Grassland Breeding Bird Surveys
Among the thousands of acres of forestland around the reservoirs, Providence Water also owns a number of areas which are characterized by grasslands or young forest habitat. These sites are former agricultural properties that were acquired more recently than the original land surrounding the reservoirs. These old fields have significant wildlife value in that they provide habitat conditions favored by certain species, particularly songbirds. Other than these locations, open areas not devoted to agriculture are uncommon in the watershed area.
During the spring of 2018, Providence Water contracted with ESS Group for ornithologists to perform bird surveys during the breeding season at five locations around the Scituate Reservoir. Following commonly used methods, avian point counts were conducted at several locations in each grassland area on four different dates. The results showed that the three larger open areas (Baldwin Farm, Fenner Field, and Joslin Farm) are currently providing habitat for an array of bird species associated with early successional habitat. At the same time, the two smaller sites that were more recently intensively managed for hay and short grasses (Four Winds Farm and Swallow Fields) are not preferred by these birds. Prairie warbler was the most frequently detected species, followed by gray catbird, indigo bunting, field sparrow, common yellowthroat, and eastern towhee. 29 of the 54 total species detected (39%) are identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the Rhode Island Wildlife Action Plan.
Similar breeding bird surveys were also conducted at the Joslin Farm site in 2006, 2011, and 2014. The number of species detected in each of these survey years was remarkably consistent, ranging from 44 to 48. A total of 62 different species were detected over the 2006-18 period. The data from the Joslin site confirms that the grassland restoration and conversion undertaken here in 2009, followed by periodic prescribed burning and mowing, has been successful in meeting the intended goal of maintaining and improving breeding bird habitat.
Providing habitat for a variety of wildlife species is a goal set forth in the forest stewardship plan. With the information gained from the surveys, Providence Water has baseline data for breeding bird activity in each of the five areas and can monitor changes over time with future surveys. This information will also inform possible vegetation treatments (cutting, mowing, prescribed burning, seeding, etc.) to improve bird habitat. It will also make it easier to manage grassland habitat sites around the property holistically rather than simply considering each one on its own.
Since 1991, Providence Water has owned and managed about 20 acres of hayfields located on the east side of West Greenville Road (Route 116) just north of the intersection with Peeptoad Road. Since 2012, these fields have been managed more for wildlife than hay production. The fields are mowed no more than once per season and only after August 15, when ground nesting birds are longer present.