We decided to go to Cape Cod for Mother’s day. Gus has never been there and I have only been there once several years ago. It was a cloudy, cold weekend in April then but I remember it as the first time and place I ever saw a Common Eider and a Brant. They were swimming together in Provincetown Harbor then. So, I have high expectations for today. In light of this I am wide awake at 4:30 a.m. I roll out of bed to still dark skies, but I can already hear the robins singing. I patter out to the galley kitchen trying to decide if I want to stay up or go back to bed. I start to wash dishes and soon realize that I am wide awake enough to stay up. I want to get going, so I go back and wake my poor husband who gallantly arises and starts to get ready.
In spite of the early rising it is 7:30 a.m. before we finally pull out of the yard and head southeast for Cape Cod. Though the sky is gloomy and gray I still plan on having a fun day and my stomach is all a-flutter as we head down the road. It is a long drive out to Cape Cod and once we have passed though Boston we are pretty much driving through a tunnel of trees. Soon mile after mile looks the same and I am starting to get sleepy! Good thing Gus is driving! Yet, I cannot resist looking out the windows to see if I see any birds! It is not until we reach the bend in the arm of the Cape that I start to see Robins on the side of the road and a Turkey Vulture overhead! A few more miles up the road and we pull into the Salt Pond Visitor’s Center for the Cape Cod National Seashore. I can hear birds before we even get out of the car but I hear and see more once we are walking towards the building. Robins dot the lawn and Red-winged blackbirds call from the marsh beyond the trees. I can see the salt pond down a path and after going inside and getting a bit of information we head down there.
However, the wind is brutal out here and a raw NE wind is gusting off the ocean. I put on more layers before heading down the path. I hear so many birds that it is tempting to stay here, but we are still 20 miles from Provincetown, so we decide to take a quick peek at the pond and then leave. Down here at the salt pond we are on the leeward side of the hill and out of the wind. A greater yellowlegs is wading in the pond but takes swift flight as we draw near, its “tew, tew, tew” call ringing over the water. A few cormorants are hanging out at the pond and a few seagulls fly overhead, but that is all. We head back up the hill past a patch of purple phlox on the hillside. As soon as we crest the hill we are met with a raw New England blast of wind. I can’t get in the car fast enough to get out of this gale!
It was so nice yesterday that though the forecast was for gray skies, I had hoped it would still be warm today, but no. Now my Capri’s seem foolish but at least I have on warm socks and shoes and I did bring many layers to add or subtract. When we get out at Herring Cove Beach it becomes quite obvious that I will need to add rather than subtract. I started with a long-sleeved t-shirt, a button-up shirt and my down vest. At the visitor’s center I had added my old ratty-tatty coat. Now I need even more layers. Thankfully I still have a fleece in the back of my vehicle. I put it over the vest, then add ratty-tatty on top. I now have 5 layers on my upper body. I pull my gloves from my pockets and put them on, then I start watching and counting birds.
There are not a lot to see. It is so foggy out that everything is blurred and muted. A few gulls are on the beach. A few ducks and eiders are in the water. I count about 60 Red-breasted Mergansers and 30 Common Eiders, but I can see hundreds more out to sea. However, they are all just black dots in the mist. They are too far out for me to positively ID or even count accurately, so I give up. And then, as three birds fly by and land on the road I am amazed and surprised. As if to mock my quest for exotic birds, three street pigeons land on the road and start to strut their stuff! When I raise my camera to photograph them they take off! I can hear a few sparrows or something from the dunes across the street but this gale force wind is keeping them down beyond my searching eyes.
I strike off boldly down the beach before hopping back into the waiting car which Gus has kept running and warm for me. I only counted 8 species of birds here, but all of them are new for this county which I have only birded in once before!
We leave the beach and head towards Provincetown now. As we near the town we drive through a marsh with another small pond where I see birds. Gus turns the car around and finds a place to park on the side of the road and I hop out to see what I can see. My eyes are drawn at first to the 5 turkey vultures feeding at the east end of the pond.
Then I spot more mergansers in the water…
…and the American black duck on the shore. Another one is in the water slowly paddling about.
Across the pond a Green Heron fishes, while in the surrounding trees a Great Egret perches. After awhile it flies down to the shore to start its own hunt. I can hear the “witchity, witchity, witchity” call of a Common Yellowthroat, but it seems to be coming from across the pond also and nowhere near enough for me to see the bird. After 15 minutes here we move on.
We drive through Provincetown on Route 6A but there really isn’t much to see. Though I like the beachy architecture it all seems so gloomy and gray. We are through the town swiftly and Gus pulls over when I spot a few birds on the beach near Snail Rd. I jump out to find a flock of Brants, some Common Eiders, a few Great Black-backed gulls, Laughing Gulls, and a Greater yellowlegs.
A flock of 25 pigeons circles overhead while an American Crow lands on the sand and goes for a stroll! Across from the beach a Blue Jays calls and flies off to do whatever it is that Blue Jays do on Cape Cod. And always there is the relentless wind.
We continue our drive down Route 6A through Truro. We pass abandoned or closed motels and cottages. In front of one someone has put out a mattress and box spring with a sign that says “free.” I am thinking to myself, who would want a free mattress and box spring from a motel. Really? Think about it! Gus comments to me that he doesn’t quite see the attraction of this place and he feels like he is driving through some town in a Stephen King novel! Me? I keep trying to find birds.
Turkey Vulture 5-8-11 Cape Cod, MA
We continue down the road and stop at three to four places but it is so windy and cold and at three of them there is no place to park. We did drive into the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bird Sanctuary but it cost $5.00 to go in and it was so cold and getting late that we drove out again without stopping. I did not feel like I would get my money’s worth on this day. By now I am near tears and feeling like this has all been a long drive for nothing. We stop back at the Salt Pond Visitor’s Center to use the restrooms and regroup. We packed a lunch with us and I try to find someplace out of the wind to eat, but there is nothing, and so we eat our sandwiches in the car. I also decide to change into the long pants I brought along with me because in spite of it being afternoon by now it has not warmed up much. The temperature which started out at 43 degrees this morning has only risen to 50! With the Northeast wind howling it feels much colder. Gus takes a brief nap while I am changing and trying to decide what to do next. I get back in the car to get out of the wind and consult my maps and GPS. Gus flutters his eyes and wakes up. He pulls his ball cap back onto his head and starts the car. We head west to one more place. This will be my last stop. My last attempt at seeing anymore birds on Cape Cod for today. Other than the few birds we saw on the beach and at the small pond, I am feeling like this day has been mostly a failure. I am feeling bad that my husband drove all the way out here with me. I am feeling like we have wasted a full tank of gas.
To be continued…