Tag Archives: Wellfleet Bay

Top Wildlife Sanctuaries for Shorebird Migration

Late summer is peak season for watching shorebirds in Massachusetts. While most songbirds are laying low as they wrap up raising their young and molting (i.e. growing new feathers), shorebirds like sandpipers, plovers, and godwits are already on the move for the fall.

Mass Audubon protects locally-breeding shorebirds through our Coastal Waterbird Program, but our wildlife sanctuaries also provide habitat for the hungry migrants that pass through en route from their Arctic breeding grounds to points south. Here’s a shortlist of the best Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries to observe them. 

Easy Access: Joppa Flats Education Center, Newburyport 

Overlooking a vast, tidal mudflat on the Merrimack River, Joppa Flats is a great place to observe shorebirds without having to walk too far from the parking lot (the visitor’s center has a great view of the shorebirds from indoors, although it’s temporarily closed during the pandemic). Joppa Flats also a great jumping-off point for birding Plum Island, another amazing shorebird hotspot just down the road. 

On most days from late July through early October, flocks of common shorebirds like Greater Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpipers feed on the flats. Occasionally, an uncommon visitor shows up, like the lanky and long-billed Hudsonian Godwit—a species that stops over in small numbers in Massachusetts before a direct, marathon flight over the Atlantic to their wintering grounds. 

A Hudsonian Godwit (left) on a Massachusetts mudflat. Photo: Will Freedberg

Wild and Little-Known: Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, Rowley 

Just a few miles to the south, this sanctuary includes more land and trails than Joppa Flats as well as several marsh overlooks. Twenty species of shorebird have been recorded here so far, with new species for the site being recorded almost annually. 

Finding shorebirds here takes a little more effort and searching than other sites on this list, but the under-birded marshes and mudflats have so much untapped potential for interesting sightings! At the later end of shorebird migration (particularly in the last week of September), Rough Meadows has proven to attract uncommon upland species like Pectoral Sandpiper and American Golden-Plover.  

American Golden-Plovers are just as happy in grassy uplands as they are in the water. Photo: Will Freedberg

Shorebird Central: Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Wellfleet 

Wellfleet Bay is the crown jewel of Mass Audubon’s shorebird hotspots and one of our most-visited coastal sanctuaries. There’s a lot to see here, from box turtles and rare coastal heathland plants to expansive marshes and mudflats that seem to stretch past the horizon at low tide.  

Visitors looking for shorebirds can access these flats along the Try Island Trail after stopping at Goose Pond, which has hosted some rare visitors from Western Sandpipers to a Spotted Redshank from Eurasia. Further out, birders on the tidal flats beyond the marsh boardwalk often see Greater Yellowlegs picking crustaceans off the moist ground and Short-billed Dowitchers rapidly dipping their bills in and out of the mud like sewing machines.  

The stars of the show on most days, however, are the Whimbrels. These large and long-billed shorebirds are seen more consistently at Wellfleet Bay than anywhere else in the state, and can be seen daily from mid-July through the fall (though their numbers begin to taper off in September).  

Whimbrels sport an impressive bill for probing in the sand and mud. Photo: William Freedberg

Cape Cod’s Hidden Gem: Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable 

Long Pasture’s secluded beach and marsh boardwalk host at least a handful of migrating shorebirds most days in late summer, especially Ruddy Turnstones and Semipalmated Plovers.  

American Oystercatchers breed nearby and often visit with young, and uncommon Forster’s Terns are often seen resting on sandbars or feeding just offshore.   

A Ruddy Turnstone on a mudflat. Photo: Will Freedberg

Wild Card: Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton 

Coastal Massachusetts doesn’t get to have all the shorebird fun! Most species of shorebirds prefer beaches and salt marshes during migration, but Arcadia in the Connecticut River Valley draws some interesting species as well.  

From July through September, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpipers, and Solitary Sandpipers frequent muddy edges of the sanctuary’s numerous ponds, riverbanks, and oxbows. And in early spring, Wilson’s Snipe are often seen in the wetter parts of the sanctuary’s open meadows.   

Boy running across boardwalk at Wellfleet Bay

Hikes to Squeeze in Before the School Year Starts

Thinking about back to school already?! Wasn’t summer just getting started? We get it, we feel it, and we have just the thing to help you savor the last few weeks of precious summer vacation.

Go on a hike, see something new, and discreetly get the kids’ brains back into “learning mode”.

For Late Summers on the Cape

Have one last trip to the Cape planned? Check out Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellfleet, where you can explore relaxing trails and coastal seascapes. We recommend finding your way to the boardwalk, which winds through the salt marsh to the beach.

In the late summer, you’ll find a wealth of marine life and migrating shorebirds, and fruiting plants that help them refuel for migration. You can learn about the effects of climate change, coastal erosion, and sea level rise. And, at the Nature Center’s learning stations, find out about our wildlife conservation and research programs, including Diamondback Terrapin nest protection, cold-stunned sea turtle rescue, Horseshoe Crab monitoring, and ongoing research on Whimbrel migration.

We call this the “I can see the ocean!” run

For The Berkshires Travelers

Maybe you’re craving more mountains than beach. If so, you’ll love soaking in the summer sunsets from the high elevations at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox.

Check out the Trail of the Ledges/Overbrook Loop track for an 850 vertical foot hike to the top of Lenox Mountain (2,126 foot elevation). Take in the views of Mount Greylock to the north, the Taconic Range to the west, and the Catskill Mountains of New York to the southwest. 

Ahh, just the high-level life perspective you need before back to school shopping. © Brooks Payne

For a Lesson on Food & Farming

Picture this: the school year is in full swing, there’s homework to be done, and dinner to cook. The last thing you want to do is negotiate eating vegetables. However, you can get ahead of the chaos by teaching healthy eating habits before the school year starts at these farms.

Drumlin Farm in Lincoln and Moose Hill in Sharon are Mass Audubon’s working farms and wildlife sanctuaries, dedicated to growing food sustainably, organically, and without chemical pesticides. Squeeze in a fun visit to either so you can show your family where and how their food is grown, and create a positive connection between them and fresh produce.

On the weekends, stop by the farm stands for a tasty souvenir of your adventures. And if you’re visiting Drumlin Farm, don’t forget to traverse the Farmyard Loop to say hi to our resident barnyard animals⁠—cows, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, and more!

For Those Last-Minute Summer Reading Logs

Thornton W. Burgess, children’s author most known for his classic bedtime stories and that featured the beloved character Peter Rabbit, was inspired by the wildlife and landscape of present-day Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Hampden.

It’s not hard to see why—this sanctuary is teeming with life. Burgess’s former home is viewable from Main Street, now on the historic register and currently occupied by staff. Explore the 4 miles of trails that wind through this magical, historic sanctuary, before settling into bed with a classic Burgess tale.

“Peter sat bolt upright with his eyes very wide open. In them was a funny look of surprise as he stared up at Jenny Wren. “What are you talking about, Jenny Wren?” he demanded. “Don’t you know that none of the Rabbit family swim unless it is to cross the Laughing Brook when there is no other way of getting to the other side…”

-The Burgess Animal Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess

For a Lesson on Reclaimed Outdoor Spaces

The story of our Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Plymouth is one that inspires current and future management of outdoor spaces. Once a working cranberry farm, this landscape recently underwent the largest freshwater ecological restoration ever completed in the Northeast. Now, Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary is a 481-acre property that’s home to a vast expanse of cold-water streams, ponds, forest, and woodlands—all permanently protected and open for everyone to enjoy!

Explore the four miles of trails that traverse the reclaimed wetlands of Tidmarsh and keep an eye out for signs of the returning healthy ecosystem, including herons, ducks, turtles, and frogs. A great lesson in biodiversity for budding biologists and ecologists!