Dear Bird Folks,
My husband and I have recently moved to the Cape and are slowly getting into bird watching. Is there a bird club specific to Cape Cod that we can join or should we become members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society instead?
– Alex, Yarmouth, MA
There is indeed a bird club specific to Cape Cod. It goes by the catchy name of the “Cape Cod Bird Club.” It’s a tough one to remember, so you’d better write it down. And yes, you should join. You should also join Mass Audubon, which is an important institution on so many levels. However, no organization is more Cape Cod-ish than the Cape Cod Bird Club. It’s friendly, warm and totally informal, and hasn’t changed a bit in nearly a half-century. (It’s too bad I can’t say the same thing about myself.)
According to the club’s website (capecodbirdclub.org), the first meeting was held on November 20, 1971. Back then, the annual membership dues was a measly three dollars; for students, it was an adorable fifty cents. (Okay, maybe the cost of dues has changed, but that’s it.) The 7:00PM meetings are held on the second Monday of each month at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster. There is plenty of parking and the event room is always toasty warm, almost too warm. (Why are museums constantly so darn hot? If the world is serious about global warming, they should start with museums. I’m just saying.)
What happens at the meetings? They are pretty much what you’d expect them to be. As folks file in, there’s lots of chitchat and socializing. Then the club president says a few words about upcoming events. She/he will also acknowledge any visitors or new members. This is when you’ll sheepishly raise your hand and receive polite applause from the rest of the club. Next, someone will ask for recent bird sightings. You’ll hear about birds people are seeing in their backyards, as well as unusual species others are finding on their walks. There will also be a mention of the snack table. (Although the snacks aren’t put out until the end, just to make sure no one leaves early.) Finally, there will be a featured guest and for such a small club, they have had an impressive list of speakers. Researchers and authors from all around the country are happy to visit the Cape to talk about their projects.
The first meeting I remember attending was in 1981. Local authors/birders Peter Trull and Blair Nikula had just returned from a trip to Suriname and Guyana. (Those are small countries on the northern coast of South America, in case you didn’t know. I certainly didn’t at the time.) Many of the terns that breed on Cape Cod weren’t returning in the spring, so Peter and Blair traveled to their wintering grounds to find out why. It turned out that the local people were eating the same birds we were all working so hard to protect. While the program was far from cheery, I found it to be totally interesting. Apparently, other cultures “enjoy” birds differently than we do. More upbeat programs included one about the birds of Trinidad and one on Belize. I was so impressed by these lectures that I ultimately spent time birding in both countries. However, in solidarity with the terns, I have not been to Suriname and Guyana. That will teach them to eat “our” birds.
If you aren’t into attending meetings in a toasty lecture hall, no worries. The Cape Cod Bird Club offers a whole host of bird walks throughout the year. In the warmer months, there are woodland walks in search of songbirds, while the off-season “walks” typically focus on driving to an unfrozen pond or harbor to look for wintering ducks. And unlike the meetings, where talking during the lecture is frowned upon (or so I’m constantly being told), the walks are a great opportunity to socialize, ask questions and perhaps meet a new birding buddy. Each walk has a leader, but she/he is mostly there to keep things organized, as the walks are super informal. No one will care if you ask a stupid question or misidentify a bird. Most importantly, the walks are free. Like the meetings, you don’t need to be a member to attend. You also don’t need to commit to the entire walk. If you get tired, bored or cold, just thank the leader and head off to a coffee shop. No one will care, and some will even wish they were going with you.
While the Cape Cod Bird Club is one of the most simple, old school organizations you’ll find anywhere, the same thing can’t be said about Mass Audubon. For well over a century the Massachusetts Audubon Society has been fighting the good fight for not only birds, but for every aspect of nature. Mass Audubon preserves vital habitat, offers educational programs for both adults and students and operates sixty wildlife sanctuaries throughout the state, including several right here on Cape Cod.
If you enjoy birding, Alex, I think you and your husband should join both organizations. Actually, you may want to give him memberships for Christmas. Family memberships for the two organizations together are less than a hundred bucks. (Sorry, the fifty-cent student days are long over.) And unlike a gym membership, there is no guilt if you don’t go. Whether you show up or not, your dues will be well spent. I don’t know about Mass Audubon, but the bird club’s dues helps to defray their meager operating costs and provide a student scholarship. Most importantly, you dues pays for the snacks on the snack table, which in itself is the best reason to join.