This site contains extensive tidal sand flats. Much is underwater at high tides and most is exposed at low tides. This area was created when a breachway to the ocean was made. Currents have caused silt and sand to collect over the years creating the tidal flats. This area is very important to migratory shorebirds. It is their main foraging place in the state. More than 100 species have been sighted here, including rare and endangered species. The sand flats are bordered by grassy salt marsh areas that are used by breeding Seaside and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed sparrows. Also there is an area of deciduous trees and shrubs used by herons for roosting and which shelters other species. The whole site also features salty ponds and channels.

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Ornithological Summary

The salt marshes that surround this coastal pond provide important habitat for the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. During surveys conducted during the breeding season by Walter Berry of the USEPA (Rhode Island Office), 31 individuals were recorded in the marshes adjacent to East Beach, 39 individuals were recorded in the marshes in the vicinity of the Charlestown Breachway, and 9 individuals were recorded in the marshes adjacent to Charlestown Beach. Seaside Sparrows were also detected in the system with 18 individuals recorded in the marshes adjacent to East Beach, and 11 individuals detected in the marshes in the vicinity of the Charlestown Breachway.

The barrier beach portion of Ninigret Refuge is occupied by the threatened Piping Plover, whose populations, at least in Rhode island, are increasing due in part by the availability of suitable nesting habitat, and due to active protection via predator exclusion fencing and beach monitors. Osprey peruse the habitats within the the refuge in search of fish inhabiting Ninigret Pond.

Northern Bobwhite formerly occurred at the NWR and as late as 1996 was listed as common in Spring, Summer and Fall at Ninigret NWR. It has since been extirpated from the State (Rick Enser - Personal Communication). The IBA may provide a future reintroduction site for this species.

This site is very important to migratory shorebirds. It is the primary foraging and stopover place for a great many species. This is the only foraging place in Rhode Island that is always available. The other shorebird areas in the state must be manually or storm breached. The area surrounding the flats is also used as a breeding area for sparrow, flycatcher, rail, and shorebird species.

data sources: 1. K. Patric personal field notes May 2003-present, 2. Scott Tsgarakis personal field notes 1980-present

Conservation Issues

Habitat restoration efforts at Ninigret NWR have focused largely on the restoration of warm-season grasslands in areas formerly used as runways for the former Naval Auxillary Station Charlestown. Invasion of these restoration areas by non-native and invasive plant species is of concern. The elimination or control of non-native invasive plant species especially Common Reed (Phragmites australis -) in wetland areas, and Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) in uplands and other invasive plants prevalent in the area such as Asiatic Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) is a continuing management challenge.

Foot traffic from sunbathers and their pets at the Ninigret Management Area is a source of disturbance to nesting Piping Plovers during their breeding season from April 1 to September 15 of each year. Human beach activity also attracts Raccoons, Opossum, and Red Fox which visit the beach to forage for food scraps after humans have left for the day. These opportunistic predators pose a threat to Piping Plover eggs and chicks. These threats are managed via use of predator exclusion devices and by employing seasonal plover wardens to educate the public.

The effects of White-tailed Deer overbrowsing in the coastal forest is currently being studied at the refuge.


Approximately 35.2% of the IBA consists of open water. Private entities own 36.5% of the IBA. The remainder of the IBA are owned by the following: the USFWS (which owns the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge - 12.2 % of the IBA), the Towns of Charlestown (1.6%), town of South Kingstown (0.2%), and the State of Rhode Island (14.0%), and two land trusts - the South County Conservancy (0.2%) and the South Kingstown Land Trust (0.1%).


One of the major habitat features within the IBA is Ninigret Pond, the largest coastal salt pond in the state.* This pond is subject to tidal exchanges via Charlestown Breachway.

The pond is an important breeding and migratory stopover site for waterfowl/waterbirds incl. shorebirds, waders, Osprey, gulls and terns. Salt marshes fringe large reaches of the Pond. These marshes contain both low marsh zones dominated by cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and high marsh zones consisting of saltmeadow grass (Spartina patens), black grass (Juncus gerardii), and spike grass (Distichlis spicata). Submerged aquatic vegetation consists of eelgrass and a variety marine algal species.

A barrier beach system separates the pond from Block Island Sound. A large portion of this barrier beach is protected as part of the National Wildlife Refuge. The barrier beach consists of coastal strand, fore dune, dune, and back dune zones. The dunes are vegetated with beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata), beach rose (Rosa rugosa), poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), sea rocket (Cakile edentula), beach orach (Atriplex arenaria), and beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus).

Landward of the coastal pond, martime shrubland, restored warm-season grassland and occasional kettle ponds occur throughout the refuge. These small ponds provide habitat for Wood Ducks, waterthrushes, snipe, woodcock, and a variety of herpetofauna. Other freshwater wetlands consist of palustrine forested areas dominated by Red Maple (Acer rubrum). Maritime shrublands characterize the ecotones between forest and grassland. They are dominated by Maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina), Shadbush (Amelanchier sp.), Northern Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), and Bayberry (Myrica gale).

Forests on the refuge lands are dominated by oak (Quercus spp.) or maple (Acer spp.) and commonly occur in association with hickory (Carya spp).


Land Use

Approximately 28.3% of the IBA is used for nature conservation and research and includes lands owned by the state, municipalities, land trusts, and the USDOI FWS. Approximately 36.5% of the land is in private ownership supporting a variety of uses including residential land, agricultural, and recreational uses. Approximately 35% of the IBA is an open water salt pond that has been artificially breached. This pond, the largest slat pond in Rhode Island, supports a variety of recreational uses with fishing, boating, kayaking, and birdwatching among the most popular. The barrier beach portion of the IBA is used by sunbathers and swimmers during warm weather months.

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