Updated: Apr 6, 2019
It was a chilly start to the day as Andy and I kicked off from Bristol before the sun even had a chance to cast a faint glow in the dark sky.
We were headed toward URI to pick up Sam who'd recently arrived back at school after winter break.
Our eventual arrival on Moonstone beach coincided closely with the sunrise; an arrival time I'd be thrilled about any other season of the year. I tend to appreciate twenty degree temperatures more when the warm midday sun is hitting my face. As painful as early morning can be in the winter it's still often worth it. The geese had not yet left the pond for their forage fields and we found Matt Schenck at the cut scanning them with a scope. With the same hope for a Greater White-fronted Goose that's been in the area we began to scan as well. A close group of Canvasbacks and a farther group of Redheads gave plenty of subject to enjoy. Each flock had their own little opening in the ice and it was funny to see them segregated as such. With no luck finding a rare goose mixed in with the Canada Geese, Matt had to head off.
He was gone only ten minutes when the most distant geese shifted positions and revealed a white-fronted to Sam who was on scope duty. Soon after that the geese began to lift off from the pond and the white-fronted led a small flock to the east.
A Long-tailed Duck flying the distant perimeter of the pond was an odd sight, and gave us a close view when it came around to passing overhead.
With the pond and the ocean reasonably well-scanned we headed back to the car, switched up some layers, and birded the thickets along the roads. Fairly productive as usual, we had two Fox Sparrows, a flock of American Tree Sparrows and five Purple Finches.
A short foray into the refuge proper gave a poor yield in terms of birds. A check of farm pond for the possibility of a chat or shrike gave us a few chickadees instead. (https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52131872)
Next stop was Weekapaug Breachway where a suddenly rough ocean made a frigid scan fairly useless. Instead we had some fun photographing loons and Red-breasted Mergansers in the channel. (https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52132061)
Arcadia came through with finches and we were treated to three Evening Grosbeaks with a pretty nice view of a glowing male, and a couple siskins. We wandered around some interesting trails for a while but didn't really find any birds aside from a flock flock of Eastern Bluebirds and some Cedar Waxwings. (https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52073414)
With college life having taken a toll on Sam who was now sleeping in the back seat, we dropped him back off at URI and headed towards Bristol via Newport. Quick scans of a few Newport area ponds revealed cold and windy conditions and bad light angles. However the sky was clear and as the sun lowered the wind was seeming to ease off. A spur of the moment idea to check the Sakonnet Greenway for sunset proved to be a great plan. Andy and I walked a loop around some of the most expansive fields and enjoyed three calling Northern Harriers, which may be a sound I've only heard once or twice before. Two White-crowned Sparrows lurked in a thicket, and a Fox Sparrow called from another. With chances for a hoped-for Short-eared Owl fading fast we neared the parking lot. The car was in view and then suddenly Andy exclaims and points. I look to see a floppy raptor floating around the field in front of us. A short-eared! The light was so dim at this point we were extremely lucky the owl had flown so close to us or we never would have seen it. A fitting end to a long day.