Race Point, Fort Hill and other locales on the peninsula are popular sighting areas

This flight pattern is well established, Cape Cod Life, April 2017 | capecodlife.com

Great Blue Heron • Photograph by Nick Flohr

“For birding, no other place on the East Coast of the United States can compare to Cape Cod,” claims Steve Arena, whose passion is seabirds.

An engineering manager from Westboro, Arena travels often to Race Point in P-town to spot and photograph birds. He became interested in birds at the age of 6, and has been birding seriously for the past 30 years, including capturing many species in his photos. Like many staunch birders, Arena maintains a photo repository at the online site Flikr—where his collection boasts nearly 12,000 images. Distinguished in the birding community, Arena achieved wider recognition in 2016, when he spotted a Yellow-billed Loon from the beach at Race Point. Cape Cod Times published a story about this event, and online birding sites chirped with interest—for this was the first time anyone had ever reported a Yellow-billed Loon sighting in all of Massachusetts. According to Audubon Magazine, less than 10,000 of the species remain, with more than half living in Alaska. “Folks came from as far away as Quebec and Alabama to see it,” Arena told the Times.

Cape Cod has long enjoyed its relationships with birds, though this has evolved over the past century. Back in the whaling era, lookouts would often spot birds before they’d see a spout, and, even today, fishermen look for bird activity to guide them to schools of fish. When the market shooting of shorebirds was widespread at the turn of the 20th century, Cape Codders could make a living from guiding and from the sale of bird decoys—that is, until the federal government ratified the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act in response to rapid declines in populations; the law protects species as diverse as bluebirds and great blue herons. And just as the whale watching industry has grown since the ban on hunting whales, bird-watching from smaller boats has also become a draw for enthusiasts.

Birding as a hobby, an activity, and even a vocation has shown rapid advances in the digital age, expanding opportunities for birders of every level. For many, birding begins in the backyard, and the place to find all of the necessary tools for this trade is in Orleans, at the Bird Watcher’s General Store. Like other general stores, this one offers a vast collection of items—but the focus, here, is on all things ornithological. There’s a section featuring the work of local artists including paintings of wood ducks on slate, carved songbirds, prints of chickadees, and watercolors of herons. There’s also a recreation section with bird dominoes and jigsaw puzzles, a clothing department with parrot socks and crow t-shirts, jewelry and ornament nooks with earrings of carved and silver bird likenesses, an optics section with binoculars and scopes, and an entire wing dedicated to feeders, baths, and seeds. In the bookshop, one can find field guides, videos, birdsong CDs and DVDs, and, of course titles on everything under the sun—with feathers. “This is the part of the store I like the best,” owner Mike O’Connor says, “the field guides, and the education. This is what’s important.”