Christmas on the Cape


What we saw in the canal from the Bourne bridge–hundreds of eider ducks, male and female. A dating site for ducks?

We took a day to explore together on Cape Cod, and found some wonderful surprises along the way. From our house, the Bourne Bridge (on a good –that is light traffic–day) take about an hour. Christmas morning there were few people on the road with us as we headed south from Bellingham. No trucks, and very few cars. As we went over the Bourne Bridge, we spotted a large boat passing underneath us, and then realized there were thousands of birds also in the canal, right near the bridge.


At one time nearly wiped out, eiders have made a comeback and are flourishing. (Males are black and white, femailes, the brownish birds)

We had planned to head farther south, but took a quick detour to the parking for the bike path, almost directly underneath the Bourne Bridge, and got out to investigate. What we found were hundreds, perhaps a thousand, eider ducks, males and females, clustered together, headed into the wind on the canal. Farther west, we could see yet more “rafts” of birds, presumably also eider ducks.


Cold, but oh, so exciting to see so many birds clustered in one spot.

As the birds paddled along, they kept up a gentle burbling, not quite honking sound, charming in its eider duck way. Another large boat came along, and the ducks moved with great grace, almost imperceptibly gliding out of the way of the large barge and tug pushing it along. Some birds ended up on the far side of the canal, but most hugged the near shoreline. They looked like they were settled in for the time being. We took one last look and headed on our way.


Salt marsh along the shoreline in Mashpee, part of Waquoit Bay National Estuarine REsearch preserve

In Mashpee we found two access points to shoreline that looked inviting. One, the South Cape Beach State Park, had a large parking area, and provisions for in and out of state visitors to pay for parking (in the summer months only). Farther down the same access road, we came to the Mashpee Town beach, presumably for town residents only during the summer months.


Nearly empty stretch of beach just west of the parking area for Mashpee town beach

As it was, we were one of the few who had decided to spend Christmas day at the beach.


Mergansers, too far to capture well with the camera, but clear through our binoculars.

Abutting the town beach is a large estuary, part of the Waquoit National  Estuarine Reserve, which is what drew us to this area. We were looking for birds.  And this is where we found a large flock of mergansers.


Double duty–antenna designed to capture information about migrating birds that pass through the area, as well as a handy home for osprey nesting

We also found a huge nest atop a large antenna set up to document migratory birds as they pass through the area. The estuary is being monitored for sea level changes, and much more scientific information related to climate change.


Martha’s Vineyard shoreline, visible across the water from the Mashpee town beach

I took a break from walking out to where the estuary enters into the ocean and looked for seals (no luck this day) and wished I had a better camera. Directly across from me, across the water were visible both trees and man-made structures on Martha’s Vineyard. So close, and yet, a very far swim this day.

I missed the buffleheads my husband spotted, as well as the seagulls that harassed them. I also missed the osprey that dove and then headed off for other hunting grounds. At a nearby boat ramp we found yet more birds, but the mergansers and the great blue heron were miffed that we disturbed their solitude and moved off more quickly than I could to get out my camera.


Sunset along a waterway in Mashpee

The sunset, thankfully, moved a little slower, and I was able to capture a little of the beauty of the end of the day of our Christmas visit to the Cape. Each time we find special places like this, it makes future trips easier, since rather than spending time driving around figuring out where we are, we have a better idea of where to start, and can go there first. unless we get distracted by rafts of birds along the way. Happy Trails!


beech cliffs 2018

Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionEasy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.

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