Nature sketching on Cape Cod to welcome in summer

I love to sketch, I love nature and I love traveling around Cape Cod so on this sunny day in late June I packed my lunch and my sketching materials and headed to the lower Cape, hopefully beating the summer crowds.


I then headed to one of my favorite places for sketching flowers, etc., Fort Hill in Eastham.


It was picture perfect there, with fields full of flowers like these sweet peas…


I got out my trusty pen and little red Moleskine notebook and began to sketch. Almost all my field sketches are done in ink. I add the color later at home. This allows me to stand while I draw and to move along from subject to subject easily and quickly.


Later, I add the watercolor washes like these…

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Sometimes, though, I find a spot where it is perfect to just hang out a bit and paint, like this one in the beech woods by the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, where I also went today. This spot is a favorite of mine going back to childhood and I have to say it still has the same magic for me today.


  I highly recommend getting out to do a little sketching and writing or even just daydreaming. It helps to capture a moment, an observation and refines our observation skills, something we can always improve upon. Never mind about talent or experience. Just begin where you are.

Happy summer!


Welcome, summer!

Oops, I’ve been busy and I have not been updating here. I’ve been working with kids in the woods, at the pond and at the salt marsh. I’ve been drawing and painting, catching frogs and writing.

One of the coolest things I did over the last few weeks was attend a bird banding demonstration at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

The table was all set up with the necessary tools for weighing, measuring and recording.

038The next step was to check the mist nets which had been set up in areas migratory birds fly through but which also had some protection.


The little bag holds other bags which can gently hold the birds found and carefully removed from the nets.

Look what we found! A great crested flycatcher! These guys are feisty and vocal in the wild and they are when captured as well.


Feathers are examined to determine condition and age of the bird.059By blowing on the belly of the bird the bander can tell if the bird has a bare brood patch, meaning it is sitting on eggs. In this species both male and female can have brood patches so sex was not determined.

062The bird is then weighed. It looks sort of tough but really, the bird is quieted by the darkness and the fact that it can’t move. It is only in the tube for a matter of seconds.

071 072After all that the band is affixed to the leg and all info is recorded.

061A moment is taken to admire and thank the bird for its cooperation

074and then it is released. When releasing the birds, they are held close to the ground which helps them orient themselves.

077Let’s just say the birds do not hang around after being released. This one actually called and chatted back and forth with what we assumed was a mate almost immediately. All of this takes place in a matter of minutes, by the way. The bird banders are very kind, calm and aware of the bird’s dignity and stress level. I have seen birds banded before but it was a pretty cool way to spend a morning.


First Cape Cod mayflowers now blooming

It didn’t take spring long to wake up the trailing arbutus, also known as the mayflower, our state flower.

Look for them along sunny banks in pine and oak woodlands. They sprawl across the ground with tough woot leaves and are sporting buds in most areas.

Just this morning I found my first blooms and in an old abandoned wood lot in Hyannis so you never know where they may show up.

Some areas should be just gorgeous with these sweet smelling flowers very soon.

Cape Cod Walking Groups

It’s spring, finally! That means it is time to get outside, explore old favorite paths but find new paths and new places to explore as well. I grew up here on the Cape and am familiar with many, many places and yet every year I find new places that become new favorites. There are probably enough places to explore, even in a small place like Cape Cod, that I will never find them all.


So how do you find new places? Go off the beaten path and take a road you’ve never taken before. The Cape is only so wide and only so long. You can only get so lost!

Joining a group or signing up for a nature walk with any of the many wonderful nature minded organizations is also fun and you’ll make some new friends as well.

I learn new things every time I take a walk with another naturalist, birder or botanist so I try to mix it up and go on all sorts of walks throughout the year. Check out Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay and Mass Audubon at Long Pasture for seasonal walks. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History has weekly walks with Connie Boyce that are very popular and the Green Briar Nature Center has bi-monthly Wild Women Walking walks with Mary Beers. There are many others as well. Mashpee runs public walks as does the Harwich Conservation Trust, the town of Barnstable and the Barnstable Land Trust (an independent group, not town run.)

The other day I went on one of Mary Beers’s walks at the East Sandwich Game Farm. Mary is so knowledgeable you’ll gather all sorts of interesting information.

This walk is not for exercise as much as it is for natural history so don’t plan on any serious hiking. You can go back by yourself for that. I know the game farm pretty well, having worked with Mary there many times over the years but we found a few things I never knew before…

Like there is a special patch of reindeer lichen there…

052 Not only is reindeer lichen a favorite food of reindeer in areas where they live–which is not on Cape Cod–but a close up will show you that the little branches look like reindeer antlers. I have seen this in a lot of places but not in a big patch like this one! Mary told us the patches are few and far between on the Cape…053We also found little holes like these on a sunny hillside path….the sun had gone in but it was still warm when we found them….


Mary thought they might be the little nesting spots of solitary bees and as we looked carefully on the ground we started to see the bees coming out of the dirt. Most were just waking up from the winter! 048They lay their eggs in these tunnels and bring pollen in that will feed the larvae when they hatch. How cool is that?

We heard and saw the usual birds but a belted kingfisher gave us a nice close look and we watched both osprey and a Cooper’s hawk fly overhead.

Check the links that are highlighted to find more information about each group’s walks. If you’d rather just go walking by yourself, there are also lots of good books out there as well, with maps and info.

Just get outside. And take a kid or two or three!


I went looking for spring in the  Cape Cod woods…

But what I found was more winter…

I  started my day at the Lowell Holly Conservation Area in Mashpee. This is usually a delightful place to walk but it had many icy and snowy areas along the trails that were tricky to navigate.

There were many lovely vistas however


You find lots of white pine, beech and of course, American holly here. I also found a nice little stand of Princess pine and tea berry .

Carpet moss is nice and green but the lake is still mostly frozen.

Later, at the Jehu Pond Conservation Area I saw lots of trailing arbutus leaves so mayflowers will be blooming soon!

I saw my first pine warbler of the season and courting hairy woodpeckers but the woods were pretty quiet.

One thing that becomes obvious as the snow melts is how tough winter was for birds and other wildlife. I found signs and remains of multiple birds and even those of a hawk .

But I also found this– a little reminder of the hope that is spring!

Finding spring on Cape Cod….

After a week of being sick and housebound and watching the snow blow yet again outside my window I went in search of spring this week. 


Where is the best place to find spring? At a farm! Every year about this time I pop on over to Peterson’s Farm in Woods Hole to see the little lambs. It doesn’t get much cuter than little lambs jumping and running about. No matter how grumpy or out of sorts you may be feeling I think it would be hard to stay that way while watching little lambs frolic. 



I even got to visit with Harley, the llama and his older charges. That Harley is one patient dude, hanging out with the chickens as well as those persnickety old sheep.


Birds were singing all about,  none as brightly or loudly as this happy song sparrow, though.


Robins and grackles were everywhere in the fields, some even finding worms or grubs. It’s late for worms and grubs but there is still snow on the ground in many places. In the warmer spots, however, worms and grubs were nearer to the surface.

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A rabbit watched me as I watched it, hidden well within the brambles…



It gave me a nice little flash of white tail as it made its exit.

016The shrubs and vines are showing life and were full of birds…




 In another few weeks it will be full on spring at the farm. I can’t wait! Happy Spring, everyone!


Cold front blows through

Last night around 6 o’clock the bright sun faded as a huge dark cloud approached from the north. Living on the south side by a harbor we were treated to a sky half sunny and half stormy…

The wind blew, branches bent and on the north side of our house fat raindrops hit our windows. The front passed in minutes, leaving golden light behind.

That’s the same scene just moments later. Pretty amazing, huh?

Then there was this

And this

It was like fire in the sky which then calmed and faded to this

Within minutes it had faded to this

Do you see the tiny star?

It was definitely worthy of a wish!

All photos taken with my iPhone and within an hour or so last night.

Icebergs, Cape Cod Style

Perhaps you’ve seen the photos and news story that went viral about the giant (for us) icebergs breaking up and floating in Cape Cod Bay. Wellfleet at low tide was suggested as the best place and time to see them and that was around 9:30 this morning. Of course I had to go!

I was running a bit behind so I stopped at First Encounter Beach in Eastham. What a sight! About a dozen people were there taking photos and chatting….

Someone had walked out on the ice–not a great idea, by the way–and if you look really closely in the center of the second photo you can see a standing person dressed in black….gives you some idea of how big those chunks of ice were….

When I left there I headed to Wellfleet but at the last minute I thought I’d try Corn Hill in Truro. It should have had the same big ice and maybe not the crowds of Wellfleet. Whoa! I hit a bonus for sure! The water was glassy still, the sky clear and blue and the ice was clean and white!


The photos just don’t do it justice. It was profoundly beautiful, peaceful and sublime. I was there by myself for a long time but finally someone else came by so I could get some scale.

Finally I dragged myself away–it was a warm and lovely day here–and went to Wellfleet. What a mob! Hundreds of people and scraggly looking ice….

I took my lunch to Skaket where there were also a lot of people….

And in the end I was seriously glad I had listened to that little voice that told me to try somewhere different. It was truly a sight and a day I will never forget…

If you go, know that the ice is melting and that salt ice is not reliable, even on the sand. Dogs may try to jump and could be stranded so leashes are advised around the ice floes. Also, low tide is your friend. Don’t wait too long! They will be gone soon.

Winter visitors at the bird feeders

This has been a tough winter for many of our feathered friends. Copious amounts of snow have made it difficult to find natural food and many birds that don’t usually visit feeders have been coming around, hoping for some nutritious handouts to tide them over.

For the first time in my yard I have had a hermit thrush. Hermit thrushes do over winter here on the Cape in small numbers but in 30 years I have never had one in the yard until now.

036 037Another bird that we have all summer but not usually at a feeder in the winter is the gray catbird and yet one showed up about two weeks ago and visits the suet feeder daily.



This isn’t a great shot but check out that rusty red under the tail feathers!020

Another unusual visitor has been this northern mockingbird. Again, a bird that we know is around even in the winter but which usually stays far away from the feeders.

005 009 011And then there is the visitor to the feeders none of the other birds like to think about but hey, it’s been a tough winter and even the Cooper’s hawks are hungry…

100Many people have been spotting unusual birds in their yards this winter. What have you been seeing?


Finding Beauty in a Cape Cod Winter

This has been quite a month and I’m pretty sure most of us are tired of the “S” word by now. Rain is predicted after beginning as snow for tonight and tomorrow and although it will probably make a mess of the roads I’ll be glad to see at least some of these huge snow piles wash away.

The beaches, though cold, have been stark and gorgeous, if you like that sort of thing, which I do.


My husband and I took some time off to go exploring down Cape this past week and the reward was well worth it.

We originally aimed for Chatham so took Rt. 28, the southern route. This allowed us to stop at Seagull Beach in West Yarmouth


and West Dennis Beach


Chatham was freezing cold and windy so we just looked onto South Beach from the parking lot.



We decided to head on up to Eastham and stopped at Fort Hill

And Coast Guard Beach


And First Encounter Beach


Where you can see how frozen Cape Cod Bay is


Our last stop of the day was Paine’s Creek in Brewster


As we traveled the temperature dropped about 20 degrees from morning until late afternoon but we went well prepared. Have you been out and around since all this snow fell? What is your favorite snowy beach scene?