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Pilgrim Monument, line drawing by Ewa Nogiec

Provincetown Places: Beech Forest: ~ Three pennies like WARBLERS

The Beech Forest in Provincetown is a bird sanctuary year round and in May it turns into a showplace - that is because it is a Northeast Flyway and the best location on the Cape to track the warbler migration.  Warblers are tiny song birds weighing three pennies.   The predominant color is yellow. Each species has its own lyrical songs and calls. These tiny avians winter in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America - there are 100 species about half come through here and about eleven species nest here. The rest fly on farther north. You can see up to twenty species in one day. Dawn and dusk are the best times, not the heat of midday. They are mainly insect eaters and dawn and dusk are when the insects are active.  

Warblers are quick, darting on treetops and picking through catkins. Insects are quick so warblers must be quicker. Eventually you will be quicker than both. You can study warblers intensely throughout May. The earlier in the month the better. Leafless trees make viewing easier. The species who feed on the ground are less effected.

Birders travel from all towns on the Cape, many daily.  Visitors from many parts of the U.S. and abroad make their pilgrimage to the Beech Forest. Birders are friendly, polite and all share what they see. The accumulated knowledge of these groups is impressive and reverent. Warbler watching is a distinct and heightened practice taking time and patience. All are ready for the discipline.

Don't let all this sound overwhelming to you. It is within your grasp, of course, and geographically it is certainly so. To start you off, you may want to join a group of the Cape Cod Bird Club.   'They are there every Saturday and Sunday in May at 8 a.m.   All you need to do is show up and mingle in with the group. There is a different leader for each walk, all veteran birders. You interact as much or as little as you want. There is no charge for these walks.   A pair of binoculars is all you will need to begin. The walks last 1 ½ to 2 hours many staying on. I suggest you be there at 8:00 a.m. and you can leave anytime you want. Try it more than one time. Most of all, enjoy your time.

You will find out each year as you get better how satisfying bird watching and warbler watching can be. And remember, each birder was a beginner once. When you do catch in your binoculars a perched singing, beautifully colored bird you will also instantly catch the itea of it all. You will add pleasure and years to your life.

Today we spotted a blue-grey gnatcatcher, pine, palm, veery, white-throated sparrow, downy woodpecker, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow rumped, golden-crowned kinglet and catbirds. Also, towhee, red breasted nuthatch, white breasted nuthatch, flicker and a male wood duck. A hooded warbler was seen at the Audubon's South Wellfleet Sanctuary.

If you wish, after the Beech Forest, you can continue to Pilgrim Heights in North Truro indicated by the National Seashore sign on your left just after the Outer Reach Motel.   Go to the end of the parking lot where the interpretive shelter is and take the indicated trail to the 2 nd lookout. There you will hook up with the hawk watch managed by Melissa Lowe of Audubon. The hawk watch is in its 8 th year. It runs from April 16 to Memorial Day Saturdays and Sundays, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. There is no charge for this activity.   Don Manchester is there most days, so you may see him by chance. Don is devoted to the hawk watch.

The count varies 1500 to 2500 a season. Each hour Melissa checks the wind speed, the direction of the wind, the temperature, the cloud cover and visibility. Each species spotted is counted.   Saturday last we saw resident Northern Harrier, male and female, sharpies, a kestrel and turkey vulture. Weather was a problem. Warm, sunny days with updrafts are more productive.

-- Jan Kelly

Art: "The Warblers of America" Illustrated by John Henry Dick


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