Had I stepped right into a scene from “Planet of the Gulls”? The sky resonated with the sound of flapping wings, and groups of the birds shrieked and stalked among the many shrubs on a rocky beach at Block Island National Wildlife Refuge.
A fuzzy, freckled gull chick emerged from a bayberry bush, stared curiously at me as if it had spotted a Martian, after which waddled back to its hiding place.
It turned out I had came upon Rhode Island’s largest gull colony, and the explanation so many other sunset watchers had stayed behind of their cars can have been that, as I later learned, the gulls are known to divebomb trespassers.
Preserves make up about 2,500 acres — nearly half — of Block Island, a nine-square-mile, pear-shaped speck of Rhode Island just northeast of Montauk, N.Y. With about 28 miles of trails, these areas provide a haven for varied endangered animals, and anyone else looking for a little bit solitude.
On a tiny island whose seasonal population balloons, the preserves are rarely crowded, even in the summertime. “Most people go to the beach,” Scott Comings, the associate director for the Nature Conservancy’s Rhode Island chapter, explained matter-of-factly.
The island is sufficiently small you can easily hit a preserve day-after-day. During my week exploring, I never bumped into greater than two people at any of them, which enhanced the sensation of being removed from civilization although I used to be never greater than a couple of miles from the middle of the island’s only town, New Shoreham.
In addition to the possibility that you simply won’t see one other soul there, you furthermore mght won’t encounter bears or venomous snakes because there are none on Block Island. There also aren’t any coyotes, foxes or raccoons. (Ticks are plentiful, so take proper precautions.) But you will notice birds: About 300 species go through in any given 12 months. Because the island has few predators and sits within the Atlantic Flyway — the north-south migratory route along the East Coast — it is basically an enormous avian playground.
You can start with programs like nature walks or talks through the Nature Conservancy and the Block Island Conservancy. They’ll orient you to the island’s dunes, waterways, marshes and lots of of freshwater ponds before setting off on your personal, or together with your furry friends: Leashed dogs are allowed at most of the preserves.
You should buy a $3 Nature Conservancy trail map from the Chamber of Commerce office near the ferry. The Block Island Chamber of Commerce offers an app with maps.
Block Island isn’t big on signs, and address numbers aren’t sequential, thwarting GPS navigation. Fortunately, cellphone reception is great, and your entire island was recently wired for broadband web service. So make certain your phone is fully charged and you’ve gotten loads of water before you set out in your adventure, in case you’re taking a unsuitable turn and find yourself logging unplanned mileage, as I did.
Exploring a pocket-size Narnia
The Hodge Family Wildlife Preserve, a 25-acre gem managed by the Nature Conservancy, offers a soothing introduction to Block Island nature with its mile-long, nearly level loop mowed through waving fields of goldenrod. It’s the proper place to look at the sun set over Middle Pond as a family of swans glides by. The Nature Conservancy recommends Hodge for individuals with mobility issues and has an all-terrain wheelchair available to lend.
The hardest thing about Hodge is finding it. The Nature Conservancy staff offered the next directions: As you head north, count 10 telephone poles from the transfer station in your left and search for a spot within the stone wall along the road. Drive through the gap and you will notice not only the preserve but in addition an engraving on a big rock announcing you’ve gotten arrived. When I discovered it, it felt a little bit like stepping through the wardrobe to Narnia.
A honeysuckle-scented maze
Like Hodge, the 190-acre Clay Head Preserve is difficult to seek out, but well well worth the effort. A 3-and-a-half-mile round-trip out-and-back trail, redolent of honeysuckle, like much of the island, and dotted with pink wild roses and white viburnum, offers views of the ocean and craggy coastline in addition to access to the beach, where you possibly can wade and picnic.
The trailhead is just south of Hodge off Corn Neck Road at the top of a 0.3-mile dirt track, where you will notice an indication that claims Clay Head Nature Trail. In the autumn, you may spy a number of the 100 or so species of songbirds that stop here to rest and refuel. If you’re feeling brave, you possibly can wander into the section of intertwining paths that locals call the Maze.
Echoes of the Emerald Isle
Sheer wild beauty is on display at Rodman’s Hollow, a 230-acre basin created by a melting glacier some 22,000 years ago. It is taken into account the birthplace of the island’s conservation movement: The Block Island Conservancy formed in 1972 to buy this land from developers. Here, a two-and-a-half-mile loop results in Black Rock Beach, where the trail suddenly falls away to disclose the surf slapping against jagged bluffs and the vast blue horizon where the ocean and the sky meet. “It’s like being on the coast of Ireland,” said Sarah Greenaway, 48, a special education secretary from Wayland, Mass., who has been spending summers on Block Island for twenty-four years. “It’s just stunning.”
After hugging the oceanfront for a bit, the trail loops back to the parking zone. A search-and-rescue drone flew overhead on my method to the ocean and back to my automobile. Members of the volunteer fire and rescue department, who were testing the drone, told me visitors commonly wander away on the preserve’s labyrinthine paths.
Seals, songbirds and plovers
It’s principally unimaginable to wander away on the narrow 134-acre Block Island National Wildlife Refuge, which provides a landing strip for songbirds and migrating monarch butterflies.
A 0.7-mile walk from the parking zone to Cow Cove, where the heads of gray seals bob within the surf, will take you to the dunes near Sandy Point. Piping plovers, a federally threatened species, recently began to breed there after an 11-year absence from Block Island, said Maureen Durkin, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge. The tiny chicks “appear like a little bit cotton ball on a stick,” Ms. Durkin said, and plenty of don’t make it to maturity.
A salt pond with a sweet side
The roughly 800-acre Great Salt Pond isn’t technically a preserve, however it is home to a wide selection of water birds and around 100 species of fish. It’s also a preferred place to get out on the water. Pond and Beyond Kayak on Ocean Avenue offers ecotours by kayak and paddle board. I opted for the kayak tour, which gave me a close-up view of fiddler crab colonies scuttling around on the beach, egrets wading along the shore and double-crested cormorants standing on rocks to dry their wings within the sun. Once you’ve built up an appetite, jump in line on the Payne’s Killer Donuts truck, also on Ocean Avenue, and grab a couple of of the nice and cozy cinnamon sugar variety.
Crawl with the crabs
If you favor to explore the Great Salt Pond on foot, head to Andy’s Way, a quarter-mile strip of beach where you possibly can spot all manner of crabs — the imposing horseshoe, the leopard-spotted lady, the domed-shell hermit and the feisty fiddler. They scurry around — sideways, after all — on the beach, where they burrow into the sand, and across the salt marshes and tidal pools by the 60-foot-deep pond. If you’ve never seen a translucent baby horseshoe crab the dimensions of 1 / 4, you’re in for a treat: They seem concurrently prehistoric and precious.
On top of the world
No trip to Block Island is complete with no foray to the nearly 200-foot-high Mohegan Bluffs on the south shore, followed by a climb down the 141-step picket staircase to the secluded beach below. On a transparent day, the view from the highest of the staircase stretches to Montauk. You can climb the 52-foot tower on the nearby Southeast Lighthouse for much more breathtaking ocean vistas, including five wind turbines anchored to the seafloor about three miles offshore. In 2016, Block Island became the primary American community powered completely by offshore wind turbines. Afterward, treat yourself to a lobster grilled cheese from the Southeast Light Delights truck near the lighthouse.
As I used to be heading from the lighthouse back to my automobile, I saw a young man coasting downhill on a motorcycle together with his arms held out as if he could have taken wing at any minute. After spending per week immersed in Block Island’s natural beauty, I could see why: I felt like flying, too.