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A Visit to Little Compton, Rhode Island

Straight outta Little Compton:

This might sound like heresy, but summer isn’t my favorite time on Cape Cod. Traffic aside, my biggest complaint is that I actually have to show up at work more often, which leaves less time for watching birds. So, before going into total lockdown, I took a day trip to Little Compton, Rhode Island. Why Little Compton? Birds, of course. Plus, it’s only an hour from the Cape Cod Canal, and the old-world farms and old-world trophy homes make it an underrated segment of New England. And, as I’ve just discovered, it has a surprising number of good birding areas.

Our first stop was at Weetamoo Woods (don’t ask me how to say it). Weetamoo is actually in the nearby town of Tiverton and is one of the most reliable places to see Worm-eating Warblers. Warblers are typically colorful birds, but not the worm-eating kind. It is mostly drab brown, but it does have a funky name, so I thought it would be fun to track one down. We spent a few hours in Weetmoo Woods and “heard” lots of birds, but there is way too much foliage this time of year to see much of anything. Sigh! I was a little bummed, but then my wife came up with a good idea: lunch.

The center of Little Compton consists of only a handful of businesses, including a small restaurant that makes really good sandwiches…all served by a grumpy waitress. After lunch I walked to the nearby general store and got a brownie for dessert. Meanwhile, my wife went across the street to buy her mother a sweater at a thrift shop. (Shhh! We told her mother we got the sweater at a “craft fair.”) My brownie was delicious, but I could smell something that wasn’t so delicious. Fortunately, the smell wasn’t coming from my brownie; it was actually coming from a nearby field of cows. I then discovered that the field also contained several very active Bobolinks. Bobolinks are relatively rare on Cape Cod, so I was thrilled to see them. In addition to the Bobolinks, there was also a flock of beautiful Glossy Ibis. The two sightings made up for the grumpy waitress. Speaking of grumpy, I soon got a text message from my wife, who was wondering why I had disappeared. I didn’t dare say I had left her to chase birds, so instead I mentioned that I had found some cows. (She likes cows.) When we finally met up, I told her all about the Bobolinks and Glossy Ibis. She replied, “That’s fine, but where are the cows?” We went back to see the cows.

Neither one of us had been in this part of RI before, so for the next hour we just drove the back roads and enjoyed the scenery. Like most vehicles in 2019, my car has a built-in GPS. But on this drive, I wasn’t paying much attention to it; the landscape was far more interesting. That all changed when I saw words I had never seen before on any map: “Parking for Birding.” Whoa! Typically, my car’s GPS only displays coffee shops or the nearest gas station (for those folks who still use such a place), but parking for birding was a first. I followed the map and pulled in.

The parking lot belonged to the Simmons Mill Pond Management Area. This was a totally new location for me and it’s my new favorite place to visit. To begin with, the birds here are excellent. Even though it was late in the day, we saw a good variety, including Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, Black-billed Cuckoos and a towhee carrying food to his nestlings. But, as odd as this may seem, the highlight of Simmons Mill wasn’t the birds at all. It was the property itself. The trails here are extra-wide, perfectly maintained and every fifty feet or so there was a beautifully hand-scripted plaque describing the area’s habitat. I’m sure we’ve all been on trails with posted information before. For example, the Cape Cod National Seashore has signage on its trails, but half of the signs have been either vandalized or are outdated. (The lady slippers ain’t there no more.) The plaques at Simmons Mill were totally current, accurate and surprisingly, not even nailed down. Any creep could have stolen all of them, yet nobody did. As we walked, we learned about the local plants, mammals and even historic stonewalls. My favorite plaque was one that offered a tray of free “tree cookies.” The cookies were actually small, cookie-sized slices of an old oak tree. (My wife took one, but I was saving room for the real thing.)

Just as the sun was setting, an old car came driving down the trail. A car deep in the woods? On a walking trail? I had a funny feeling about this as images of Deliverance jumped into my head. The car stopped, totally blocking the trail. Then the doors opened (gulp) and out stepped Gail and Roger, two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Gail and Roger proceeded to tell us all about Simmons Mill and how, as volunteers, they are the ones who keep the trails looking so nice. When I mentioned the hundreds of informative plaques, Gail smiled and said, “I make those.” “All of them?” I inquired. “Yup. Well, Roger cuts the wood and I do the writing.” OMG! It was like we had come face-to-face with the keepers of an enchanted forest. Roger then told me about the best birding spots. They sounded great, but they would have to wait for another time. It was getting dark and time to head home.

Little Compton, and especially the Simmons Mill Pond Management Area, is well worth visiting. The area is beautiful and the trails are both lovely and informative. And except for one grumpy waitress, the people are super-friendly. Heck, even the cows are welcoming. There’s also that nice thrift shop. Oops! I meant craft fair. I have to be careful about that.