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.

Stories trees tell in the Cape Cod woods

Way back in the day before the Europeans came to Cape Cod, the entire peninsula was covered with hard wood forests. Sassafras, hickory, beech, oak, maple and more were everywhere. So were the tall and stately white pines. The dirt was dark and loamy, rich with nutrients.

And then, the wood hungry people chopped down all the trees. All the trees. By the time Thoreau walked our shores in the mid 1800s there wasn’t a tree in the landscape, noted in his book, Cape Cod.

With the trees went the soil, leaving sand and in some areas, clay, behind.

Today our woodlands are full of oak and pitch pine. Pitch pine was planted in the 1800s to try and stop the eroding of the soil. Pitch pine is fast growing and tough.  If you’ve been to Cape Cod you have seen pitch pine. It is now ubiquitous here.

Almost all our woodlands are pretty monotonous. Pitch pine and oak….and in many areas the taller, wilier oak is winning. Pitch pines top out at about 50 feet. Oaks grow much taller. Every year the pines drop cones full of seeds and from those sprout little trees like this one. Some will prosper and grow. Many will not.img_8809.jpg Much of what is now woodland on the Cape was once used as farmland. Many trees were cut again to clear land and it is not unusual to find trees with two trunk in these areas. Both trunks grew from sprouts from the stump, left to rot.img_8819.jpgAmerican holly trees can be found in many of our woodlands. Some areas were actually cultivated for holly and are known as holly reservations, showcasing many varieties, such as Ashumet in Hatchville and Ryder Conservation area in Sandwich. Other woodlands have many accidentals, planted by birds which ate the seeds and then pooped them out.img_8812-1.jpgSome areas, especially in Mashpee, still have some very old, very tall white pines. In recent years I’ve been noticing white pines sneaking back into other areas as well, such as this area in Hyannis around Hathaway’s Pond. White pines grow fast and get very tall, out pacing the pitch pines so it will be interesting to see how this develops, if I live that long.img_8807.jpgI ‘ll be posting more about local trees and flowers as spring unfolds so stay tuned!

Happy Spring?

I’m trying to get back into posting regularly here so thanks for stopping by and reading. This past winter wasn’t so terrible, especially compared to last winter but it did throw us an icy little curve ball this week here on the Cape.

002Yep, it snowed. And hailed. And rained. And snowed some more, leaving a nice, crusty, icy covering on everything. All my poor daffodils suffered, lying their little yellow heads right down on the ground.

017Outside my kitchen window the grackles ruled. At least 50 flew in to take advantage of free seed and what a noisy, bickering bunch they were. Grackles are sort of like that large group of teenagers that rumbles through the neighborhood. They’re rude, they’re loud and yet, they have a certain shine to them that makes me smile in spite of myself.

056 The morning between storms was cold but still. The beach was a hundred shades of gray and the gulls were, too.024

Soon, the wind would pick up and more snow would blow in but in the meantime the mergansers were flirting it up.

038And then, it all melted and the sun returned. I saw my first mayflower in bloom.

024And a swan upon her nest.

022And like this lady mallard I knew that spring was really there in the wings, just waiting to return to the main stage.

Happy spring, everyone.

And then at the oriole feeder….

came all the newly fledged orioles, one after another. My feeder is so busy with young Baltimore orioles these days that they are hanging around in the nearby bushes bickering until they can take a turn. There are half a dozen adult orioles as well, leading me to believe I have at least 3 nests represented. One group has 3, another 2 and one male oriole brings one lone youngster every day….

003These youngsters are not brightly colored like their parents yet, allowing them to be well camouflaged as they flit about from tree to tree, bush to bush. They are foraging for insects as well as enjoying the grape jelly and oranges. Some of them are having a bit of a struggle with balance still and they often go bottoms up! Check out that lemon yellow tail  on the underside!

002This threesome has grown a lot over the week but the first day they arrived they were very unsure about how to get to the feeder so they just waited for dad to show them how it is done. Dad was not feeding them at this time so they begged from each other…sorry for the blurry photo but it does tell the tale…



Also this week I’ve had some other visitors to the oriole feeder.

010Check out that dull brown coloration when the wings are folded. Great camouflage! But look what happens when the butterfly opens its wings….

014It is hard to see the full coloration on the inside in this photo but I got good looks, if not good photos, of this little guy and I believe it to be what is called a question mark butterfly. That really is its name, by the way, and they are not uncommon here at this time of year.

012I’ve had other butterflies visit the feeder as well but none as cooperative as this one when it came to posing for the camera.

I also have catbirds visiting this feeder but so far I have only succeeded in capturing a gray blur….

Happy July, everyone!


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?


First butterflies of spring

Over the past week here on Cape Cod you may have begun to see our first butterfly of the season, the mourning cloak. The mourning cloak, Nymphalis antiopa is a fairly large butterfly that is dark brownish puplish with light bands on the outer edges of the wings. These butterflies are usually seen in lightly wooded areas where the sun can reach them but where they are well camouflaged against the old leaves and bare branches.

030Some people think they are seeing bats or small dark birds when they first see them, as the flight of these butterflies can be a bit erratic and sporadic in the early spring. Believe it or not, mourning cloaks actually hibernate here throughout the winter and emerge as the air warms up.

Often they seem to come out of nowhere because they blend into the background so easily…



Looks sort of like a twig, huh?

Some fun facts about mourning cloaks

  • In early spring they mate and lay their eggs in circles on host plants such as willows, elms and birches
  • Their caterpillars live communally in tents and can be a problem in shade loving trees
  • By late summer the caterpillars have pupated and the butterflies have emerged
  • Some mourning cloaks migrate though many hibernate

You can find more information and photos at


Kids love to draw and be outside….

I know this is true…

This little girl was jumping up and down, pulling her friend’s hair and screaming really loudly just before she sat down to draw….she sat like this for over half an hour filling page after page with pictures of leaves, flowers, birds and bugs…. Continue reading

Early Summer Field Flowers

Our calendars say summer is still a few days away but according to the meteorologists the meteorological summer began on June 1 and it sure has been feeling and looking like summer here on Cape Cod already.

I’ve been out in fields and meadows a lot lately so thought I’d share some of my field flower  photos.

Yarrow is always easy to spot. Some of it is yellow and some is pink but so far all I’ve seen is the white variety.

Indigo is just coming into bloom and is very common in our fields and along roadsides.

If you look at it closely you can see it is related to the peas.

You might also see sweet pea–but it is not a wildflower, just an escapee…

Several kinds of clover are in bloom, including the common white clover we have in our yards

And there is also the pretty pink or red clover as well as the fuzzy rabbit foot clover…

And of course everyone’s favorite–including the Monarch butterfly’s–the milkweed…

I’ll post more over the week but these are all in bloom right now and easy to find.

Finding a lovely bog orchid….

One of the pleasures of wandering about with no real agenda or expectations is that one sometimes comes across a real gem….

How beautiful is this little flower? It was just standing there with another of its kind in a little old wild cranberry bog in the middle of the dunes in Sandy Neck in Barnstable and was only about 5-6″ high.. I was there leading an art and nature group this past weekend and we had special permission to do some meandering but this little cranberry bog is actually right off to the side of a main trail going out to the beach from the marsh side–about 4 miles out.

This sweet ‘bog orchid’ is known as Rose Pogonia, Pogonia ophioglossoides and according to Mario DiGregorio is not as rare as you might think. In fact, back in the day this little flower was so commonly found in cranberry bogs that young girls were paid a penny a plant to rid the bogs of these pesky “weeds.”

The other name for this plant is Snakeweed, due to its ragged, tongue like appearance. Look for it in old cranberry bogs, especially in dune areas like High Head and Sandy Neck. You can find more information in the wonderful Cape Cod Wildflowers: A Vanishing Heritage by Mario DiGregorio and Jeff Wallner.

Where’s the bear?

If you’re on the Cape or anywhere near, you know we have a very famous visitor here–a young black bear! Everyone’s talking about it and the jokes and stories are multiplying faster than mosquitoes around here. This guy is on the move and was noted in Brewster early yesterday morning. Well, it just so happened that my daughter, grandson and I were also headed to Brewster yesterday morning and yes, we were pretty excited about maybe seeing the bear along the way.

We were headed to the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and when we got there we found we were far from alone. A news helicopter was overhead, people with cameras and binoculars were everywhere and down the road were police cars and other official cars from various agencies charged with checking out the bear and keeping people safe.

Behind this scene were several dozen people scanning the marshes and nearby woods. This was taken at the corner of Paine’s Creek Rd. and Rt. 6A. Everyone was in a happy, anticipatory mood and I couldn’t help but feel that this little bear has made a lot of people happy. For all the chatter about how disconnected from nature we all are this moment proved that really, people want to be connected to nature. They are even a bit excited about it. Now, will these same people be excited 10 years from now if bears actually begin to repopulate the Cape? That’s another story. I remember when people were excited that coyotes were here back in the beginning. These days very few people are excited about coyotes and in fact many actually hate them.

In the end none of us saw the bear….

But over the past week we’ve seen lots of other things like this lobster shedding its shell in an aquarium at the museum…

or these lovely Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers in East Sandwich

or beautiful scenes like this one at Sandy Neck

One day this past week I even was witness to a wild swarming of winged carpenter ants that came and went in a matter of hours.

So……no bear photos but a great week to be outside nonetheless!