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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Summer migration sightings on Gooseberry

Place sure does change once the warm weather arrives.  All spring we have been looking for signs of  the birds migrating north – and we’ve seen a few, but nothing like what happens in August as they come off the breeding grounds in the arctic and  head south. But we did see the first real sign of the Summer migration for that other species – homo sapiens sapiens.

Wiki starts off the description of this species this way –

Humans (Homo sapiens sapiens), the only living members of the genus Homo, are mammals of the primate order originally from Africa, where they reached anatomical modernity about 200,000 years ago and began to exhibit full behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago.[]”

Oh my – I would beg to differ slightly. I think  “full behavior modernity” is only just starting 😉 Of course they weren’t the only migrants. This cat bird was singing his heart out near the towers.

Click any image for larger version.

And Red Admirals are a familiar sight now among the wildflower blooms.

But then as we emerged onto the west beach just past the towers we saw this.

A sure sign of that noisy, intrusive species. And there were a lot of discards like this because sadly many of them don’t seem to get the message – you bring it in, you take it out.  We also saw a large patch of burned pampas grass  on the east side and you had to wonder if that wasn’t the result of a stray rocket.

The west side especially, starting near the parking lot, was lined with fishermen seeking blues and stripped bass – with the occasional jogger gingerly dodging the rocks.

While overhead light planes, such as this Cessna Skyhawk – well that’s my best guess – seemed to be scouting the beaches.

And, of course, there were folks like us just enjoying a leisurely circumnavigation of the Gooseberry world.

And we have gotten used to the Eiders who seem to have made this their summer home, though we’ve seen no sign of young.

What looks like another permanent summer resident – in fact, given all the flying around we saw, I would guess a breeder – is the Willet. (Hmmm . . . and in breeding plummage he’s more speckled than usual.)

Later, in the air, one of what seemed to be a pair of Willets seen frequently over the south end marshes. Don’t you love those markings, so distinctive in flight, yet hidden on land? (Yes, I know most shorebirds show similar patterns, but the Willets seem distinctive and the black patch so intense.)

Oh – and one of the more distinguished migrants – perhaps a stray – was this sleek yacht which had anchored off the east beach and was flying a Union Jack, though we debated that for some time as something seemed to be a little off about it when viewed in binoculars. But Union Jack it was.

And, of course, the East beach near the parking lot was loaded with swimmers and sunbathers and a few Hobbie Cats as well.

But yes – as you probably noticed int he distance, there’s a new sub-species of paddle boarders. Saw my first of these a year ago. And the group below made me curious about what’s the attraction of standing up while paddling on what is essentially a surfboard.  Well, if you;re curious too, there’s some explanation here.   Seems to appeal to both sexes.

Doesn’t appeal to me – I know I’d fall in the water pretty quickly. I’ll stay seated in my comfortable kayak 😉

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You be the judge – me? – I give him straight 10s!

If fish diving were an Olympic event, I think this Osprey diving off the south tip of Gooseberry Friday would get straight tens.  Having watched them off and on for years, I knew they went in feet first – and I knew they dove head first – what I didn’t know was they jack-knifed just before entering the water – look at those talons!

Results – and other photos in this sequence to come.

Another beautiful June morning on Gooseberry, though wildlife seemed scarce. We did get serenaded by this little sparrow, however.

And I think we all get bored with seeing robins – we shouldn’t – they look especially nice in the morning sun.

And after that we watched  the osprey above – and a companion – hovering high above the water. But as Don commented. watching this guy go in was “worth the price of admission.” This entire sequence covers a bit less than two seconds! (As always, click any picture for a larger version.)

Yeah that’s right – no fish!  One fall I watched a young osprey dive two dozen times in about an hour as I paddled down the Westport River in a kayak – and he came up empty each time. I don’t know how often the adults miss, but being a predator isn’t as easy as it may seem.  A lot just don’t make it through their first year, but those who do go on incredible voyages – sometimes to South America and back.

If you want to get up close and personal with the ospreys – including some individuals from Westport, check out the pages of Prof. Richard Bierregaard. He tags these birds with radio transmitters and tracks their paths year round and has an incredible series of maps on his pages showing just where they go – on a typical day, or throughout the year. You can also sign up for his email list on that page which keeps you up to date without being a pain.

Meanwhile, we watched this pair  pausing to “make” – hovering once they appear to have spotted a target – and diving several times.

And yes, one went home with breakfast!

Meanwhile, we watched this unusual little craft make its way into Buzzzard’s Bay. Looked to me to be about 20-feet long and seemed to have borrowed its mast and sails from other, smaller boats – though the cabin with the big windows reminded me of a Fred Shell design I saw many years ago –  the  Great Blue Heron.  In fact, Bren and I sailed in one on Lake Champlain, I believe, with Fred.  I bought a couple of Fred’s boats – one in kit form. But while this looks something like one, I don’t think it is.

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Mystery mammal, Ruddy Turnstone, Surf Scoter and more

It was a nice June morning on Gooseberry. Surprising in that it had been foggy up at the Westport Middle School where we flew RC airplanes, yet as we went south towards the ocean it got clearer and it was perfectly clear at Gooseberry.

Of course the first thing that caught my eye wasn’t clear at all. I didn’t know if it was  a submerged rock, a seal, or some other marine mammal. (Click any image below to get a much larger version of it.)

Turned out to be a pair of “some other” marine mammals – homo snorkelus I believe. 😉

Then we saw very little until we were well past East Point and Don said he had heard some quite noisy bird up the beach and two flew out and were away so fast I could hardly snap a picture. What I got – see below) isn’t definitive, but the markings sur elook like Willets to me – note the dark patches  about halfway down the wing and at the tip, plus the white rump – and the size seemed right.  Wondered if they might be a nesting pair.

I had hoped to see more of the familiar fall birds, decked out in their breeding finery. One I have been anticipating is the Ruddy Turnstone and one – just one – has shown up when I’ve been there. Here he is. Quite handsome!

Last week we had seen quite a flock of Black and White-winged Scoter off the southwest point.  They were there again this week. The ones with the bright orange bills are adult males.

But hanging back with his own little group was a very different one. I suspected it was the third of the Scoter family, but I couldn’t remember its name. Well, it’s a Surf Scoter, as I learned when I checked Sibley. Also learned that the real differences between the three Scoters show up in their bills and where bill meets face.

I think that’s a White-winged female or juvenile in this group.

And, of course, there were the “usual suspects” – the cormorants and the Eiders in one stage or another of feather.

And as we were leaving this area a lone Osprey glided  by, checking out the scene below. Guess we’re on his “Life List” now. 😉

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Simply beautiful!

There’s a lovely rawness to Gooseberry, a place where man once lived  and nature has reclaimed. Sometimes I wish the State would do something with it to make it more park like – picnic tables and the like. And then I think, no – I like it just the way it is with the hidden foundations peeking through the thick brush occasionally, the domestic plants gone wild, amid the wild plants undomesticated – and bits of macadam appearing through the dirt to remind us of when summer folks vacationed here and the Army in the abandoned towers kept us safe from invaders who never really were a threat.

The view from the top of the highest hill (20 feet, maybe?) looking towards the parking lot to the north. Click image for a much larger version.

And today I just reveled in the June flowers, the cool ocean breeze that made a sweatshirt necessary, and thoughts of bored soldiers, lolling on the beach, and maybe tossing a rock or two into the water, wearing those broad-rimmed hats that we see in “From Here to Eternity.”  And I’m glad the war was as quiet here as it was and today it’s the flowers that surround the towers and not barbed wire.

Off the southwest point, bobbing in the ocean waves, is a modest flock of ducks – black scooters and white-winged scoters, I believe, with an eider or two nearby.

Later, as I turned into the path that cuts across the south point a bit inland, four rock doves came in a for a landing. Funny – they look different – so much better to me, really – once out of their usual city environment.

Hmmmm. . . guess you could say they’re the city folks trying once more to turn Gooseberry into a summer retreat 😉

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Spring has sprung – ahhhhhh, what a day – eh, make that two days!!

So life returns to Gooseberry and at last I get to see it in the spring!

This is the tale, told mostly in photos, of two walks – one last Saturday and one this morning and the focus is on the return of the birds, including Least Terns, Bonaparte Gull, Willet, Common Yellow Throat, Yellow Warbler, and a Brown Thrasher. And to continue our military theme from the last post, a beautiful Red Admiral butterfly.

Don’t ask me why, in more than 40 years, I haven’t roamed out here in the spring time, but it seems to be the one season I’ve been busy elsewhere. So the experience of the returning shorebirds is new to me and while I recognize several, several had me shaking my head,  and they puzzled Don as well.

Let’s start with this gull-like fellow – cute, and with a strange ear mark!  He’s a Bonaparte Gull – the first I’ve seen. And he was unusual enough so Don at first didn’t think he was a gull. And that fits Pete Dunne’s description where he calls him a “tern-like” gull. Here’s a shot that shows off some of his better features.

Bonaparte Gull

When I sent this picture to Paul Champlin to confirm the identification he wrote:

Fleshy legs, so yes!. Adults have black heads and no dark on the top side of the wing, so this is a second year bird. A fairly rare gull that’s been showing up more often is Common Black-headed Gull, which looks almost exactly like this but has red or reddish-black legs, can have a reddish or blackish bill, and is a little larger (if you have something to compare it to).

We saw him – or another one – today in about the same spot with several Least Terns gathered at the south end on both visits.  There’s been quite flock of these to watch and last week was the first time I’ve identified them.  I took many shots of them in flight. They are so aerobatic!  But in this first image I caught one with a fish. The next few shots show what I assume is a male making an offer to a female – a sort of tern dating tactic – but she doesn’t seem too impressed. Pete Dunne describes the Least Tern as “a high-strung pixie” that is “short-bodied, short-tailed, and long winged (folded wing-tips reach beyond the tail) – all angles and all energy.”

I think the business of wing-length shows well in several of the pictures both in flight and on the rocks.

Got an offering . . . now to find a girl!

And speaking of long wings . . .but I think this shot also gives a wonderful view of the black mask and black and white cap.

OK – that was last week – here are a few more from today.

This forward stroke of the wing really made me do a double-take. Had to look closely to find the bird.

Boy – almost forgot one of my favorites – the Black-bellied Plover. Saw a lot of these in the fall, but then they weren’t dressed to kill. Take a look at them here, then skip back to this Fall post from a few years ago.

Black-bellied Plover with his best suit on.

Dunne is not kind to our next little friend, the  Eastern Willet – at least when he’s on the ground. He calls him a “sturdy, inelegant, straight-billed, coastal shorebird in a plain brown wrapper . . .

Eastern willet preening his ” plain brown wrapper>”

. . . whose vivid wing pattern explodes in flight”


Got that right!

It was those intensely black patches at mid-point that really caught my attention and helped me identify this bird when I saw it last week. I’ve seen one before – several years ago on Horseneck – but not since. Apparently they are only up here for a few months – May, June – and maybe July? (I’ll have to ask Paul.)  They can also be quite noisy and you notice in the first shot below shows he’s saying something as he flies by.

But what really took me by surprise was one showed up inland as we walked towards the towers, flying past us and landing in the top of a tree, the morning sun washing out his features, but showing a nice profile.

Also in the trees this morning out near the towers were quite a few warblers – part of the spring migration.  Wish I could have gotten a better shot of this guy – a Common Yellowthroat male – but I love that black mask!

Next up was a female that I though might be his companion, but I believe is the female yellow warbler. (notice the yellow-green cap?)

But my favorite was this very personable male, Yellow Warbler. As Don listened to the rapid clicking of my camera, he said “there goes a whole roll of Ektachrome!” Yep – we’re showing our age – and in those days when we thought Ektachrome was so cool both the technology and my personal finance would not have allowed for this kind of multi-shot approach. But I love the changing expressions!

And then there was the handsome Brown Thrasher Don spotted in a tree.

Didn’t seem to be many butterflies this week, but last week we saw a beautiful Red Admiral on the beach near the East Point. I’ve seen a couple of these in the yard this spring, but this is the first I’ve seen on Gooseberry – have to add him to my modest Gooseberry Butterfly List.

Of course, if you saw him only with his wings folded you may not find him so striking –

But then  . . .

Red Admiral – Now that’s more like it – enough to make you want to salute!

And just for comparison – or to test me, or something – this Painted Lady came by.

Charming, my dear!

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A military tone to a peaceful walk, but what the heck ;-)

Military, because one of my favorite pictures from this walk was a guy showing off his new pair of epaulettes – I really felt I should snap to attention and salute! Instead I just snapped a picture and like all the pictures here, click it and you’ll get a much larger version.


And if that wasn’t enough, out at the south end we had this beautiful flight of Red-breasted Mergansers go by and Don watched them and the first word out of his mouth was “Blue Angels.” And darned if he wasn’t right. When I got home and looked at the pictures, there was a resemblance to the profile of the F-18 Hornet the Navy Blue Angels fly. Check out the last of the series – I put in an insert.




I say they’re “Red-Breasted” rather than Common Mergansers, first because the Red-Breasted is common around Gooseberry in the winter – and the Common Merganser prefers fresh water. But the white ring around the neck – clearly visible if you enlarge the pictures – makes me positive. The Common has a dark head and then is mostly white underneath.

These pictures don’t do the description justice, but I have to tell you what Pete Dunne has to say  in his “Essential Field Guide Companion” because the guy’s words are worth a thousand pictures!

Description: A duck that looks like it was dressed out of a trunk found in the attic. . . . Adult male is striking, bordering on outrageous (easily distinguished from male Common Merganser  by its dark breast and spiky “punk cut” crest.). . .

Flight: Profile is slender and long-necked, with long, pointy wings – more spindly than Common merganser.

Another seal!

We also saw our second seal –  this one was swimming to the southwest and kept pace with our walking ashore. (Second in the sense that we saw two or three a week or two ago.)


And we did not see any new shore birds! We have been assured the endangered Piping Plovers are nesting there in the protected area – but we have yet to see one in three or four trips.  They do have a wonderful way of blending in with the rocks. So do the  Dunlins – who are wonderfully tame, but you need to nearly stumble across them to see them. See Exhibit A below, then Exhibit B – both pictures have loads of Dunlins int hem!.

Exhibit A


Exhibit B


There were Warblers, too – talk about invisible!~ These little guys flit quickly from branch to branch, fool the auto-focus 75% of the time, and even when you capture something you only have a vague idea what it is. Case in point.



These guys are sure tempting – but they also can  drive you crazy and make you love the Blue Angels – which are no more difficult to identify than say, well, a red-winged black bird or Red-breasted Merganser!

The Eiders, incidentally, have pretty much paired up and the  males are looking great with that delicate touch of green on their heads.

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