Cape Cod -- Aug 19-21, 2017 (Part 2 of 2)

Aug 20:
Our hope on this day was to visit South Monomoy Island, a legendary autumn birding locale situated at the very tip of the "elbow" of Cape Cod. Despite the island's stellar reputation, well-deserved thanks to a long list of vagrants and numbers of migrant passerines, you pretty much never hear anything about it these days. That's simply because the island is difficult to access; it is only reachable by boat.

If you take a look at its position on the map above, you can see why it must be an amazing place right after an autumn cold front.

We would be visiting in mid-August, with no such frontal boundary nearby, so we were not expecting a landbird migration. However South Monomoy can also produce shorebirds, terns, and long-legged waders, and this was a fine time of year for those.

We launched the boat out of Harwich and made our way to the public landing area of this portion of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Our hike took us first to the lighthouse, where a few trees and shrubs can hold migrant landbirds during the right conditions. Again, not expecting much on this date and weather pattern, we checked anyway. We had a few warblers, mostly presumed breeders, with one obvious migrant being a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. Quiet as anticipated, we walked southwest to a tidal pool called the Powder Hole. Here we observed shorebirds and terns of the expected species for the date. Nothing unusual stood out, but we enjoyed picking through the flocks.

Birding the Powder Hole - photo by Julian Hough

Unfortunately the nearby freshwater Station Ponds were full of water thanks to the wet summer we'd experienced (and needed!). We had hoped for muddy edges for shorebirds, or at the very least shallow water for egrets and herons (and storks or spoonbills or whatever...). But we were out of luck.

We gave South Monomoy a good effort. Though our results on this day were underwhelming, I think that each of us are excited to get back there on a future date...perhaps for an autumn landbird flight, one of these years soon.

On our way back to shore we stopped for a quick look from the boat for a Bar-tailed Godwit that had been summering in the area. We didn't find the godwit on the flats, but we would take a dedicated shot at that bird on the next day.

Luke Seitz taking one for the team, scanning from the shallows

We headed back to land, as Julian, Phil, and Dave had to get back to CT for work on Monday.

Aug 21:
With a Small Craft Advisory scheduled for the following day, today was looking like our last shot at using the boat. Peter, Luke and I thought we should check out "Minimoy," a tiny island that lies between South Monomoy and North Monomoy Islands. Our target here was that BAR-TAILED GODWIT that we had briefly looked for the previous afternoon. This time we would land and bird the flats around the island as the tide came up.

It didn't take Luke long to scope the bird from a distance. Eventually the Bar-tailed, accompanied by several MARBLED and HUDSONIAN GODWITS, made their way over to "our" flat as the tide rose. We were treated to point blank views of these birds for some time.

Bar-tailed Godwit with Marbled (left) and Hudsonian (right) Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Hudsonian Godwit

Hudsonian Godwit

Hudsonian Godwits

Marbled Godwit

Barwit & boat

After that show we poked around the area in search of other shorebird roosts but could not find much else. The sands out here are constantly shifting, and the roost locations may vary greatly from year to year.

Unsure of what to do next, Pete suggested that we navigate through the shifting sands and channels to the open ocean side of Chatham, in an effort to find some seabirds. After some discussion, we decided to head offshore a bit. Recent half-day pelagic trips had recorded seabird and whale activity about 10 miles ESE of Chatham Harbor. Seas were calm and we made really good time to that area, where we indeed found what we were looking for. Minke Whales were scattered in all directions, some lunge-feeding on baitfish. We found several groups of shearwaters, and with those we found jaegers. Two PARASITIC JAEGERS were working the shearwaters and gulls, while we had an all-too-brief sighting of a distant skua that we were never able to relocate. The skies dimmed for a while as the solar eclipse (partial here) took place.

Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaeger terrorizing a Laughing Gull

Cory's Shearwater
Luke using those Cornell brains of his to safely show us the eclipse in real time!

shearwaters boatside
En route we came across a dark-backed tern perched on some flotsam. Bridled Tern?? Nope, just a juvenile Black Tern. As the boat drifted towards the tern, it eventually gave up its perch, revealing it to be a recently deceased Great Shearwater!

you can't tell from this angle, but that's a dead GRSH and some seaweed it's standing on

Black Tern

We made it back to shore that evening with a bit more effort than we had anticipated. The new channel through the recent breach at South Beach gets quite shallow at low tide, as we found out the hard way. A few times the engine had to come up and the boat was propelled by human strength, at one point dragging it over a sandbar. Worth it, for me...but maybe ask Luke yourself.

No pelagic, no problem! We made up for the lack of offshore canyon birding with plenty of inshore goodness.

 - Nick


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