Napatree Point is an approximately 1.5 mile long sandy peninsula that juts westward into Little Narragansett Bay in Westerly Rhode Island. This barrier beach system has been shaped and reconfigured by major storm systems over the years with the major configuration in an angled curve bending back toward Little Narragansett Bay and then northwestward toward Stonington CT. The northern portion of the spit - known as Sandy Point - was severed by a storm surge associated with the Hurricane of 1938 making Sandy Point an island.
Napatree Point is also the site of the ruins of historic Fort Mansfield, a coastal artillery installation that was constructed in 1883 to protect the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound and ultimately New York City.
Napatree Point and Sandy Point have high ornithological significance in every season. Piping Plover return to the beaches of these two areas each spring to breed as do Least Terns, American Oystercatchers, and Common Terns. By late July, shorebird migration has begun when large mixed species flocks of Chalidris sandpipers, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstones and other shorebirds, congregate to feed within the intertidal flats, wrack lines, and beach strand habitats. Large flocks of Common, Least, and Roseate Terns as well as American Oystercatchers collect in these areas as they stage for their southbound autumn migrations.
Napatree point is renown as a fall hawk watch site with Sharp-shinned and Broad-winged Hawks passing along the coast in profusion. American Kestrel, Osprey, Merlin, and Northern Harrier are also commonly sighted. Many neotropical migrant woodland and shrubland birds can be found within the coastal scrub areas during fall migration as well. In late autumn large flocks of Gannets pass by the point diving for their piscine prey as they follow the Bluefish and Striped Bass migration south to warmer waters.
In winter months Snowy Owl and Peregrine Falcon can be found along the beach on occasion. Offshore, cormorants, loons, scoters, goldeneyes, Red-breasted Mergansers and other sea ducks congregate in large numbers.
Certain boat traffic can cause destruction or rapid deterioration of piping plover nesting habitat. Large power boats can generate large wakes that cause wave wash on the leeward side of the peninsula in areas that are not normally subject to large wave action. On one occasion in the past, a hover craft was observed traveling across Little Narragansett Bay and then up and over the barrier island blowing sand and flatting vegetation in its path. The beach gets heavy foot traffic usage in the summer sun bathing months and outside of sun bathing months from birders and other recreational usage. Invasive vegetation has covered much of the barrier beach forcing foot traffic and concentrating Piping Plover nests into an ever narrowing strand where bird versus human use conflict frequency increases. Off-leash dogs on the beach are a threat to nest and fledglings. The low elevation of the barrier beach makes it susceptible to storm damage and sea level rise, especially in the narrow strand habitat where Piping Plovers use for nesting. Discarded monofilament fishing line poses an entanglement hazard to beach birds.
Unknown causes were the greatest threat to nesting success of Piping Plovers within the IBA. The second greatest threat to nesting success was predation. Common predators include gulls and metafauna such as raccoons, foxes, and skunks.
Sandy Point (5.4 % of the areas within the IBA) is Owned by the Avalonia Land Trust. Napatree Point (8.9% of the area within the IBA) is owned by the Watch Hill Fire District, Watch Hill Conservancy, and private landowners. A majority of the area within the IBA includes submerged or intertidal lands within the public domain, regulated by the States of Rhode Island and Connecticut and comprise 84% of the area within the IBA. The remainder of the area within the IBA is owned by Private (1.5%) and municipal (0.1%) entities.
Napatree Point and Sandy Point have coastal scrub interior zones surrounded by one or more of the following subhabitats: barrier dune, sand bars, intertidal flats, cobble beach, rocky beach, pebble beach, or sandy beach.
Intertidal flat areas vary in sediment texture and include mud, sand, gravel, and cobble areas. Dunes are densely vegetated with American Beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) and various salt-tolerant forbs. Dominant plants within the coastal scrub areas include bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), Rugose Rose (Rosa rugosa), and Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Fringes of saltmarsh have formed on the leeward side of the barrier beach fringing the developing salt pond with Spartina alterniflora. Areas of subtidal aquatic bed are vegetated with eelgrass (Zostera marina). Rocky and boulder strewn areas of the beach occur on the western end of Napatree Point.
These two areas are subject to intense recreational use each summer from visiting boaters and from beach goers that walk the 1.5 mile spit from Watch Hill Beach in Westerly. Swimming and sunbathing are common activities. Boating, and picnicking are also frequently observed activities. The site lies within the Watch Hill, Rhode Island Christmas Bird Count radius.
Recent management efforts have proved to be effective in increasing not only the number of nesting pairs of Piping Plover but also the hatching and fledging success rates. Historically, no more than six nesting pairs have been recorded for Napatree. In 2009 there were ten. Additionally, 2009's productivity of 1.6 fledged chicks is the highest in 22 years. This was attributed to a combination of environmental factors and active management. The combination of an extremely successful year in 2008 (1.75 productivity), a mild summer in 2009, efforts of seasonal naturalists employed at the site, and the public?s growing knowledge of the town ordinance are all factors that have contributed towards historic nesting seasons at Napatree in 2009 (Lentini et al., 2009). Similar success is expected for the 2010 breeding season (Suzanne Paton, personal communication).