This site is a barrier beach system with foreshore, backbeach, primary dunes and back dune zonation. It is located between the Weekapaug Section of Westerly, Rhode Island to the west and Quonochontaug Beach to the east. The beach is accessed via Spring Avenue in Weekapaug and the entrance to the Weekapaug Yacht Club.

{link:For IBA map, click here.|http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/maps/RI/RI3476m_Weekapaug.pdf}

Ornithological Summary

The ornithological significance of this site is that it is among the top 5 breeding Piping Plover sites known in Rhode Island. An average of 15.2 young have been fledged from this location over the past 5 years.

The barrier beach also provides suitable nesting habitat for Least Tern with numbers fluctating between 0-46 adults recorded over the last seven years. The barrier beach lies between Rhode Island Sound to the south and Quonochontaug Pond to the north. The coastal pond system provides feeding and roosting sites for long legged waders (Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron), shorebirds, gulls, terns, and waterfowl.

Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, Savannah Sparrow (including the Ipswich subspecies), and American Pipit use the barrier beach system as migratory stopover habitat or wintering habitat.

In addition, the tidal marshes that line the southern shore of the pond provide habitat for the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow which is also a species of global conservation concern. During surveys conducted by the EPA in 2007, these marshes were found to contain 20 Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows during the breeding season. Five individual Seaside Sparrows were also recorded during this survey (Walter Berry - personal communication).

The open waters offshore of Weekapaug Beach support wintering congregations of sea ducks, loons and grebes including: Black and White-winged Scoters, Oldsquaw, Red-breasted Mergansers, Horned Grebe, Common and Red-throated Loons, Common Goldeneyes, etc.

Northern Gannets follow migratory schools of predatory fish (Striped Bass, Bluefish) along the nearshore waters during November to Early December.

Conservation Issues

As a barrier beach nesting species, Piping Plovers nesting along Weekapaug Beach must compete with humans for use of the beach and are susceptible to injury from foot traffic, vehicular traffic, direct predation by human pets, or the opportunistic predators that are attracted by the former presence of humans (e.g., gulls, crows, foxes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, etc.).

Natural threats include erosion during coastal storms, sea level rise, and hurricanes, all of which can alter the shoreline and potentially cause a loss of nesting habitat. These same natural processes however is also an inherent component of the barrier beach system and may also serve to create new nesting sites. Therefore, the threat level of the natural processes is rated lower than those of human origin.

Ownership

Ownership breakdown of the IBA is as follows:
Audubon Society of RI 0.8%
Dunns Corner Fire District 2.0%
Nopes Island Conservation Association 0.1%
Shelter Harbor Fire District 5.8%
South County Conservancy 3.3%
Weekapaug Fire District 2.6%
Weekapaug Foundation for Conservation 0.4%
Private-conservation easement 9.2%
State conservation/park lands 3.9%
Private 34.7%
Open water 37.1%

Habitat

This site is a barrier beach system with foreshore, backbeach, primary dunes and back dune zonation. The back beach area provides suitable nesting sites for barrier beach species including Piping Plover and Least Tern. The barrier beach separates Quonochontaug, a large coastal salt pond, from the Atlantic Ocean (Block Island Sound). Open water areas include a coastal salt pond, pannes, and tide pools. Emergent marshes include some phragmites marsh and saltmarsh.

Land Use

Summer residents of the cottage community of Weekapaug, RI frequent Weekapaug Beach during the summer months for sunbathing, swimming, fishing, boating, and other beach activities.

A portion of the barrier beach system is protected as a conservation area. The coastal pond behind the Weekapaug barrier beach system is one of the top birding areas known in the State of Rhode Island and often draws birders from neighboring states during migration seasons. "Quonnie" as it is known locally, has a number of site records for rare bird species in the State of Rhode Island. Birding at Quonnie is a major component of an ecotourism industry in Washington County.

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