Monomoy Students Flock to Yearlong Bird Program

An American Goldfinch goes for thistle seeds. This bird’s reproductive cycle is timed to the plant’s. (Photo by Sherri VandenAkker).

Seventh graders from Chatham and Harwich are getting a whole year to think about birds: their biology, the habitats they use and depend upon, and the threats they face on a daily basis.

The program is a new approach to leveraging Wellfleet Bay’s unique expertise to help schools teach fundamental science concepts and skills.

It began in October with introductory bird-focused lessons for the entire seventh grade followed by a field investigation. Later, students were given the option of taking part in a seminar, which includes a series of lessons on specialized bird topics and hands-on field experience.

Wellfleet Bay school programs coordinator Spring Beckhorn notes that the seminars also include introductory and follow-up lessons by seventh grade teacher, Melinda Forist, an avid birder herself. “Our partnership with Melinda is critical to the success of the program,” Spring says.

In November, students visited the sanctuary’s bird banding station to learn what kind of information is collected and why. The experience also included the rare and thrilling chance to see songbirds at very close range.

Monomoy seventh graders watch bird researcher James Junda attach a uniquely numbered band to a Chipping Sparrow’s ankle. (Photo by Sheila Hoogeboom).

Banding birds over a long period can reveal changes in numbers of birds and species. In a subsequent classroom lesson, Wellfleet Bay educator Christine Harris Bates showed the class photos of the sanctuary dating back to the 1930’s when there were far fewer trees. They also looked at pictures of the same sites today, most of them wooded.

What became the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in 1958 looked very different from the more forested landscape that exists now.

“If you were a Vesper Sparrow that prefers more grassland than trees, would you like it now or in the past?” “The past!” the students shouted in reply.

In an early February class about the biology of birds in winter, students were introduced to new terms such as torpor—a bird’s ability to reduce its metabolism to conserve just enough energy to survive a cold winter night.

Students were also invited to meet some stuffed birds, including a male Common Eider, set up on lab counters to inspire observations and questions (typically—“Was this bird once alive?” The answer is yes).

Students contemplate a Common Eider (and vice versa).

One student said the black and white eider reminded him of an Oreo cookie. The bill of a stuffed Common Loon was noted as being much sharper than the eider’s—suggesting to the kids that a loon’s diet includes fish.

Wellfleet Bay’s Christine Harris Bates asks students to compare the bills of an eider and a Common Loon.

Next up for this winter series—lessons on bird classification, issues surrounding beach management for threatened Piping Plovers, and a field investigation to learn what birds require for nesting habitat.

Will this special program create bird lovers? Maybe. But Spring Beckhorn says more important are the ecological concepts students are learning. “Through birds, the kids are discovering the interconnectedness of the natural world, human impacts on nature, the implications of climate change, and what they can do to help.”


Wellfleet Bay would like to thank the Mary-Louise Eddy and Ruth N. Eddy Foundation for making this yearlong bird education program possible in the Monomoy Regional Middle School. Our thanks also to Wellfleet Bay educator Heidi Clemmer for helping with this story.

Stranded Sea Turtles Fuel Science

Sea turtle staffer Maureen Duffy prepares to conduct a necropsy on a dead leatherback, not usually seen in the winter. As part of NOAA’s sea turtle stranding and salvage network, Wellfleet Bay staff responds to sea turtle strandings year round and collects data on every turtle. (Photo courtesy of Esther Horvath).

The cold-stunned sea turtle rescue season rarely ends with the same zeal it started with. By the end of December, the vast majority of turtles found, especially the smaller Kemp’s ridleys, are dead.

But as many of our volunteers have discovered, the job of retrieving dead turtles is still very important, especially to scientists working to learn more about sea turtles.

The hundreds of turtles that come in, half of which may not survive hypothermia, contribute substantially to the growing body of knowledge about these endangered and threatened marine animals.  Every year, Wellfleet Bay receives requests for turtle carcasses and/or tissue samples to aid new and ongoing research.

One study by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration team in Mississippi is focused on the length of time it takes a dead Kemp’s ridley to decompose. Dead turtles typically build up gasses that cause them to float and eventually strand.  The study’s aim is to understand the differences in this timing in cold water versus warm. In the team’s words: “ Knowledge of this time to bloat and float at cold temperatures is critical to backtrack modeling of carcasses and determining the likely mortality source involved in causing the strandings.”  Wellfleet Bay sent twenty-six cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley carcasses by overnight mail to Mississippi for this ongoing research.

These vials contain tissue samples for microscopic analysis of diatoms from turtles that did not survive cold-stunning.

This fall, our sea turtle staff began collecting tissue samples as part of a pilot study with researcher Roksana Majewska, currently a research fellow at North-West University in South Africa, who studies diatoms. Diatoms are single cell marine plants (algae) which have a shell wall made of silica. They’ve been found to be part of the “epibiont community” (organisms that attach to and live on the surface of other organisms)  on several sea turtle species examined so far, with at least two new species of diatoms discovered.

Bruce Hurter holds a bag containing the remains of a crab taken from the stomach of a Kemp’s ridley during a necropsy. (Photo by Krill Carson, NECWA).

Roksana’s study provides the first look at possible diatoms on juvenile Kemp’s ridleys.  She says diatoms could shed light on the life history of the sea turtles, including their diet, feeding locations, and migration routes and times.

While there are other studies we are contributing to as well, we’ve also been building an important database over the 20 years that we’ve conducted sea turtle necropsies, including key fat measurements, sex ratio, gastro-intestinal tract contents, and organ and body condition—fundamental information that already is proving valuable to sea turtle research.

At the first Wellfleet Bay necropsy of the year at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, two noteworthy finds included a fairly large piece of black balloon in the stomach of a ridley as well  as–of all things–lady bugs!

Remains of lady bugs removed from the intestine of a Kemp’s ridley turtle. (Photo by Karen Strauss)

Our mantra of “No turtle left behind” is certainly about saving every live turtle we possibly can. But it also applies to our commitment to make sure we make the most of every opportunity to learn about and help conserve these animals.


This blog post was contributed by Wellfleet Bay sea turtle research associate, Karen Dourdeville.

Turtles Rule in School: Sanctuary Shares Turtle Conservation and Research with Students

“Is it dead?” is often one of the first questions students will ask when seeing their first cold-stunned sea turtle.

Wellfleet Elementary fifth graders bundle up in our sea turtle ICU where the temperature must be maintained at 50 to 55 degrees to ensure turtles don’t warm up too quickly. It’s often very hard to tell if a cold-stunned turtle is alive or dead. Almost all of the turtles that strand in the fall are juveniles.

Because of the Cape’s fall stranding phenomenon, local kids have a unique opportunity to view juvenile sea turtles that are rarely seen. Sometimes, an inert turtle will show the slightest movement, a hopeful sign that invariably produces a collective “Whoa!!” from students.

Endangered and threatened sea turtles have been stranding on the Cape’s beaches in the fall since well before today’s students—and maybe even their parents—were born.

For thirty years, Wellfleet Bay has been building a successful sea turtle stranding response program that includes projecting where cold-stunned turtles are likely to strand, assigning volunteer and staff to walk beaches, and developing best practices on retrieving turtles, holding them, and transporting them to the New England Aquarium for medical care.

Turtle staff member Elora Grahame measures a loggerhead as Truro second graders watch.

Cape Cod school students live close to where all this exciting work goes on and yet many are unaware of it or know little about it. But the sanctuary’s education staff is changing this by bringing turtle curricula into local classrooms, from preschool age to high school, from Provincetown to Harwich.

For young children, the program may start with classroom lessons about sea turtles followed by beach patrols to look for cold-stunned animals. Some older elementary students have an opportunity to watch our staff weigh and measure turtles in preparation for their drive to the aquarium.

“Turtles are a really appealing subject to kids,” according to educator Spring Beckhorn. “Especially with sea turtles, there’s a genuine desire to help an animal in distress and to teach others what they can do.”

Nauset high school students launch a drifter that they assembled and tracked via GPS to get a better understand of surface currents in Cape Cod Bay (photo by Olivia Bouque)

For high school students, our curriculum includes getting on the water to deploy “drifters”, submersible devices that resemble box kites to track surface currents in Cape Cod Bay. The goal is to gain insight into how currents, winds, and tides affect the movements of hypothermic turtles and gauging where they may come ashore.

Students from Harwich to Truro have been involved in another successful turtle conservation program at the sanctuary—the protection of threatened northern diamondback terrapins and their nests and hatchlings.

Last year, students at Orleans Elementary successfully “head-started” a terrapin hatchling, a

Orleans fifth grade releases a diamondback terrapin they head-started the previous winter (photo by Sheila Hoogeboom).

process aimed at giving a young turtle an extra boost in its first year of life. With the advantages of central heating and regular meals, the one-year-old turtle morphed into the body of a typical three-year-old by the following summer!

While kids are engaged in the terrapin head-starting process, they’re also learning about all turtle species on the Cape, including their habitats, lifecycles, adaptations, and ecology—a program that runs the entire school year.

Wellfleet Bay is able to bring these unmatched learning opportunities only through the generosity of individuals and organizations who underwrite our school as well as our conservation and science programs. In this season of giving and receiving, we want to express our deepest appreciation to those who make this work possible in so many ways.

View the list of organizations and individuals who support our work in schools as well as our conservation and science programs.



The Birders Behind the Bird List

Cast an eye quickly down the 501 birds that make up the official bird list for Massachusetts. While many may be familiar, some may also jump out as seemingly improbable: Mountain Bluebird (sounds like a western bird, right?) or Magnificent Frigatebird (usually seen only from the Gulf of Mexico south), and even the tropical Crested Caracara!

The Crested Caracara, though not this particular bird, was seen in Chatham in 2015. These tropical falcons are often seen hanging out with vultures. (Photo by Brandon Trentler).

These birds don’t get on the official list simply on the basis of someone reporting that they saw them. Even if those individuals are extremely good birders.

Back in 1989, the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee (MARC) was formed for the purpose of validating all rare bird sightings and keeping our official state bird list official.

2017 members of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee, left to right: Jessica Johnson, Jeremiah Trimble (chairman), Sean Williams (secretary), Scott Surner, Mark Faherty, Wayne Petersen, Nick Block, Ryan, Schain. Not pictured are Ian Davies and Tim Spahr. Newly elected to the committee are David Sibley and Larry Therrien (also not pictured).

Wellfleet Bay science coordinator Mark Faherty has been a MARC member for a full six-year term and has just stepped down (succeeded by David Sibley. Mass Audubon’s Wayne Petersen recently started a new term). The review process starts with members receiving packets of information about unusual sightings including whatever documentation has been provided. When the committee meets in person, it’s to take up sightings that were not unanimously accepted or rejected after two rounds of voting.

Mark says a good photo alone isn’t a slam-dunk for acceptance and that a few very experienced birders have been proved wrong by their own pictures. “Many a feather has been ruffled when birders find out their records haven’t been accepted. Some have literally disappeared from the scene for years after a rejection,” he notes. Mark says one birder, a member of the committee no less, quit the MARC when his sighting wasn’t accepted!

On the flip side, good pictures of an unusual bird can make a lesser-known birder a star. A recent example: a committee member happened upon a Flickr photo stream showing an image of a bird tentatively identified as a Greater Yellowlegs. But the bird turned out to be an extremely rare Common Greenshank, a resident of Europe and Asia, and a first record for the whole US East Coast.

This photo of a very rare Common Greenshank was captured in Gloucester by Stan Deutsch who thought it might be a Greater Yellowlegs. Greenshanks are members of the same genus (Tringa) as yellowlegs, as are Willets.

Among Mark’s most memorable accepted records during his MARC tenure? “Hard to say—you’re dealing with the rarest of the rare, like the Fea’s Petrel on George’s Bank in 2014, which was a first state record and only the second record for the Western Atlantic!”

MARC member Scott Surner was among those who spotted this uber rare Fea’s Petrel offshore. (Photo by Scott Surner)

Interestingly, some of the most high profile bird sightings generating a ton of buzz, such as a “probable Yellowed-legged Gull” 6 years ago in Hyannis, are ultimately thrown out by the committee. This happened with gull below after video of the bird’s call revealed it to be a likely hybrid.

A purported Yellow-legged Gull that caused quite a stir in Hyannis in 2011. It was ultimately rejected as a cross between a Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull. When faced with a challenging species, the committee will often consult an expert in a region where the bird is common– in this case, Europe. (Photo courtesy of Mary Richmond).

And then some records take years to get a ruling—such as the Reddish Egret seen by sanctuary director Bob Prescott here at Wellfleet Bay in 1991, which only recently was accepted by the committee. Mark says this reflects the fact the committee has a constant backlog of old business and unadjudicated records dating back 100 years or more in some cases.

This Reddish Egret was photographed by Roger Everett.

To some, an avian records committee could seem like an extreme case of “inside baseball”, the nerdiest of bird-nerd activities reserved for only the most sophisticated enthusiasts. But it’s really about preserving the state’s long, storied birding history. We are, after all, one of only two states east of the Mississippi with more than 500 species on our state list, the other being Florida.

And even if your bird record is rejected now, some future MARC could very well reverse that ruling one day and you and your bird sighting would become part of that official list!

Thanks to Mark Faherty for his help with this post. The MARC’s website has a lot of good information, including the current official bird list, the review list—that is, the species that will be accepted for committee review—and a database of all accepted records.

The People Who Show Up When Sea Turtles Do

Irene Lipschires is ready to take some turtles to Quincy! She’s got 12 boxes in there, in case you’re wondering.

Since Wellfleet Bay began retrieving cold-stunned sea turtles on beaches this month, it’s become clear that this regular fall phenomenon is as much about people as it is the animals we work to protect.

The desire to help an endangered and threatened species always draws dozens of new volunteers to our doors, whether to walk beaches or drive turtles to the New England Aquarium for medical care and rehabilitation. We now have 200 people who have undergone the required training and devoted themselves to this effort.

Some of our veteran turtle folks clearly have spent some time thinking about better ways to get cold-stunned turtles off the beach. Bruce Beane, who walks three-mile-long Great Island, often at night (!), has put a lot of thought into turtle portage:


Bruce Beane demonstrates his take on a sea turtle backpack

The sea turtle season also inspires young people. One of them is 12 year old Charlie Marcus, who has been donating his own money to turtle conservation since he was eight! He and his dad Peter traveled from their Los Angeles home to walk considerable distances on the Outer Cape to find cold-stunned turtles.


Charlie and his father Peter Marcus at Wellfleet’s Duck Harbor with a cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley.

Our friends from King Philip High School in Wrentham, Abby Melanson and Alex Welch, paid a visit along with about 8 of their friends to our Sea Turtle Open House and to do what they love best—patrol beaches for turtles.  Abby and Alex managed to raise $1500 dollars this year to benefit Wellfleet Bay’s sea turtle program by selling turtle necklaces as part of an international career development competition (read more in Young Sea Turtle Enthusiasts Walk the Walk).


King Philip Regional High School kids from Wrentham, including Abby and Alex.

And we can’t neglect to mention all the great folks we don’t always get to meet—the daily beach walkers who find turtles and read our posted beach signs about what to do. At Sea Street Beach in Dennis, we encountered a Kemp’s ridley moved to the upper beach, in a perfectly executed bed of wrack where we found the turtle safely waiting for our arrival.


This ridley was wrapped expertly in wrack and well marked so we could find it.

In the spirit of the holidays, we are grateful to all of our volunteers, neighbors, and turtle lovers from over the bridges who help us in one way or another in what has become a Cape Cod wildlife conservation tradition.


Tropical Weather and Bug Outbreak Reflected in Fall Bird Banding

Every banding season seems to have its memorable moments.  This year’s fall migration was marked by a tropical storm called Jose.

NASA satellite image shows a slowly weakening Jose off the New England coast on September 23, 2017

Jose’s winds did a lot of crazy things with birds. Perhaps most significant was the extremely rare Masked Booby that was blown in to LeCount Hollow Beach in Wellfleet.

This Masked Booby was found after Jose on Wellfleet’s ocean side, the first of its species recorded on Massachusetts soil. (courtesy of Wild Care)

Late summer and fall featured a lot of tropical storm activity in the Atlantic Ocean, with the month of October being 40 % more active than usual, according to the National Weather Service.

This probably helps explain the young Orange-crowned Warbler banded here on October 13th. The bird, of course, was heading south. But six days later, we got word it had been recaptured by banders in the opposite direction—Nova Scotia!

This is not the “wrong way warbler” that ended up in Canada. But the photo to the right by Frankie Tousley shows where the Orange-crowned Warbler gets its name. The orange part is not very visible until the bird gets excited and raises its feathers.

It’s an example of what’s known as reverse migration,  a sort of boomerang effect which can be caused by storms and weather fronts churning the atmosphere, confusing migrants, and tossing them back from whence they came.

Each fall gives brings some news on who appears to have had a good breeding year. This not only included all the young Orange-crowned Warblers and Palm Warblers, but also the first ever Cape May Warblers  banded at our Wellfleet station. The spike in Cape Mays may have been due to a big outbreak of spruce budworm in the boreal forest. Lots of food can mean good chick survival and higher fledging rates– possibly the only positive result of this destructive insect.

Cape May Warblers do their best to keep spruce budworms in check. Because they lay more eggs than other warblers, they may do extra well in big budworm outbreak years. (photo by James Junda).

Each season seems to turn up something odd. Such as these chickadees, two of which had some extra white feathers.

What’s up with the white feathers on the two birds on the left? Hopefully, they’ll live to undergo a complete normal molt next fall. Maybe we’ll even capture them again! (photo by Jeannette Bragger)

Sometimes white plumage is the result of a genetic mutation. These birds had their normal gray juvenile feathers (we know because the birds didn’t replace them). So, it suggests some sort of fungal or stress condition. If they survive until next fall (and having extra white feathers could make it harder), these chickadees should molt back into normal gray, black and white feathers.

Toward the end of the banding season, we were lucky to catch several of these great birds:

Eye-catching White-eyed Vireo (photo by Jeannette Bragger)

Catching more than one of these vireos is unusual for us and to have three could be another instance of that boomerang effect. Massachusetts is the northern edge of their breeding range. Because they migrate later in the fall, these birds very well could have been pushed back north by the steady southerly winds that occurred as late as the first week of November, when the bird pictured above was banded.

These migratory detours no doubt are perplexing and even dangerous for traveling songbirds who do enough flying as it is. Still, it’s a treat to see such relatively unusual and beautiful birds and it’s one of the many benefits of doing bird research on the Outer Cape.

Banner Terrapin Nesting Season Raises Intriguing Questions

At a glance, this year’s terrapin season was a big success..

2017 was a prolific nesting season for Wellfleet Bay’s diamondback terrapins.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of over 100 volunteers, we were able to protect a total of 385 terrapin nests in Wellfleet, Eastham and Orleans–more than ever before. And–amazingly–we’ve also released over 4,500 terrapin hatchlings so far!

Lots of progress over the past 15 years!

This upward trend is likely due to a combination of factors: (1) we’ve homed in on where nests are laid and expanded our monitored areas accordingly; (2) there are fewer predators (mainly foxes) digging up nests & eating the eggs before we get a chance to find them; and (3) the number of sexually mature females laying nests has increased thanks to ongoing conservation efforts since the early 2000s. It’s the amplification of this third factor that will undoubtedly have the most positive long-term impact on the terrapin population size over time.

Our game camera at Turtle Point (Lt. Island) caught a curious red-tailed hawk peering over some hatchlings inside a PE.

By the end of the season, we found a total of 127 nests at WBWS: 73 protected, 29 wild (successfully hatched out on their own) and 25 depredated (dug up and eaten by predators). That’s a total of 7 more nests than were found in 2016. And while we protected 8 fewer nests than last year, having an additional 17 wild nests (and 2 fewer depredated) more than made up for it.

At Lieutenant Island across the bay, we found a record-breaking 179 nests, 92 of which were protected. Of those remaining nests found, a whopping 28 were wild & hatched out successfully on their own (8 in 2016), while only 59 were depredated (88 in 2016). This decline in predator activity is largely due to the fox population being decimated by mange.

Volunteer Steve Griffin snapped this picture of a wild nest that did well all on its own (note the hatchling escape tracks!).

But despite this year’s success, it became apparent during this long season that there is still much to be learned about our local terrapins .

For one thing, the whole season lasted much longer than usual. In the past two years, females began nesting on June 15th. But in 2017, the last nest was found on July 31st, two weeks later than the last nest found in 2016. With nest incubation periods lasting anywhere from 60 to 100 days, this meant the hatching season would also probably extend later than usual. In fact, we were still monitoring protected nests in the field and finding hatched wild nests along the way until October 16th!

Once a nest reaches 90 days incubation, the protocol is to remove the predator exclosure and dig down into the nest just enough to see whether or not there are still eggs incubating. We typically find either live eggs that just need some more time or a nest that has been compromised in some way, rendering the eggs non-viable. This year, however, we were pleasantly surprised to find healthy hatchlings hanging out below the surface in roughly three-quarters of the protected nests we opened. This begs the question: What are they doing down there?

Non-viable terrapin egg overtaken by roots that penetrated a nest (photo by Priscilla Isner)

Maybe the cooler, wetter weather this summer and fall resulted in extended incubation periods and encouraged more hatchlings to stay in their cozy underground nests when they weren’t forced out by maggots or ants. Perhaps they were even planning to overwinter down there, rather than emerge and scatter to find a new hiding place. But we don’t know for sure.

We also uncovered a number of nests with viable eggs. In order to speed up the hatching process, we gently removed these eggs from the ground during the last week of our terrapin shifts and placed them in incubators set at roughly 83°F. In just a couple weeks we’ve hatched out over 60 terrapins this way. Incubator time has even helped “premature” hatchlings absorb large yolk sacs in less than half the time it would take at room temperature.

Hatchlings get a freshwater “swim” in the wet lab to hydrate before release (photo by Olivia Bourque)

We’re delighted with the nesting success this summer. But one overarching question remains and we took some steps to try to answer it: How many diamondback terrapins live on Cape Cod? Since we can’t count every single terrapin, calculating a population estimate will require several years of intensive mark-recapture efforts.

In order to lay the groundwork for this, we conducted a pilot study in Wellfleet using Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) microchip technology. Trained staff and volunteers PIT tagged  approximately 200 local terrapins, providing each one with a unique & permanent code that will allow it to be easily identified in the future. Over time, we hope to track individuals more closely and figure out just how much the population is rebounding due to our conservation efforts.

But for now, I think it’s safe to say that the annual assistance provided to these Threatened terrapins has not gone unnoticed.

Shift leader Heather Pilchard heads into the marsh to release a female terrapin who was PIT tagged after laying a nest on Lieutenant Island (photo by Olivia Bourque)


This post was contributed by Olivia Bourque who has been a member of the turtle team at Wellfleet Bay for two years. She took over as team leader this past spring.

A Busy Cape and Islands Summer Can Be Deadly for Sea Turtles

Like thousands of people who come to the Cape and Islands each summer for a chance to explore the local waters, sea turtles are also drawn here. The region’s bays and sounds offer a  smorgasbord for turtles—from the world’s largest, the leatherback, to the smallest, the Kemp’s ridley.

But foraging this year has been especially dangerous for these already endangered and threatened turtles. At least 26 leatherbacks have been killed from July through October, either by vessel strikes or entanglement with fishing gear. That’s more than twice as many as last summer.

A leatherback turtle swims freely in open water ( photo by Scott Benson. NOAA)

So why the increase? It may be the result of a combination of different causes, including possibly more leatherbacks feeding in the area, a higher-than-average density of jellyfish (what leatherbacks eat) in Vineyard Sound, a longer boating season due to unseasonably warm weather, and possible increases in the vertical-line lobster and conch fisheries.

To put these numbers in perspective, we’ve had more than 110 sightings of live leatherbacks reported this year. But this number is derived from opportunistic sources and not from systematic surveys or counts, so we’re unable to say with certainty how many turtles have been out there.

A loggerhead turtle struck by a vessel and found dead in Osterville this summer.

Loggerhead sea turtles have also lost their lives while feeding around here. So far, nine loggerheads have been reported killed. Increasingly, vessel strikes appear to be the cause. Just recently, even a young Kemp’s ridley—smaller than a dinner plate—was the victim of an apparent boat strike in Cape Cod Bay.

This young Kemp’s ridley suffered a cracked carapace and lost its left rear flipper, likely caused by a boat-strike.

Wellfleet Bay staff respond to each summer/fall sea turtle stranding.  They take DNA samples, make morphometric measurements, take photographs, scan for PIT and flipper tags, assess cause of death, and perform a full necropsy when possible.

For years, Wellfleet Bay has been urging boaters to be aware of and watch for feeding sea turtles. In recent years more commercial vessels, including whale watch and sightseeing boats, along with ferry captains, have been reporting their sightings along with many individual recreational boaters. We continue to look for new ways to remind anyone out on the water that sea turtles actively feed off the Cape and Islands in the summer and fall.


Wellfleet Bay’s website for reporting sea turtles is Or you can call 888-732-8878. The website is mobile device-friendly and also has pictures and information about turtles to aid with identification.

Bird Banders Migrate to Wellfleet Bay from Different Ranges

Bursts of migrating birds have given Mikayla Thistle and Frankie Tousley a lot of busy mornings this fall.

There were two new faces at the bird banding table this fall while our master bander James Junda operates a second banding station out of South Monomoy.

Banding assistants Mikayla Thistle and Frankie Tousley developed an interest in birds at opposite ends of the country. Mikayla, who’s from Massachusetts, was educated at Boston University and trained at the Manomet Bird Observatory. She’s also done field research from upstate New York, to Florida, and Hawaii.

Frankie, a native of Oklahoma, switched to a biology major after three years as an engineering student. He spent four years in northern California working on a Black-backed Woodpecker project for the Institute for Bird Populations. He admits to having to give himself a crash course in identifying birds of the eastern US!

Mikayla chooses the correct band to attach to the bird’s leg. Bands are based on the size of a bird and the team is careful to make sure the match is right.

Not surprisingly, both love working with birds. “Each bird is a puzzle and tells a story,” Mikayla says. She also notes that while the process of bird banding involves the same activities each day, you never know what’s going to show up.

“Some days, you can end up with 27 birds in just one net!” she says. This has happened more than a few times this fall as birds pulse through between tropical weather systems.

This Clay-colored Sparrow was a nice surprise since these birds are mostly found in the Great Plains and northern prairies. (Photo by Frankie Tousley).

Both Mikayla and Frankie say they’ve enjoyed being part of Wellfleet Bay. “It’s an amazing community…and it’s not all about birds,” Mikayla says. “There’s all the turtle work that goes on here. There’s a clear mission of conservation.”


Mikayla and Frankie say they’re impressed by the dedication of volunteers (shown here are Tod Christie and Peg Dolan) who have to get up well before dawn for each shift and often walk miles each morning on net runs.

Both banders are hoping to move on to graduate school. Mikayla says she wants to study movement and dispersal ecology for managing at-risk bird species. Frankie wants to study irruptions and how flocking species cope with starvation.

Like the birds they band, Mikayla and Frankie are pushing south–to fill in at the banding station on South Monomoy as James Junda returns to Wellfleet Bay. You can watch this bird research in action each Saturday morning from 8-9 through mid-November.

City Birds Visit the Wide Open Spaces of Wellfleet Bay

Frequent sanctuary visitors Marcy Ford and her husband Jason made a special discovery in late August: this impressive Peregrine Falcon perched on dying cedar at Try Island.

City girl in the country (photo by Marcy Ford).

Marcy noticed immediately the bird was sporting field-readable bands, making this sighting especially exciting.

A quick check with Tom French, assistant director of the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, confirmed that the bird banded “85/BD” (the number 85 appears on a black band over a green band with the letters B & D) was a hatch-year female banded in Providence this summer.

Tom put Marcy (and by this time Wellfleet Bay’s Bob Prescott) in touch with Peter Green, a Providence photographer and raptor enthusiast who’s been following this female’s nest (and many before it) atop the city’s so-called Superman Building. The nest was also featured on a web cam sponsored by Rhode Island Audubon and shows the history of Peregrine nesting on the building since 2000.

Providence’s Superman Building. The red arrow points to the falcons’ nest box. (photo by Peter Green-Providence Raptors)

Peter told us the young female came from one of 5 eggs in the nest, four of which hatched. He also supplied a baby picture he took when the birds were being banded. He believes 85/BD is the chick in the back and to the right.

Fiercely cute raptor youngsters (photo by Peter Green-Providence Raptors).

The remaining nestlings included a second female and two males, one of whom was the last to hatch and was quite scrawny (front right).

Peter lives near the nest building and he was able to follow the birds’ development closely. Here, 85/ BD is taught how to properly prepare a pigeon for dinner.

85/BD watches a parent prepping a pigeon for dinner (photo by Peter Green-Providence Raptors).

These Providence Peregrines are another example of how well the birds have adapted to city life. Peregrines, which historically have nested on cliffs or other elevated perches in open areas, have found a new niche in urban life, thanks to tall buildings and bridges and lots of pigeons and rats. Migrating shorebirds is what usually draws them to coastal locations in the fall.

And that’s likely why 85/BD is visiting Wellfleet Bay. Peter Green was happy to hear of this bird’s whereabouts, though he says it’s odd to see her perched in a tree. ” I always see them on brick, concrete, and steel!”

Where will 85/BD be heading next? Thanks to her band, we may hear more about her. (photo by Marcy Ford)

As we report on 85/BD of Providence, we are reminded of the last banded young peregrine to spend time at the sanctuary.

Back in 2008 another young city bird born in Rochester, New York came to Wellfleet Bay in late summer and ended up spending the winter on the Cape. Happily, this female, named Quest, is alive and well and breeding in Toronto! Here’s a picture of Quest back then:

Quest when she visited Wellfleet Bay in 2008. She apparently enjoyed the Cape because she hung around the Chatham area through that first winter. (photo by Shawn Carey)

And here’s Quest this summer, watching over her four chicks, all of whom fledged. Quest is monitored by the Canadian Peregrine Foundation which reports she spends her winters around Ontario.

Quest at her 2017 nesting site in Toronto, Ontario. (photo by Ann Brokelman).

Here’s hoping both Quest and 85/BD have many more years ahead of them.