Turnstones in disarray and the making of a Feast – the biggest!

What the heck is this guy doing? (As with all pictures, click to enlarge. ) Hint - he's probably of Portuguese descent, probably from New Bedford, and it is almost August.) If you're much more savvy than me, you know. The answer - and more pictures - in a moment.

Today Gooseberry was Bayberry Island – unofficially, but that’s what it looked and smelled like and that’s what brought more than 100 persons from New Bedford  to Gooseberry early this morning. But I get ahead of myself. I don’t want to ignore other natural wonders for the activities of the dominant species – afterall, the Ruddy Turnstones were having a bad hair day and need a little sympathy.

I arrived  a bit after 6 am. The morning was sunny, the temperature in my comfort zone, and on a whim I decided as I crossed the causeway to walk the east beach instead of the smoother, easier, central road. I knew it would be slow going and it was – made slower by hundreds of shorebirds attracted – I believe – by heaps of gunky, smelly, slippery brown seaweed.  The flocks of feeding birds seemed to be a combination of  Sanderlings, Semipalmated Plovers, and Ruddy Turnstones. The Turnstones were shedding their handsome mating attire and seemed to be in various stages of feathery disarray. Frankly, i was mistaking some of the them for Black-bellied Plovers, but when I got home and looked at the pictures, the largest of the birds I saw proved to all be the Turnstones. So here they all are.

My favorite of several pictures of the Semipalmated Plover, all decked out in mating garb - quite handsome. (Click to enlarge.)

A small flock of Sandelings reveal their wing markings at various angles as the ycome in for a landing. Is the Semipalmated Plover off at the right edge saying "there goes the neighborhood? 😉 Click to enlarge.

And this is what I mean by disarray! The Rudy Turnstone is a very handsome guy when in full breeding feather. Wish I had caught some at that stage. But these three . . . well, click to enlarge and take a close look. Oh -and note the size difference as shown by the Semipalmated Plover off to the right.

Ah – and this was a shocker. Soon after taking the picture of the Turnstones on the rock I looked at the wet sand in front of me and saw deer tracks. I have often heard deer are out here. This is the first time I’ve seen their tracks in wet sand. Bet I just missed him or her! (Much later in the day a large deer crossed in front of my car coming from Horseneck Beach and heading towards the marsh on the other side of Rt 88 just before I got to the bridge. They certainly seem on the increase.)

Walking the beach is tedious, however. It’s either too rocky or too sandy – seldom comfortable footing.  So I was happy to get back on the central trail and head back towards the towers, but before I got there I ran into a guy  clipping greenery of some sort. (I still don’t know the plants out here very well.) I stopped and asked him what he was clipping.

“Bayberry,” he answered, and promptly extended a gloved hand to show me a bayberry plants mixed in with a lot of other stuff, but obviously quite abundant on the little island. Hmmmmm…. but why?


A few more pickers, a few more question, and I had my answer.  The Bayberry was being picked to form huge arches of greenery that extended over the roads in New Bedford as a main feature of the decorations for the annual Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, promoted as the “World’s Largest Portuguese Feast!”

Here's a shot borrowed form the Feast web site linked above - hope they don't mind.

So with that image of those beautiful Bayberry arches in your head – I was well aware of the Feast from my days as a reporter on the New Bedford Standard-Times – check out the impressive gathering routine. The scale of it sunk home as I emerged from the path onto the central road near the towers and encountered this pick-up truck delivering cold water – and small cans of beer – to the workers. (Yes, it’s 7 am, or maybe a bit before, but it was hot already.)


And the workers were everywhere, some venturing far from the beaten track in the thick underbrush.Some paused for portraits from what looked like the official photographer. He even snapped my picture. Have to see if I end up in the Feast photo albums.

And these are the bus drivers. they told me this is called the "Gathering of the Greens" and they delivered more than a hundred workers here. (And yes, the picture was their idea. I had started to snap one of the buses and . . . well, this was a very happy, very cheerful, friendly group!)

This was a well-organized expedition. I had seen the truck unloading a large dumpster when I arrived at the parking lot – but assumed it was simply part of routine clean-up. Not so. The dumpster was for the greens. So they had three school buses, the dumpster with truck, and the pick-up truck. And they apparently have been doing this on Gooseberry for about 20 years, though the Feast is much, much older – in fact, I think it’s approaching the century mark.

So – bad hair days for Ruddy Turnstones, I missed a deer perhaps by minutes, and it was a great day for “gathering the greens.” I do love this little island so full of life!

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2 Responses to Turnstones in disarray and the making of a Feast – the biggest!

  1. Peter Rosa says:

    This is an amazing segment of Gooseberry Journal. I have many memories of attending the feast with my parents. This reminds me of one of my dreams that was never realized. I grew up as a young boy playing trumpet in the NEW BEDFORD CITY BAND, one of several Portuguese Bands in the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts. I always wanted to play the big feast, having played many of the other feasts all over Massachusetts. I am not sure what the politics of the situation was, but I played Carnegie Hall, but never got to play the granddaddy of all Portuguese Feasts. Thanks for posting this article Greg.

    Pete Rosa, Proud to be 100% Portuguese

  2. Greg Stone says:

    Ah – I suspected this would hit home in some way, Peter.

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