Friday, May 2, 2014

Gooseberry Island, Northbound, 2014

Gooseberry Island Northbound 2014 Migration

Most bird shots are in the latter half of this page.

Location of Gooseberry Island, Westport, MA
Migrants arriving from New Jersey and Long Island make it to Gooseberry 
on southerly winds with a substantial westerly component. Rain, variability in winds, date, and pure chance each have their component effects.

Quick background on Gooseberry Island, Westport, MA: It's an old island that has been attached to the mainland for about 70 years via a causeway. The typical scenario for migratory birds is to use the mile-long finger of land, jutting out into the ocean, as a first landing spot or a funnel to shore after migrating overnight. These migratory birds can be tracked on NEXRAD radar, available throughout the state. Not all (or even most) migrating birds in the area funnel over the island, nor do they necessarily land there, but enough birds do funnel over and land on the island to make it a worthwhile stop for birding. Meanwhile, on the occasional great days... you don't go anywhere else. Nocturnal migrant birds (so most migrant species) that have dropped into the island's thickets at dawn typically work their way to the northernmost bushes (at the parking lot) and hesitate there before attempting to cross to the mainland. They often depart for the mainland, only to reverse themselves and arrive back into the shrubs from which they departed. Meanwhile, seabirds, herons, shorebirds, etc. file past along the shore of the mainland. This is all dependent on weather, and season (fall is by far the best, when dawn is at a more reasonable hour than spring).  

As in previous blog entries, early spring migration (March and April) progressed in fits and starts, with SONG SPARROWS, BLACKBIRDS, EASTERN TOWHEES, and NORTHERN FLICKERS making appearances after the rare southerly flow. Unlike the previous year's month-long easterly flow that dominated the mid-Atlantic, this year the winds are more variable, and the passing of a front on May 1st ushered in the first good southwesterly breezes. So started my Spring 2014 sojourn's to Gooseberry Island, Westport, MA to observe spring migration. 

As overnight radar indications suggested an impressive night of migration, I headed to Gooseberry Neck, Westport, MA, to see what migrants may have been forced down by the sparsely scattered showers. Just after dusk on the night of 5/1, a large plume of birds lifted off from the New Jersey coast, and headed east, out over the water. This often provides southeastern MA and RI with a nice representative sample of migrants. The wind turned out of the north around 4AM, forcing birds down below radar - one frame there were birds everywhere off the coast, the next frame of radar loop there were almost none.

The departure from the NJ coast was very strong, and thankfully the birds were headed east, offshore. This tends to put them down along the Southcoast near dawn (as seen above). You can see the late pulse of migrants pushing out over Block Island Sound and Buzzard's Bay.

Great easterly flight from NJ.

As I reached the intersection of John Reed Road (the terminus of rt. 88) and East Beach Road, a drake Blue-winged Teal lifted off of a large puddle that often forms right in the road after a decent rain. Hmmmm... Could be a "good" sign (for me, but probably not the birds). Sure enough, the first bird I had in the parking lot was an adult male PINE WARBLER that chipped from open branches at the edge of the parking lot. After 30 minutes in the Gooseberry parking lot I had tallied more than 600 blackbirds (mostly COMMON GRACKLES, but also STARLINGS, RED-WINGS, and COWBIRDS) coming off the water in bursts of 10 to 60. Total for the morning flight topped 1,000 blackbirds, with 60% grackles, and 15 Red-wings. A slow trickle of breeding plumage COMMON LOONS gathered into a steady stream, as flocks of 10, 20, 30 etc. passed overhead, all headed west to east. A predawn BARN SWALLOW called from a very high elevation, making me think that it was probably a migrant coming off of the water. Passerines, swallows and swifts made a decent showing (compared to this time last year), with 6 YELLOW WARBLERS, 20 breeding plumage YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, a singing COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, two unidentified warblers (one, a Black-and white? I have one in the yard right now), a BLUE-HEADED VIREO, and two RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS gathering at the parking lot and migrating along to the mainland. A silent male BALTIMORE ORIOLE followed suit, bucking the northerly breezes and two brightly colored WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS waited their turns to make the jump.

Dan Logan got a better shot than I did of this rather drab immature male Baltimore Oriole, an early mover.

Difficult to see, but these two Eastern Kingbirds were at nose-bleed elevation over the tip of Gooseberry,
calling as they flew toward the mainland.

Common Loons stole the show, with more than 200 seen, and certainly double that passing during our visit.
Six each of BARN SWALLOWS, NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, and  CHIMNEY SWIFTS arrived in singles and pairs. A  brief visit to the towers provided several EASTERN TOWHEES (including the one that has a Common Yellowthroat song mixed in with its own). Many of the towhees and Song Sparrows that had arrived over the last 10 days have apparently moved on. I encountered my first EASTERN KINGBIRDS of the year, as they called from 500 feet up, and out over the tip of the island, having just come off of the water. Seabirds/sea ducks were not moving in great numbers, though a few dozen BLACK SCOTER, a few RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, SURF SCOTER, and COMMON EIDER were hanging out around the island. Two GREAT EGRETS, an unidentified peep, 6 Greater Yellowlegs, and 4 Willets round out the 90 minutes of observations. One slightly frustrating bird is the resident SONG SPARROW at the head of the trail. It now ends a handful of its songs with a warbler-like "zeep: note.

If this morning was any indication, this is going to be a much better spring for migration on (at least this part of) the Southcoast than last year.

Another fantastic overnight movement of birds graced our shores, though the big pushes are yet to come, when migrant passerines are more desperate to beat it north, so chance the crossings from the mid-Atlantic to the Southcoast of Massachusetts with greater gusto. The orientation of movement from DE, NJ, and Long Island was more northerly, matching the more southerly winds (rather than the west-southwest winds of the wee hours of May 2nd).

 Flight from NJ on 5-2 to 5-3-2014

 Flight to Southcoast of MA on 5-3
Modest, but decent number of migrants for the early date.

 While the entirety of Long Island was obscured in migrants for a good portion of the night, I was a little worried that they'd limit their easterly trek to Rhode Island. Nope! While we didn't have the numbers of swifts nor the diversity of swallows, there were still some mini-waves of migrants moving through. Here are the highlights from 5:30AM - 8:30AM:

Dan Logan once again comes through with a great shot of a Yellow Palm Warbler.

Gooseberry migrant highlights:
1 Great-crested Flycatcher
1 Phoebe
3 Northern Parulas
7 Yellow-rumps
5 Palms
9 Yellows
2 Prairies
1 Flicker
8 Common Terns
6 Least Terns
More towhees moved in (more around, and some females)
Catbirds arrived overnight
Ipswich Savannah Sparrow
Loons, loons, loons
The warblers present on Gooseberry were sallying after midges
that were swarming over the bushes. The late vegetative season has 
also made for little in terms of migrant food.

Not as nice a shot of a Palm Warbler, but still identifiable.

A brief visit to the parking lot at Allens Pond, a mile to the east produced 1 Cliff Swallow with the rest of the swallows foraging over the fields and marsh.

Initially, large numbers of migrants departed Delaware and New jersey during the night of 5-3, and many even made it out over the water, pushed by the southwesterly winds. Unfortunately, immediately after departing the coast, a front stretching north to south across the entire region, and contained precipitation. As this moved through the area migrants were forced to abort their bid to head north, and some may have even been ditched into the Atlantic. Whatever the case, they didn't make it to the coast of Westport/Dartmouth MA in any appreciable numbers.

Interrupted migration from NJ to the Southcoast due to weather front.

Southeastern MA radar showing few/no migrants arriving.

The blustery winds made for a chilly morning (Gooseberry is always windier than the mainland), but the consolation were seabirds that were blown against the shore. Best of these were three migrant CASPIAN TERNS that headed along the east shore of Gooseberry and east along the bay. The NORTHERN GANNET show was well above par, with 5 to 10 in view at any given point (80% subadult birds), and as usual for this time of year, good numbers of SCOTER were migrating by the island. Thankfully, instead of passing the tip, the wind pushed them against the west side of the island giving great views of all three species. Both COMMON and RED-THROATED LOONS were in constant passage all morning, and would certainly number in the high hundreds if diligently counted. A pair of COMMON GOLDENEYE, residing on the west side of the island may end up spending the whole spring, as the drake has a wing issue (but seems to be foraging just fine). Passerines were sparse, with a single migrant EASTERN KINGBIRD, several (probable resident) TOWHEES, CATBIRDS, YELLOW WARBLERS, and an unidentified migrant warbler that passed to the mainland (the only migrant seen crossing). We had great looks at an adult SHARP SHINNED HAWK as it dashed along the west side of the island after arriving from the mainland to hunt.

This Eastern Kingbird was one of the only en-route migrants seen on 5-4-2014.
One mile east of Gooseberry Neck, at Mass Audubon's Allens Pond Sanctuary, migrants were apparent, but most likely arrived on the 3rd:

This Red-eyed Vireo was foraging at waist level in the middle of a sizable shrubland, where the plants were more leafy, so  probably offered more food items

The following several days will saturate New England with northwest and southeast winds, which should present a contrasting series of days, until late in the week of May 5th - 10th.There is a slight possibility of birds moving on slightly more westerly than northwesterly winds, so stay tuned.

Virtually no migrants moved during the night of the 4th 
due to the widespread northerly winds.
5-6-2014 (some negative data)

Northerly winds over the southeastern New England region after midnight prevented new arrivals from reaching the region. This played out the morning of the 6th, when only a handful of COMMON YELLOWTHROATS, a through-migrant YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, and a previously absent NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD in the predawn glow. Even the omnipresent loons, usually flying from west to east over the island, were variable in their direction of flight... the few that actually bothered to attempt migration, that is.

Migrants departed New Jersey after dawn on WNW breezes, but doubled back to shore
after encountering northerly winds offshore - the same northerly flow out of New England.

5-8 through 5-10-2014
Relatively poor conditions for migration at Gooseberry Island persisted for a few days before the winds shifted out of the southwest and west on the night of 5-11. This series of radar loops is very telling, in that wind direction and rain are variable among the different nights, and show their effects very well in terms of morning flight at Gooseberry Island.

5-8-2014 though 5-11-2014 to be posted, eventually.

Clear skies and westerly breezes escorted birds from New Jersey and Long Island onto the shores of the Southcoast overnight. While thrushes, tanagers, Bobolinks, and other migrants were not observed, the movement of warblers and orioles made up for their absence, with more than 150 individuals of 14 species of warbler observed migrating to the mainland in approximately 3 hours.

Eruption of birds from se Massachusetts, and subsequent entry of birds from New Jersey
into the system between Montauk and Martha's Vineyard. 14 species of warbler, several of both Orioles, and other migrants arrived off of the water for the first half of the morning.
Same eruption of birds from Long Island, and their trek to the east on westerly breezes.

Here's my MassBird report: We had 150+ warblers at Gooseberry Neck in Westport, MA this morning, for the second best spring morning flight in the two years I've been focusing on that place. Flocks of 3 to 20 warblers were launching from the parking lot while small groups of them were foraging in the bushes at the edge of the lot. While looking at bids overhead, flocks of higher warblers were seen at nose-bleed elevation, showing that we were scratching the surface (a little fog or scattered showers would have helped us... but not them). There wasn't as much passerine diversity in the morning flight I would have expected, in that grosbeaks, tanagers, bobolinks, etc. were missing from the flight but the warblers made up for that. How often can you say you stood in pretty much one spot and had 150+ warblers of 14 species... by 9AM?

As you can see above, the night of the 11th and morning of the 12th was insane in terms of Long Island radar! The west winds blew birds from Long Island and New Jersey into Buzzards Bay all night and through the morning, and Lo and behold, there were many radar returns offshore for several hours around dawn. Four of us tallied the following (and more may be added when the 1000+ photos are reviewed - Thanks Dan Logan, for being so good at capturing them in flight). 

Uncertain as to whether this Northern Rough-winged Swallow was a migrant, several added to the fun.
(Photo by Dan Logan)

Several Savannah Sparrows made an appearance together, and eventually cautiously moved along the causeway just as they do during fall migration. (Photo by Dan Logan)

Early on, a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, back lit, worked their way along the causeway to the mainland. (Photo by Dan Logan)

This Eastern Wood Pewee made a few loops overhead as it headed off to shore. (Photo by Dan Logan)

The breast blotches can be seen in this shot. (Photo by Dan Logan)
Thinking that this is another (different) Eastern wood Pewee due to the breast splotches, wing bars, and structure
(Photo by Dan Logan)
One of the most common species on 5-12, many Northern Parulas gave us good looks, like this one Dan Logan got a shot of while in the bushes...

...and this one in the air. Strongly marked males like this tended to be well lit. (Photo by Dan Logan)

Both male and female Black and White Warblers (like this female) hung out in the northernmost couple bushes for great looks and recordings of their flight calls, which they gave often. (Photo by Dan Logan)
One of the male Black-and-White Warblers that provided great recordings of its insect-like call notes (to be posted and linked on Xeno-Canto soon). Photo by Dan Logan.

The majority of Baltimore Orioles this season (for me) have been second-year males like this one. (Photo by Dan Logan)

Several strikingly colored Magnolia Warblers made the leap after giving us great looks. This more modestly plumaged one had a few observers scratching their heads. (Photo by Dan Logan)

Not the most common migrant on Gooseberry, it's always nice to see a Chestnut-sided Warbler at the parking lot
(Photo by Dan Logan).

This Hooded Warbler, my first for morning flight, sent shivers down my spine as it passed over
and eventually dropped in for great looks! Nice shot, Dan Logan! I couldn't take my eyes off of it.

Dan and I had one shot at this oriole, as it headed ashore with a female Baltimore Oriole. it was great to see the size difference between the Baltimore and this Orchard Oriole in flight, as they remained several feet from each other. Another great shot by Dan Logan.

Common Loon (constant stream - some flocks of 10 to 15)
Red-throated Loon (fewer but still a constant stream)
many Scoters of all 3 species
12 Common Tern
many Least Tern
1 Piping Plover
1 Black-bellied Plover
2 Chimney Swift
1 Downy Woodpecker (migrating)
1 Eastern Wood Pewee
1 Willow/Alder Flycatcher
2 Eastern Kingbird
1 White-eyed Vireo (Did not see it migrate and still singing
on island when we left)
N. Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Bank Swallow
1 House Wren
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
2 Gray Catbird (Many more on island, but 2 seen migrating)
22 Northern Parula (Some flocks of 5 or so launching off for the mainland)
1 Tennessee Warbler (heard singing and probable migrant seen - unmarked, light warbler)
12 Yellow Warbler (many more, but 12 seen migrating to mainland)
2 Chestnut-sided Warbler
12 Magnolia Warbler
7 Black-throated Blue Warbler
70 Yellow-rumped Warbler
4 Black-throated Green Warbler
6 Prairie Warbler (recorded flight call for Xeno-Canto)
5 Blackpoll Warbler
6 Black and White Warbler
4 American Redstart
2 Common Yellowthroat (many more on island, but two seen migrating)
1 HOODED WARBLER (First one I've seen at Gooseberry! Identified in flight, and it came back down for great looks.)
25+ Warbler Sp. (a few decent flocks departed early on in poor light, and it seemed that when you tracked or scanned for birds low down, numbers of passerines could be seen at high altitude, headed north, so this number is very low).
6 Savannah Sparrow
1 Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (flushed from bushes next to the trail)
1 Swamp Sparrow
400 Blackbirds
5 Baltimore Oriole
3 Orchard Oriole
1 Purple Finch

An astounding radar loops showing the incursion of norheasterly winds during what started out as a perfectly fine night for migration. Gooseberry had a Least and a Willow Flycatcher, a calling Wood Thrush, and an American Redstart hunkered in the lee of the wind near the towers, and a Black and White Warbler that attempted a crossing was blown way back onto the island. The only other migrant passerine seen was an Eastern Kingbird, also discovered in the lee. Two VIRGINIA RAILS were "ka-DIK"ing out on the island (one near the tip) and Northern Gannets were moving by in decent numbers:

Migrants that started off headed northeast are turned around by a rapidly moving wind front that shifted winds out of the northeast just after midnight.

I predicted a decent arrival of migrants IF the winds remained out of the west for most of the night. Unfortunately, just after midnight, once again the wind shifted from west-southwest to northeast. As is indicated on the two radar loops below, most migrants from quit migration once the winds became unfavorable. In the second radar loop, the migrants from New Jersey appear in the lower left, and move south of Long Island. Once the wind shifts, the migrants drop down to the level of the ocean, and out of the radar cone (hence they vanish from the screen). Had winds remained favorable, migrants would have made it to the shores of southeastern MA in larger numbers than the modest flight we observed.

Here's the list of obvious migrants)
10 Glossy Ibis
1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
1 Acadian Flycatcher
1 Warbling Vireo
4 Northern Parula
1 Blue-winged Warbler
2 Yellow Warblers (still headed north, and several seeming new arrivals)
4 Yellow-rumped Warblers
3 Black-throated Green Warblers
2 Prairie Warblers
12 Blackpoll Warblers (2 females)
1 Black and White Warbler
4 American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat (no migrants)
1 Baltimore Oriole (adult male)
1 Orchard Oriole (female)


 Taunton radar station on 5-21-2014 - You can see a few scattered migrants offshore
near dawn, but the big push of them came early (from Long Island) 
and wasn't backed up by birds from NJ.

This is why the birds didn't make it to MA overnight - A late start for them due to inbound rain
 right at the critical moment of departure.

 Don't get me wrong... There were a handful of migrants at Gooseberry on the morning of the 21st, but we were once again cheated out of a great flight of migrants by rain at dusk in migrant-source locations to our southwest. Looks like the big day at Gooseberry this spring was the 12th. It sure is fun and challenging to try to predict what's going to happen there in the morning, in terms of migrants. Not a huge movement of birds, but a pair of Indigo Buntings is always fun to see, along with an Eastern Wood Pewee, Red-eyed Vireo, Magnolia, Parula, and several Blackpoll Warblers.
Male and female Indigo Buntings were hanging out with each other for a few minutes, chipping, then singing.

making a bid for the mainland, together (but I focused on the male).
5-26-2014 (in the pipeline, but I gotta put 5-27-2014 on first!)

5-27-2014 (radar loops to be added soon)
The bust of 5-26 was enough to make me not even bother reporting out to people that there were some birds moving overnight. I guess you sometimes get it wrong, but not because of the interpretation... the birds sometimes just miss your spot. Well... 5-27 looked even less likely to produce birds than the previous day, and I almost didn't bother going out. The morning started rather slow, with a few migrants of note, such as numbers of Cedar Waxwings headed off the water toward the mainland, and a few migrant warblers (a Black-throated Blue and a Yellow-rumped Warbler). There were a few other things but it was quite slow. As I was strolling down from the first low rise, headed toward my car (to head home) I heard a Blue Grosbeak "chink" to the right of the trail head. As I rounded on the after-second year male, I glimpsed movement at eye level to my left... close! There, right next to the trail head, sitting at the northernmost perch was an adult male Blackburnian Warbler in full sun! I grabbed a few shots, one of which turned out (thankfully), and the bird was gone, along with the Blue Grosbeak and a Tennessee warbler that was just behind the Blackburnian. I watched as they crossed and headed over the mainland. Shortly thereafter, a second year male Blue Grosbeak teed up for me, giving it's deep "Brzzzzt". It dodged back and forth across the northernmost bushes, and launched, alone, into the gap and onto the mainland. Several Blackpoll Warblers, two Magnolia Warblers, and possibly another Black-throated Blue Warbler came to the end of the vegetative line, but decided to forage rather than depart right away. Moments later, a female Blue Grosbeak gave the same "Brzzzzt" note, and briefly teed up on the highest vegetation on the first rise, then departed for the mainland. Finally, while chasing down a threesome of Eastern wood Pewees and a Red-eyed Vireo, a fourth Blue Grosbeak was only heard while on the island, then seen flying out over the parking lot. Here are some of the highlights from the morning, which was unfortunately cut short by duties elsewhere.
I've put the rarest find of the spring at the top of this list of photos from the 27th. No, it's not a Yellow-headed Blackbird chasing that crow. No, it's not a Shiny Cowbird chasing that crow. No, it's not a Boat-tailed Grackle chasing that crow...'s that American Crow! Yes, you can see crows from Gooseberry on a daily basis, but this is the first I've seen actually venture out onto the island... ever! Looking at the way it's being treated, it's no wonder!

Next in line of rarity is NOT this Blue Grosbeak - one of 4 for the day, and perhaps the 10th or so that I've had on the island...
...It's this Blackburnian Warbler that paused just long enough for a couple quick photos, a single abbreviated song, and some zeep notes, before departure along with a Tennessee Warbler and a Blue Grosbeak. I have only seen two spring Blackburnians other than this one, and they are similarly rare in the fall.

At least one, possibly as many as three Black-throated Blue Warblers hung out near in the northern-most bushes for the morning, occasionally singing.

This seems to be the year for spring Chestnut-sided Warblers at Gooseberry. The days when there have been many birds, at least one Chestie has been present. Other days, several have been tallied.

Both male and female (shown here) Blackpoll warblers have been the mainstay, on the days that there are migrants present.

This one gave great views in magnificent lighting and an idyllic setting.

Adding to the idea that it's a late spring, this Yellow-rumped Warbler was one of the first migrants seen this day.

Similarly, it seems that this Rose-breasted Grosbeak should already have moved through. None had been tallied for the duration of the spring, as well as zero Scarlet Tanagers, one thrush (my only Wood Thrush), and zero cuckoos.
Three Eastern Wood Pewees kept me on my toes for the morning. This has been a pretty good spring for Pewees, with several seen on several days.

Of course, since I really try to focus on birds in flight, I'm compelled to add on this flight shot of one of the Blue Grosbeaks as it headed for the mainland.

Not a really obvious movement of birds off the Southcoast (but certainly obvious elsewhere), my guess is that the birds that arrived at about 7AM were flying below the radar, caught in an offshore fog bank. Unfortunately, I had to leave at 8:45, while birds were still filing ashore.

The blocky smudges to the south of Long Island is a fog bank sending back intermittent returns. Some of the best spring fall-out birding in along the east coast involved birds getting disoriented in the fog (see the entry from 2013 on May 15th for an example).

 Unfortunately, the NJ radar station still can't seem to get its act together. It functioned just fine all night on the 26th, but then the data was somehow corrupted since it was stored. You can still see a large midnight departure from southern NJ (the last few frames).

 Same as the NJ radar, the data is corrupt for many of the frames, but you can see the large numbers of departures diminish around 1AM.

Here's the list of highlights from the morning:
Common Loon (still many passing, but 75% in transition plumage)
Red-throated Loon (a few mixed in with the Commons)
Black Scoter (still dozens around)
Surf Scoter (a dozen or so)
1 Red-breasted merganser
Ruddy Turnstone
Black-bellied Plover
3 American Oystercatchers (locals?)
1 Eastern Kingbird
1 Great-crested Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher (probable breeder)
4 Eastern Wood Pewees
71 Cedar Waxwings (one each of the previous 3 visits; I know they're late migrants, but...)
1 American Crow
1 Red-eyed Vireo

1 Northern Parula
1 Tennessee Warbler (heard singing and probable migrant seen - unmarked, light warbler)

3 migrant Yellow Warblers (still migrating, and they'll be headed south in 45 days!!!)
1 Blackburnian Warbler
3 Chestnut-sided Warblers
5 Magnolia Warblers
3 Black-throated Blue Warblers
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler
5 Blackpoll Warblers
Common Yellowthroat (wondering if any are migrants... There was a lot of chasing going on)

4 Blue Grosbeaks (various plumages, and the first three watched until they were over the mainland)
Indigo Bunting (a much more common fall migrant)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (This was the first of these this year! ...and still no Tanagers!)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

2013 Gooseberry Island Southbound Migration - Westport, MA

NEWEST POSTS ADDED TO BOTTOM OF PAGE (Snowy Owl incursion added 12-28-2013)

NEW MIGRATION PATTERN THEORIES POSTED (see maps with yellow arrows, below)

Updated (voice-annotated) video loops to replace the unannotated loops below (in the near future).

The NCDC NEXRAD radar inventory site has had no archived data since 9/11 (hmmmmm!) so many radar loops will need to be pieced together over time via the Plymouth State site (several 90 minute loops... and slowed down to see what is going on), or I will have to use my iPhone to record videos of the radar loops on the UCAR.EDU site. If anyone has any better archive sites, leave a comment!

The position of Gooseberry Neck on the southeastern coast of MA positions it to receive birds blown by northwest winds, while its alignment with Cuttyhunk and Martha's Vineyard provide it with a flow of migrants (southeast to northwest) that have traveled over the Gulf of Maine on their way south, but want to hug the shore (see further maps below).

Gooseberry Neck, Westport, MA is a rather special place to bird. There are only a handful of known places where a birder can watch migrants-by-the-dozens as they funnel through a very small choke point like the Gooseberry parking lot (30 species of warbler in fall 2012/spring2013 migration, concentrated in a several hundred square foot site). These funnel points offer the ability to document migration in a different way than most places in New England, where birders visiting their favorite wetlands, forest patches, or thickets will find migrant birds, but will not actually know whether or not the birds they see are residents, or in stopover mode. Have birds been there several days? Will they be there tomorrow? Next week? Birding the Gooseberry parking lot, the answer is nearly always "No, it's currently on its way! The next people to have a shot at seeing this particular bird are on Block Island, RI, or at Bluff Point in Connecticut."  This funneling of migrants allows birders to document interesting migration events, such as the earliest movements of many species, and the magnitude of migration as it relates to weather patterns. Of additional interest to me is the predictability of migration as it relates to NEXRAD radar images collected overnight and into the morning. This blog post will not only provide readers with photos and lists of birds seen at Gooseberry Neck, it will also step readers through the thought process of my trying to predict the intensity of migration at Gooseberry, and will provide a basic outline of how to read bird migration via radar, with specifics to Gooseberry (there are several great radar ornithology resources available online, both general and site specific... like which covers southern FL). Finally, I pose three migration "funnel" theories specific to Gooseberry, but applicable to other sites and encompassing the broader region.

SOUTHBOUND MIGRATION 2013: Unfortunately,  no one will ever know if the 2013 Massachusetts Yellow Warbler migration began on July 15th, 16th, or 17th, but I guess I'll just have to live with that. The first real radar signs of migration over Buzzard's Bay came on the morning of July 15th, but I was unable to tear myself away for a dawn excursion to Gooseberry for either 7-15 or 7-16.

Traveling in pairs more often than not, Yellow Warblers made up the vast bulk of
early fall migration.

Whatever the case, on the 17th I got a slightly late start, and rode my bike along Beach Road in Horseneck Beach State Reservation (just west of Gooseberry Island). As I went, I tallied a few pairs of Yellow Warblers migrating west along the shore (always pairs). As I entered the causeway at Gooseberry, I noticed another pair of Yellows coming off the island, so I stopped and watched from atop the causeway. I had not packed bug repellent, and in mid July the morning mosquitoes on Gooseberry will virtually carry you away! Waiting for the next wave of Yellow Warblers to arrive off of Buzzards Bay, I also tallied several other groups of other presumed migrants:

4 Common Loons
3 Great Egrets (one group; flew due south, over the water at dawn)
5 Snowy Egrets imm. (One group; flew off the ocean and over Gooseberry)
1 Great Blue Heron (same as Great Egrets)
1 Red Knot
1 S-b Dowitcher
41 Least Sandpipers
Field Sparrow (may have been local)
8 N. Rough-winged Swallows
6 Bank Swallows
Medium swallow roost on island, so Trees and Barns were tough to count.
1 Gray Catbird (bailed on its attempt to cross; may have been a local)

So while I didn't manage to nail down a date, there were southbound migrants passing Gooseberry in decent numbers on July 17th.

Please note that I do not plan on posting comprehensive lists of everything seen in a morning from the Gooseberry parking lot, but will only mention those species that I can be relatively certain are on the move. There's a daily morning commute of swallows, blackbirds, House Finches, and Mourning Doves from Gooseberry to the mainland and back. Gulls and shorebirds also make a daily commute over the island, so most species in those taxa are difficult to tally, though some are straightforward (i.e. Rusty Blackbird). Warblers, thrushes, tanagers, orioles, vireos, flycatchers, buntings, grosbeaks, nuthatches, waders, pipits, larks, swifts, woodpeckers, raptors, and several other taxa can be fairly confidently tallied as nonresident birds that are "on the move."  Those are the birds that make my list (though I do note swallows and shorebirds on and off).

The first relatively busy day came on 7-30, when brisk northwest winds pushed early migrants out over the water, and they filtered back toward shore over the morning. A video loop of the radar from the wee hours until dawn can be seen below (5th radar image down). Unfortunately I had to leave at 7:15, but tallied the following before my departure:

1 Northern Harrier (very close imm.)
9 Mourning Doves (almost certainly migrating together)
1 Chimney Swift
1 Eastern Kingbird
1 Eastern Phoebe (an adult glimpsed twice) as it scooted along the west side of the parking lot toward shore.
1 Blackburnian Warbler
1 American Redstart
1 Magnolia Warbler
1 Prairie Warbler (recorded flight call)
1 Northern Waterthrush
43 Yellow Warblers (almost all in pairs, calling often; Those that were alone, were nearly silent).
1 Horned Lark (flew high, giving a clear "peew" that I couldn't place - out of context, I thought "Longspur" because I often hear longspurs with Horned Larks during winter)
1 Eastern Towhee (transitioning out of juv. plumage; headed for mainland at dawn)

While it is likely that some of these birds could be categorized as post breeding dispersal (Horned Lark and Eastern Towhee), I don't really see that it matters that much. These were birds that were on the move, and utilized Gooseberry Neck as a stopover/funneling resource, and participated in the morning flight. Whether they were continuing south to wintering grounds or not (to me) is immaterial. Those birds that are transitioning from natal territories (etc.) to habitats where they will bulk up to migrate in the fall are still under the pressures experienced during migration (naivete, unfamiliarity, under threat, searching for food resources) , and they act as migrants as they depart the island (or at least try to). Other examples of this include the Downy Woodpecker and Black-capped Chickadee encountered on 7-31:

At least 3 Mourning Doves (moving singly, at cruising speed at high elevation)
6 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
1 Downy Woodpecker (made several attempts to leave the island but failed)
1 Eastern Phoebe
193 Barn Swallows leaving the island at morning twilight (two large flocks at high elevation)
approx. 8 Gray Catbirds (There have been one or two at the lot until today - none migrated)
1 Black-capped Chickadee (made several attempts to leave the island, but failed)
1 unidentified warbler (non-Yellow; grayish, streaked)
1 American Redstart (didn't see it leave the island)
23 Yellow Warblers (not quite so many moving in pairs, but still, most going in pairs)
1 Louisiana Waterthrush
1 female Scarlet Tanager
3 Juv. (streaked) Field Sparrows (absent any adults; didn't leave the island)
1 juv. (streaked) Eastern Towhee (different plumaged bird from yesterday)

Below are three radar loops from the Taunton, MA National Weather Service office, showing a the different magnitudes of migration over the three initial nights (actually, the wee hours of the morning) - the 15th (moderate) 16th (moderate) and 17th (modest).

Interpreting the radar loops: Cool colors are birds moving toward the radar station (the spot in the center of the screen from which it seems everything is radiating) while warm colors are birds moving away from the radar station. Some bats, insects, and "ground clutter" are also involved, so have the potential to confuse the situation, but most of what is detected here are birds (their speed also indicates that they're birds). Speed of the animals detected is in relation to the radar station, and the speeds (in knots) can be seen in the color bar on the of the video. Speed is not an exact measurement here. For example, birds moving rapidly, east to west, when well south of the radar station in Taunton (say, over Buzzards Bay) show up as moving slowly (color wise), since their velocity in relation to -the radar station is slow (not going toward nor away from the station, but tangent to it). The column -of air probed by the radar beam is cone-shaped, with the tip of the cone centered on the radar station. As such, the farther a bird is from the radar station, the higher it needs to be to be detected. In terms of timing, these first 6 radar loops presented are from midnight until 6 in the morning.

There is an interesting series of movements to note about the period right around dawn: Migrants that are higher in the air column descend as the eastern sky brightens. Birds that are even a few hundred feet higher than us on the ground can see the sky brightening just that much earlier than we do. They begin to descend, exiting the cone of air that the radar is covering. This shows up as a shrinking of the splotch of radar-returns. Some of the birds seen descending out of the cone while they're over water, may have overshot the land overnight and may be on their way back toward the mainland. Thus, a large number of radar returns on the screen vanish as warblers, tanagers, thrushes, etc. make a dawn drop, below radar, searching out the nearest cover. When they "wake up" over Buzzards Bay, the nearest cover for many will be Gooseberry Island, to which they navigate throughout the morning. What to watch (hope) for early in the migration season is a rather chaotic scene on radar, where small, scattered "blips" of birds are visible throughout the night, especially just before the predawn drop mentioned above. Later in the season, large smudges of birds cover the coast and near-shore waters during good migration events. Finally, the large morning departure from overnight roosts (gulls, swallows, terns, etc.) can be seen almost every morning. In the first video, there is a large dawn-slug of birds that departs Cuttyhunk and heads west, offshore. The second video shows a morning irruption where a smaller slug of birds aims from the Elizabeth Islands, straight for Gooseberry Island (Confined to the first half of the migration season, it's something to watch for in future migration counts, and to watch for in archived radar loops). During these types of mornings, one can expect a flurry of birds beginning approximately 45, and 90 minutes after dawn, when the Marthas Vinyard and Cuttyhunk departures arrive over the mainland (and since Marthas Vinyard, Cuttyhunk, and Gooseberry are almost perfectly aligned, often they aim straight for Gooseberry, though many more birds continue in various other directions).

INSERTED 9-10-2013
(they go hand in hand)

This link tells you what ha been in the air over the last couple hours:

This site has a couple-day archive (select 0.5 velocity to the left and the start/stop/duration of the radar loop. Then select the station you want [note that Maine and Albany, NY is where you want to direct your attention this time of year, unless reverse migration is going on... then Long Island and New Jersey, as during spring.]):

This site offers the last day and a half, but only in reflectivity (density of migrants in the air), not velocity, so you can see what's in the air, but not in what direction it's moving:

This is the long-term archive, where I got most of the radar loops that are in this blog. The data is more difficult to piece together, but you can see what radar looked like on that spectacular day back in 2001 or even the mid 90s):

Finally, this site is great, in that it shows a relatively short loop of whatever date/time you are interested in. Unfortunately, it doesn't allow you to capture the video (as best I can tell), while the NOAA NCDC site (above) allows you to download a video loop: 
Note that ID should be BOX for Boston, and OKX for Long Island. Albany, NY is ENX, for all my western MA friends.

Here is a link to the most accurate wind models that I've found so far:

This site is a nice graphic of the over-land winds:

This site has real-time buoy and anemometer data that probably drives the above site:,-70.471,7,obs

GOOD LUCK, and let me know if you stumble on any other great resources. What a spectacular time we live in, when we can watch the birds come in and leave, in great masses, or even modest trickles.


7-15-2013 - (Unknown flight at Goosebrry) Light westerly winds overnight: Modest nocturnal movement south with a handful of birds over water at dawn - heavy dawn movement from Cuttyhunk and Martha's Vineyard toward the west; heavy diurnal irruption:

7-16-2013 - (Unknown flight at Gooseberry) Light westerly winds overnight: Modest nocturnal movement south. A handful of early migrant species moved, with few birds stranded over the water at dawn, and little interchange between Martha's Vineyard, Cuttyhunk, and the Southcoast during the diurnal irruption:

7-17-2013 - (Modest flight at Gooseberry) light northwesterly winds allowed early migrants to move, with scattered handfuls stranded over water at dawn. Modest nocturnal movement south, and a fairly exact and moderate interchange between Cuttyhunk, Martha's Vineyard, and the vicinity of Gooseberry during the dawn irruption. This was the day I counted 25 Yellow Warblers, after a fairly late start in the day - a type of day that I would call an "island-source" day, where the islands to the southeast were the main source for the migrants that made it over Gooseberry that morning.

The following three radar loops are alternate, poor, good, poor migration nights (7-29, 7-30, and 8-3, respectively). The southerly winds of 8-1 and 8-2 were not conducive to migration, and as far as I know, no one birded Gooseberry. Two birders I know (Alice Morgan and Bev King) did bird there on the 3rd, and I'm relying on their report of "no migration" for the 3rd. Looking at the radar (third one, below) it would have been easy to predict a poor showing!

7-29-2013 - Poor migration. Westerly winds arrived late in the overnight, and were not consistent over the northeast. Pulses of precipitation kept birds from migrating.

7-30-2013 - Moderate migration (would have been really great if it were later in the migration season). West-northwesterly breezes throughout the early morning provided ideal conditions for migrants to move. Heavy movement region-wide, indicated by the dense blanket of birds covering the Southcoast for most of the morning. Immediately predawn, birds over the water descend, some headed for shore. This was the day I counted 43 Yellow Warblers along with 6 other species in transit. This is a typical "ocean-source" day, in that the source for the migrants is primarily the birds that found themselves over water when they went to get their morning coffee The frenetic quality of the radar returns is what to watch for during migration season, compared to the next (8-3-2013) migration (or non-migration) night.

8-3-2013 - Poor migration over the early morning hours due to southerly winds, and no movement off of Long Island (which can occasionally feed birds to Buzzard's Bay during southbound migration).

Another early migrant that I actually expected to see more of, Prairie Warbler has proven rather scarce, with only two recorded as of August 4th. This hatch-year bird came in to the parking lot alone, then departed with a wave of paired Yellow Warblers.
Not all early migrant warblers were Yellow Warblers. This hatch year Prairie Warbler checked in before crossing to the mainland with 4 Yellow Warblers. It was nice enough to offer a cut of its flight call, now posted online at for all to hear and learn from for free.

I have been carrying a parabolic microphone with me to Gooseberry, and hook it up via cable my iPhone 4 and a Tascam iM2 (Grand total - $70... Yes, I've been recording with a parabola on my iPhone). I managed to get a good sample of the flight calls of the Prairie Warbler as it departed the island. Seeing as numerous other recordists and institutions have chosen to charge $35 or more for their passerine flight calls, I have chosen to post my recordings of flight calls on Xeno-Canto, where they can be accessed for free, and the category "flight call" can be searched within species (unlike Cornell's LNS). The Prairie Warbler and Northern Waterthrush zeep recordings presented below were the first flight calls of these species posted on this excellent resource, and I hope to add many many more this fall. I remember being a student, needing to decide whether to buy bird song/call recordings, or eat, or pay T (subway) fare, or gas. Xeno-canto bridges socioeconomic gulfs, unlike those who continue to enshrine the generally rich, white elitism of the birding community (I am white, and perhaps slightly elitist, but certainly not rich... Ok, off my soap box, and back to migration).

UPDATE (8-18-2013): Here I will post links to all flight calls that I have recorded and uploaded to, so keep checking back! Excuse the mechanical whine in some of them. Recording with an i-phone isn't quite so seamless as I'd have thought.

Prairie Warbler 7-30-2013   XC144030
Prairie Warbler 8-24-2013   XC146315
American Redstart 8-4-2013   XC145610
American Redstart 9-5-2013   XC147175
American Redstart 9-5-2013   XC147173
American Redstart 9-5-2013   XC147172
American Redstart 9-5-2013    XC147170
American Redstart 9-5-2013    XC147064 (starts out Northern Parula, then Redstart joins in)
Northern Parula 9-5-2013    XC147063
Magnolia Warbler 9-5-2013    XC147176
Yellow Warbler 9-5-2013   XC147068
Yellow Warbler 9-5-2013   XC147065
Black-throated Blue Warbler 9-5-2013    XC147067
Black-throated Blue Warbler 9-5-2013    XC147880
Northern Waterthrush 8-15-2013   XC145670
Black-and-White Warbler 8-15-2013   XC145613
Canada Warbler 9-5-2013    XC147212
Cape May Warbler 9-9-2013   XC147633
MacGillivray's Warbler  9-23-2013   XC148567

Chipping Sparrow 9-5-2013    XC147066
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 8-15-2013   XC145612

More to come, so check back often, through October 2013.

8-4-2013 - Intermediately favorable winds pushed a few birds over Gooseberry. Radar indicated a good movement of birds, but it seems that most were shorebirds, with the bulk of birds continuing on over water, and many shorebirds moving over the island, east to west during the post-dawn hours.

28 Yellow Warblers
1 American Redstart
1 Black-and-White Warbler
2 Mourning Doves -seemingly migrants headed to the mainland; high, direct flight beyond the houses on shore.
Four species of swallow included a N. Rough-winged, and several Banks

Northern Mockingbird doesn't often leap to mind when discussing migrant passeriens, but they can be reliably tallied as migrants through the fall on Gooseberry. Together, this and a second mocker feigned attempts to cross to the mainland, then made their move at 6AM (though they may have been in post breeding dispersal, or local birds, my guess is that they were migrants).
A quick snap with the camera allowed me to tally this American Redstart (lower bird) that quickly went up and north with a group of four Yellow Warblers (one seen above).
8-5-2013 - I'm trying to figure out the number of Mourning Doves that are actually moving through, hence the comment and time (and room) spent on this one dove (many others seen crossing, but then moving back onto the island). I noted that even extremely high-moving individuals often drop into the Horseneck Campground or among the houses on Beach Road.

1 Common Loon (adult)
2 Great Blue Herons (arriving off the water)
1 Yellow-crowned Night Heron
1 Coopers Hawk
1 Hudsonian Godwit
3 Killdeer
1 Mourning Dove (I followed this high-elevation dove closely, and it flew as far as half way between the Horseneck Campground and main beach, at cruising speed, before I was distracted by something else).
1 Eastern Kingbird
1 Cliff Swallow (in the mix with a large flock of Tree, Bank, and Barn Swallows)
1 Black-capped Chickadee (failed in several attempts at crossing)
2 Northern Mockingbird
22 Yellow Warblers (almost all in pairs)
2 Prairie Warblers 3 American Redstart
2 Northern Waterthrush
1 Waterthrush sp.
1 (predawn) warbler call similar to Canada Warbler

Dan Logan got this great shot of a pair of Northern Waterthrush, as they settle a dispute while migrating across to the mainland (perhaps this is why they don't seem to migrate in pairs as much as Yellows). Often it's best to just take the shot (or series of shots), such that birds can be identified later. Unlike the days of film cameras, you're not wasting much by getting blurry or grainy pictures, but the payoff can be a confirmed identification (priceless!).


Below are several maps that crudely pose theories of migration funneling over Gooseberry. Like most things in the biome, it's certainly a combination of these along with others that have been left out, but I pose that this is the general gist of things in different weather scenarios.

Island source migration over Gooseberry: Theoretical movement of birds during a northerly wind, or calm conditions. This seems to be a late summer patter that falls apart in late September. After arriving in the region from Nova Scotia and Maine, the bulk of migrants sweep over Cape Cod and onto the islands, and continue west, along the coast. Many migrants from Nova Scotia make a beeline across the Gulf of Maine to southern Maine, and other birds from well inland arrive in southeastern Maine (with 5,000-bird counts in some morning flights). These birds cut the southeastern Massachusetts corner, arriving near Bluff Point, in CT (with 5,000-bird counts in some morning flights), and continue on from there, skipping eastern MA altogether. Gooseberry gets the dregs of these birds (high warbler counts of 100 or so) that have taken a more southerly route, to the Cape and Islands. You will notice most birds depart the Cape and Islands, and skip the mainland altogether. During island-source mornings, migrants leaving the islands arrive at Gooseberry in two waves (one from Cuttyhunk, then Martha's Vineyard; See the last few frames of the third radar map of this blog), with the occasional modest dawn flight leaving Gooseberry immediately before dawn. Island-hoppers arrive approximately 45 minutes, then 90 minutes after dawn flight at Gooseberry (depending on headwinds, etc.). Things often die down by 8AM on island-dominated days, however, birds departing the islands can be detected by radar and appear as blue or green blobs off the southern tip of Gooseberry. Within a few minutes, flurries of birds appear in the thickets and overhead. Once the blue and green splotches vanish from off the tip of Gooseberry, birding activity quickly dies off.

Ocean Source migration over Gooseberry: Theoretical movement of birds during a more westerly overnight wind (supported by radar observation). Occurring more often during the late summer and early fall, birds funnel due south, along the coast from Maine overnight, and are swept over the ocean by northwest winds. Some reorient and continue south (sufficient reserves to migrate over the ocean) while others find their way back to land, appearing as scattered radar specks out over the mouth of Buzzard's Bay and beyond. For a lesser version of this, see the first two radar videos on this blog, and compare the 8-24 and 8-25 videos below. Many migrants that make it to the islands eventually continue on, with some passing over Gooseberry on their way to the mainland. Many that find themselves over open water, trickle in from miles out to sea. During days like this, migrants can pass over Gooseberry into the early afternoon, with some days also providing two heavy pulses of birds departing in dawn flight from from the islands.

Morning Irruption scenario: Even on the slowest of migration nights, migrants arrive over gooseberry, and they can be detected as large pulses of swallows and other birds irrupting from the mainland and islands. Predawn irruptions of roosting swallows mushroom out from massive roosts, such as those in Acoaxet and Little Compton (see video under "A Swallow Interlude", below). As the front of swallows passes overhead, there is a tendency for a spattering of migrants to arrive on Gooseberry. As soon as the swallow-front passes, the other migrants tend to slow, often to zero on the slowest mornings. This has been observed dozens of times this season alone. Presumably, morning-flight migrants head out over the water at the same time as the dawn flight of swallows. They may remain with the swallows as a flock dynamic, or simply fly at the same rate of speed. However, if a southbound migrant were to do the latter, why would it arrive over Gooseberry when the swallows irrupt from more westerly locations? FYI, it took visiting Gooseberry on many radar-detected slow migration days to actually piece this together. When there are few to no nocturnal migrants to pick through, other patterns become observable.

8/10 and 8/11... Contrasting radar and migrations for both mornings (radar loops to follow):

8-10-2013 - (poor migration) Clearing skies and passage of a front shifted winds out of the northwest, only too late for any appreciable migration to occur. I had e-mailed several folks about the morning of the 10th possibly having a few birds (if the front passed early enough) but that the eleventh was going to almost certainly be a good morning. Dawn (8-10) at Gooseberry produced favorable conditions for birders, but not birds, as predicted.

6 Yellow Warblers (most didn't even cross to the mainland)
1 American Redstart (wasn't seen crossing)

8-11-2013 - (best day yet) Continuing northwest winds over New England and early indications of movement out of Maine suggested that the morning flight was going to offer some excitement. Another predawn scarlet tanager called as it flew over the causeway, and an unidentified migrant passerine called in the predawn glow. A Black-throated Green Warbler and American Redstart were the only bids seen during dawn flight, but radar indicated that birds were scattered out over the water, including what was probably a slug of migrant shorebirds that continued south. Predawn through 8AM, I tallied the following migrants.

2 Green Herons
2 Great Blue Herons
6 Snowy Egrets
6 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
1 Eastern Kingbird
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (first migrant of the season)
10 Cedar Waxwing

2 unidentified warblers
40 Yellow Warblers
7 American Redstart
1 Black-throated Green Warbler
1 Blackburnian Warbler
2 Northern Waterthrush
5 Louisiana Waterthrush (4 unidentified waterthrush)
4 Prairie Warblers
A Scarlet Tanager

Only a dozen Barn Swallows departed the overnight roost at the tip of Gooseberry, up by 2 from the 10th, but down by at least 180 over the last couple weeks.

Thanks to photographer Dan Logan for catching many of these birds in flight, so we can confirm which species they are. Waterthrush can be tough while in flight! They tend to fly more directly, and are more rapid than other warblers. this Northern Waterthrush (dense, bold streaks across the chest; lightly streaked throat) was just one of 11 waterthrush that moved on 8-11.

Here's a Louisiana Waterthrush that moved shortly after dawn on 8-11.

It seems that Cliff Swallows have moved into eastern Massachusetts, with several being found on the Southcoast, like this immature bird. (Thanks Dan Logan, for the great shot!)

8-13 to 8-15 - An informative set of radar data.
The last few days have been informative in the predictability of migrants funneling through Gooseberry. The radar at dawn on 8/13 showed a large gray smudge over the ocean that suggested there were many many birds moving, but closer inspection showed that the radar targets were almost standing still (hence the gray color - see the speed index to the right in the video below). As suspected, it was a blanket of fog, not birds, and sure enough, very little showed up at Gooseberry (7 Yellow Warblers and a Prairie Warbler). Three Mourning Doves flew off the island and continued northwest until out of sight, practically over the Westport River (so probably migrating). There was a large predawn flock of Barn Swallows at nose-bleed elevation, all headed northeast. Don't get me wrong, fog can be a real asset at Gooseberry (see the blog post about spring 2013... the best days were foggy). Conditions need to be just right for fog to work in your favor (and against the birds).

during the wee hours of 8-14-2013, the clearing front moved through a bit too late to escort any migrants in, and the results could have been predicted (and were, at 3:30AM). While slow, the morning produced 388 Barn Swallows moving northeast off the island at dawn, I had my first Common Nighthawk of the season, and a Stilt Sandpiper fly by, so while there were no birds, it was rewarding.

(8-15-2013 Unfortunately, the loop for the 15th was never posted, stating "no data" though it was available during the overnight, when it was apparent that a relatively strong migratory movement had taken place)

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds constantly defend their territories against all comers. On a daily basis sparrows, cowbirds, terns, shorebirds, swallows, and warblers (like this Yellow Warbler) are chased sometimes for minutes to nose-bleed altitudes. The question remains... WHY!?!?!? This seems to be the biggest waste of energy for these migrants.
8-15-2013 - (moderate migration, as predicted by overnight radar, to be posted soon) - Overnight radar suggested that there were more migrants on the move following the previous dawn's cold front and northwest winds. The radar was quite lively, with large numbers of echos departing Maine and central New England in the evening of 8-14. Given the ability of passerines to travel approximately 200 miles per night (with a tail wind), they would end up on our doorstep in the predawn hour of the morning. Sure enough, at dawn, there were still birds in the air and over Buzzards Bay. That said, I actually expected more than what arrived by 7:45, when I had to depart:

1 Great Blue Heron
21 American Black Duck (group of 9, then group of 12 flying east to west, out of sight along the coast)
2 Killdeer
1 Least Flycatcher (Photo below)
an Eastern Phoebe
2 Eastern Kingbird
1 Cliff Swallow
approx. 500 Barn Swallows (up from 12 just four days ago) - These also came off of the water, I believe too high to have come off of an evening roost. The splotches of birds over the water (as indicated by radar) may have been this mass of high-elevation migrants. Here's an interesting link about migrant swallows detected at night:
2 Chimney Swift
3 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (chased by hummer for an extended time, to stratospheric elevations; Photo of the gnatcatcher, below)
2 Northern Waterthrush ( catalog # XC145670)
4 Waterthrush sp.
1 American Redstart
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
27 Yellow Warblers
Black-and-White Warbler ( catalog # XC145613)
a Bobolink
a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (persistently gave its flight call; perched close out in the open for minutes;, catalog # XC145612 , and XC145611 Perched photo below)
9 Cedar Waxwing
1 Eastern Towhee (prob. a local)

Other shorebirds that seemed to be moving included 3 Whimbrel, 2 Willets, several Semipalmated Sandpipers, several dozen Least Sandpipers, 3 Short-billed Dowitchers, and a Lesser Yellowlegs. It seems that Laughing Gulls have moved into the area in fairly large numbers.

The season's first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher gains elevation as it's chased by a Hummingbird.

Season's first Rose-breasted Grosbeak giving its "wheer" flight call.

A classic Least Flycatcher arrived late, and made me want to stay a bit longer.

 A Brief Radar Interlude: Ghosts of Radar and Migration Past
This resource:

provides the ability to retrieve archived NEXRAD radar images and loops going back many years. It takes a little time and you need to download the NOAA Weather and Climate Toolkit to view the files, but it may be worth the time and effort to try to determine if good days at your favorite birding spot can be elucidated from the overnight radar images. Here are some radar loops from some of the best birding days at Gooseberry over the last several years (gathered from Massbird archives and personal good days there). More archived radar loops will be added under here for some of the better migration mornings of fall, 2012.:





Back to current migration (southbound 2013)
Please note that I am amassing all of the recordings of flight calls in a section above (just below the photo of the perched Prairie Warbler) under the heading, "RECORDINGS OF FLIGHT CALLS"  As I post new migration counts, I will drop crumbs that indicate when a new zeep note is added to that section, including the species name and date.

Ok, pretty picture time:
One of two Green Herons moving around the island during the early morning.

The latter days of August, 2013 seem to finally be providing the Southcoast with migrants, though fewer than I'd have expected. On 8-24-2013, the number of migrant passerines shot up from very paltry numbers the previous week. Terns and Laughing Gulls increased dramatically during the week, from nearly none to literally thousands of Laughing Gulls passing during the 19th and 20th, and scattered flocks of a few, to a few dozen terns. On the 20th, migrant passerines did pass in modest numbers (still dominated by Yellow Warblers), but while watching for them I counted as many as 104 Laughing Gulls passing per minute, lasting for more than 90 minutes. All of these gulls were headed east to west. Small numbers of Black Terns finally arrived, and are hanging out with sometimes dozens of Forster's Terns. Finally, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds moved during this week, with 12 making the jump to the mainland, while at least 5 more remained around the parking lot and trail head.

8-20-2013 - (Radar indications were poor; Small cells of light precipitation passed the region, looking like birds) Only a few migrant passerines passed on the 20th, including:

8 Chimney Swifts
182 Barn Swallows in 2 waves at dawn
2 Bank Swallows
3 Northern Rough-winged Swallows
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 Unidentified warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
14 Yellow Warblers
2 American Redstarts
2 Bobolinks

The two days before this, several of us had similarly low(er) numbers, and only included a Prairie Warbler and White-rumped sandpiper in the mix. Southerly winds stopped migration in its tracks until winds pulled out of the north during the predawn hour or so of 8-23 - too late for any movement. Sure enough, with winds remaining out of the north (inland northwest breezes, and coastal northeast breezes funneling birds toward the southcoast). The overnight and early morning radar on the 24th was very active with migrants moving over the Southcoast, Cape Cod, and Islands.

Radar indications were poor, but there were a few migrants including:
8 Chimney Swifts
182 Barn Swallows in 2 waves at dawn
2 Bank Swallows
3 Northern Rough-winged Swallows
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 Unidentified warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
14 Yellow Warblers
2 American Redstarts
2 Bobolinks

The last two days several of us had similarly low(er) numbers, and only included a PRAIRIE WARBLER and White-rumped sandpiper in the mix. The first really good day has yet to occur, but it should happen soon. - See more at:

This morning's morning flight from Gooseberry Island, Westport, MA wasn't spectacular, but there were times when a half dozen warblers were in the air overhead at one time (at least 66 migrant warblers, representing 6 species, not including the non-migrant Common Yellowthroats). Radar had indicated that there were birds over the water, and sure enough, just after dawn until about 7:30AM, the activity was pretty high, then things quieted, but birds continued to move until 9, when the last of the 9 or so people left. I'll get right to the migrant highlights:

18 Double-crested Cormorant apparently migrating
Whimbrel 11
1 Least Tern
1 Northern Harrier (pos. 2 different juvs)
1 Peregrine Falcon
1 Coopers Hawk (adult; same as prev. days?)
5 Ruby-throated Hummingbird seen crossing (probably missed a few)
19 Chimney Swift
4 Mourning Doves (four single birds crossed and continued over the Horseneck forest, so migrants?)
2 Eastern Phoebe
1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
8 Bank Swallow (probably low)
1 Thrush (predawn, probably a Wood Thrush)
4 Warbler species (will check photos to confirm ID)
4 Cape May Warblers (incl 2 rather yellow and one very drab)
38 Yellow Warblers
6 Prairie Warblers
3 Magnolia Warblers
5 American Redstarts
4 Northern Waterthrush
2 Waterthrush Sp.
4 Bobolink

Flocks of 30+ terns were over Buzzards Bay, and those who made it out to the southern tip of the island reported a few more of the same warblers, and a large flock of terns on the rocks (including Forster's and Black Tern). We had several Forster's pass over the parking lot. The Laughing Gull and Barn Swallow movements were greatly reduced today compared to this past week.
- See more at: (supplemented post to MassBird; GREAT radar indications with perfect, light northerly winds) - This morning's morning flight from Gooseberry Island, Westport, MA wasn't spectacular, but there were times when a half dozen warblers were in the air overhead at one time (at least 66 migrant warblers, representing 6 species, not including the Common Yellowthroats, which weren't seen migrating). Radar had indicated that there were birds over the water, and sure enough, just after dawn until about 7:30AM, the activity was pretty high, then things quieted, but birds continued to move until 9, when the last of the 9 or so birders left. Migrant highlights:

18 Double-crested Cormorants apparently migrating
11 Whimbrel
1 Western Sandpiper (called while flying over the parking lot)
1 Least Tern
1 Northern Harrier (pos. 2 different juvs)
1 Peregrine Falcon
1 Coopers Hawk (adult; same as prev. days?)
5 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds seen crossing (probably missed a few)
19 Chimney Swifts
4 Mourning Doves (four single birds crossed and continued over the Horseneck forest, so migrants?)
2 Eastern Phoebes

2 Eastern Kingbirds
1 Northern Rough-winged Swallows
8 Bank Swallows (probably low)
1 Thrush (predawn, probably a Wood Thrush)
4 Unidentified Warbler sp. (will check photos to confirm ID)
4 Cape May Warblers (incl 2 rather yellow and one very drab)
38 Yellow Warblers
6 Prairie Warblers (one recorded - xeno-canto catalog # XC146315)
3 Magnolia Warblers
5 American Redstarts
4 Northern Waterthrush
2 Waterthrush Sp.
4 Bobolinks

Flocks of 30+ terns were foraging over Buzzards Bay, and those who made it out to the southern tip of the island reported a few more of the same warblers, and a large flock of terns on the rocks (including Forster's and Black Tern). We had several Forster's pass over the parking lot. The Laughing Gull and Barn Swallow movements were greatly reduced today compared to this past week.

Dan Logan got this great shot of these two American Redstarts migrating to the mainland shortly after dawn.

Here are the two very telling radar loops that I recorded with a video camera off of the laptop, since the archived loops aren't available for several days (so bear with me; I can also add commentary easier this way). The first is from the night of the 23rd/24th, and shows a really strong migration starting along the coast, north of Boston (cool colors are birds that are inbound towards Taunton, MA, while warm colors are outbound birds, flying away from the Taunton radar station), then birds start arriving off of the Gulf of Maine and move across the South Shore, Cape and Islands, and across the Southcoast. This is a great example of an island-dominated source for birds passing over Gooseberry, though the birds that ended up over Buzzard's Bay provided a trickle of ocean source migrants over the island. Note the number of birds over Buzzards Bay during predawn (the long shaft of pink flashes to the east - sunrise). Note the slugs of birds leaving the Cuttyhunk and Martha's Vineyard after sunset (when the long shaft of pink flashes to the west from Taunton). While Gooseberry is a great spot for the mainland, the majority of migrants continue from west or southwest, with a small number diverting north toward Gooseberry. Interestingly, the final several frames of the second video show a large mass of birds inexplicably moving west to east toward Cuttyhunk (see the last few maps of the spring 2013 migration blog page to view a similar mass relating to a flight of Common Loons). The busiest 60 or so seconds during the morning of the 25th was when this eastbound slug moved off shore, clipping Gooseberry, and within a minute or so, we noted 7 Chimney Swifts, and had a pulse of Yellow Warblers with a Prairie Warbler and waterthrush moving all at once. These small packets of birds seem to have the potential to turn rather poor days into marginally better ones.


8-25-2013 - Birds depart Massachusetts (strong flight until 1AM), but are not replaced from New Hampshire and Maine, where winds remained light to moderate out of the south (hence the diminishing magnitude of migration after 1AM). Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont winds remained calm or lightly out of the north.

Gooseberry produced a few migrants including a ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, my first migrant COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (2), a CANADA WARBLER chipping, 3 AMERICAN REDSTARTS, a PRAIRIE WARBLER, and my first migrant RED-EYED VIREO. Also in the dense fog, a flock of 8 Black Terns flew over the island and there were probably a few more off the east side of the island (could hear them).

Rain in central New England (incl. Southern Maine) overnight, and highly variable winds across New England (in speed and direction) escorted migrants out of southeastern MA without replenishment from Maine/Canada.  Today was far slower, with a SNOWY EGRET, 3 CHIPPING SPARROWS, and a PRAIRIE WARBLER.


Radar irrupted early last night and remained active for the duration of the night/morning. At dawn, a typical ocean-source scenario unfolded, with a fairly constant flow of migrants funneling through Gooseberry (compared to the dual-pulse of island-source migrants... Cuttyhunk, then Martha's Vineyard). I was at the Gooseberry lot while it was still dark, but birds didn't start calling until the sky brightened considerably. Then the Veerys and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks started calling as they passed overhead. Radar showed many birds over the water, and though I could only stay until 8am, I managed to tally the following migrants:

1 Common Loon
55 Great Egrets (Rt 88 roost to Allen's Pond)
23 Snowy Egrets (Rt 88 roost to Allen's Pond)
29 Glossy Ibis (Rt 88 roost to Allen's Pond)
2 Northern Harrier
1 Peregrine Falcon
5 Veerys (predawn, w/one remaining, calling)
5 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (2 predawn, one later)
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Least Flycatcher
5 Unid Warbler species
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler (male; cardinal-like call note)
2 Cape May Warblers (one flyover, one perched)
7 Northern Parulas
12 Yellow Warblers
2 Blackpoll Warblers (first two if the season)
4 Prairie Warblers
1 Wilson's Warbler (bailed on its attempt to cross, then gave great views)
1 Canada Warbler
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler (pos 2)
14 American Redstarts
1 Black-and-White Warbler
2 Northern Waterthrush
1 Louisiana Waterthrush
1 Red-eyed Vireo
2 Scarlet Tanagers
5 Baltimore Irioles
23 Cedar Waxwings
3 Chipping Sparrows
1 Sparrow sp. (need to compare recordings; Buffy bird... Probably a young Ammodramus)
9 Bobolinks

Many of these migrants early in the season are adults, like this Black-throated Blue Warbler photographed by Dan Logan
It also seems that many birds are passing in pairs (two were together here), which may be coincidental, or could be paired adults, or adults accompanied by young of the year (as most passerines split broods between parents).
Check out the call notes of this bird in the list of recordings below the photo of the Prairie Warbler (8-3-2013, above)

Only a few warblers show the yellow belly and white undertail coverts. This Canada Warbler called as it left the thickets with several other warblers, so Dan Logan was able to zero in on it as it passed.
Check out the call notes of this bird in the list of recordings below the photo of the Prairie Warbler (8-3-2013, above). 

Northern Parulas give a distinct down-slurred "tsew" for a zeep call. Here, paired Northern Parulas zeeped as they headed for the mainland. Photo by Dan Logan.
Check out the call notes of this bird in the list of recordings below the photo of the Prairie Warbler (8-3-2013, above).
As mentioned in the Canada Warbler caption, above, few warblers show the white undertail and yellow belly. Prairie Warblers such as this one show far slighter white on the undertail coverts, but the largely white outer tail feathers and the small black splotch on the neck indicate that this is a Prairie Warbler. Flight notes indicated as much.

I couldn't leave these out, even though I didn't even see the bird itself. Apparently a rail flew in and perched in some low bushes, and Dan Logan was able to grab a couple off-the-hip shots of it before it did what rails often do... HIDE. Description of size and the (probably) year-long presence of a Virginia Rail (or sometimes 2) in the area suggests that this is that species... though it doesn't look like the richest-colored individual.
I was very surprised to experience a relatively slow morning at Gooseberry. Both pre and post dawn radar suggested that there were many birds over the water, but the anticipated heavy push of birds to the mainland never materialized. The birds that did show up came in a constant dribble off of the water, in a typical ocean-source scenario. Though the radar was live with birds, the large mass of migrant warblers, vireos, thrushes, etc. never really materialized, though the diversity of birds was pretty good. The mass of birds that did come overhead, seemingly timed perfectly with the arrival of birds from off the coast, was a large, widely-scattered blanket (not stream nor cloud) of Tree Swallows. This has happened the last few mornings (post good-migration nights). This morning, scanning down to the east and west, off shore, swallows were nearly evenly spaced in a large sheet for at least an hour. What can I say? These are my observations... and lack thereof, of any large flock emerging from a roost at the south end of the island at any time around dawn. Swallows are supposed to leave the nocturnal migration to the rest of the avian world, but it sure seems like they have been arriving off the water (as has been the case in previous morning observations).

6 Common Loons
Double-crested Cormorants were moving in small flocks
2 Great Cormorants (adults mixed in with 5 D-c Cormorants)
2 Merlin
2 Peregrine Falcons
1 Northern Harrier
4 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
1 Eastern Phoebe
2 Warbling Vireos
1 Blue-headed Vireo (Steve Arena saw)
1 House Wren (didn't see cross)
1 American Robin
2 Northern Mockingbirds
13 Cedar Waxwings
1 Tennessee Warbler (tentative, for photo review)
13 Yellow Warblers (tough to count, since many left for the mainland and doubled back)
2 Cape May Warblers
3 Prairie Warblers (same as Yellows)
1 Palm Warbler (yellow, eastern type)
1 Pine Warbler
1 Blackpoll Warbler
18 American Redstarts
1 waterthrush sp.
1 Canada Warbler (heard)
2 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
1 Dickcissel (distictive call, heard once, overhead)
26 Bobolink
Blackbirds were moving in small numbers
4 Baltimore Orioles

A Swallow Interlude:
The morning of the 7th was slow morning, but very telling in terms of detecting bird departure and arrival by radar on a relatively small scale, showing that even slow days at Gooseberry can be enlightening. Southwesterly winds kept birds down overnight, and the winds were strongest along the coast (12 mph). I arrived late (5:45; half an hour before dawn) and heard only a few overhead migrant Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Bobolinks - reflective of the lack of radar echos over Buzzards Bay. Dawn flight consisted only of a single waterthrush, and warbler totals for the morning included only 11 Yellow Warblers, a Northern Parula, and 4 American Redstarts. The raptor show was fairly nice, with 3 Peregrines (cavorting together), 2 Merlins, an American Kestrel, a Cooper's Hawk, Ospreys, and a Northern Harrier.

Here's one interesting part... First, though I searched for swallows overhead, there was no predawn movement of swallows. There were no roosting flocks of swallows on the island either. Yet at 6:15, a large, localized irruption of radar echos emerged from Little Compton and out over the Southcoast, with most birds headed southeast, away from shore and toward the islands. I searched the skies and immediately stumbled across a Tree Swallow... then another... and more. They were widely scattered and at nose-bleed elevation already and all were headed south, offshore. The following video is my interpretation of the radar images, supplemented with observation. You will notice large swallow roosts throughout southern New England, and (at least in the southern CT case), operate in a similar fashion, with birds using Long Island and returning in the evening - direction detectable by radar. They seem to move from roost to roost, which makes sense. If 50,000 swallows need to eat, they can't return to the same hunting grounds day after day.

A relatively small flock of approximately 3,000 Tree Swallows roost on the sand at 6:45 in the morning, possibly after their arrival in Provincetown from the shores of Marshfield, 25 miles west. 

Interestingly enough, morning swallow irruptions appearing on radar show that many swallows that I see out on the dunes of Provincetown actually roost at night (at least some nights) near Marshfiled, crossing Cape Cod Bay to forage out on the Cape on a regular basis. Similarly, radar returns of a roost along the Connecticut coast also shows them to irrupt in the morning and forage out on Long Island during the day, only to return for the evening. I wonder what percentage of swallows we see moving around throughout coastal New England are concentrated in only a few roosts.

On another note, September 7th provided another great example of encountering birds that have just been viewed on radar as they arrive off the water. The lack of birds due to the a poor migration conditions overnight (WSW winds) made any pulses of birds more readily detectable. The first pulse consisted of 7 Yellow Warblers and a pair or 3 American Redstarts. The second pulse consisted of several Yellow Warblers and a Northern Parula. There were virtually no other migrant passerines moving through during the morning. It will be interesting to see just how often the arrival of migrants off the water will be predictable this fall.

Also encountered on 9-7, a trifecta of falcons, with three Peregrines at the Gooseberry towers, two close Merlins, and an American Kestrel. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird only chased one of the Peregrines, and the Kestrel... feisty little buggers!

Three Peregrine Falcons messed around with each other over the towers on the island. Two broke off and headed for the parking lot, where they messed around some more, then charged after some shorebirds. 

Between the 9th and the 14th, winds and birding Gooseberry were poor for pushing numbers of migrants against the Southcoast, though there are always birds around (I only made it out for 9-9 and 9-11). Two pre-dawn American Bitters were a surprise, and a Black Skimmer was new for the Gooseberry list!!! The pulses of birds passing through the parking lot were well timed in relation to individual pixels colored green/blue, indicating northbound radar returns (primarily swallows, but other species mixed in). A few minutes after detecting a cool-colored pixel or two offshore, things picked up briefly at the Gooseberry parking lot. It was very interesting, awaiting the slugs of birds offshore - to be surprised by Cape May, Yellow, Black-and-White Warblers, and American Redstarts dashing about the parking lot. They always seemed to accompany a smattering of scattered swallows. I believe some migrant warblers depart with the morning irruption of swallows, egrets, blackbirds, etc. during southwest winds, and head out over water, intending to continue south, but are forced back by unfavorable winds. Radar returns suggest this.

Cape May Warblers seem to pass Gooseberry fairly often, and tend to pass early in the morning. Their higher-pitched zeep note and short tail are good identification characteristics. On 9-9, the first three warblers of the day were Cape Mays (two shown here). Most tend to be drab individuals. Check out the list of recorded call notes to hear the bottom of these photographed Cape May Warblers ( XC147633).

Confessions of a flight-shot birder: For some reason, I sometimes convince myself that an in-flight American Redstart is, instead, a Magnolia Warbler. The dark terminal half of the tail is good for either, and when considering a drabber Magnolia and brighter yellow Redstarts in low, early-morning sun, they can be confusing in the air. There are a few things to help discern them, like the yellowish bar on the underwing of the Redstart (if you can see it), and a central band of black from the terminal band on the tail to the undertail coverts (dark central tail feathers and central covert feathers), though this band is sometimes covered by pale feathers, or is otherwise difficult to see in a moving bird, giving the tail a black-terminal-banded look. Redstarts are lanky, and longer-tailed, which helps, but I still find myself standing there, neck craned, trying to figure out if that third bird among the for-sure Redstarts is a Maggie or a Start. Call is the clincher, but that can be tough to tell when several scattered birds go up at once in low-angle sun. Also, I just looked at a spectrograph of an aberrant, relatively flat American Redstart vocalization that I recorded... and initially called a Magnolia in the field. I was uncomfortable with the call, and photos set me straight. I think I'm probably batting about 95 to 98 percent on correctly calling Redstarts (they are relatively easy), but I still find myself blowing those calls once in a while (on the higher, early-morning birds, especially). Phew! Glad I got that off my chest!

During slow periods, raptors, like this Northern Harrier can keep you busy.

Prairie Warblers have been rather abundant, and photogenic this year...
For example, here are two getting ready to make the leap to the mainland.
Yellow Warblers have been abundant, and similarly willing to be photographed...
So why not make things easy, and be photographed together?!?!?
I'm not going to put anything in this caption. You're going to have to come up with it yourself.

I think the Prairie Warbler was feeling a little uncomfortable, with the attentiveness of the Black-and-White. I'd take off too!
First-of-the-season Red-breasted Nuthatch making it's bid for the mainland.
I'm rather concerned about the low numbers of migrants passing Gooseberry, but the first good day at Bluff Point in CT gives me hope (1,500 warblers this morning, representing 19 species).

Several of us had a pair of marginally good days (9-14 and 9-15), but unfortunately the radar images are not available for those nights. While the initial images from both Taunton radar and southern Maine looked incredibly good, the bulk of the birds shifted toward the west when they reached the border of Massachusetts. Winds were west, yet they had diminished to a point where they were irrelevant to the progress of migratory birds. Thus, at approximately 3AM on the 14th and 1AM on the 15th, the Taunton radar died, and migration over Gooseberry was far less than it ought to have been. However, there were a few new species for the season, including Indigo Bunting and Gray-cheek Thrush, which flew in at pretty much the correct time for a slug of birds leaving Martha's Vineyard to arrive on the mainland, especially bucking the strong westerly winds that hugged the shore (but remained immediately off the coast, not effecting the passage of migrants over land).

Female-type Wilson's Warbler, one of two that remained on the island on the 15th.

The first several Palm Warblers moved through between the 14th and the 20th of September (Photo by Steve Arena).

Some days you see more perched birds than others. This adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler made several attempts at crossing to the mainland, giving me a reasonably good look.

After several Gray-cheeked Thrush called as they passed over Gooseberry during the morning drop, this one arrived with a Veery about 90 minutes after dawn, and after a lengthy lull in migrants (so this bird was presumably a morning flight participant from Martha's Vineyard, that thankfully decided to head for the mainland).
9-16-2013 found several of us gazing up at a flock of 5 Caspian Terns winging their way west over the towers on the island, while the season's first White-throated Sparrow, and a migrant Downey Woodpecker were on the island.

Between the 17th and the 20th, several interesting things happened in the radar and bird world (of Gooseberry) in the last few days. First, all birds (well, most birds) left the Massachusetts coast, and headed west, away from the coast, bucking light westerly winds (radar loop to come, when I can find an intact archive of it or create on myself). Then, on the mornings of the 19th and 20th, birds returned to the Southcoast, again, bucking southerly breezes. Several morning flights of a dozen warblers launched into the air on the way to the mainland, and a Saltmarsh Sparrow hung out in the grassy area to the southeast of the parking lot. During the morning of 9-20, against expectations, a modest movement of birds occurred, with 15 warblers of 6 species, and a Gamble's White-crowned Sparrow appeared in the parking lot.

Among other things, the yellow bill of this White-crowned Sparrow indicated that it's a western Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow - a bird that likely arrived in the east with a wave of western strays, such as a Western Wood Pewee, Bell's Vireo, Lazuli Bunting, and several other western species in the last few days.

9-21-2013 Poor (south) winds kept most birds from moving anywhere but north, away from Gooseberry. However, as usual, even the slow mornings provide rewarding birding experiences. Not only was the Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow still present, but here's a photo of an Alder Flycatcher that was occasionally giving it's "pip" call.

We also had our first-of-the-season American Pipit.

Here's a brief video description of the daytime Taunton NEXRAD radar from the 21st, which plainly explains why there were absolutely no waves of birds 45, nor 90 minutes after Gooseberry's dawn flight:

A relatively well defined, strong front moved through Sunday morning, the 22nd, followed by long-fetch, moderate northwest winds into the night. Birds irrupted overnight from Maine and Taunton, but once again the bulk of migrants made it past us by 4AM. When I awoke at 5, the radar had cooled off considerably from it's insane pace of the previous 6 hours. It's hard to imagine what it would have been like if they had dropped in while the bulk were overhead... I'm thinking the passage of a similarly strong front at 10pm or so would be the key to a mind-blowing day. Even so, we ended up with approximately 60 warblers making the leap from Gooseberry Island to the mainland, but missed out on identifying a good 25 or 30 of them, since 5 to 8 would often go up at once. Recordings show that the vast majority of them were Blackpolls, but some other goodies were mixed in (and there are still some photos to go through). The best bird of the day was one that gave an interesting call note from a large bush - one of the farthest bushes north on the island, right next to the parking lot. After a while, the bird popped up and tried to head to the mainland, bucking a 10 mph wind. I instantly knew it was one of the good ol' Oporornis types (now Geothlypis). I knew it wasn't Connecticut, since it didn't give a Blackpoll-like zeep note, and it didn't sound familiar as Mourning should. it was an electronic, up-slurred brzeee. Thankfully, my recording gear didn't crap out (as it has a critical times in the past) and I got a great cut of the bird - the flight call of which matches Macgillivray's well. The three shots I got are probably not good enough to call it to species, but they definitely show that it's one of the three hooded ones (long undertail coverts, entirely deep yellow underside, no tail spots, gray hood). I'd say that the shots are even good enough to rule out Connecticut. The bird headed back onto the island, but a while later I recognized its call, as it returned north, to try crossing again. I got another cut of it and a few flight shots (below the list).  Last night's radar to come:

Exciting morning. Here's the list of obvious migrants:
42 Double-crested Cormorants
12 Great Cormorants
3 Merlin
2 American Kestrel
1 Peregrine Falcon
3 Northern Harriers
1 Whimbrel
6 yellow-shafted Flickers
9 Eastern Phoebes
1 Great Crested Flycatcher
3 Red-eyed Vireos
1 interesting vireo sp.
1 Cliff Swallow
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
3 House Wrens
3 Gray-cheeked Thrush
3 Swainson's Thrush
2 American Pipit
8 Cedar Waxwing

8 Northern Parulas
3 Yellow Warblers
3 Chestnut-sided Warblers
1 Cape May Warbler
2 Yellow-rumped Warblers
2 Black-throated Green Warblers
4 Prairie Warblers
2 Palm Warblers
1 Pine Warbler
30 Blackpoll Warblers
2 Black-and-White Warblers
2 American Redstart (only!)
3 Ovenbirds
1 MacGillivray's Warbler (photo below, and call  XC148567)
Common Yellowthroat (wasn't seen migrating)

1 Scarlet Tanager
5 Indigo Buntings
3 White-throated Sparrows
7 Bobolinks (only!)

There were still some misses, such as orioles, numbers of Great Crested Flys, blackbirds (there were none!).

I've noticed that there haven't been any obviously long-distance-traveling Mourning Doves in the last several weeks.

MacGillivray's Warbler departing Gooseberry Island giving its distinctive call ( XC148567)

MacGillivray's Warbler

MacGillivray's Warbler


Well... It finally happened. Gooseberry was flooded with migrants arriving off the water this morning. The coastal storm that never actually made it to the coast forced birds off the water and along the coast. I actually expected the northeasterly breezes to push them west (as has been the case for most of the fall) but they actually funneled due south from southern Maine. Along with the late warblers, the sparrow flood officially started, with 9 species, plus Indigo Buntings, Juncos, and a Blue Grosbeak. Add to them at least 16 species of warbler and some unexpected migrants (W-b Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Black-capped Chickadee, and Tufted Titmouse) and things were on par with some of the better days at Gooseberry, last year.

This Lark Sparrow was just one of the great sparrows that hung out in the parking lot for the entire morning us great looks at all its parts.

4 Common Loons
6 Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorants (we're moving in small flocks, but the 28th was the big push for them)
3 Forster's Terns (first terns in weeks)
1 Great Blue Heron (arriving off the water)
5 Merlins
1 Northern Harrier
9 Semipalmated Plovers
1 Piping Plover (late)
1 Interesting plover sp. ("DOINK")
1 Ruddy Turnstone
2 Dunlin
2 Sanderling
1 Semipalmated Sandpiper
1 Greater Yellowlegs
1 Northern Flicker
4 Eastern Phoebes
1 Empidonax sp.
4 Red-eyed Vireos
3 Blue-headed Vireos

Blue-headed Vireos are getting more common by the day.

12 Tree Swallows
2 Tufted Titmice
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Brown Creeper (tried to land on me)
1 Winter Wren (First of season)
6 Golden-crowned Kinglets
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 American Robins
3 Gray Catbirds (migrated... Others remained in thickets)
2 American Pipits
36 Cedar Waxwings
11 Northern Parulas
5 Nashville Warblers
3 Yellow Warblers (one, very green)

Back-lit Yellow Warbler

2 Magnolia Warblers
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler (IDed from photo after the fact)
6 American Redstarts
3 Cape May Warblers

Cape May Warbler in the same plumage that I messed up on Ryan Schain's fall warbler quiz! Context and actually BEING THERE really counts!

60 Yellow-rumped Warblers
8 Black-throated Green Warblers

Enough birds perched for great looks, making things easy for us...

...but it is nice to be able to ID them by zeep note and in flight.

3 Prairie Warblers
8 Palm Warblers
20 Blackpoll Warblers
3 Black-and-White Warblers
2 Northern Waterthrush
1 Connecticut Warbler (teed up for 10 seconds before launching into the air, headed to the mainland)
Common Yellowthroats (none seen migrating)
1 Scarlet Tanager
1 Blue Grosbeak (imm bird that bailed on an attempt to cross, and teed up for several minutes a few times, offering shots)

Again, nice to ID this Blue Grosbeak in flight, but it was also nice that it perched in the open several times for us to gaze at.
5 Indigo Buntings
1 Eastern Towhee (one tried crossing early, and several others remained in the thickets)
1 Field Sparrow
2 Clay-colored Sparrow (one left the island early with Juncos etc. and one showed a little later in the lot, offering shots)
6 Chipping Sparrows
1 Lark Sparrow (remained in the lot for the morning, offering great shots)
5 White-throated Sparrows
1 White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel's?)

Comments on this White-crowned Sparrow. The lores are concolor with the rest of the face, but as has been mentioned by several folks, the bill is too large and pink. Lore shading is not reliable for imm. White-crowned subspecies placement. A few years ago I told myself that I was not going to even bother trying (too many other things to occupy my time with). That this bird was closely associating with a Lark Sparrow and a Clay-colored Sparrow made the leap a tempting one.

Sizing up the leap from the Gooseberry parking lot to the mainland, this migrant Black-capped Chickadee was the only one detected during 2013 fall migration.

8 Swamp Sparrows
Song Sparrows were more abundant than previous.
7 Dark-eyed Juncos migrated (several remained)
1 Brown-headed Cowbird (only!)

Here are the promised radar loops from 9-30 and 10-1. You can see the last pulse of scattered migrants over the water just before the morning drop (second video loop).



10-2, 10-3, and 10-4 provided more interesting radar loops to pair with some rather interesting mornings, and some interesting species. Numbers of birds dropped off considerably over the three days, but diversity was still good, though warbler diversity dropped off into the Yellow-rump zone, and there were hundreds on Gooseberry the morning of the 4th, with only 6 other species present. The feeling of the island began to match that of a more typical day during the fall 2012 migration, but this wouldn't last long (see the next few maps)

October 2nd Black-throated Blue Warblers, 8 Cape May Warblers, several Black-throated Green Warblers, White-eyed, Red-eyed, and Blue-headed Vireos... Yellow-rumps have dominated, doubling or tripling Blackpoll numbers. We had many buntings, including an interesting one with plain bellies and throats, and had wing bars. Compared to the last few days, this morning provided fewer birds overall, and many seemed to be headed south, out over the island... as the radar had indicated... so fewer bottled up at the parking lot. A pre-dawn Brown Creeper landed on a signpost, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch bucked the trend, deciding to move along to the mainland.

An interesting pair of Indigo Buntings, showing some semblance of wing barring, and relatively plain bellies/throats. Another one of those things that I think I'll disregard until I see a non-borderline bird.
Of the three days, the most frustrating was 10-3, as I had to leave at 7:45 while the majority of birds were still off the coast (though another Connecticut Warbler was fun to tally). Overnight, the over-land breeze was very light from the west-northwest and migration was moderate to strong from all of New England and surrounding areas to our north. Immediately off the coast, however, winds were 15 - 20mph from the north. Many migrants that made it out over the water continued south, taking advantage of the tail wind. Those that decided to head back to shore had a harder time doing so, so arrival over the island lasted well into the day. I returned to Gooseberry at about 10:30 for approximately 30 minutes, with my daughter in tow. I wanted to show her that the small blue dots over the water were migrating birds, and sure enough, every time one was just off the tip of Gooseberry, we'd have a sheet of Tree Swallows mixed with warblers, sparrows, buntings, kinglets, etc. bolt by, making a bid for the mainland. "GO! GO! GO, LITTLE GUY!" she'd yell, and "Awwwwwww!" when they doubled back to the island. So cute, and a good lesson in natural history and geography (I asked, "Where will this little guy be tomorrow? How about next week?").

Sure wish I had been there for the duration of the morning. Here's the radar video loop of the enormous dawn irruption.

Arriving predawn, I detected flyover Gray-cheeked Thrush, Bobolinks, Scarlet Tanagers, etc.. A continuing Clay-colored Sparrow, two different Connecticut Warblers (10-2 and 10-3), and some nice numbers of other sparrows and warblers migrating were fun, though numbers still seemed low compared to 2012. Overnight, birds that left land under almost calm conditions, while immediately off shore they encountered 15 to 20 mph north winds. They hung over the ocean, with many continuing due south out of the range of the radar. Many who thought it was unwise to continue south, and those who had left the islands during the morning. fought back against the wind and trickled in over Gooseberry during the rest of the morning

Similar to the morning of the 3rd, the 4th produced many birds, but they were primarily Yellow-rumped warblers (approx. 1000 on the island). One of few Dickcissels made an overflight with a flock of Cedar Waxwings, and the first Rusty Blackbird of the season passed off the island just after dawn. A Mourning Warbler was calling as it passed over the parking lot with several Yellow-rumped Warblers, then doubled back and dropped in at the top of the second ridge. A Caspian Tern, several White-crowned Sparrow, and a Black-throated Blue warbler added to the diversity. I expected higher diversity, but the morning irruption of birds was paltry, and it seems most birds that did go up continued south over the ocean.

10-11-2013 (update for the last week).
A strong low pressure system off the Mid Atlantic combined with a blocking high over New England set up a very similar wind field as was entrenched during three weeks of May, 2013. Strong easterly winds blew northbound migrants far west from the coast, nearly eliminating through-migrant fallout events (see the blog page dedicated to spring 2013). Now, large numbers of migrants departing Maine, upstate New York, and areas southwest of Massachusetts are being forced westerly, leaving southeastern Massachusetts lacking the typical number of migrants. Migrant Yellow-rumps began exiting on the 8th, and as of the 11th, almost no migrants are passing through southeastern MA.

A few Brown Thrashers migrated through the island over the several days around the 5th.

More than one White-eyed Vireo hung out between the 4th and 8th. This is a shot of the adult.
Things are winding down for the season, but temperatures have been high. There are still migrants to arrive, as well as depart, and we still have yet to experience a good push of western strays. I suspect that the front that pushes the current weather regime out will augment our current host of species.

10-19 through 10-21
Calm conditions throughout southbound migration-2013 (and all month) produced flights that skirted to the west, avoiding southeastern MA. Finally, the relatively calm conditions of early morning 10-19 produced a more easterly flow, pouring birds into our area, though the bulk of birds still continued past the southeastern part of the state. This late in the season, warbler diversity has crashed and sparrows have taken over, and it showed around dawn on the 19th. The predawn cacophony of Song Sparrows was visually realized when I was ambling along a short path and realized the short, sparse vegetation was a shuffling carpet of Song Sparrows. Within a few feet of me, there were 15 or so shuffling around, and the density didn't drop off over much of the north end of the island. We easily encountered 80 or so between the parking lot and the trail to the first intersection, and there were still many more in the bushes along the rest of the trail (not to mention the hundreds that must have been scattered throughout the island). Add in the 5 other species of sparrow (Field(1), Chipping(4), White-crowned(1), Swamp(4), White-throated(many)) and there were plenty of birds to look at, just at the parking lot. At least three Brown Creepers made the leap to the mainland, as well as several dozen kinglets of both species. Juncos departed the island in 5s, 6s, 7s, and 8s, and (of course) Yellow-rumped Warblers launched into the unknown by the dozens, with a few flocks approaching 30 birds. We easily encountered several hundred of them between dawn and 9AM when I had to depart. Even after flocks of birds departed, the chaos of dozens of birds dashing across and hopping into the trail continued. Other warblers included two Orange-crowned Warblers and a late American Redstart. Towhees were far more abundant than previous days, with 15 being a good estimate for the morning. a Blue-headed Vireo, 2 Hermit Thrush, a Swainson's Thrush, 6 Eastern Phoebes, a Merlin, and two Sharp-shinned Hawks rounded off the birds that I encountered, and I only briefly ambled out on the trail. There was a good scoter movement, with all three species tallied (White-wingeds made up the vast majority).

Here are two videos from the 19th and 20th of October, showing a great contrast of a great October flight and a rather modest one.

Pipits don't often drop in at your feet, but this one landed a dozen feet away and walked up the trail, joining all of the sparrows and Yellow-rumps.

Hermit Thrush can often be heard giving their flight call from within the thickets, but only occasionally come in for a look.

Merlin near the towers.

This says it all... Palm Warblers over Common Yellowthroats this year, numbers-wise.

This Sharp-shinned Hawk had a passerine in its talons, and stumbled up the trail in the predawn light. It finally remembered that it could fly, and headed into the thicket for a bite to eat.

A mixed flock of mostly Song Sparrows scramble along the causeway, making their way to the mainland... and freeeeedom!

This Tufted Titmouse made its way to the island in a flock of nine on September 28th. Over the weeks I noted several leaving, singly, and this lone one remaining. It tried many times to return to the mainland but just couldn't get up the guts to go the distance. It's skyward vigil turned out to be futile, as I ended up finding a small pile of grey feathers along the trail - testament to the dangers of island life.


I could go on, but there are just so many!

Predawn radar promised a good day out on Gooseberry, and we weren't let down. Once again I was wading among sparrows that had made their way to shore, and several slugs of sparrows and juncos dropped in as we scanned for migrants. A predawn DICKCISSEL buzzed from the thickets but I never got on the bird. Several HERMIT THRUSH chucked and whined their flight call, and 7 species of sparrow clogged the path, shrubs, and cobbles, as they grazed about the parking lot. SONG SPARROWS were once again the hyper-dominant species, while at least two WHITE-CROWNEDS hung out at the seed pile. At least 2 FIELD SPARROWS and several CHIPPING SPARROWS stuck with the flock, while flights of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, both KINGLETS (more than a dozen RUBY-CROWNEDS and dozens of GOLDEN-CROWNEDS), a CREEPER or two, at least 8 PHOEBES, and JUNCOS dashed out for the mainland. Another 5 PHOEBES on the island sowed that they moved overnight. Highlights included several RUSTY BLACKBIRDS, a PEREGRINE FA!
LCON (that gave up its freshly caught sparrow to a pursuing gull), a good spattering of western PALM WARBLERS and YELLOWTHROATS, a pair of SCAUP sp., a large movement of LAUGHING GULLS, a dozen RED-THROATED LOONS, at least 25 PIPITS, a FLICKER, and, best of all, a hatch year RED HEADED WOODPECKER flew up the spine of the island, landing in a bush just long enough to be photographed.

It often pays to hang out on the busy days. Three hours after daybreak, I glimpsed a bird with huge white patches on wings and rump, and (having done work with the species, instantly knew it was an immature Red-headed Woodpecker. It flew from south to north, up the center of the island, and stopped just long enough for Dan Logan and I to snap a few distant shots (this one by Dan).
Unfortunately, Wednesdays through Fridays I am only able to put in an hour or so on the island, and my Monday and Tuesday mornings, which were very open, just got entirely eaten up, so great birds like this one are missed. Could a Northern Wheatear be in the cards this year? We may never know.

End of year update (12-28-2013)
Re. Wheatear... apparently not. That's okay... There are currently (all of December) 3 Snowy Owls on Gooseberry, and there have been some interesting birds over the late fall, not the least of which was this second cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull milling about on the eastern shore of the island. It was nice to be able to compare it to various plumages of the other three common gull species in November.
On 11-7-2013, this second cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull mingled with the various other gulls on the beach.
 Migrant passerines continued to show up through November, including a Rusty Blackbird, late Blackpoll Warbler, both of which were photographed by Myer Bornstein (see some great photos from Gooseberry and elsewhere on the Southcoast on his blog at

Migrant Rusty Blackbird photographed on 11-19-2013 by Myer Bornstein.

Thanks to Myer Bornstein ( for photos of this late
migrant Blackpoll Warbler that appeared on 11-20-2013.
A rather pale female Lapland Longspur appeared in the Gooseberry parking lot and had several birders rather excited, wracking their brains and checking their guides. It sure would have been nice to turn it into a Smith's or perhaps other longspur/Lark Bunting/European bunting, but a Lapland Lonspur is a perfectly fine way to top off a day of birding. Here's the link to the bird:

As has been experienced throughout the northeast, the incredible invasion of Snowy Owls from the arctic (apparently north-central Quebec, Canada) made itself delightfully apparent on Gooseberry in late November (first shot taken on 11-25-2013), with no less than three Snowy Owls on the island at once (in fact, three photographed at once by J.E., as seen in the second photo... 2 left; one right). When they first appeared in our area, they were quite jumpy, with birds spooking when approached to within 50 yards, accidentally (as was the case with the bird photographed in flight) or otherwise. As of mid December, these birds have become accustomed to people and (to some degree) dogs, and tend to go about their business as hikers, joggers, dog-walkers, naive as well as cautious birders move by within 30 feet or less (see third photo taken from the parking lot at Massachusetts Audubon Society's Allens Pond Sanctuary).

First photographed at sunset on 11-25-2013, the invasion of Snowy Owls culminated in mid-December
with no fewer than 6 apparent in the Horseneck/Gooseberry/Allens Pond area.

Three Snowy Owls in one shot at the tip of Gooseberry Island, Westport, MA!
Apparently, these birds are foraging to a large degree on the most abundant (and easy) food source... other birds. So far this fall/winter, I've seen (and/or been sent photos of) owls foraging on American Black Duck, Bufflehead, Ring-billed Gull, and Herring Gull. I wonder if they switch to rabbits etc. during nocturnal hunting forays. I also wonder if the Short-eared Owls on Gooseberry have now been converted to the mass of Snowy Owl.

My wife, daughter, and I accidentally jumped this (early-in-the-invasion) Snowy Owl as it fed on a Ring-billed Gull at Cherry and Webb Beach in Westport. We found the decapitated head of the gull near the beach, the feathers and intestines where it was jumped from, and the bird hung onto the real meaty part of the carcass as it was flushed again from where it had landed on the beach. While I feel bad about stressing this bird and putting it into another situation where it was flushed (spooked from the foredune by people walking 30 yards away, along the low-tide line) again, these birds have flown thousands of miles to this coast, and didn't go any farther (though some did... and were found on ships at sea, and Bermuda!). Flying a few hundred yards is not a big deal to these birds, though, the greatest care should still be taken to not disturb them.
Relaxing in the sun, this Snowy Owl (uncropped photo) was 20 yards from the Mass Audubon Field Station at Allens Pond, South Dartmouth, MA, and about 8 yards from the parking lot.
It was nice to show (among other family members) my 83 year old mother and 94 year old father one of these birds during the holiday season.


It will be most interesting to see what the 2014 season brings. 2013 seemed to be subdued compared to 2012, and this worries me. Here are some of the other observations I've made about animal numbers this year:

The low numbers of migrants in general, reported by many over a large region
Near absence of butterflies
Near absence of glass shrimp, and fingerling fish (baby kingfish, black seabass, scup, flounder, etc. etc.) in the Westport River
Lack of Wilson's Storm Petrel (one of the most numerous birds in the world) and shearwaters off the Atlantic
Lack of alcids during December, 2013

It seems that this strangeness has taken hold over the last year+, with Hurricane Sandy kicking it all off. Here's hoping for more normal times, and more birds!
8 Chimney Swifts
182 Barn Swallows in 2 waves at dawn
2 Bank Swallows
3 Northern Rough-winged Swallows
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 Unidentified warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
14 Yellow Warblers
2 American Redstarts
2 Bobolinks

The last two days several of us had similarly low(er) numbers, and only included a PRAIRIE WARBLER and White-rumped sandpiper in the mix. The first really good day has yet to occur, but it should happen soon. - See more at:
Radar indications were poor, but there were a few migrants including:
8 Chimney Swifts
182 Barn Swallows in 2 waves at dawn
2 Bank Swallows
3 Northern Rough-winged Swallows
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 Unidentified warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
14 Yellow Warblers
2 American Redstarts
2 Bobolinks

The last two days several of us had similarly low(er) numbers, and only included a PRAIRIE WARBLER and White-rumped sandpiper in the mix. The first really good day has yet to occur, but it should happen soon.
- See more at:
Radar indications were poor, but there were a few migrants including:
8 Chimney Swifts
182 Barn Swallows in 2 waves at dawn
2 Bank Swallows
3 Northern Rough-winged Swallows
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 Unidentified warblers
1 Northern Waterthrush
14 Yellow Warblers
2 American Redstarts
2 Bobolinks

The last two days several of us had similarly low(er) numbers, and only included a PRAIRIE WARBLER and White-rumped sandpiper in the mix. The first really good day has yet to occur, but it should happen soon.
- See more at: