Bird Observer - The New England Birding Journal

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

August 2016

Vol. 44, No. 4

Birding Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

Marsha C. Salett and Mark Faherty

With an emphasis on fall shorebird migration


One of the most diverse and beautiful places to bird on Cape Cod, Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (WBWS) offers excellent birding throughout the year, particularly during the shorebird show from mid-July to the end of September. At least 291 species have been recorded here according to eBird, making it the most speciose eBird Hotspot on Cape Cod. The sanctuary also has attracted a long list of rarities over the years, including Spotted Redshank (1990), Black-tailed Godwit (1994), Chuck-will’s-widow (1996), Mississippi Kite (at least three records), Golden Eagle (2008), Fork-tailed Flycatcher (2009), American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Lazuli Bunting (2012).

In 1958, Mass Audubon bought the original 366-acre property from the Austin Ornithological Research Station, one of the largest private bird banding stations in the world in its heyday. Today Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary has grown to more than 1100 protected acres of varied habitats for birds and other wildlife, including salt marsh, barrier beach, extensive tidal flats, brackish and freshwater ponds and creeks, pitch pine and scrub oak woods, coastal heathland, and sandplain grassland. Five miles of trails wind through the sanctuary, providing interest to birders, botanists, and nature lovers in general. Admission is free to Mass Audubon members. For nonmembers, the fee is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children (2-12) and seniors (65+).

The Esther Underwood Johnson Nature Center has been awarded a Platinum LEED rating for its green technology and sustainable building features. It contains classrooms, exhibits, a green building “trail,” a gift shop, and an area for feeder watching—an especially warm spot in winter. The Nature Center is open daily Memorial Day through Columbus Day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, and open Tuesday through Sunday Columbus Day–Memorial Day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. Trails are open daily 8:00 am to dusk.

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