A Meadow in the Winter

Fri, 01/08/2021 - 10:00am

The following was sent to The Block Island Times from the Block Island Conservancy:

January 7, 2021 - A Meadow in the Winter

A dusting of snow fell on Block Island one evening this week and because it was so still there were still little heaps of snow the following morning between the stems of switchgrass and little bluestem and on the branches of winterberry and arrowwood shrubs in an open meadow off Payne Road. Meadows in the wintertime are excellent habitat for a variety of Block Island mammals and birds, particularly when they are left unmown until the early spring. The tall clumps of grasses and the shrubbed-edges provide food and shelter from cold windy storms for rodents and resident songbirds, while also making for excellent hunting grounds for raptors soaring overhead.

One animal that’s particularly common in meadow habitats is the endemic Block Island meadow vole. Meadow voles burrow though and under mats of grasses and hide out in the crevices of stonewalls, eating seeds, fruits, and plant stalks. You can read more about this animal by clicking here.

Meadow voles in turn are an important food source for the state-endangered northern harrier, a large bird of prey that is found on the island year-round. It’s not uncommon to see these birds soaring above meadows in the wintertime with their distinctive dihedral wing shape. They appear to float in the wind, hovering and slowly balancing themselves in the sky, as they scan an open field for an unsuspecting meadow vole.

Birdwatchers who take the time to scout along meadow edges or in the clumps of shrubs dotted throughout many of Block Island’s meadows can be rewarded with good looks at winter resident songbirds, like the northern cardinal, song sparrow, and Carolina wren. These birds are often foraging for leftover fruits and seeds from the fall and, on warm days in south-facing stonewall sun traps, sometimes the occasional insect. The birds and their cheery songs are a welcome burst of life on cold and quiet winter days.

If you’re on-island, try taking a walk at the Hodge Wildlife Refuge or Turnip Farm to experience the nature found in open meadows in the wintertime for yourself!