Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk
Cape Cod, August 2006 ,
I then flew from Las Vegas to Boston, via Chicago, and after an overnight stay in the latter, the following morning made the journey to Cape Cod, which was to be the setting for the last leg of my holiday. Cape Cod is about a 2hr drive from Boston and juts out into the Atlantic Ocean like a backward shaped letter L. The place reminded me somewhat of Norfolk with its long sandy beaches and is also excellently suited to attract a wide range of migrants at the correct time of year and under the right weather conditions. It is also good for birds in winter, as the effect of the Atlantic Ocean keeps the climate milder than inland. If you are thinking visiting Cape Cod then there is an excellent website run by the Cape Cod Bird Club: http://www.massbird.org/ccbc/ The website has information on a whole host of things, including upcoming bird walks which anyone can join. Joining these walks is undoubtedly a very good idea, particularly if you are unfamiliar with American birds. It is also possible to buy a book called Birding Cape Cod via the website. The book is excellent and has a multitude of information about the best sites to visit on the Cape and what birds you are likely to see.
I was staying in South Yarmouth, which is situated in the mid-Cape next to the Bass River and the location acted as a good base for the week as it meant that travelling to any birding spots didn’t involve only any overly lengthy journeys. Common birds in this leafy town included DOWNY WOODPECKER, SONG SPARROW, RED TAILED HAWK, NORTHERN CARDINAL, BLUE JAY, MOURNING DOVE, BLACK CAPPED CHICKADEE, CHIMNEY SWIFT, AMERICAN ROBIN, COMMON GRACKLE and the ubiquitous HOUSE SPARROW.
A short journey from where I was staying was Sea Gull Beach, which is located between Lewis Bay and the Bass River. Although the beach is quite crowded in the summer, it still held a few LAUGHING GULLS, whilst offshore COMMON and LEAST TERNS were fishing. The Dunes were good for SONG SPARROW, while a lot of TREE SWALLOWS were roosting in the car park. The area known as Lewis Pond, a tidal pool with areas of salt marsh, is adjacent to the car park, and proved a good birding location. It can either be viewed from the car park or by walking back down the approach road and viewing from suitable spots. Waders were the main interest with LESSER YELLOWLEGS, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, SHORT BILLED DOWITCHER, WHIMBREL, LEAST SANDPIPER, SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, SPOTTED SANDPIPER and SEMIPALMATED PLOVER all present. The main bird of interest though was OSPREY, with a pair having successfully raised three young on the obvious wooden platform in the middle of the Pool. The youngsters had just started to fly and often came quite close to me. Ospreys seemed common across the whole Cape, with almost any area of suitable habitat hosting a pair.
One of the best locations I visited was the Welfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary which is run by the Mass Audubon Society and can be found in the Outer Cape just off Highway 6. There is a small charge for access but the wide variety of habitats present mean a large variety of species can be expected. To see the greatest variety of birds you are probably best to follow the Goose Pond Trail, which follows a roughly circular path and takes you through all the main habitats present. You start in an area of open coniferous woodland. The highlight of this area for me was finding a GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER. Shortly after you reach Goose Pond, a freshwater pool fringed by reeds, salt marsh and woodland. This is an excellent spot to view many species at close quarters and with water levels low, waders were the main interest. Species present included LEAST SANDPIPER, SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, LESSER YELLOWLEGS and PECTORAL SANDPIPER. As well as this there was the added bonus of a GREEN HERON. The Pool also looked good for Rails and Crakes.
Following the path beyond the Pool, you cross over areas of salt marsh (good for a variety of Herons) before you reach the tidal flats and beach. As ever, when visiting tidal flats, how close the birds are to you will be governed by tide conditions. When I visited it was low tide but it is possible to walk out across the flats to get closer to the birds, but obviously one must be careful not to disturb them while they are feeding. Birds present included GREATER/LESSER YELLOWLEGS, SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, WHITE RUMPED SANDPIPER, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, SHORT BILLED DOWITCHER, WILLET, LEAST SANDPIPER, GREY PLOVER, WHIMBREL and a variety of Gulls and Terns.
Picking up the trail again, you start to head back to the Visitor Centre. The trail now takes you through an area of open fields and heathland, which amongst other species held PRAIRE WARBLER and ORCHARD ORIOLE. You then pass Goose Pond once again and continue back up to the Nature Centre.
When visiting Cape Cod, a bird high up on the ‘must see’ list is the PIPING PLOVER, a rare and declining species which still breeds in good numbers on the Cape. A good place to find the bird is Sandy Neck, a large barrier beach in the mid-Cape, near the town of Barnstable. From the car park walk west down the beach until you come to the area fenced off to protect the nesting Plovers and Terns. When I was there I saw 2 birds (although my brother did see lots more by walking further down the beach), one of which was a juvenile, although the birds can be difficult to find as they are perfectly camouflaged against the beach. These were not the only birds of interest here as only about ten metres offshore were a pair of SURF SCOTERS, while I also saw a GANNET and WHITE WINGED SCOTER fly by.
Sandy Neck is an excellent spot to find Piping Plovers despite being popular with holiday makers. You also stand a good chance of seeing Scoters on the sea.
Another excellent idea when visiting Cape Cod is to go whale watching, as doing so provides you with a great opportunity to also look for pelagic birds. Most the boats leave from Provincetown, which lies at the very northern tip of Cape Cod. I went with the Dolphin Fleet but there are a number of companies which operate out of here, most of which operate about 5-10 tours a day in the peak season. To secure a spot on one of these tours it is advisable to phone in advance and book yourself on one the trips. The whole trip takes about thee hours and takes you out to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. However, the birding started before we had even left the harbour as a small flock of NORTHERN EIDER were present, close enough even to get a photo with a digital camera:
Eiders in Provincetown Harbour.
Apart from the spectacular closeup views of whales (mostly Humpbacks) there was a good variety of birds present, as they like the whales look to take advantage of the plentiful feeding opportunities present in this area. Often, wherever there are whales there will be seabirds but this may not always be the case. The following species were seen:
GREATER SHEARWATER – the commonest shearwater present
SOOTY SHEARWATER – present in smaller numbers than the former
MANX SHEARWATER – a couple seen and noticeably smaller than the other two Shearwaters
WILSONS STORM PETREL – common, the ‘standard’ Storm Petrel in Cape Waters
ARCTIC/POMARINE SKUA – small numbers were about although not sure which species – could have been either just one or both species. Commonly seen chasing the Terns for fish.
There were also lots of Gulls and Common Terns present.
Going whale watching presents you with the perfect opportunity to also look for pelagic birds.
I also visited a number of woodlands while on the Cape, but like European woodlands, finding birds at this time of year was not easy. The most productive of these sites was the Yarmouth Walking Trail Conservation Area, where I saw COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, TUFTED TITMOUSE, GRAY CATBIRD and EASTERN WOOD PEWEE, while at the West Barnstable Conservation Area I saw HAIRY WOODPECKER. However, visiting these sites would be probably most productive in the spring when the birds are singing and much more easy to detect. I also visited Nantucket Island one day, which is off the south side of the Cape and takes about an hour to reach by ferry, departing from Saquatucket Harbour, near Harwich. I didn’t see a great deal apart from WHITE WINGED SCOTER, EIDER and SPOTTED SANDPIPER in Saquatucket Harbour, hunting OSPREY in the harbour at Nantucket and CEDAR WAXWING and COMMON YELLOWTHROART as I walked to Jetties Beach from Nantucket Harbour on Nantucket.
After a week at Cape Cod, I then drove back to Boston to Logan International Airport to catch the plane back to Heathrow. On the trip I had seen c.110 species, the majority of which were lifers. The best sports were the Presidio in San Francisico, Yosemite National Park and Cape Cod. Also, while I was there, I barely saw another birdwatcher – I’m not sure if this was a good or bad thing. All of the areas I visited were great for birds (with the possible exception of downtown Las Vegas), and if you visit the right areas it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a good variety of birds even within the big cities. If anyone is thinking of visiting any of these spots and has any queries then email me and I would be happy to try and help. My email address is:
Chris Hill, August 2006