Gooseberry – a special place for birders, casual or very serious – now radar enhanced!

Paul Champlin, who has helped me repeatedly to identify birds I’ve seen and photographed on Gooseberry, has his own blog with this fascinating post that explores why Gooseberry is such a key spot for birding and how he uses internet radar to track birds as they come and go. His posts begins:

Gooseberry Neck, Westport, MA is a rather special place to bird. There are only a handful of known places where a birder can watch migrants-by-the-dosens as they funnel through a very small choke point like the Gooseberry parking lot (30 species of warbler in fall 2012/spring2013 migration, concentrated in a several hundred square foot site). These funnel points offer the ability to document migration in a different way than most places in New England, where birders visiting their favorite wetlands, forest patches, or thickets will find migrant birds, but will not actually know whether or not the birds they see are residents, or in stopover mode. Have birds been there several days? Will they be there tomorrow? Next week? Birding the Gooseberry parking lot, the answer is nearly always “No, it’s currently on its way! The next people to have a shot at seeing this particular bird are at Hammonasset in Connecticut.”  This funneling of migrants allows birders to document interesting migration events, such as the earliest movements of many species, and the magnitude of migration as it relates to weather patterns. Of additional interest to me is the predictability of migration as it relates to NEXRAD radar images collected overnight and into the morning. This blog post will not only provide readers with photos and lists of birds seen at Gooseberry Neck, it will also step readers through the thought process of my trying to predict the intensity of migration at Gooseberry, and will provide a basic outline of how to read bird migration via radar, with specifics to Gooseberry (there are several great radar ornithology resources available online, both general and site specific… like which covers southern FL). Finally, I pose three migration “funnel” theories specific to Gooseberry, but encompassing the broader region.


Read the rest of it here.

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See  photos from recent visit:

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Sharks! Well, maybe . . .but the news folks were sure there

Shark sighting interview.

Shark sighting interview by Chatee Lans of Channel 12 News in Providence. .

Yesterday a man who authorities obviously believed reported two large sharks off Gooseberry causing officials to close Horseneck and other nearby beaches to swimmers. Today I went for my usual walk on Gooseberry and a Channel 12 news car pulled in just ahead of me.

As I got out of my car the reporter, Chanteé Lans, came over to chat, but as I explained that I knew nothing except what had been in the papers this morning another guy came over to say he had seen a shark just a few hours ago. So she interviewed him at length – and yes, she interviewed me, though I really had little to say other than Gooseberry is a beautiful, wild place and it would be exciting to get a look at the sharks, though I didn’t want to swim with them ;-)

I don’t think that’s what she was looking for, so I kinda doubt I’ll be on the 5 o’clock news, but who knows ;-)

Flying shark???

Flying shark??? This picture is from about half a mile away.

What i thought I saw was someone flying a shark-like kite over the Horseneck campground – someone with a sense of humor. But now as I look at a close up of the picture, that’s not the case. It was  an unusual shape for a kite and did look shark-like from a distance, but close up it was not.

Nope - not a shark kite afterall. Too bad. I kinda liked the idea. ;-)

Nope – not a shark kite afterall. Too bad. I kinda liked the idea. ;-)

And I did scan the ocean diligently with my binoculars  from the parking lot and the beach near the towers and from on top of the hill – and saw nothing unusual. Chanteé asked me if I believed the other guy. Hey, why not? I have no reason to disbelieve him.

But I think what she was looking for was a little more shark fear. Hell, I’m more scared of driving to the beach than I am of getting attacked by a shark.  They are really quite rare in this region – at least the killer kind, but maybe that’s changing with the climate. Besides, I rarely swim in the ocean – just like to look at it!

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New bird for me – I think – maybe – well, a nice bird any ways!

Well, on Thursday I got home from a 90-minute walk around Gooseberry and looked at my pictures and said wow! That’s a spotted sandpiper – I’ve never seen one before.

The underwing pattern was a huge clue!

The underwing pattern was a huge clue!’

And, of course, the spotted breast helps.

And, of course, the spotted breast helps.

And while de does tend to blend in witht he beach, those bright yellow -orangish -legs do stand out!

And while de does tend to blend in with  the beach, those bright yellow -orangish -legs do stand out!

My problem is when I search this journal I find that I identified one before – but now that I look at those pictures from four years ago I am certain about the latest identification, but not at all certain about what I saw in 2009! (OK – maybe it’s in non-breeding plummage – but in May?)

That said, Don and I ha d a nice morning walk near low tide in what was less than ideal conditions – but good for the way the weather has been here throughout June and July. And yes, the shorebird migration is in full swing, though we didn’t se a whole lot of evidence of it.

They may be "common" but they are quite beautiful in flight - real sports cars when it comes to twisting and -eh - terning ;-)

They may be “common” but they are quite beautiful in flight – real sports cars when it comes to twisting and -eh – terning ;-)

Common Terns were  out in force at the southeast point. I’ve seen them there before and I’m not sure what draws them to gather there – most of the time I’m lucky if I see one or two – not a dozen or two.

The bright orange beak with a black tip helps identify them.

The bright orange beak with a black tip helps identify them.

Ran into Paul and he said that while the  piping plovers are doing well at Horseneck and elsewhere, they don’t seem to have nested at Gooseberry, though an area is seta side for them as usual.  He noted some whimbrel did and we saw one of these long-legged waders at the south end.


Some doves put on a flying exhibition near the towers and while Paul reported yellow warblers, we saw none. what were out in force were the swallows. Seemed a bit early for them to be flocking, but there they were. Could watch these little dudes for hours!





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Summer solstice sunrise and more. . .

About 1 am EDT the Sun – our favorite star – was at it’s most northern point, so I trotted out to Gooseberry this morning and got this shot about 5:12 am from the parking lot overlooking the boat ramp. Note where the sun is rising, then look at the next shot which was taken at the Fall Equinox when the Sun was rising due east!

Summer solstice sunrise - June 21, 2013.

Summer solstice sunrise – June 21, 2013.

(Click image to enlarge.)

(Click image to enlarge.)

Fa;; equinox.  (Click image to enlarge.)

So – looking down the boat ramp is due east, as you can see in the second photo – the sun this morning rose at azimuth 57 degrees – very much north of east.  I find it fun to make our own sort of Stonehenge type observatory by going to our favorite location and noting where the sun rises at the Summer and Winter solstices, and at the Equinoxes. You can do that for your own favorite spot by going out tomorrow morning – the location  of the Sun will not have changed enough for you to tell the difference with the naked eye – or, of course, by observing sunset – more convenient for most people.

One thing I really enjoy is watching  the sunset and the Moon rise about at the same time. That will be especially fun tomorrow night when the almost full Moon rises about 7:32 pm EDT   in the southeast at Gooseberry and the Sun sets opposite it in the northwest about 50 minutes later – 8:22.  Hmmm . . . maybe this will be better to observe on Sunday night (June 23, 2013)  – the Sun sets about 8:22 EDT and the Moon rises just a few minutes later. It will be just a tad past full then – but the point is, being able to see both from a location such as Gooseberry can give you a real sense of the rotation of the Earth – the moon doesn’t “rise” and the Sun doesn’t “set” – we’re just on a merry-go-round where as one goes out of view, the other comes into view.

Oh – and  as I noted in this month’s “events” post on my astronomy blog, this is the largest full moon of the year, but don’t get too excited by that.

On the night of June 22-23 we have a full Moon – the largest full Moon of the year.

Why is this larger than other full Moons? Because it is closer to us at this particular full Moon. How much larger is it? Significantly – but not so much that you really can tell the difference. To do that you need to see a larger full moon next to a small full Moon – and you can do that by going to this web site which gives a wonderfully detailed explanation.

Meanwhile, just sit back and enjoy it – and don’t confuse this with the Moon illusion phenomena – that is simply our eyes and brain playing tricks on us to make the Moon (or the Sun) look much larger when it is near the horizon, than when it is high in the sky.

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Ok folks, the reason I called this meeting . . .


Ooops – Johnny was late . . .

(Click image for larger version.)

We’ve seen few shore birds from August until now – in fact, on most weekly walks we see only one or two. last week we did see – quite unusual in my experience – an even dozen Horned Grebes off the southwest beach and a couple more today -as well as White-winged  Scooters.

But I felt really lucky when we spotted this flock of Dunlins at the waters edge more than 100 feet away. They kept putting on a heck of a flying display, but I didn’t have my Rebel and long lens, so I didn’t try to photograph it.  It was the usual incredible flock flight where everyone wheels and turns in the low-morning sunlight presenting just a dazzling performance of aerobatics and formation flying. “Eat your heart out, Blue Angels,” was Don’s comment – plus a query about how the heck do they communicate with one another?

They flew for an unusually long time, eventually landing – well several times – back on the beach in front of us. though we were along way off I wondered if we were disturbing them because every time they landed they would be facing us – all of them.  Don wondered out loud how close we could get, so I started walking forward with my small Casio camera. And that was the second thing that made my day! They didn’t move. They seemed absolutely oblivious to me. I swear I could have walked up and touched them if I didn’t mind getting my feet wet. I did mind, so I stopped maybe 10 feet away and we just communed. I looked at some of the individuals using the 15X50IS Canon’s I had just bought on the used market. Incredible. I stood there for along time – and so did they. Oh individuals moved, but for the most part they seemed to be taking notes, or meditating, or maybe getting a briefing for the next flight. In a funny way they felt like a single organism – and maybe they are in some sense – and for a few precious moments  I felt like I had a bit part in their little drama. Then they flew off and didn’t return.

Oh – if you’re wondering how Gooseberry did during Sandy, it was the usual – lots of rocks on the causeway which right now you can’t drive over – and what I call the “butterfly trail” at the south end is now covered  on its east side by tons of rocks washed up from the beach making it uncomfortable to walk.  In other words, not much damage – it’s a rugged  little island with some seriously high ground that the storms don’t touch.


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Gooseberry comes alive!

The endangered Piping Plovers have been on Gooseberry this month, but their nesting was not successful. They sure do have a major case of the cutes though! As with all single images in this post, click to enlarge. (That’s a Least Sandpiper behind him – thanks to Jamie Bogart of the Lloyd Center  for the ID!)

All spring there has been relatively little bird action on Gooseberry – at least to this weekly visitor – but on  our July 7 visit it started to pick up and by July 13 things were going strong. Well, at least Don and I saw some great birds.  But as Pogo would have reminded us,  Friday the 13th came on Friday this month! That means I “took” more than 100 pictures – without a card in the camera! So I went back on July 15 alone and took even more – terrific day. But the main thing this tells me is that Gooseberry really comes alive in mid-July. In the following video-slideshow the first pictures are from July 7, but once you get to the bull dog in the car, that’s today. And the extensive inflight images of the scolding – notice it’s beak is seldom closed – Willet was actually four different birds which were not happy with having several the humans on the beach, presumably because they have young in the tall grass nearby.

I hope the slide show conveys the excitement and beauty of an hour on Gooseberry – especially fairly early in the morning. I’ve pulled out what I feel are some of the better and more interesting shots and put them here in large format – click on any image for a larger version. I’ve also tried to identify the birds, but a few really have me guessing. The Great Egret, however, is easy – I just seldom see them on Gooseberry. They are common in the marshes opposite nearby Horseneck Beach. So it was fun to watch this one catch breakfast out at the end of Gooseberry and gulp it down. Even more fun, however, was to see what looked to me like a young family of Piping Plovers snapping up food in the tidal pool as a Willet took a bath in that pool and as a  Least Sandpiper joined them. I sent some of these pictures to Jamie Bogart because it looked like the result of  a successful breeding  – Jamie is the person who sets up the protective string and wire around nests of these beautiful birds.  He wrote back: ” . . . these are likely a fledged brood with adult(s) from another site (eg Allens Pond) that are passing through Gooseberry. The south tip will start to get active with migrants over the next few weeks as the early stages of the shorebird migratory movements begin….” So they weren’t Gooseberry residents – but they still were fun.

Willet bathing.

As you can see, one bird is in obvious breeding plumage – I assume the other in front of it is one of the young.

This is the Least Sandpiper

When I asked Jamie about that last picture, he wrote: ” . . .  the bird you have there is a Least Sandpiper, which has the yellow legs. Semipalmated have the black legs, that’s the distinction.” That was the 7th. What follows are photos from the 15th. Now we never let the “kids” stick their heads out the car window. I don’t consider it safe. But it sure is cute and reminds me of how dogs used to ride in my car when I was much, much younger. It’s summer, of course, and there are a lot of people here. Even at 7 am when I started down the beach, some folks had set up an umbrella and were milling about while another person was walking two dogs nearby. This, plus my own presence evidently stirred up  four Willets who wheeled about the skies yelling at us. I assume they were nesting somewhere in the beach grass. Of course, being nearly deaf I could only hear them once in a while – but the open beak tells the story in the pictures.  Beautiful birds, especially in flight – other weeks I thought I had seen a nesting pair near the southeast tip of the island, but these were all much closer to the parking lot. Checking Pete Dunne’s “Essential Field Guide Companion,” this behavior is absolutely  common for the Willet: “Fairly tame and easily approached; when trespassers cause nesting adults to become frenzied, birds hover and stoop until the intruder retreats to the scant  safety of the neighboring Willet’s territory.”  Yep – well I didn’t feel threatened, but I felt well-scolded! As usual, Dunne’s descriptions really fit ” . . . a long, heavy, straight, and relatively untapered bill, a thick neck , a compact body, and long, thick, grayish legs.” Meanwhile, in the nearby water were what I thought of as Huey, Dewey, and Louie! (Oh – and Wikipedia informs me that their real names are Huebert, Deuteronomy and Louis.) I have noticed several times this spring that the Common Eiders seem to be hanging around and presumably breeding here – but I saw no signs of young. Well that changed. Here are some adults Eiders with obvious young. The Eider’s long, hevay beak sets it apart and when Bren saw the pictures of the young her first reaction was they “must grow into those beaks!”

Beaks to grow into!

Next up was a familiar bird – I’ve seen these on Gooseberry several times, but they seem so out of place they always give me pause.  It’s a Rock Dove – a pigeon. Notice the white “cere” where beak meets head? OK – I don’t have a clue what a “cere” is, but that’s what it’s called in the “Sibley Guide to Birds,” and frankly I never noticed it before, but it really shouts  for attention in this picture.

Red-winged blackbird, I believe. There were small flocks of these ont he beach and in the reeds. I seem some – maybe this one – are immatures, born here this summer.

Help me out?  My first guess was Least Sandpiper because I’ve been seeing a lot of them on sure. But the bill seems longer and more curved, so my second guess is Dunlin.

Ruddy Turnstone.

I usually say “look for a rock that moves” – but when these guys are prowling in the seaweed they blend in even better than they do on rocks and you can hardly detect any movement.

Now this is a Red-winged Blackbird – ok, we’re not seeing the red, but I’m confident it’s there.  ;-)

Tern – but which one? I don’t know them well enough yet to be sure.

Even had a bird in the sky? Well – feathery cirrus clouds – thought they were pretty!

Willets seemed to be every where on this day – this give you an idea of their size next to a gull.

Now the next pic might tempt you to think Piping Plover in breeding garb, but this is the more common Semipalmated Plover  – the difference is his back is brown where the Piping Plover os grey.

Semipalmated plover in breeding plumage.

And this, I believe, is the Semipalmated Plover in flight – but a juvenile – notice the dark beak? I think that’s about the only thing that separates him/her from the adult above.

Willet at breakfast.

Just hanging out, what are you doing? (Sorry, the cormorants just crack me up.)

Cabbage White – notice the dark wing tips and one or two spots – these are all over Gooseberry this time of year.

My continuing challenge is to catch any butterfly in flight and in focus – some are more difficult than others and I find the Cabbage White especially frustrating this way.

On the reeds in the marshy area between the towers and south point Redwinged Blackbirds, tree swallows, and “LBJs” were hanging out.

I could guess – but I would probably guess wrong – so the above goes in the category of Little Brown Jobby (LBJ).

One of my favorites – the Yellow Warbler. Warblers don’t sit still for long, so I’m always happy to get their picture.

This series is of Tree Swallows, I believe, which gather in increasing numbers as summer wanes. I assume this is an adult and young, but darned if I can tell for sure.

Parting shots . . .

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