Late July on Cape Cod

Apart from the weeks I have received treatment, I have spent a good deal of my summer on Cape Cod, home to great food, great people, and of course, great birding.

I enjoyed quite a bit of time in the field during my tenure up here, especially during the bookend weeks of July. But I need not leave home to get a dose of birding. Our cottage is surrounded by water on three sides, and abuts “Water Street Marsh” in Yarmouth Port, which in turn borders Barnstable Harbor.

This combination of habitats regularly yields hourly totals of over thirty species, and always delivers a bevy of good birds. The yard list includes such highlights as Northern Bobwhite and Lesser Black-backed Gull (one of the former was seen strolling through our property last summer, while the latter was out on the flats of Barnstable Harbor). These birds display the draw that both the yard itself, and the surrounding area have for birds. I will definitely be devoting more time to this wonderful location in future posts.

I’ll begin this catalog of my birding on July 22nd, when Cape Cod neighbor and good friend, Jonathan Schickler, and I hit Cow Yard Road in Chatham, hoping for a Hudsonian Godwit, or another fun shorebird out on the flats north of Tern Island that are visible from the road.

An hour of scanning didn’t yield any godwits, but assorted shorebird species including Piping Plover, Willet and Greater Yellowlegs, kept us busy for a time.

The highlight of our visit to Cow Yard came in the form of three calling Northern Bobwhites, which were audible for the entirety of our time here. A life bird for Jonathan, we devoted a good portion of time trying to catch a glimpse of one, an effort which finally payed off in good scope views of a nice male perched and vocalizing in a pine.

Following our visit to Cow Yard, we stopped off at the Chatham Fish Pier for some of the best lobster rolls on the Cape. It is a stop I intend on repeating…often.

Thursday, July 24th found me in the High Head area of North Truro, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Virginia Rails that have been seen there throughout the summer.

It didn’t take me long to catch up with an adult-and then a juvenile-Virginia Rail, both of which were seen at close range as they worked the wetland right along the side of the road.

(As always, click on the photos for larger, clearer views).

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

Juvenile Virginia Rail

Juvenile Virginia Rail

Other highlights at this spot included American Black Duck, Green Heron, a family of four Belted Kingfishers, and two young Baltimore Orioles.

American Black Duck

American Black Duck

Green Heron

Green Heron

Following my time with the rails, I continued north, toward my next stop: Herring Cove Beach and Hatches Harbor in Provincetown.

I had a blast at Herring Cove, as I always do, and I spent the next three hours combing through the masses of birds present in Hatches Harbor, and scanning offshore.

My top highlight came in the form of two 1st cycle Little Gulls, whose seeing marked the end of frustrating string of misses of this species (including two prior visits to Herring Cove).

Little (center birds) and Bonaparte's Gulls

Little (center birds) and Bonaparte’s Gulls

Little Gull

Little Gull

Other highlights included two Cory’s Shearwater and a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel offshore, the continuing summering Bonaparte’s Gulls, a 3rd cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull, five tern species including Roseate (many with juveniles), one of the continuing ‘Portlandica’ Arctic Terns, and an adult Forster’s Tern.

The biggest surprise of the visit, however, was a singing Horned Lark that appeared virtually out of nowhere on the beach besides the dunes. I was able to catch a quick glimpse of the singing bird (my first here during the summer) before it promptly disappeared. It was one of the few times I have heard this species sing, and it was definitely a treat to get further experience with this cool species’ song.

Two days later, on the 26th, Jonathan and I were at it again, hitting nearby Hallet’s Mill Pond to check on the situation there. Our visit was rather quiet highlight-wise, although we were able to pick up an odd congregation of seven juvenile and first year Black-crowned Night-Herons flying low over our position on the west side of the pond. These birds remained airborne for some time, flying about the entire vicinity. A small pond is present in the scrubby woods across the road from Hallet’s, and it’s likely that most (if not all) of these birds were derived from there, and were either spooked from their hiding places, or were simply enjoying the feeling of the wind on their feathers.

Following Hallet’s, Jonathan and I returned to the yard and ran up a nice total of thirty-two species on the property, including such highlights as an American Oystercatcher out on the flats in Barnstable Harbor, two Bank Swallow amongst the abundant Trees and Barns, and the first Saltmarsh Sparrows ever for the yard.

Bank, Tree, and Barn Swallows

Bank, Tree, and Barn Swallows

A couple of days later, I headed back to Connecticut to receive treatment, thus ending another fun week of birding the Cape.


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3 Responses to Late July on Cape Cod

  1. Helen says:

    Good to see you back blogging, Alex; and you are getting great shots with the new camera!

  2. elaine says:


  3. De bec et de plumes says:

    I love your second pix of Virginia rail. Great shot!

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