King Eider at Cape Cod Canal

Every winter we get a few birds hanging around our area that are fairly rare but which appear as singletons with some regularity. For example, harlequin ducks, beautiful birds from the far north that usually winter off the rocky Maine coast, can be seen off the Cape in several locations almost every winter. There may be one or two that spend a good part of the winter by the canal jetty each winter and there always seems to be at least one seen at Nauset or Coast Guard Beach. I have seen them in both locations each winter for at least 10 years but just the one or two.

King eiders are another northern duck that seems to make a yearly appearance here on the Cape in the winter. Most often seen with the flocks of eider ducks in or around the Cape Cod Canal one can sometimes be seen off the outer Cape beaches or off Sandy Neck, which may be the same one seen by the canal. That’s a king eider smack in the center, hanging out with his common eider buddies.

Some years I spy one but for the last few years when a king eider has been reported at the canal I have missed it. This year reports have been coming in over the last few weeks that a very accommodating king eider drake was being seen daily by the herring run on the Wareham side of the canal. The weather was rough and I was busy and I enjoyed everyone else’s photos. Until yesterday. Yesterday we were heading to New Bedford so we had a chance to stop and see the bird.

As everyone else had mentioned, it was indeed, right there and easy to spot. I do not have a fancy camera so you can see how close the bird was. If you’re so inclined, go see it. One of these days it will leave but for now it seems quite content to hang out eating shellfish and crustaceans which are abundant in the canal, especially along the rocky jetties.

Searching for spring on the upper Cape

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It was a beautiful day yesterday so I packed up the camera, sketchbook, pen and watercolors and headed out to see what signs of spring I could find. I chose Bourne, mostly because I wanted to look for the king eider that has been seen hanging out with the common eiders in the canal and I wanted to see it if I could.

See if you can spot the king eider in this flock…

002I didn’t spot him either though I looked at each and every bird more than once through binoculars.

We headed over to Four Ponds Conservation Area which is one of my favorite places. We found lots of signs of spring there.

009By the little stream we found skunk cabbage and watercress. We also spotted a mourning cloak butterfly. I got out my sketchbook and we did the rest of the walk in slow motion as I stopped to sketch along the way.

001Although I love to take photos and take a lot of them, the sketching slows me down and allows me to really look at the details.

We saw our first painted turtles of the year, and a lot of them.

018and the first buds of mayflower or trailing arbutus

026I spied some whimsical things like these

002and then, at the end of our day we stopped by Peterson’s Farm to see the new baby lambs just because…

032I’ll be posting more of my favorite first signs of spring over the next days and weeks. What are some of yours?








Happy November!

Well, I haven’t posted much in October, mostly because October was a whirlwind, crazy busy month for me. I taught art and nature classes all over the Cape, had an exhibit at Barnstable Town Hall and wrote a whole lot of columns and reviews. Yep, it was a busy month.

I worked with Project Life classes through the Thornton Burgess Society in Sandwich, Bourne and Mashpee….

032taught kids how to pick up crabs without getting pinched…

033taught a little painting to adults, too….at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary but also did a little painting of my own…002

We had a little reunion with former students–all the ladies but me are in their 80s and one is in her 90s! I’ve known most of these ladies as students since 1980 and we’ve all become great friends. One moved to New Mexico 10 years ago but came to see us this fall….2011 etsy christmas cards 025

We had a great 5 week session of fall Sandy Neck Junior Rangers…011

and of course, the always energetic and photogenic Arlo was happy to join me walking along the canal on some of the best fall days….147




Losing ground…

The Cape lost a lot of sand in the span of just one day, more or less. It was a wild, wet and windy day but still, it didn’t take very long to undercut, flood or wash away dunes and sand cliffs that had stood guard over beaches and marshes for many, many years.

To be honest, I haven’t had the heart to go see much of the devastation, especially on the lower Cape. I did, however go see what had happened at Town Neck Beach in Sandwich. I have spent many, many years at Town Neck Beach either walking or leading nature classes there. It is a unique and beautiful area that has been under siege for years now due to the jetty built to hold the shape of the canal at one end of the beach. Like all jetties this one allows for sand build up on one side and sand depletion on the other since it stops the natural redistribution of sand.

The truth is that sand is always in motion and our beaches are constantly rearranging themselves. Sometimes watching the way they do that can be very depressing and hard to bear, especially when a beloved beach seems to just be slipping away…but when you know that the reason was man made and that nothing is being done to control it then it is especially difficult…

See this sand? This used to be a dune….it got blown through by water and wind in the blizzard last week and is now in the parking lot and the adjacent salt marsh.

This looks like a pretty scene…

until you realize that there used to be a big dune there. You would not have had an ocean view before the dune got washed out. This was a huge dune and it is not the same dune I showed you that is now in the parking lot…

This is the salt marsh behind the dune. There is a huge amount of sand there now where there used to be a rocky walkway…

here’s a close up view of the back of yet another dune. That’s right–this erosion was on the backside of the dune! The water erosion is from the high tide in the marsh!

Here’s another look at that big break…

This is not petty damage….the marsh behind these dunes (and there were 8 breaks in all!) is already flooded more often than it should be. If you have driven through Sandwich on 6A you may have noticed you drive over a bridge over the marsh. That’s the same marsh you see here. Constant flooding will not only compromise the marsh but the roadway itself, the homes and businesses nearby and well, you get the picture. Sandwich built a road and half a town on a salt marsh way back when. If the town doesn’t act soon, the ocean may be coming to take some of it back.

There’s a group formed in Sandwich to help raise public awareness and to try and replenish this beach. It is called the Trustees of Sandwich MA, Beach. You can get more information about their efforts on their website


Eider Ducks

If you walk along the Cape Cod Canal or along the Sandwich beaches you will find huge rafts of common eider ducks. These northern ducks gather here by the thousands late in the fall and stay here all winter. Although smaller groups may be found all along the coast of the Cape each winter these mussel loving birds really congregate in this area due to the huge concentration of mussels, sea urchins and other favorite foods.The beautiful males or drakes are marked with lovely and distinct black and white patterns.
The females are also lovely but a more muted brown. Eiders nest much farther north than the Cape (though it is thought some are nesting here now) and are colonial nesters, meaning they like to nest in large groups. The color of the females helps them blend into the sand or dirt they scrape a nest in.
In any flock of eiders you may see what look like oddly marked birds that are neither marked like males or females. These are the immature or young ducks that haven’t got their full plumages yet.
At one point eiders were hunted almost to extinction for their beautiful feathers. If you’ve heard of eider down, that referred to the soft down from the eider duck’s breast. Coats and jackets were also made from their skins. Today these birds are safe from this sort of hunting and their populations have made a good come back.