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A Birding Day in Falmouth

A Birding Day in Falmouth:

Every once in a while I take a break from the weekly Q&A format and write about a local birding area instead. This week I must have felt overly ambitious because I actually made the ridiculously long drive from Orleans to Falmouth. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against Falmouth, but sometimes I think it would be easier to drive to Tasmania. Geographically, Falmouth is simply out of the way…kind of like Chatham. In fact, both towns have a lot in common. They both have iconic lighthouses, charming town centers, loads of obscene trophy homes and great birding. That’s not a bad combination…except for the trophy homes.

The first stop on my Falmouth birding trip wasn’t even in Falmouth. I can never drive by past Marstons Mills’ Mill Pond without stopping to check for ducks. This tiny pond is at the junction of Rt. 149 and Rt. 28 and in the fall is habitually filled with waterfowl. Since it’s not much larger than an acre, I could quickly scan most of the pond without ever leaving my car. The highlight on this morning was about a dozen American Wigeons. The male American Wigeons are noted for having a skunk-like white patch of feathers running down the middle of their heads. This patch gives them the folk name, “baldpate.” But the real find on today’s stop was a male Eurasian Wigeon. As their name suggests, Eurasian Wigeons are birds from the old world. These hardy birds will sometimes fly cross the Atlantic to spend the winter with us. It was good to see that at least one of them had made it out of Europe before we totally closed off our borders.

I continued down Rt.28 and pulled into the East Falmouth Public Library. Usually, I boycott libraries because I despise their policy of letting folks read my books for free. (Free? Whose stupid idea was that?) But behind the library is yet another Mill Pond. (Towns really need to work on getting more original names for their ponds.) I walked to the edge of the pond and was happy to see that a fellow birder was already there. I usually don’t like talking to other birders, but this guy had a spotting scope setup, which meant I didn’t have to drag my scope out of the car. Through his scope I could see lots of cute Buffleheads, more American Wigeons, several Ring-necked Ducks and a number of Gadwalls. I don’t believe I’ve ever written a column about Gadwalls, but I should. They are the blandest, most unassuming members of the duck world, and are the perfect birds to be living behind a public library. I thanked the birder for letting me mooch off of his scope and headed to Peterson Farm.

For the past three hundred years Peterson Farm was a working, eighty-eight-acre farm. Then in 1998 it went up for sale. Luckily for all of us, Falmouth’s 300 Committee, a nonprofit land trust, scooped it up before developers did. Today the farm, its pastures and its many trails are open to everyone. When I arrived at the farm I was greeted by thirty or so sheep, plus one humorless llama named “Scamp” that kept giving me the evil eye. The big animal’s fur was all black, except for a white patch around its mouth, as if it had just finished a box of powdered donuts. I walked along the edge of the pasture and focused on the Field Sparrows as they ducked in and out of the thickets. There were several cardinals squabbling about something, while numerous flickers called from above. The highlight on this walk was a pair of late-in-the-season Nashville Warblers that were moving through the oak branches. Sweet! As I watched the warblers I began hearing a “churt” sound. It was coming from a gorgeous Hermit Thrush sitting on the top of a cedar. That bird was soon joined by another Hermit Thrush. This made me wonder: How can two birds that are clearly hanging out together, both be called “hermits”? My important philosophical musing was quickly interrupted when a dozen bluebirds landed on the nearby fence posts and on the rusted wheels of an old wagon. Whoa! Even the most jaded birders have to take a step back and appreciate the sight of a dozen bluebirds. Unfortunately, I couldn’t appreciate them for too long. I had another birding spot to visit. Plus, I didn’t like the way Scamp kept looking at me.

My last stop was at a place called, “The Knob.” I’ve lived on Cape Cod for over forty years and had never heard of The Knob. (How could I have missed a location with such a cool name?) Only a few miles from Peterson Farm, The Knob sits at the entrance of Quisset Harbor. From a small parking area, The Knob is accessed via a short ten-minute walk. The walk is mostly wooded; until you get to The Knob itself…then hang on to something. The once calm wind was now screaming, like I had been suddenly transported to the coast of Scotland. With one hand holding onto my hat, I gazed out onto a wonderful view of Buzzards Bay. I was expecting to see flocks of exotic seabirds riding high on the crashing waves, but on this day I saw a handful of gulls and that’s it. (Apparently, even seabirds couldn’t handle this wind.)

My birding trip Falmouth was a success and well worth the seventeen hours it took me to drive there. (FYI: Directions to any of these locations can easily be found online.) My two favorite stops were Peterson Farm and, of course, The Knob. Birds or no birds, the view from The Knob was well worth the visit. But the best part about The Knob was that I had the whole area to myself…and Scamp was nowhere to be seen.