Birds of a Feather

One sure sign of spring is the return of the osprey. You first observe them circling high above a tidal cove surrounded by marshlands and streaming tidal eddies. Maybe the reason we see them early is the importance of their local territories. After being gone for months, they return to the exact same location year after year. They pick the choicest areas for their nests, overlooking harbors, bays, and beaches. Maybe the importance of a water view determines how early in the season one returns to the Cape. They ardently protect their turf from neighboring osprey and other visiting species.

The Cape & Islands lie in an Atlantic seaboard path for hundreds of species of North American migratory birds. Headed northeast, they leave New York City on their left, and see stretching out before them like a road map: Long Island, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Chappaquiddick, Muskeget, Tuckernuck and Nantucket, and then Monomoy Island in Chatham.

At this location, most turn left and head north along our Atlantic-facing coast. Of course, many stop near the Chatham Lighthouse. It overlooks the barrier beach break and the fertile fishing grounds off the Chatham Fish Pier, stretching up into Pleasant Bay and Little Pleasant Bay. At the Orleans-Eastham town line, there is a break in the shoreline leading into Nauset Harbor and Town Cove. The tidal flows in this area are significant, flushing and feeding the marshes up into Salt Pond Bay in Eastham. Wonderful seafood supplies can be found here for weary travelers.

High above Nauset Light Beach and leaving the lighthouse in Eastham on their left, the National Seashore Headquarters and beautiful beaches stretch out before them, again, like a road map: LeCount Hollow, Whitecrest Beach, Cahoon Hollow, and Newcomb Hollow. This stretch of Wellfleet provides fertile feeding grounds again, from down at the shoreline popular with surfcasters up the beach to the hillside dune cliffs, popular with beachcombers of all species. I would say particularly those looking for the lobster salad roll at The Beachcomber restaurant at Cahoon Hollow Beach.

Continuing the migratory pattern northeast, travelers pass the Highland Lighthouse in Truro, then stop for a snack in the Provincelands, dunes, beaches, and marshlands of Provincetown, before heading Down East toward the coast of Maine. Of course, some smart birds take a shortcut up Buzzards Bay to the Cape Cod Canal.

After leaving Block Island in Rhode Island, they watch for the Buzzards Bay Light and Weather Tower marking the southern boundary of Buzzards Bay. Sharp left, head north, and skirt the pristine Elizabeth Islands: Cuttyhunk, Penikese, Nashawena, Pasque, and Naushon before crossing the tidal turbulent channel of Woods Hole adjacent to the seaside village of the same name.

From Falmouth up to the Cape Cod Canal, the beaches and marshes invite them to rest over at such wonderful stops as Quissett Harbor, Chappaquoit Beach, Old Silver Beach, Scraggy Neck, Wing’s Neck, and Mashnee Island. Those headed further north then follow the Cape Cod Canal to Cape Cod Bay and the majestic Manomet Bluffs in Plymouth.

Unquestionably in the minority, some species prefer the western shore of Buzzards Bay. From Horseneck Beach in Westport all the way to Onset Bay in Wareham, they find resting and nesting spots by bays and beaches. From Padanaram, they fly over the hurricane barrier wall at New Bedford Harbor and the peninsulas of Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, and Marion. It is beautiful shoreline, and I guess they find it less crowded there. It is probably because they do not know what they are missing, but I’ve heard that some of them don’t even fly as far as the Cape Cod Canal.

I believe there is a little bit of osprey in all of us.

My best,

May 2011

Brian Shortsleeve, President and Publisher



Brian Shortsleeve

Brian Shortsleeve is the President and Publisher of Cape Cod Life Publications.

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