USA - Cape Cod 2016

...with Chris Bradshaw

27th August - 3rd September

It has been quite a few years since Birdwatching Breaks last visited Cape Cod, so it is good to report that the area still offers some excellent birding opportunities. The weather was generally very warm with clear skies, and it is likely that this was responsible, at least in part, for the low numbers of migrant landbirds and warblers we encountered (or rather didn’t). However, we were treated to some wonderful close encounters with a variety of shorebirds and had a superb whale watching trip where close up views of Fin, Minke and Humpback Whales were one of the highlights of the trip. Seabirds were also performing well with four species of shearwater and Wilson’s Petrel among the species that pleased group members the most. Other memorable species included good numbers of Pine Warblers, a few American Redstarts, Black-and-white Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Little Blue and Yellow-crowned Night Herons.

27th August: Arrival in Boston. Travel to Hyannis.

With group members arriving at various times and from differing origins, we all met up in the Car Rental office at Boston’s Logan airport. Once the vehicle had been allocated (following an in depth discussion about Brexit politics with the car hire agent) we were eventually on our way south to Cape Cod, where we arrived in Hyannis in the early evening.

28th August: Kalmus Beach, Fort Hill & Red Maple Swamp, Trail to Coastguard Beach. Hemenway Landing.

Weather: Very warm and sunny with large clear skies and light winds.

We began with a short pre-breakfast excursion down to Kalmus Beach. The short drive yielded a few Common Grackles and Chimney Swifts for some, whilst on arrival an Osprey was on its telephone pole nest site. A marshy area hosted Laughing Gull, Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers and Snowy Egret. Roadside scrub yielded Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Northern Cardinal, Grey Catbird, Eastern Phoebe and the first of many Black-capped Chickadees. A flyover group of ducks included Black Duck. A Cooper's Hawk whizzed through and the beach attracted Great Blue Heron, Sanderling and a few Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

After a better than anticipated breakfast, we headed for Fort Hill in the outer cape. A rather warm walk was a bit slow at times, but with persistence we winkled out a few decent birds with highlights including Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, two obliging Great Crested Flycatchers, Northern Mockingbird, Turkey Vulture, close views of Cooper's Hawk, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Kingbird and a brief Cedar Waxwing.

We had lunch at a woodland picnic area before walking along a trail through the woodland to Coastguard Beach. Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatch, Prairie Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird were among the best of the passerines, whilst out on the marsh good numbers of Snowy and Great Egrets, obliging Semipalmated Sandpipers, large numbers of Common plus smaller numbers of Forster's and a handful of Least Terns. Smart juvenile Northern Harrier, two Peregrines and a scattering of shorebirds made up the rest of the cast. A final stop at Hemenway Landing added Mute Swans and Ring-billed Gulls, concluding a pretty decent first full day.

29th August: West Barnstable Conservation Area, West Harwich Conservation Area, Red River Beach, Forest Beach, Cow Yard Lane Chatham

Weather: Very warm with variable cloud and generally light winds, although some breezier spells at times.

We began the day in the wooded environs of the West Barnstable Conservation Area where after a slow start we encountered a couple of decent feeding flocks with American Redstart, Eastern Wood-pewee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker and Eastern Towhee amongst the best birds. After breakfast we headed for West Harwich where the breezy conditions hampered our attempts to find some marshland species. Red-winged Blackbird, Belted Kingfisher and Pine Warbler were welcome additions to the list here though.

Changing tack we opted to visit a number of spots for shorebirds. Red River Beach had Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover, Greater Yellowlegs and Willet, plus a few Eider bobbing about offshore. At Forest Beach there was more of the same plus Least Sandpiper and finally, after a fairly long walk down the beach, we added the hoped for Piping Plover, which afforded very nice views.

After a late lunch we visited Cow Yard Lane in Chatham, where the falling tide had exposed a muddy expanse thronged with feeding waders. Although a little further away than we might have liked, we enjoyed a thoroughly pleasant couple of hours, where in addition to more of the previously recorded waders we also saw American Oystercatcher, Short-billed Dowitcher, Knot, Spotted and White-rumped Sandpipers. A Prairie Warbler flitted amongst some low vegetation affording nice views.

30th August: Provincetown pelagic. Beech Forest.

Weather: Very warm and sunny, with little cloud and very light winds

Our trip out to sea in pursuit of whales was a memorable experience and one of the highlights of the trip. We had an early breakfast and then drove up to Provincetown. A brief look in the nearby Beech Forest was pretty quiet, so we headed for the boat. In the harbor there were a few Eider asleep and Black-crowned Night Heron flew over. As we headed out to sea it was less than half an hour before we encountered our first Fin Whales, which were present in good numbers with ca 16-18 individuals seen at close range.

Wow! Moving further out, we had close views of up to four Minke Whales, again at close range. Seabirds were beginning to show up and we enjoyed close encounters with Cory’s, Great, Manx and Sooty Shearwaters.

Our first Wilson’s Storm-petrels were soon showing themselves and as we headed further out we were to get increasingly close views of this desired species.

Northern Gannet, Arctic Skua were added to the list before we had simply amazing encounters with Humpback Whales at close range with the animals breaching repeatedly. A stunning and most memorable experience. The journey back was somewhat slower, but further Fin Whale sightings were enjoyed and we also managed to pick out a few Black Terns amongst the throngs of Common Terns feeding off the Race Point Beach.

After a stop for lunch in Provincetown we visited Beech Forest again. Here we found a Northern Waterthrush feeding along the pond edge. Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal were further species in the woodlands and a very obliging White-breasted Nuthatch.

A few waders on the pond here included Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers.

31st August: Fort Hill and Hemenway Landing. Marconi Station (Wellfleet). Morris Island

Weather: Rather cloudy, but warm and more humid than on previous days. Moderate W breeze.

We began the day with a hearty breakfast in Orleans and then headed directly to Fort Hill where we explored the fields and the adjacent salt marsh. A Red-tailed Hawk was feeding on the ground and some nearby scrub hosted House Finch, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Common Yellowthroat briefly. A Green Heron flew over. Sparrows were our prime interest at the edge of the salt marsh and we saw Savannah Sparrow briefly and then a couple of Seaside Sparrows. A Sora was flushed from almost under our feet and a Sand Martin was new for the list. Feet wet, we headed back to the main path and explored further. Most of the usual suspects were present but interesting species included Pine Warbler, Cedar Waxwing and Eastern Wood-pewee.

Our next port of call was the Marconi Station at Wellfleet, where we spent a pleasant time working the scrub and pines. Field Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow were both obliging, whilst a Brown Thrasher was also very welcome. After a lunch stop we headed to Chatham, where a visit to Morris Island added Eastern Kingbird, Lesser Black-backed Gull, White-winged and Black Scoter and for some a Baltimore Oriole.

1st September: Seagull Beach, Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Refuge, Chequessett Neck Road, Herring River, Cow Yard Lane.

Weather: Overcast with intermittent spells of light rain, becoming heavier in the afternoon. Light W wind.

We began the day with an early morning visit to Seagull Beach. A pleasant hour or so here produced a few waders including Hudsonian Whimbrel, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher and both Yellowlegs species. Two Clapper Rails were new and there was plenty of Osprey action. After breakfast we visited the Massachusetts Audubon refuge at Wellfleet Bay. We were held up in traffic en-route with the cause being some Wild Turkeys on the main road! A very pleasant few hours at the refuge provided educational views of Yellow-crowned Night Herons and gave us some wonderful close encounters with a variety of peeps. This included the first Western Sandpiper of the trip and the close views allowed us to study the subtleties of its identification features. Migrant passerines were typically thin on the ground, but we did see American Redstart, some smart Baltimore Orioles, Great Crested Flycatcher and Eastern Wood-pewee along with the usual resident species

As we finished our session in the refuge we headed into Wellfleet town to pick up a bite to eat and then in increasingly steady rain took a trip along Chequessett Neck Road to Herring River. We did not add a great deal but enjoyed nice views of Belted Kingfishers, plus a few Pine Warblers. The final stop of the day was at Cow Yard Lane in Chatham where a Yellow Warbler was new, with Prairie Warbler and Common Yellowthroat also present. Waders included most of the usual suspects before we opted to call it a day and head back to base.

2nd September: Beech Forest. Race Point Beach. Fort Hill.

Weather: Cooler with mostly clear skies and a brisk ENE breeze.

With a change in wind direction to a northerly quarter we hoped for an influx of migrant landbirds. Unfortunately despite the encouragement of an obliging Black-and-white Warbler and a couple of Red-eyed Vireos there was little other evidence of newly arrived migrants. So, after a couple of hours or so we visited Race Point Beach where a seawatch produced close views of Cory’s, Great and Sooty Shearwaters plus White-winged Scoter, Northern Gannet and a few Black Terns. In the afternoon we visited the Herring River at Wellfleet, but there was little of note. The final stop of the day was at Fort Hill where Turkey Vulture and ca 800+ hirundines (Tree and Barn Swallows) were the main birds of interest along with a very obliging Least Sandpiper

3rd September: Seagull Beach. Mashpee Riverine Forest. Ashumet Holly Wildlife Sanctuary. Crane Wildlife Management Area.

We began the day at Seagull Beach. Waders included the familiar Greater Yellowlegs plus Spotted Sandpiper and Hudsonian Whimbrel. Four Green-winged Teal were new, whilst patient scanning of the saltmarsh eventually yielded scope views of Saltmarsh Sparrow. A flock of Bobolinks flying over did little other than frustrate some group members. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed for Mashpee Riverine woodland. It was pretty quiet and although we saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings and a few more American Robins than previously, there was little of note. Ashumet Holly Wildlife Sanctuary was also generally quiet, but with much patience we eventually found a reasonable feeding flock which included Brown Creeper, Eastern Wood-pewee, Pine Warbler, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Not far away a couple of American Redstarts and Prairie Warbler were noted, but the dearth of warblers continued.

After a brief lunch stop we visited the open habitats of Crane Wildlife Management Area. American Kestrel and some well-received Eastern Bluebirds were new, whilst Chipping and Field Sparrows, more Pine Warblers and some obliging Red-tailed Hawks were seen. Soon after 1500 hrs it was time to head for Boston, where we arrived in good time for our flights home.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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