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April 2022

Vol. 50, No. 2

Birding Sandy Neck and the Barnstable Great Marsh, Cape Cod

Peter Crosson

Barnstable, MAOne of the most beautiful spots on the long, straight shoreline of Mid Cape Cod, Sandy Neck Beach Park is an area of superlatives. Along with its associated salt marsh, the park protects 4700 acres of open space, the largest such parcel in the busy Mid Cape. Sandy Neck hosts the highest dunes outside of Provincetown, one of the largest salt marshes in the state, and a dazzling diversity of upland habitats, including wild cranberry bogs that shelter rare orchids or carnivorous plants. The views north into Cape Cod Bay extend all the way to Provincetown; you can see the Pilgrim Monument on a clear day. Sandy Neck is also one of the best overall birding habitats on Cape Cod, with 275 species recorded in eBird—currently in fifth place in the county overall—and the highest-ranked spot on the Upper or Mid Cape. If you include the Great Marsh as well, the total jumps even higher. On a good fall migration day, there are few better birding spots anywhere on Cape Cod.

There are avian attractions on Sandy Neck and the Great Marsh in every season. Spring brings good sea watching and modest passerine and shorebird migrations. Summer often finds the beach extremely crowded, but the potential for interesting breeders or storm watching for pelagics may draw intrepid birders. Fall is the most glorious season, when just about anything can show up; day lists over 70 species are not uncommon. Winter can be bleak and unforgiving, but sea watching is often good, and rarer species such as Northern Shrike and Short-eared Owl may add some spice. There is never a bad time to visit.

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