Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

Birding Route 6A

At trip down Rt. 6A,

The long Thanksgiving weekend presents a problem for some people. They don’t like being trapped at the house with their relatives, but they also want to avoid the mayhem in the big shopping centers. A walk in the Cape Cod air might be just what these folks need. But there is one problem. Many of the most popular trails will be nearly as crowded as the shopping centers. With that in mind, I spent a day exploring (and birding) a few of the least traveled nature trails along Rt. 6A. Keep in mind that it’s November, so don’t expect to see a huge number of birds, but hopefully you won’t see a lot of people either.

Our first stop was at the Spruce Hill Conservation Area in Brewster. This short walk is located on the north side of Rt. 6A, just west of Nickerson State Park. It’s a bit tricky to find, since there aren’t any signs (what’s up with that, Brewster?), but your GPS or map app should find it for you. The main trail (an old cart path) is now covered with a thick mat of dried leaves, which gives it a fall-ish feel, but also made walking rather noisy. But the crunching leaves didn’t bother the birds. We saw quite a few, including a Hermit Thrush, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, and one very friendly Brown Creeper, a bird whose name fits it perfectly.

The trail eventually leads to a spectacular view of Cape Cod Bay. In theory, there’s a set of stairs that provides access to a quiet stretch of beach, but the stairs have fallen into disrepair and were thus boarded off. (What’s up with that, Brewster?) Still, from the bluff we could see lots of Brant, eiders and scoters. Spruce Hill is quiet in the off-season, but probably popular in the warmer months. If you go, remember to use your GPS or you’ll never find it. Also, if you want to use the stairs, bring some tools.

Farther down 6A, we stopped at Bass Hole (yes, that’s the name) in Yarmouth Port. This location is noted for its famous 800-foot boardwalk. We ignored the popular boardwalk and turned inland to the less trendy Callery-Darling Conservation Area. The hidden entrance to the trail is accessed from the far side of a small playground. After my wife made me push her on the swings for ten minutes, we began our hike. The trail cuts through some dense vegetation, where we were greeted by very active cardinals, mockingbirds and a late season catbird, which I was happy to see.

After walking for only a few minutes (well, only a few for my wife; at my slow birder’s pace, it was more like ten minutes), we came to a long footbridge that crossed the Chase Garden Creek Marsh. The view from here was awesome. There was even a Great Blue Heron catching fish. The fishing heron added to the cool experience (although, the fish might disagree with that). We then entered a stretch of surprisingly tall trees, which provided perfect habitat for woodpeckers and that’s exactly what we saw. There were flickers, as well as Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, plus a very agitated Carolina Wren that as usual was upset about something. The trail crossed Center Street and continued to an old bog…I guess. We somehow missed that part of the trail and ended up back at the parking lot. (Would it kill these places to put up a sign or two?) Speaking of signs, I was getting a sign from my wife that it was time for lunch. I know better than to ignore that signal, so off to lunch we went. And what is the best town on the Cape for lunch? Sandwich, of course. Get it?

At the Riverview Café I had everybody’s favorite meal…a bowl of quinoa and veggies. I usually don’t mention businesses by name, but this café is run by the famed Riverview School. The main purpose of the little restaurant is to provide occupational training for the school’s students, who often have an assortment of serious learning challenges. The kids did a great job.

After a hearty bowl of quinoa, we headed back to West Barnstable, for a quick walk through Orenda Wildlife Trust’s Pogorelc Sanctuary. The property, which sits at 1540 Main St. (Rt. 6A), was once the site of the West Barnstable Brick Factory. The factory’s old clay pits have turned into important freshwater ponds. On our walk we saw night-herons, Green-winged Teal, Hooded Mergansers and a very shy Swamp Sparrow. The trail, which still has bricks popping up here and there, ends at the Cape’s only active railroad tracks. Walking on the tracks is illegal, so we immediately turned around and didn’t walk on the tracks at all…I think.

Our last stop was at the Cape Cod Organic Farm. Birding here can be quite good (we saw lots of meadowlarks), but there are a few things you need to know. Birders are welcome, but we have to be respectful of the crops and no matter what, don’t go near the pigs. I told my wife this last rule, but she ignored me and was eventually scolded by the lady in charge of the animals. (When it comes to pigs, my wife is pig-headed.) In spite of this ugly incident, the people who run the farm are very friendly. Still, it’s a good idea to stop at the farm stand to double check the rules and perhaps buy some veggies. I bought a squash, but sadly, they didn’t have any quinoa.

I have nothing against sharing time with the relatives and I certainly have nothing against folks shopping. It’s a wonderful way to “spend” the day. But sometimes a nice quiet walk, without too many people and without the dogs, helps us appreciate our unique surroundings. Just remember: stay off the stairs in Brewster, no walking on the train tracks and don’t go near the pigs.