Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

August 2015

Vol. 43, No. 4

Birding Morris Island and Vicinity, Chatham, Massachusetts

Ryan Schain


Long-tailed Duck. All photographs by Ryan Schain.

Chatham, Massachusetts, is one of the paramount birding locations in Massachusetts. Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge (North and South Monomoy and Morris islands), South Beach, Pleasant Bay, incredible thickets, and an amazing system of creeks and estuaries are situated within the town limits. Though this article will focus solely on Morris Island, the other locations are all quite fun and can be rewarding.

Morris Island and its surrounding habitat are underrated and underbirded, and the number of mega-rarities that slip through undetected is surely astronomical. Given its geography and potential as a migrant trap, Morris Island is a location where nearly anything is possible. Morris Island is fun in every season. It is one of the few places in the state where 60-plus species counts are possible twelve months of the year, with triple-digit totals possible in spring and fall. In recent years we’ve seen Townsend’s Solitaire, Loggerhead Shrike, White Ibis, Mississippi Kites, Western Kingbirds, American White and Brown pelicans, and Sandhill Cranes. Locally rare birds such as Hudsonian and Marbled godwits, Black Skimmers, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Dickcissels can be found with some regularity. It should be noted, however, that Morris Island is hit or miss. Given its geography, the island and surrounding area is a productive migrant trap. On some days, birds are everywhere. On other days, birds can be quite scarce. I hope this article will convince you to bird the area more often and help you find good birds once you get there.

Morris Island

Morris Island is located south of the Chatham Lighthouse in East Chatham. Follow Main Street until it turns into Morris Island Road. When you come to a fork in the road, make a right turn to stay on Morris Island Road. This will take you past Tom’s Neck and across the Morris Island Causeway, both of which I will touch on later. Continue straight on Morris Island Road (which becomes Tisquantum Road after you cross the causeway) and drive up a hill. At the top of the hill you will see the entrance to Monomoy NWR on the left, Wiki’s Way. Drive through the open, brown metal gate and park in any of the parking spots. Occasionally the Monomoy Island ferry captain will approach your vehicle as you are parking and inquire as to your business on the refuge. In the busy vacation season—late June through late August—this company tries to monopolize the parking lot for its ferry customers, sometimes telling visitors the parking lot is for ferry passengers only. This is not even remotely true. Ignore him and park anyway.


Morris Island

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