October 16 – 21, 2022
with Kevin Burke
Narrative by Kevin Burke; Photos by Kevin Burke & Cindy Stacy
This year’s Cape Cod/Rhode Island tour was a ton of fun! New England in the Fall is gorgeous. The leaves were at peak, the ocean was not too windy, the temperature was mild, and the food was tremendous. We started out with three nights in Eastham on Cape Cod, then transferred to Kingston, Rhode Island for two nights. The Outer Cape, in Fall, is one of the best places to see pelagic bird species close to shore. We took a whale watching boat out to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to look for seabirds. We also birded around the Cape Cod National Seashore, and some beautiful spots in Rhode Island. It was truly a spectacular trip.
We started on the 16th by meeting at the Providence airport. Once all together we drove out towards Cape Cod. A first stop at Scusset Beach State Reservation provided good looks at Great Black-backed Gull on a light post. It was good to see an adult bird up close. This was just the first of thousands that we would encounter over the week. Savannah Sparrows flitted around the fields and dunes.
We also got our first glimpses of Common Eider and Harlequin Ducks out on the water. It was a great way to break up the trip to the coast and get some birding in with the group. We drove up to Eastham for the night and had a dinner together to get to know each other a little better.
The next morning, we arose early and went out to the coast to look for anything on the water. Our first stie was Marconi Station on Cape Cod National Seashore. It was fairly foggy, but we did get a few common birds including some migrating Blue Jays, and a fun, Red-breasted Nuthatch show.
We then drove over to Nauset Light where the fog lifted, and we were able to get our first glimpse of the ocean.
Northern Gannets, White-winged Scoters, Black Scoters, and Surf Scoters were plentiful. We also had our only looks at a couple Red-throated Loons. A surprise Dickcissel associated with the many American Goldfinch for a nice bonus!
Our destination was Provincetown for a whale watch in the afternoon, so we drove up and took a quick look at Race Point Beach. We were pleasantly surprised to see Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers harassing a Herring Gull. The aerial acrobatics were stunning. We also got lots of good looks at Gray and Harbor seals lounging on the beach. We could have stayed longer but had to get to the whale watching boat.
Our afternoon was spent on a whale watching boat. We were originally scheduled to do the whale watch on Tuesday, but inclement weather coming in looked bad, so we changed it to Monday. I am glad we went out on Monday as the Tuesday trip was cancelled. Motoring out of the Harbor in Provincetown harbor we had good looks at Common Eider and Double-crested Cormorant. The day was sunny with light winds, perfect for seabirds. We didn’t have to go very far out to start encountering dozens of Black-legged Kittiwakes.
The whales came soon after and put on a heck of a show. We had at least 24 Humpback Whales feeding right next to the boat. They were bubble netting, tail slapping, and breaching. It was an incredible show!
The antics of the whales attracted some nice birds too. We had Manx Shearwater, Great Shearwater, and Cory’s Shearwater all close to the boat. We also had good looks at Minke Whale and Harbor Porpoise. It was truly a magical experience.
The next morning, the weather was gray and windy, but we decided to see what was on the water anyway. We drove over to Coast Guard Beach, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. There were good movements of all three Scoter species. We had our only alcids of the trip when a few Razorbills flew past.
We next went to Wellfleet Bay Audubon Sanctuary. We wandered through the sanctuary taking in the maritime forest and salt marsh views. This is a wonderful place. We had a very close encounter with some Wild Turkeys that were on their way to the feeders. Out in the salt marsh we had a flyby Peregrine Falcon, a few Palm Warblers, and foraging Savannah Sparrows. Once we reached the water, we had a few Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderling, and Greater Yellowlegs. It was a nice way to spend the morning.
Lunch was at the Lobster Shanty for Lobster Rolls and other seafood goodies. After lunch we went to a new spot named Bell’s Neck Conservation Area. This place consisted of a couple freshwater ponds. We immediately spotted two Black-crowned Night-Herons. Wood Ducks swam by giving us great looks. A very close and cooperative Blackpoll Warbler flitted in the bushes next to us. We made a quick stop at the Birdwatcher’s General Store for some retail therapy. The final stop of the day was back to Coast Guard Beach where we found a very uncooperative Connecticut Warbler. It was a nice day of popping around the Cape.
We had to pack up and head to Rhode Island today. So, we loaded the van, but before we headed off the Cape we spent a good couple hours at Fort Hill.
We had a great mix of passerines Blue-headed Vireo, Blackpoll Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat were all in the first flock. We walked down to the cedar swamp where we ran into American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Nashville Warbler. It was nice to see some lingering warblers.
After Fort Hill we drove for a while to one of my favorite places, Gooseberry Neck. It is a long stretch of land that extends into Buzzards Bay from the bottom of Massachusetts. You can see Martha’s Vineyard from the tip. We walked down the spit and had good looks at Ruddy Turnstone, Common Eider, Black-bellied Plover, and our only Hermit Thrush. By the time we were done here we had to transfer to the Newport, Rhode Island area to check into our hotel.
Our only full day of birding in Rhode Island came early! We went before breakfast to look for owls at Beavertail State Park in Jamestown. We didn’t have any luck with the owls, but the scenery was spectacular. Breakfast was at the famous Ma’s Donuts in Newport and it was delicious! We then headed to Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. The two-mile loop trail here is an awesome birding spot. Highlights here included Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Harlequin Duck, and Swamp Sparrow. It is just a nice place to take a morning walk. We headed over to Brenton Point State Park in Newport. On the way we took in the huge mansions that make Newport famous. They are truly spectacles of architecture. Another spectacle was just offshore when we spotted a King Eider associating with some Common Eiders. It was a lifer for most of the group! We did two more stops in the afternoon. The first was a small roadside beach that held Horned Lark and Lapland Longspur. Our final stop of the day was at Moonstone Beach. It is known for its smooth stone that line the beach. The stones are colorful and beautiful. We had good looks at quite a few Mute Swans. We had a great day of touring Southern Rhode Island.
Our last morning before afternoon departures was spent back at Beavertail State Park. We found a couple new trip birds that included White-crowned Sparrow and Indigo Bunting. It is just a scenic place to be.
The final stop of the tour was near the airport in Warwick. Marsh Point is a small saltmarsh area that is easy to access. We had great looks at Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows.
It was nice to compare them side by side. We headed up to the airport for departures with memories of a fabulous trip! New England is beautiful in the fall. I would highly recommend this trip for any birder. It is an fun trip with easy access to good birds.
A Few more birds…