Cape Cod Birding
One of the best spots along the Northeastern seaboard to view birds is Cape Cod. During the migration seasons, more than 260 different species of birds may make a stop on Cape Cod to feed on marine worms, insects, crustaceans and mollusks before continuing their long journey, which may have started in the Arctic Circle to end in South America, 12,000 miles away. Cape Cod lies about half way along this busy flyway, and places like Monomoy Island and Nauset Marsh are regular “stop-overs for these birds, perfect areas to feed and rest before flying either north or south in spring and fall.
Birds can, for the sake of simplicity, be divided into three main categories; backyard birds, shorebirds, and raptors. Peter Trull, a field naturalist with the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, states, “one of the most exciting times to watch backyard birds on Cape Cod is during their spring migration. They are in their breeding plumage, the weather is pleasantly warm, and the birds often move through in ‘waves,’ providing great looks at a number of species, including warblers, sparrows, bluebirds, chick-a-dees, and finches.”
It’s no surprise that shorebirds top the list of birds on Cape Cod. Among the many varieties of shorebirds found around these shores are dunlins, sanderlings, gulls, ducks, mergansers, sandpipers, and Canada geese.
Birding is terrific on Cape Cod no matter what the season, though spring is the best time to view migrating birds, and August is best for observing shorebirds. Many gulls and terns, having bred in June, and fledged their young in July, become roving flocks in August. From mid-July to Labor Day, great concentrations of shorebirds can build up around feeding grounds. September is good month for birding because of the possibility of seeing a rare sighting. If a Nor’easter hits the Cape, sometimes migrating birds such as shearwaters, Northern Gannets, loons, and petrels become trapped near land and instinctively turn eastward to the Cape. If you set up watch the morning after a storm at a beach such as First Encounter Beach in Eastham, you’ll have an excellent chance of observing some rare birds. September is also a wonderful month when many migrating birds linger on these shores, delaying their flights south for as long as possible. These birds tend to concentrate near their favorite food source before continuing on their journey.
Winter birds are plentiful, too. Herons, egrets, and sandpipers, all birds associated with wetland habitats, are abundant this time of year. A variety of waterfowl, including buffleheads, common eiders, canvasbacks and goldeneyes, make the Cape their home during different months in the winter. A winter walk along a salt marsh, beach, or tidal flat will give good opportunities to observe these birds feeding and resting.
Here are a few pointers offered by Peter Trull to make identifying these birds easier: Use binoculars to scan the horizon, the marshes and tidal flats, and when trying to locate a bird in a tree, first orient yourself by focusing on its trunk, or a branch; then look for the bird. Judge the size to determine what type of bird it is. Several good field guides are available which provide illustrations or photographs of different spcies, including Peter Trull’s own book, A Guide to the Common Birds of Cape Cod, which makes life a little easier for the novice birder by including only birds that are commonly found in this area.
Depending upon which birds you are looking for and what season it is, you may observe the following birds in these locations:
The Crane Reservation in Mashpee and Beech Forest in Provincetown
offer wooded areas for locating:
The Wellfleet Bay/Audubon Sanctuary and the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster
provide short hikes that take you through upland areas, marsh lands and areas fronting Cape Cod Bay. These multiple habitats offer great opportunities to view:
Sandy Neck Recreational Area in Barnstable and the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge in Chatham
offer a beach and wetlands habitat that is perfect for viewing:
Great Blue Heron
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