Sights on a Cool Weather Bay

Sights on a Cool Weather Bay

By Mackensie duPont Crowley, content and digital media specialist

What can you see around Narragansett Bay this time of year? We have a few tips! This piece originally appeared in the Fall 2022 edition of Tides magazine.

Birds of Narragansett Bay

While from a distance, all the black spots you see on the rocks around a wintertime Narragansett Bay may look like ducks, a closer look can reveal far more feathered species variety than you’d expect! Mergansers, loons, eiders, scaup, scoter, goldeneye, and a number of other birds all venture to the Bay this time of year, choosing our habitats for their next meal over places like the Arctic, maritime provinces of Canada, and the British Isles that ice over in the winter months. 

Barge on Providence River
Cool weather calls for dredging! Dredging activities, like the one shown here on the Providence River in 2009, are typically limited to a time period from mid-October to January.

Dredging Activities

Municipalities and businesses routinely dredge areas of Narragansett Bay to ensure proper depths are maintained for boats and ships in channels and marinas. Regulators commonly limit dredging to a period of time that takes place between mid-October and the end of January in order to minimize impacts to nearby habitats and certain spawning seasons. Don’t be surprised to see dredging barges out on the Bay sometime this winter! 

Change in Beach Profile 

A change in season means changes in wind and wave energy resulting in differences in beach profile, or the cross-shore measure of the elevation from the dune to the water. While gentle summer waves deposit sand onto the beach, widening it and increasing its elevation, winter brings stronger waves that pick up that deposited sand and carry it back offshore. This winter action narrows the beach, while also creating a buffer for it by building up something like a sandbar just offshore that minimizes erosion caused by winter storms and nor’easters. (Beaches also tend to be rockier in the winter, as those finer grains are transported away.) 

Two people with shovels in the marsh surrounded by phragmites
Save The Bay interns restore tidal flow to a marsh by digging runnels with shovels.

Salt Marsh Restoration Activities

This time of year, Save The Bay will continue assessing and maintaining salt marsh restoration sites. These efforts include: maintaining drainage features; conducting coastal adaptation projects through removal of low-lying pavement and bank regrading; digging runnels both by hand and with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s low ground pressure excavator to restore the tidal flow. Keep an eye out for our restoration team if you happen to travel by a local salt marsh! 

Return of Harbor Seals

Harbor seals migrate south from Maine and the Atlantic Provinces of Canada in the late fall. The warmer, sheltered waters of Narragansett Bay and an abundant food supply provide a cool weather, winter haven for these marine mammals. During these cooler months, harbor seals can be spotted from the mouth of the Bay at Brenton Point to as far north as Providence, and can usually be seen when they “haul out” on rocks. (If looking for seals, remember that they are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and should never be approached or startled. To view seals safely, we recommend hopping on-board one of our Save The Bay Seal Tours! Learn more at