic schists, and white quartz intrusions. Most soils are Newport and Pittstown silt loams, very poorly drained and varying in slope from 0 to 15 percent. Also present on the Refuge are areas of Newport very stony loams. Rocky outcrops ring the perimeter of the Refuge, and several areas of fill are located in the salt marsh on its northwest corner.
Historical land use practices likely impacted the soils of the refuge, although no seriously compacted soils or expanses of soil loss have been noted. From the mid-1600’s until the early 1900’s, Sachuest Point was used for farming, including sheep grazing. This continued until World War II, when approximately 107 acres of the property became an Army Coastal Defense site, including a Navy firing range. More recently, the U.S. Navy operated a Naval Radio Station Receiver Site there.
Sachuest Point is apparently the remnant of a drumlin, and was at one time an island separated from the mainland by shallow marshes. Groundwater on Aquidneck Island generally moves east towards the Sakonnet River, or west towards Narragansett Bay. The groundwater moves from areas of recharge to areas of discharge, unless intercepted by wells. Areas of discharge include springs and seeps located along the bottom of streams, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs.
Biological ResourcesSalt Marsh
Approximately 40 acres of Sachuest Point are salt marsh wetlands. Remnants of a salt marsh are found on the northeast end of the Refuge, but have been severely impacted by a former Town of Middletown landfill and a road. The southern, largely freshwater portion of the salt marsh has been overtaken by the invasive plant Phragmites. In 1997, extensive baseline data was collected on the Phragmites patch and adjacent vegetation community in anticipation of the recently completed salt marsh restoration. The primary goal of the restoration was to restore a natural tidal flow into the salt marsh and thus, reduce the domination of Phragmites in the plant community.
Of the 150 estimated documented plant species for Sachuest Point Refuge, an incredible 40 percent were invasive species that covered approximately 80 percent of the refuge. After several years of intensive management, including restoring salt marsh tidal flow to control Phragmites, releasing beetles to control purple loosestrife, and prescribed burning to control Asian bittersweet, we are beginning to see positive results.
Threatened and Endangered SpeciesPiping plover, Federally listed as threatened, are beginning to nest near the newly restored salt marsh and dune habitat. A 1990 survey for the Federal endangered American burying beetle at Sachuest Point Refuge found other Nicrophorus species there, but not the burying beetle.
Sachuest Point Refuge is a historic site for sea beach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus), a Federal-threatened plant species. No State-listed plants are known.
Several State-listed wildlife species are known to forage in the area, including northern harrier, great blue heron, snowy egret, great egret, and glossy ibis. Sachuest Point Refuge was probably historical nesting habitat for grasshopper sparrow and upland sandpiper, both of which are State-listed. The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), formerly Federal-listed, sometimes uses the refuge for roosting or foraging during migration. None of these species are known to breed on the Refuge.
BirdsAbundant nesting species include red-winged blackbird, yellow warbler, song sparrow, American robin, and common yellowthroat. As shrubs have continued to dominate the landscape, breeding bird communities have changed. Gray catbird, northern oriole, brown thrasher, rufous-sided towhee, and American redstart have been detected on breeding bird surveys, yet these same species could not be found on the refuge several years ago. Island Rocks, just off the eastern point, is habitat for common terns.
Migrants vary yearly, but typically include thousands of tree swallows, snow buntings, and various warblers, thrushes, and vireos. Remaining grasslands and trails provide foraging areas for a variety of wintering and migratory raptors. No raptors currently nest on the refuge, but because of Sachuest Point’s location, a large diversity of raptors are seen during migration. Migrant raptors typically observed include peregrine falcon, American kestrel, merlin, broad-winged hawk, osprey, redtailed hawk, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks.
The refuge shoreline is also an important place for migrating and wintering shorebirds, including sanderlings, purple sandpipers, dunlin, and semipalmated plovers. Disturbance of feeding shorebirds along Second and Third Beaches is a concern, since very little habitat for these species remains on Aquidneck Island.
Wintering songbirds include yellow-rumped warblers, white-throated sparrows, and dark-eyed juncos. Sachuest Point is a reliable spot for viewing wintering snowy and short-eared owls and northern harrier.
Wintering sea ducks are perhaps the most popular attraction for visitors to the refuge. Sachuest Point boasts the second largest winter population of eastern harlequin ducks on the Atlantic coast. Only one site off the coast of Maine has a larger winter concentration. Annual surveys at Sachuest Point Refuge indicate the number of harlequin ducks fluctuates from 50 to a high of 107 from October through March each year.
The harlequin duck is one of the least studied ducks in North America, because it breeds and winters in some of the most inaccessible and remote habitats in the northern hemisphere, according to a 1994 report by the Alaska Deparment of Fish and Game. Harlequin ducks congregate off the eastern side of Sachuest Point, feeding and roosting near the area known as Island Rocks. Since they expend considerable energy feeding in rough waters, they can often be seen perching on rocks to rest or sleep. They forage on a variety of intertidal invertebrates gathered from rocks and ocean-bottom close to shore.
Throughout their range, harlequin duck populations have increased slightly, but they remain endangered in Canada. Recent attempts to list their Eastern States population were determined unwarranted (USFWS 1998). Studies are now underway to better understand habitat use and impacts at nesting locations in Canada and at wintering locations along the eastern seaboard.
Table 3-3 summarizes peak numbers for the incredible diversity of waterfowl observed off Sachuest Point over an eight year period.
Amphibians and Reptiles
Most sightings of reptiles and amphibians have been opportunistic, and therefore represent an incomplete list of what is found on the refuge. Eastern milk snake, northern brown snake, and eastern garter snake have been observed on Refuge trails. At one time, northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) were observed near the salt marsh on the refuge. Spring peepers have been heard in the Refuge wetlands; no salamanders or turtles have been documented.Back to top