Each winter the Lloyd Center provides an opportunity for nature enthusiasts to stretch their legs to kick start the New Year, while learning about the dynamic Buzzards Bay shoreline. While many great locations exist for this event, perhaps none is better than Gooseberry Neck Island in Westport.
Gooseberry, a 73-acre island purchased by the state in 1956 as an addition to Horseneck Beach State Reservation due to a buildup of Hurricane damage, is rich in history and has high wildlife diversity, hiking trails, intricate geology from glacial retreat, and stunning scenic vistas. Historical uses of the island include sheep grazing, private residential cottage living, and military lookouts, using the World War II observation tower that remains today at the south tip. Although the public currently benefits from a causeway providing vehicle access and a nice walk out, historically there was only a sandbar allowing occasional access at low tide. Upon reaching the far tip, one sees the Elizabeth Island chain to the south, Horseneck Beach to the West, and Allens Pond Sanctuary to the east, along with surrounding waters at any time alive with boat traffic, jumping fish, and depending on the season, seals or waterbirds chasing the fish.
On a winter walk, a diverse assemblage of migratory birds (including the majestic Snowy Owl which spends each winter on the island) may be seen, in addition to winter waterfowl, cormorants, and small numbers of overwintering shorebirds. On this day the Gooseberry shoreline was turbulent with large waves due to a high southwest wind coming on the heels of considerable rain the prior night. Historically, this walk has occurred in all types of weather conditions. This, however, was the first Gooseberry walk to commence under a cloak of dense fog! This occurred due to the balmy conditions that had temperatures near 60° inland, cold ocean waters, and therefore much cooler temperatures at the immediate shoreline. Although the fog reduced visibility (and the Snowy Owl eluded us), nearly 50 people had plenty to see along the east shore, where footing is better and we were sheltered from the winds.
Along the shore piles of Crepidula (Slipper shell) shells lined intertidal zone, and a lobster claw was found. Lobster traps appear on the island as evidence of this age-old practice, with many buoys for active traps visible near the shore surrounding the island. Research Director Mark Mello took some time talking about a live whelk also found onshore. This along with the cobble over which we had to walk, shows that “stuff” is constantly washing ashore, especially on choppy days such as this. It was low tide, which brought in small numbers of Dunlin and Sanderlings feeding on invertebrates in the sandflats. Waterfowl seen near shore from a small beach midway to the south tip included the
Common Eider, the most abundant sea duck in the region, and great looks at a Horned Grebe, a fidgety waterbird that dives frequently.
See you on January 1, 2020, as the tradition is sure to continue!