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!)

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