The Galilee Marsh is a 52 hectare marsh located within the Galilee Bird Sanctuary in Narragansett, Rhode Island, approximately 32 miles south of Providence, Rhode Island and 30 miles east of New London CT. The Galilee Escape Road is a four lane causeway that bisects the marsh separating extensive salt marsh habitat to the north of the causeway (The "North Unit" from smaller units (East, Central and West Units) to the South. Salt marsh habitat within the Galilee Bird Sanctuary was enhanced by the replacement of twin 75 cm diameter culverts with 1.8 meter high x 1.4 meter wide twin culverts and self-regulating tidal gates in 1997 which expanded the reach of the tidal range south of the causeway.
The salt marsh system of Galilee Marsh is similar to the nearby Succotash Marsh, South Kingstown in that both systems provide breeding habitat for a number of salt marsh birds including the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed and Seaside Sparrows (Ammodramus caudacutus and A. maritimus), Willets(Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), and Clapper Rails (Rallus longirostris). Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes and T. melanoleuca), Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus), Least Sandpipers (Calidris minutilla) and other shorebirds frequent the marsh during spring and fall migrations. Least and Common Terns (Sternula antillarum and Sterna hirundo) peruse the open water areas and tidal creeks for mummichogs, killifish, and other small piscine prey, as do Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon). Long-legged waders are abundant during spring and summer and include such species as Great and Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula and Ardea alba), Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodius), Little Blue Heron (Egretta cerulea), and Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). The American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) is an uncommon, but regularly occurring wader throughout the year. Fringing scrub/shrub zones provide habitat for mimic thrushes, Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas), and Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), plus a plethora of migratory passerines during spring and autumn migration. Swallows congregate in the area and stage here before continuing southbound migration in autumn.
A number of waterfowl also find suitable habitat within the marsh tidal creeks and other open water areas adjacent to the IBA. They include American Black Duck (Anas rubripes), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Gadwall (Anas strepera), American Wigeon (Anas americana), Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), and Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola).
Other common waterbirds include Herring, Black-backed, and Ringbilled Gulls (Larus argentatus, L. marinus, and L. delawarensis) and Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacocorax auritus).
Disturbance to Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow occurs from foot-traffic by people accessing the marsh from the Galilee Escape Road to prospective shellfishing beds in the "North Unit". Foot traffic risks destroying nests, eggs, and young. Areas accessed by humans are often inspected by opportunistic predators, such as opossums, raccoons, foxes, crows, gulls, etc. which may increase predation rates impacting the nesting success of Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows.
Common Reed (Phragmites australis) occurs along the terrestrial border of the saltmarsh habitats. Prior to habitat enhancement efforts conducted in 1997 (replacement of the existing under-designed culverts that restricted tidal flow to the southern side of the Galilee Escape Road) Phragmites coverage within the IBA posed a serious threat to loss of high marsh habitat in the Central and East Units. Replacement of these culverts has increased the tidal regime and has curtailed the continued anticipated spread of Common Reed into the high marsh habitat zones.
The Galilee Bird Sanctuary is owned by the State of Rhode Island and managed by the RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM). Sanctuary habitat restoration efforts have been conducted by cooperative efforts of RIDEM, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Rhode Island Department of Transportation, and the University of Rhode Island. Contiguous smaller parcels are owned by private individuals and the Town of Narragansett, RI.
The Galilee Marsh is composed of open water, tidal flat, high marsh and low marsh zones. Areas around the marsh perimeter include upland grassland and coastal shrubland. Low marsh zones are dominated by tall form or low form Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). High marsh zones are dominated by Salt Hay (Spartina patens), Black Rush (Juncus gerardii), and salt grass (Distichlis spicata).
The Galilee Marsh is the site of a tidal restoration effort conducted jointly by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Army Corps of Engineers, and others to enhance and improve the salt marsh habitat for salt marsh nesting birds. In addition to the sites purpose as a bird sanctuary, the north unit in Bluff Hill Cove is used for shellfishing by Rhode Island residents with proper permits.
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