Cape Cod is different things to different people. For me it is animals, ocean, light, and Thai food. I’ve only gone in the off-season, April/May and October, when traffic is bearable and rates are cheap. It is a great time to view local and migratory wildlife.
These are my top three wildlife watching spots:
Beech Forest Trail
The whole Cape Cod National Seashore is amazing, but the Beech Forest Trail is like something out of a goddamned Disney movie. Not far from Provincetown, the trail winds through woods and around a pond. I’ve seen birds, turtles, frogs, squirrels, snakes, and chipmunks while hiking. The birds and small animals are so accustomed to visitors (many bearing birdseed) that they are quite inquisitive. The first time I hiked the trail a chipmunk followed me. It seems like the kind of place a dead guy would have written a poem about. The trail is magical.
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
The Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, managed by Mass Audubon, covers 937 acres and five miles of trails. Last year, I saw some amazing frogs and my very first Baltimore oriole. There are multiple trails and habitats and the wetlands are ideal migratory and nesting grounds. This year, it was a bit colder and we were there earlier in the year. I was a bit grumpy that I didn’t see the frogs or birds I had seen last year. I glimpsed a hummingbird, but that was it.
We were preparing to leave when I heard a gobble. I abandoned my family and went off in search of the noise. I crept through brambles and trees and right behind the visitor’s center I found a family of six turkeys, three posturing males and three smaller females. The males put on quite a show for me. Once they were convinced I was either terrified or not an actual threat they went back to eating. I realized I was near a bunch of bird feeders and while I sat there and watched the turkeys the other forest animals began coming back for food. It is without hyperbole or euphemism, that I was close enough to see a chipmunk’s balls. There were chickadees, towhees, red squirrels, gray squirrels, blue jays, and more darting all around. It was wonderful. They have a great nature center and gift shop too.
Whale Watching in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Tickets for the Dolphin Whale Watch aren’t cheap, but personally, I’d rather spend $47 ($45 if you use your AAA card or order online) on three hours of whale watching than on any concert. You never know what you are going to see and every charter is different. The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is a prime feeding area for whales. They often winter and bear calves in the Caribbean, but the warm waters don’t offer the large mammals much to eat. They head north to the Golden Corral of the sea. Boats seat about 150 people and you will find yourself in pods of domestic and international tourists lurching port to starboard and back again watching the whales surface, dive, and maybe flash some tailfin.
The tour starts at the MacMillian Pier in Provincetown and heads around Long Point and along Herring Cove and towards Race Point. Most tours head to where Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic meet, but it all depends on the weather and where the whales are sighted. The naturalist onboard shares information about the whales spotted, their history, why Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is important, and why conservation is a must. They also identify other animals spotted, which can include terns, gulls, seals, dolphins, gannets, and other water birds.
I’ve been out 3-4 times now and have mostly seen finback whales (the greyhounds of the sea) and humpbacks. If the sea is calm, you can see blow spouts all over the horizon. The coolest thing I’ve ever seen what a group of whales working together to gather food by creating bubble nets. It can be cold and wet, but it is totally worth it. They do serve hot drinks, snacks, and even alcohol on the boat.