Yesterday one of my daughters took me on a seal cruise for my birthday. This was one of those funny years where almost all my birthday gifts involved a boat–my other daughter took me on a whale watch and my sister gave me tickets to go to Martha’s Vineyard. Anyway, we went out with the Beachcomber folks out of Ryder Cove in Chatham. When I first led seal cruises it was with the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History way back when Paul and Paula were first starting their seal cruise business so it was a bit nostalgic as well. If you’ve seen the bright yellow boats bopping around Chatham harbor and down around Monomoy you’ve seen the Beachcomber boats.
It was a picture perfect Cape Cod day….
We stayed inside the big sand spits due to big waves on the outside so we had no chance of seeing sharks….
but we did see lots of seals….
There are now about 10,000 gray seals off the outer Cape, most of them concentrated in the Chatham area, particularly around Monomoy. When I was a kid we almost never saw seals here in the summer. Occasionally we’d see a harbor seal around the canal in the winter but a gray seal? Never. They certainly have made a comeback, however.
These seals were sort of lolling about, taking it easy. Before we came by most of them were “bottling,” a behavior which seems like resting with their noses straight up in the air. They are still very alert but they are not expending much energy. Some seals were doing what looked like back flips into the water, splashing and dunking almost like kids. Some say they may be ridding themselves of parasites doing this but sometimes it is more fun to not be scientific about it and think maybe they are just goofing off.
I love how the seals watch us watching them….
Wouldn’t you like to know what they are thinking? This is probably a young seal since it still is pretty spotty. The females remain spotty with lighter coats than the males but full grown females tend to be larger than this seal was.
This is a great view of their big eyes and long whiskers…
and those huge nostrils….These seals were also called horseheads by the old time fishermen. You can learn more about gray seals through this link.
At the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary there is a small army of volunteers that monitors the nests of the diamondback terrapins both on the sanctuary and nearby. These blue flags and exclosures all signify confirmed terrapin nest.
Over the past few days the tiny terrapins have begun to hatch. Some are brought into the sanctuary to be weighed and measured and recorded in all ways possible.
I was lucky enough to get to see some that had just been brought in when I was visiting the sanctuary yesterday.
Each of these little guys is about the size of a quarter but they are so perfectly formed and marked there is not doubt they are diamondback terrapins. I see them each year and each year I marvel at their perfection.
This last photo not only gives you some scale but also shows the remaining egg sac on the underside of the shell. Once those fall off or are absorbed they will release the hatchlings. The yolk has an odor that the predators of the turtles are very well attuned to so giving them a day or two to become less of a snack is a good thing for the turtles.
Every fall when the northeast winds blow people rush to this particular beach to grab the tender bay scallops that sometimes wash up in the wind driven waves.
This morning when we took our early morning walk we were surprised to see so many cars and trucks parked just outside the still locked gate but it didn’t take us long to figure out why….
They were hunting and gathering scallops!
Some were very happy with their catch…
One let me photograph his bountiful bucket….
and some, like this poor lady in the foreground just couldn’t bring herself to scavenge through all that mucky seaweed to find her seafood gold…she left empty handed….
Irene left many Cape Codders without power but it was a beautiful day here. We traveled to the lower Cape and I have lots of pictures and stories to share over the next few days. I hope all of you have fared well through the winds and the waves and don’t have to worry about things like this…
I’m pretty sure the woman on the jetty talking on the phone actually had nothing to do with the poor boat listing on its side but I think this photo is just begging for a caption, don’t you?
As Hurricane Irene barrels up the east coast in our direction we are having a day of calm here in Hyannis on Cape Cod…
The beaches are quiet and mostly empty….not even a gull to be seen….
though there are lifeguards on duty….
Many, many boats have been taken out of the water already and others are being taken out today though some will ride out the storm on their moorings….
The bath house and snack bar are open but the windows are being boarded up….
the parking lot is mostly empty….there is no wind so even the usual wind surfers are not here….
on this last weekend of August there is an eerie feeling all around…
as we wait to see what Irene has in store for us….
It is no secret that I love working with kids of all ages. I’ve either been teaching art or nature to kids since I was just past being a kid myself. I love both art and nature and I want kids to know they don’t have to study them or be perfect in them or any of that….both allow and encourage exploration and that is what I emphasize in my own classes. Don’t know something? Ask or look it up. In the meantime, learn everything you can about by doing…watch, listen, experiment, be brave…
As adults it is important to pick places that are safe for kids to explore. If going out in a field be sure you don’t pick a field full of poison ivy or prickly vines. That will ruin the fun real fast. Also, let them know ahead of time if they might see a snake or bees or anything that might cause them a bit of alarm. Let them know what to do to be safe.
These young men and I were on a mission this morning–to catch grasshoppers and other insects we could take to a class I was teaching later in the day at the local library.
Good nets are great if you can get them–and if you are going to teach kids how to catch butterflies, dragonflies, etc. these nets shown here are too shallow and not very good at all. They were fine, however, for catching grasshoppers and crickets and other little jumping insects.
You can use plastic peanut butter jars with net or screen covers or invest in one of the commercially made plastic or screen bug houses or carrying cages. The one I have has an opening on top which is very handy for transferring grasshoppers from a net to the cage.
We took our catches to class but then we let them go afterwards. Kids, especially little ones, want to keep everything for pets but I remind them that even insects are happier in their own homes where they can find their own food and hang out with their own friends and families. That always seems to satisfy them and if possible, let the kids come with you when you let the critters go.
Kids love to explore. These boys learned that we have many different grasshoppers on the Cape and they also learned how to tell the male crickets from the females. They even caught a few small butterflies that we looked at and then let go. One of them said on the way back home, “That was awesome!” and that’s what it’s all about.
One of the wonderful things about living on the Cape is of course our proximity to the ocean and the many opportunities we have to observe ocean wildlife up close. I have to admit, I love whales and always have and so any time I get a chance to see them, I take the chance. I don’t know how many whale watches I’ve been on but it’s a lot.
There’s something about seeing these magnificent animals that makes my heart beat a little faster and my smile get a little wider. These are humpback whales and yesterday my daughter and her family took me out on a spectacular watch. For the last few years we have done this for my birthday but this was the most amazing one yet.
I don’t have a fancy camera and many of my pictures are sort of funny…
like this one which is the tail end, or actually flipper end, of a breach….
I did get a few decent pictures of breaching whales but I especially like this one that looks like the whale is balancing the Provincetown tower on its chin….
This whale was on its back, raising and slapping its flippers and then rolling around…
This is the double flipper splash….
And here, for the good bye, is a little fluke action….
What a fabulous day! We saw so many whales and seabirds, too–the seabirds are too quick for my camera though….
I have a unique opportunity to be included in an article/ picture essay in a major local publication. The walk will take place next week in the mid Cape area at a beach. Children must be 5 or older, though a younger sibling will be okay. The walk is for families so all ages are encouraged. It will include both a nature walk and a time for drawing. All supplies, nets, etc. are included.
In order to participate you must feel comfortable having you and your family photographed for possible inclusion in the article. Of course, there can be no guarantee of inclusion, even for me.
I am offering this for free because it is at a different time and place than my regularly scheduled family walks
For more details and information please email me at capecodartandnature AT gmail.com
One of my family art and nature walks takes place every week at Corporation Beach in Dennis. It is a great place for both families and exploring tidal pools and even though yesterday was a cloudy day the tide was almost out and we had a great group.
There were tons of hermit crabs but also lots of minnows and small crabs of various descriptions so we were all looking in the water as we walked along.
There are always cormorants hanging out on the big jetty here so at first glance we didn’t pay too much attention to this bird on the rocks while we were looking for fish and crabs. As we headed back down the side of the jetty, however, the bird looked up….
and I knew this wasn’t any cormorant. Check out that heavy bluish bill and those big yellow feet. I had read that people had seen a brown booby, a real stranger to our area, in the last week or so and my thoughts immediately jumped to thinking this may be that bird. I took lots of pictures and sent a few to Mark Faherty at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and it wasn’t long before other birders came along to confirm the ID.
These poses look just like the pictures in the Sibley bird book of the juvenile brown booby, a bird much more likely to be seen in the Caribbean than in New England. The other bird seen recently was actually seen in Maine and looked to be an older bird than this. Perhaps they got blown up this way in one of the recent storms we had.
You can learn more about the brown booby from this site and yes, this bird has a funny name. I do know this bird stayed at the beach until at least dusk and it may still be there this morning. If you do not have a Dennis sticker you will have to pay to park at the beach.
but it’s not. People think these multiple hole bird houses are great additions to gardens because they hope to bring in lots of birds.
This one was put up at a local nature center. I won’t mention any names but we did prevail upon them to cover up the holes so as not to encourage the types of invasive birds that like to nest in them, such as house or English sparrows…
Can you see the little hole at the top? The birds got in anyway and this is their third brood of the season. The problem with these aggressive little sparrows is that they are much tougher and pushier than most of our native songbirds and will actually bully other birds out of their nesting spots, even killing the parent and baby birds that are in their way. I’m not advocating injury to these birds but if we can stop offering them free housing like this that may help with their overpopulation. Very few of our local birds would nest so close to each other but these guys will just bicker and push each other around and live together uneasily if noisily.
Here’s one of the little guys waiting for mom or dad to bring new food. Check out the paper wasp nest that was starting to be built there, too.
Many people put up these multiple hole bird houses hoping to attract the purple martins that once frequented our area. These cavity nesting birds are starting to make a comeback in our area but you must have special habitat situations for them to consider nesting in your yard. If you are interested in learning more please check out any of the bird information websites that offer nesting information and birdhouse plans.
then bring a little bit of pond inside for them!
As you know by now, I always prefer to do nature lessons outside but right now I’m doing a series of classes at the Hyannis Public Library and so the classes are inside. Last week we did a little exploring with some tide pools in buckets and this week we explored some pond animals and plants…
I love to watch kids interact directly with wild animals–even tiny wild animals like this little painted turtle. They are a little shy and nervous at first but then they really get into it.
This young lady had a whole conversation going on….
We ended the session making some turtles and frogs of our own and as you can see we had some grown up helpers as well. I always want to give the grown ups their own projects but well, you know how it is sometimes….
Anyway, we’ve been having a great time in this class. One more session on August 25!