by Jamie Bogart, Lloyd Center Research Associate
The annual Lloyd Center New Year’s Day walk at Gooseberry is an educational nature walk focused on birding at a unique location, a barrier island featuring both marine and terrestrial habitats in close juxtaposition. Much like the “polar plunges” it’s also about just getting out, even in harsh conditions, as a healthy way to start the New Year. The initial outlook was grim, as stormy conditions could force a cancellation, and rain was forecast for the entire weekend. The decision was made to not cancel, but postpone until Sunday, which appeared to be the better option. In the end, we actually held two walks, one on New Year’s Day for those that showed up, and one on Sunday for the pre-registered group. As it turned out, both days featured warm temperatures, low wind, low tide, and actually only minimal precipitation, perfect birding and walking conditions.
On Saturday January 1, our crew of six watched a small crew enter the ocean in their polar plunge, in what appeared to be a tradition. Jumping into the sea wasn’t part of our plan, but one might say we “took the plunge” ourselves, starting the weekend by walking the shore in pursuit of birds under a light drizzle. There was a light breeze and waterfowl activity was relatively quiet, but usual species including
Common Eider, Bufflehead, and scoters, were seen close to shore. Along the east shore adjacent to the public beach, Sanderlings and Dunlin, the two commonly seen shorebirds in winter, were actively feeding at close range. On the return trip off the central path, we stopped at the popular secluded beach along the shore adjacent to Horseneck, to see if any grey seals were present. Gooseberry isn’t a haul out location, so any seals likely joined the large gathering off Cuttyhunk and Penikese that occurs each winter. However, the best waterfowl sighting of the morning occurred there, as a pair of the always striking Harlequin Ducks was seen near the rocks where they commonly feed and have been abundant this year.
On Sunday, January 2, over 20 people showed for the main event on what were comparable weather conditions. But a more northerly breeze overnight brought some birds down, and calmer conditions during the walk made for slightly better birding. Waterfowl were far more abundant with many diving duck species seen. All three scoters were observed, including Surf Scoter off the causeway visible on the drive in, a lone White-winged Scoter off the east shore, and a small flock of Black Scoter on the Horseneck side. Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and Common Eider, a similar assemblage to the prior day, were abundant offshore. One individual each of Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, and Harlequin Duck, were seen to add to the diver diversity. For other waterbirds, good looks at both Horned Grebes and Red-throated Loons were offered, with a Red-throated Loon feeding along the shore for an extended period and offering especially great views. The species was highly abundant around the island, whereas often times the Common Loon is the most frequently encountered species further into the estuaries. For songbird activity, in addition to yellow-rumped warblers which were abundant in the shrubbery on both days, a special treat on Sunday was a flock of Snow Buntings in their winter brown-white plumage at the southwest tip. Buntings are common in winter on coastal beaches, but not always seen on this particular walk.