This site is a large coastal salt pond located in Westerly, Rhode Island. Permanent access to the Atlantic Ocean at Rhode Island Sound is maintained via the breachway at Weekapaug. The pond is subject to diurnal tidal action. Residential structures (many seasonal cottages) lie to the north across the breachway channel, and adjacent to the marshes on the south and east sides.

Ornithological Summary

The Salt marsh associated with this site 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 (Sterna antillarum and S. hirundo) peruse the open water areas and tidal creeks looking 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). Fringing scrub/shrub zones provide habitat for mimic thrushes, Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas), and Song Sparrow, 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.

Counts of 28-30 Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows were frequently made during the 1980s (R. Enser, Personal Communication). Preliminary survey data reported by USEPA for 2008 revealed a similar population size (29 birds).

Conservation Issues

Due to development around the pond, Winnapaug Pondis subject to pollution from stormwater runoff, and nutrient leaching from lawns, poorly performing individual subsurface disposal systems (ISDS), and lawn care fertilizer runoff. Invasive plant species that have colonized the pond perimeter include Common Reed. Non-native genotypes of this plant exhibit salt tolerance and respond to nutrient enrichment by increased growth and vigor. This plant uses underground rhizomes to invade the landward edges of the high marsh environment, changing the special habitat attributes of the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Ownership

Approximately 28.5% of the IBA lies in open water. Land surrounding Winnapaug Pond is predominantly in private ownership. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island (ASRI), an environmental/conservation organization, owns an 86 acre parcel on the northern shore of Winnapaug Pond. Other non-profit organizations that own land include the Weekapaug Foundation for Conservation, and the Westerly Land Trust. In addition, approximately 6.7% of the land is protected by private conservation easements.

Habitat

Winnapaug Pond is a coastal salt pond subject to diurnal tidal fluctuation. Tidal exchange occurs via a permanent breachway maintained at Weekapaug. Habitat types include a large salt marsh system at the southeast corner of the pond, small islets within the pond, intertidal flats, and coastal scrubland.

The saltmarsh system was historically ditched. Persistent ditches are visible in aerial photographs. Both high marsh zones (dominated by Spartina patens), and low marsh zones (dominated by Spartina alterniflora) exist.

Land Use

Vacation cottages border the east and south sides of the saltmarsh on site which is located at the southeast corner of the pond.

Local residents explore the pond by Kayak. Fishing is popular along the breachway, with Striped Bass and Bluefish being popular fish sought by anglers.

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