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Short-billed Dowitcher. Photo by Frank Mantlik.CAPE COD

August 28 - 30, 2009


Leader: Frank Mantlik
(with much appreciated help from Tina Green!)          

Day One (Friday, August 28)
After collecting all the trippers along I-95 in CT by 8 AM, we made a beeline to the Chatham, MA area, where we planned to promptly take the boat shuttle out to South Beach for some shore birding. Tropical Storm Danny was rapidly coming up the Atlantic coast, and with winds and heavy rain forecast for Saturday (and possibly Sunday), this was our best shot at getting out there.

South Beach is rightfully recognized as a top shorebird and tern staging area in the northeast. We arrived there with picnic lunches shortly after noon, wading ashore on this beautiful summer day. A tern researcher was patiently scoping through a flock of 1500 or so COMMON and ROSEATE TERNS. Despite it being a lower tide, shorebirds of all sorts were foraging all about on the firm Marbled Godwit photo by Frank Mantlik. sandy flats and shallow tidal lagoons, many allowing very close approach. Among the highlights were nice studies of at least 20 HUDSONIAN GODWITS, 6 MARBLED GODWITS, numerous WHIMBREL, RED KNOT, WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER, the western and eastern races of WILLET, and a nice comparison of LONG-BILLED and SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS. We also scoped the tern flocks, locating a lone FORSTER’S. An odd-plumaged SCOTER was out of season. In all, we identified 19 species of shorebirds here. An occasional drizzle did not dampen the group’s enthusiasm for this coastal adventure to a beautiful barrier beach. Upon our return to Outermost Harbor, we stopped briefly to enjoy the ocean and dune views from the bluff at Chatham Light, adding GREAT BLUE HERON and BLUE-WINGED TEAL. Then after checking in to our lodging in Hyannis, we had a tasty quality Chinese feast at a restaurant recommended by Tina.

Day Two (Saturday, August 29)
Some of the group at the Bird Watcher's General Store.  Photo by Frank Mantlik. We awoke to light rain, as we met 6 am at the hotel lobby. With Tropical Storm/Depression Danny (max winds 40 mph) approaching just east of Cape Cod, it would prove to wet, rainy, and windy all day. Following a coffee stop, we arrived at Race Point in Provincetown, with high hopes of seeing some of the feeding frenzy by seabirds, gulls, and terns that had been in evidence there much of the summer. Plus, we had hoped to luck in to seeing some rarer species blown in off the ocean by the storm. Among the many hundreds of usual gulls and terns, we did spot a CORY’S SHEARWATER, one unidentified shearwater, and a BLACK TERN, as well as a close-in GRAY SEAL swimming along the beach. We met a topnotch local birder who had been scoping since first light, and who was quite disappointed with the lack of rarities (though that night we learned later in the morning he’d found a Sabine’s Gull!).

The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore on Chatham Pier.  Photo by Frank Mantlik. We checked Herring Cove Beach and the P-town Dyke, without anything of note. As the rain began to intensify, we grabbed breakfast at a local café. After checking the Beech Forest and freshwater pond, we decided to head back down the Cape, checking a variety of sites on both the ocean side and bay side. Visibility on the ocean side was particularly poor, with rain and fog. One stop on the bayside netted us 3 more BLACK TERNS and 4 COMMON EIDERS. By now the rain was heaviest, so we sought refuge at the Wellfleet Audubon Center, a terrific “green-building” facility of Mass. Audubon. We racked up feeder birds, viewed the varied exhibits, relaxed, dried off, and spoke with the fine staff. Continuing on and checking a few more sites resulted in little of note. We stopped for a late lunch of hot chowder, followed by a visit to First Encounter Beach (so named as it was the first place where the Pilgrims met native Americans). Many of the same shorebirds and gulls were spread out and foraging on the extensive mudflats at low tide. Being mid-to late afternoon and the heaviest rain / poorest visibility of the day, we made a fun and productive shopping stop at the Birdwatcher’s General Store in Orleans. Following that, a real highlight of the trip was seeing and meeting Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore, reporting live from the Chatham Fish Pier. Many GRAY SEALS swam just below us just off the deck. An unsuccessful check for grassland-loving shorebirds at Chatham Airport ended the day’s birding. We socialized and reminisced on the day’s events during dinner at an excellent seafood restaurant in Hyannis (The Black Cat).

Day Three (Sunday, August 30)
Today’s early-morning plan was to be at First Encounter Beach again shortly after dawn, to check Cape Cod Bay for any storm-blown birds. We’d learned that a birding friend from CT would be there, along with many of the top birders in MA. Well, the day dawned overcast and calm with more scattered sprinkles that later developed into steady rain. First Encounter was relatively quiet, though we were excited to see a BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE which flew low over the lot, at least 6 PARASITIC JAEGERS (including a group of four that flew in fairly close to us), a NORTHERN GANNET, 10 WHITE-WINGED and 1 BLACK SCOTER, and at least 8 WHIMBRELS. Considering our options, the consensus was to forego taking a whale watch boat, but instead to bird on land. We returned to the Wellfleet Audubon Center and Sanctuary where we were treated to 10 NORTHERN BOBWHITE, 3 adult AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS, close studies of adult and juvenile LEAST and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS, SOLITARY SANDPIPER, three YELLOW-CROWNED and one BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS, another FORSTER’S TERN, and a nice variety of passerines. Following a lunch of great lobster rolls, we made one last birding stop on Cape Cod at Fort Hill, locating a flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS. Back in CT we made a late afternoon stop at Hammonasset State Park, where we obtained great views of a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (our 24th shorebird species of the weekend).

Thanks to Tina for aiding the leader in many ways, and to all participants for tolerating the poor weather conditions. You were all great. The tally was 91 bird species seen on Cape Cod (plus 4 additional enroute in CT).

Frank Mantlik
Stratford, CT

Our enthusiastic group at South Beach! Photo by Frank Mantlik.
The stalwart group at South Beach.