(June 16-23, 1999)
by Ernesto G. Occhiato

This is the report of a trip to Massachusetts that allowed me to visit some wonderful coastal marsh areas of the New England; to listen the mesmerizing song of Veery in solitary dark forests; and to enjoy the sight of the giants of the Ocean surrounded by flying ghosts. Let the poetry past by! Although I had the opportunity to dedicate only three days to birding, the right choice of the sites produced more than seventy species, of which 27 new to me in my personal North American list. Mid-June is not the best for migrating birds (check-lists of, letís say, mid-August included more than 120 species), however, some of the shorebirds I saw were more than sufficient to light up the day of an European birdwatcher.

Boston was the starting point of all our excursions in Massachusetts with a blue Chevrolet rented at the Logan Airport. Boston is located halfway between Cape Cod and Plum Island, the best birding areas of the State, and a one-and-half hour driving from the city allows those sites to be reached; moreover, from Boston the boats trips for whale-watching set off, therefore making the capital or, better, its outskirts the ideal place to find an accommodation. I was in Rockland, just south to Boston: RED-TAILED HAWKS (Buteo jamaicensis), BALTIMORE ORIOLES (Icterus galbula), GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS (Myiarchus crinitus), GRAY CATBIRDS (Dumetella carolinensis), COMMON GRACKLES (Quiscalus quiscula), NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS (Mimus polyglottos) and DOWNY WOODPECKERS (Picoides pubescens) were common in the area surrounding the hotel where I was.

Being there in summer, a boat trip for the WHALE-WATCHING was a must. This would have let me see hundreds of seabirds flyng above tens of whales feeding on plancton. Really an unforgettable scene. Two companies arrange boat trips from Boston for the whale-watching and both have their harbor at the Aquarium area, reachable by subway. Usually the first trips start at 10:30 a.m. (with the boats owned by the Aquarium company) and at 11.30 (with the nearby company, a ticket is 25 dollars). Once in the area of the whales (after a one-hour navigation with a fast hydroplane) I saw about forty SOOTY (Puffinus griseus) and as many GREATER SHEARWATERS (Puffinus gravis), hundreds of WILSONíS STORM PETREL (Oceanites oceanicus), and some NORTHERN GANNETS (Morus bassanus). A suggestion to the reader: be relaxed during the navigation, too fast is the boat to see the birds well, just seat down and take the sun. In fact, most of the birds are around the whales and you can enjoy them without being happened to me as I tried to identify (and to catch with the binoculars) fast-flying storm petrels while the boat was waving up and down (and I challenge you to identify which species in such conditions!!). Just out of Boston harbor, hundreds of DOUBLE CRESTED CORMORANTS (Phalacrocorax auritus) had their nests on the rocky small islands close to the city. GREAT BLACK- BACKED (Larus marinus) and RING-BILLED GULLS (Larus delawarensis) accompanied us during the whole trip.

CAPE CODE, south to Boston, was the area we visited next during a very hot day. It is a huge peninsula like a comma from south to north, and there are at least four important bird sites that are: the Mashpee Wildlife Refuge; the Monomy Island; the Cape Cod National Seashore; and the Wellfleet Audubon Bird Sanctuary. Mashpee is located between the towns of Falmouth and Mashpee, and Monomy is near Chapam on the south-east corner of Cape Cod. The first entrance of the Cape Code National Seashore is just north of Eastman on the right, along Route 6, the second entrance is at the extreme end of Cape Cod itself (Provincetown). If one wants to visit thoroughly Cape Cod, there are several resorts in the area. For reason of time, we visited only the Wellfleet Sanctuary.

We drove southward from Boston along Highway 3. After the Sagamore bridge, Highway 3 becomes Route 6, which we followed past North Eastman. After some kilometers we entered, on the left, the Sanctuary. Here there are ten miles of trails amidst freshwater and saltwater wetlands, woods and barrier beaches. Wonderful place, albeit not as productive as I expected (due to the season and the hot climate): GREEN HERON (Butorides striatus), COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser), TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aurea), NORTHER HARRIER (Circus cyaneus), BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon), PRAIRE WARBLER (Dendroica discolor) and NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis) were some of the species that we saw, together with a (strangely) approachable EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus) and a pair of irritable NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS (Mimus polyglottos). COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula) was everywhere. Around the Visitor Center CEDAR WAXING (Bombycilla cedrorum) was common. It is possible to get the map of the area at the Visitor Center (phone: 508-349-2615).

Well, I was quite disappointed by Cape Cod (nonetheless I would like to be there during Spring.....), but PLUM ISLAND, with its Parker River National Refuge, was, next day, waiting for us. We followed, from Boston northward, Highway 1 (or the 95) and then the 1A to arrive, after one and half hour, at the refuge which occupies the southern two-thirds of the island. To reach the island, Highway 1A must be left just before Newbury, taking on the right the Rolfe lane, then on the right The Plum Island Tpk, and again on the right there is the entrance of the refuge. Here there is a huge marsh and it is possible to look for birds along the road, or following the trails into the marshes or the wonderful, immense, dunes that protect the marhes from the sea. However most of the beaches are closed until late August to provide undisturbed nesting sites to PIPING PLOVER (Charadrius melodus) a menaced north american species. The entrance by car to the Refuge costs only five dollars and it is possible to get the map of the Refuge at the entrance.

This was the best place we visited: a female WILSON PHALAROPE (Steganopus tricolor), a summer-plumaged SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus), a LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes) were there among various shorebirds. WILLET (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) was also very common in the freshwater marshes. GREAT (Casmerodius albus) and SNOWY EGRETS (Egretta thula), and GREEN HERON (Butorides striatus) were common. We saw also a GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus), and -I guess we were very lucky- a KING RAIL (Rallus elegans). BONAPARTE GULLS (Larus philadelphia) were also quite common. Among the songbirds, I would cite PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis), ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx ruficollis), the very common YELLOW WARBLER (Dendroica petechia) and AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla), although my favourites were a superb BOBOLINK (Dolichinyx orzyvorus) and a couple of SAVANNAH SPARROWS (Passerculus sandwichensis). Other gulls, ducks [BLUE-WINGED TEALS (Anas discors) and AMERICAN BLACK DUCK (Anas rubripes)], waders, sparrows and warblers were present in the refuge. GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis) was perhaps the most common birds. In Autumn hunt is allowed in some areas of the refuge, and in some days also deer hunt is permitted. In these days the refuge is closed, so it is better to phone the 978-465-5753 or 508-465-5753 to get informed.

Finally, we had the opportunity of a short visit of one wooded areas just south to Boston (WOMPATUK STATE PARK), close to Weymouth (Highway 3, soutward, then Route 228 on the left), which was filled with songbirds!! My favourite was the SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea), but I appreciated also YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus), TUFTED TITMOUSE (Parus bicolor), VEERY (Catharus fuscescens), GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus crinitus), and EASTERN TOWEE (Pipilo erythrophtalmus). The broad-leaved forest surrounds everything out of Boston, so I think that there are no differences between one and another area if one wants to look for songbirds. For example, in Boston itself the Mount Auburn Cemetery is famous for its songbirds (another birding areas inside Boston which is good in winter is the Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, for waterfowls, buntings and snowy owls).

That’s all. Three days devoted to birding in Massachusetts coastal areas were just barely sufficient to get a glimpse of what Cape Cod and Plum Island can offer. Both areas are on a very important migratory route and a trip during the spring or autumn season can be by far more productive.

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