Saturday, September 14, 2013

Shorebirding at South Beach, Cape Cod

I had the opportunity to travel to Swarovski's U.S. headquarters in Warwick, Rhode Island earlier this summer. After a day of meetings with several other birding bloggers from across the U.S. and Canada, we were treated to a day of birding on South Beach, just off Chatham on Cape Cod. It was a fabulous day with new friends and LOTS of shorebirds!

Our morning began early, of course (if there's anything I've learned about birders, it's that they're up before the sun when they're motivated). On a picture-perfect day, we spilled out of the van and on to the beach in Chatham, at the elbow of the flexed arm that is Cape Cod's shape.

Loaded with binoculars, scopes, tripods and other assorted gear, we assembled and waited for transport to the South Beach area of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.  Soon our taxi boat picked us up and whisked us across the channel--a 10-minute ride.



Above: Rob Lancellotti of Swarovski, one of our terrific hosts for the day.  As you can see, there were smiles and anticipation as we motored out, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the Cape Cod coastline.

Slipping in to the cool water, we waded in to South Beach.  Before we even got there, some of these crazy cats set their tripods up right in the water to view the first birds of the day.

I'll have to admit I was humbled by the birding knowledge and skill of my comrades. I was definitely the rookie of the group, even though I've been birding for years. But that didn't matter one bit. I was welcomed in to the fold, and I learned a lot from this talented and generous group of people. All I had to do was shadow these guys (and gal) and absorb as much as I could.

Above is Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optik: our intrepid trip leader, tireless tour guide and local birding (and food) expert. A Connecticut native, Clay now lives in south Texas.  He helped each of us find numerous life birds, and genuinely celebrated every single one with us.  This guy is, in one word: focused. And that's not just an optics pun, folks.


We were the only humans on South Beach for most of the day. Gloriously, it was just us, the birds, sand, and waving sea grass. Curious Harbor Seals would bob up to peek at us from time to time. (Above photo by Drew Weber)

I started noticing Horseshoe Crabs--whose eggs are a major food source for shorebirds--on the shore. Many of them weren't home, their empty shells evidence of their propensity for molting. They can live to be 20, and will molt several times before they reach maturity. Some of these discarded shells were huge! I found a weathered and windswept grand daddy shell that resembled a helmet, and wore it on my head for part of the morning. My Norwegian heritage must have been emerging--fortunately, no one in the group questioned me on this.


Our friends from Swarovski brought a wheeled cooler filled with sandwiches and water and dutifully pulled it through the sand to our lunch spot (I did NOT make these tracks!) I'm pretty sure they took time out to eat, but as quickly as possible, got right back to looking for lifers.



Part of the fun was entering our sightings, right on the spot, to the eBird website.  We saw 48 species for the day. You can view our list here. If you haven't tried eBird yet, learn how to share your sightings here.

After several hours of roaming through the sand, it was nice to just sit and relax. I let myself be distracted by the shells, rocks, and surf as the sun began to descend.


At around 4:30, the tide came in, allowing our taxi boat to return for us. Tired and happy, we returned to the mainland with memories--and friendships--to last a lifetime. Thanks, Swarovski!


Photo by Sharon Stiteler

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

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