For over three decades, the Lloyd Center has started January with a walk at one of the more ecologically unique landscapes in the region, Gooseberry Neck Island in Westport. The island offers something to satisfy the curiosity of most any naturalist in any environmental field, all in one short stroll. Wind, waves, and storms constantly shape the shoreline, experienced firsthand by anyone hiking over freshly deposited cobble or shifting patches of slipper shells. Evidence of other offshore shellfish, or a fish or seal, may be present any given time, and a diverse bird community exists in all seasons.
On a seasonably calm New Year’s Day that marked the 33rd annual Gooseberry Walk, the outdoor classroom offered study of geology, marine biology, terrestrial ecology, and ornithology. Overwintering waterbirds are abundant and highly visible, making this trip suitable for even the novice birder. One of many storms to come had recently ravaged the shoreline, causing closure of the causeway to vehicles. The walk out however, offered a quick look at waterfowl which benefit from the food sources in the calm shallow waters along the causeway. Bufflehead, the most common diving duck encountered in estuaries for the Lloyd Center Winter Waterfowl Survey, were visible at close range and were the most abundant duck for the walk.
Upon reaching the island, participants got stellar looks at two Long-tailed Ducks, a duck known for complex molts and striking plumage and which usually swims far offshore, feeding along the shore at the boat landing. While shorebirds which often just pass through weren’t numerous, common gull species were packed tightly along the east facing shoreline. Both slipper shells that formed large mats, and whelk egg cases which are common, were shown to the group. Toward the tip there was some shorebird activity, including quick glimpses at the notoriously white Sanderlings, and long looks at Purple Sandpipers, seen during winter often standing on rocks, grabbing the surface with their long toes adapted for rocky surfaces. Common Eider, loons, Common Goldeneye, and Horned Grebes all swam close to shore.
At the island tip, folks saw the newly deposited cobble from the storm at the southeast point, while the southwest tip gained new sand, perhaps will be of interest to piping plovers in the spring. A horseshoe crab skeleton depicted an animal unchanged since prehistoric times, and folks learned of its value to both human medicine and shorebird migrations. On the return trip through the island’s central path, participants viewed the low shrubbery and learned of its value as habitat and food sources for terrestrial bird species that also call Gooseberry home.
The Wednesday walks at the Lloyd Center are ongoing, and have featured quiet woods with occasional roaming flocks of songbirds, and waterbirds on the Slocums and Little Rivers where they overwinter. At our pier, flocks of Bufflehead and Red-breasted Mergansers have been abundant, with smaller numbers of loons, goldeneye, Canada
Geese and Mute Swan also seen. Other waterbird sightings on the Slocums have included Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfishers, and American Black Ducks over at Little River where they are highly abundant. For woodland birds, blue jays which were “irruptive” this year have made their presence known, large flocks of robins which migrate to southeast New England have passed through, and Golden-crowned Kinglets which migrate from the north and spend the winter here, have been seen. We hope to see you on future Wednesday Walks, and other bird related outings in the year ahead!