Rose Island Wildlife Refuge

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Rose Island Wildlife Refuge

Rose Island consists of two lots of property within the city of Newport. Lot 1 is the larger lot and consists of the northern portion of the island comprising Rose Island Wildlife Refuge and is owned by the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation. Lot 2 is owned by the City of Newport and consists of the lighthouse and 1.5 acres of property surrounding it. Rose Island Wildlife Refuge was established in 1999 when the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation purchased the entire northern 17.42-acre parcel comprising the entirety of Rose Island beyond the lighthouse from private owner’s intent on developing the parcel. Funding to purchase the parcel was provided from an open space grant from RI Department of Environmental Management, from funds privately raised by the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation and from private foundations including the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust and the Prince Charitable Trust. In exchange for funding, RIDEM received a conservation easement and a management plan that prescribes activities and actions that may be taken within the wildlife refuge. The primary action is that the island may never be developed and that its conservation values are preserved and protected in perpetuity.

Today the island’s landscape has revegetated with a variety of scrub shrub habitat, brush and trees. Many nonnative species of plants have recolonized the island after abandonment by the US Navy following WWII. During the period of military occupation, Rose Island consisted largely of mowed grass. During the period of the 1950’s through the 1990’s plant succession took hold and a wide variety of plants became established. Many nonnative species of plants, including Japanese honeysuckle, Asiatic bittersweet, multiflora rose and rugose rose took over much of the island and today dominate its vegetation. Some native species of plants thrive within the dominance of nonnatives and these include black cherry, sumac and poke weed. A small grove of planted English oak are the only dominant trees on the island, these trees being approximately 70 years old.

The fauna occupying the island is dominated by birds, including many common passerines (catbirds, sparrows and cardinals) a few shorebirds, gulls, herons, egrets and several species of waterfowl including common eider and Canada goose. There are no mammals that permanently call the island home; however, during winter an occasional mink can be seen and seals haul out on the shoreline and nearby rocks at low tide. Likewise, there are no amphibians on the island, although three different non poisonous snakes can be found on the island. The three species of snake found on Rose island are smooth green snake, northern brown snake and eastern garter snake. These snakes are quite abundant and can be commonly found within rock walls and in and around buildings and foundations.

The most notable species of wildlife are birds and there is a special interest in the ecology of colony nesting wading birds that first began to nest on Rose Island in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. This was predicted as the island habitats began to provide nesting structure attractive to these species. Species of colony nesting wading birds on Rose island include great egret, black crowned night heron, glossy ibis, snowy egret, cattle egret and little blue heron. Nesting of these species peaked during the late 1990’s but soon after and as predicted, the colony dwindled and was gone by 2010. By far the two most numerous species that nested here were glossy ibis and black crowned night heron; however, these birds have only recently been observed roosting on the island at night. The decline in nesting was predicted by experts who theorized that the dynamics of populations of these birds often results in peaks in abundance followed by abandonment in subsequent years, which is exactly what happened on

Rose Island. Today small numbers of herons and egrets can be seen foraging around the shoreline or roosting in the vegetation at night. Efforts to attract egrets for nesting in areas previously occupied were recently tried and for the first time several years, a few pair (4) of great egrets nested in traditional habitats on Rose Island. Both black crowned night heron and glossy ibis were observed engaging in nesting activities by no nests were observed. To protect nesting birds from disturbance, Rose Island wildlife refuge is closed to all human entrance during the period March 1 through August 15 each year.

Other notable birds occupying Rose Island include two species of gull, the herring gull and the great black backed gull. The herring is most numerous including about 150 pairs nesting. The Great black backed gull number approximately 80 pairs. Both species nest in groups primarily on the beach, among abandoned buildings and in small secluded openings. The black backs are significant predators feasting upon other gulls, shorebirds and the young of Canada geese. The American oystercatcher (4 to 5 pairs) attempts to nest along the shoreline and a few are fledged each year. This species seems to suffer heavy losses due to gull predation, particularly the black back gulls. Black duck, mallard and Canada goose all attempt to nest on Rose Island with the goose being most numerous and persistent.

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