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December 2020

Vol. 48, No. 6

Winter Birding on Cape Cod: Upper Cape Cod and Barnstable

Peter Crosson

Birding Cape Cod in winter can be an absolutely wonderful experience. The moderate maritime climate means warmer winter days, allowing for more overwintering passerines than on the mainland. Ponds often have open water even late into winter, and the many miles of coastline hold wintering waterfowl. Upper Cape Cod comprises the towns of Bourne, Sandwich, Mashpee, and Falmouth. For the visiting birder, the Upper Cape is much closer than the remote beaches of the Outer Cape, and you can find several specialties of the peninsula more easily in this productive area. This article focuses on the Upper Cape and Barnstable west of Route 149, including the small sliver of Cape Cod on the mainland side of the canal. Although not as visually stunning as the Outer Cape’s dramatic beaches, Upper Cape Cod is a lovely and varied area that holds a wealth of avian diversity.

Be aware that, although the thermometer might read higher on the Cape, the winds can be brutally cold, especially when from the northwest. Be prepared with warm clothes and appropriate cold-weather gear. One oft-forgotten piece of clothing that can be a lifesaver when the wind is up is a balaclava to protect your face and neck from bitterly cold gusts. A scope is highly recommended for sea watching and for checking ponds. Public beaches are accessible without a fee in winter, and traffic is not a problem. This area of Cape Cod is fairly populous, so there is no shortage of restaurants, motels, or gas stations open year-round.

This article divides the Upper Cape into seven sections, all featuring geographically close hotspots. You should be able to cover each section in a few hours to a half-day of birding. Although there is some variability among the regions, there are certain specialty birds that you are more likely to encounter in each one, which I indicate at the beginning of each section. If you want to target certain species, use these groupings to increase your chances of hitting your targets. Checking recent eBird sightings in these areas can also help tremendously.

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