Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

Community Gardens Make for Great Bird Watching

Dear Bird Folks,

Fall is when I like to turn my attention to the local ponds and the migrating ducks, but this fall has been mild and the ducks are late. Do you have any suggestions where I should go birding while I wait for the weather to get colder? –Warren, Harwich Port, MA I’m late, too, Warren, I received your question back in October, when it was indeed mild and very few ducks had arrived. Now it’s late November and the ponds are starting to fill up with lots of waterfowl. Your question would have been perfect if I had responded to it last month, but between watching the Red Sox win the World Series and signing 200,000 copies of my new book, I lost track of time. So, for the sake of your question, I’m going to pretend that it’s still October. Just like I pretended that I had to sign 200,000 copies of my new book. (The real number, of course, was way higher than that…I think.) What makes Cape Cod such a great place for bird watching is that every season brings new and different birding opportunities. Winter is great for seabirds, spring brings the songbirds, shorebirds arrive in the summer, and ducks appear in the fall. However, with climate change, ducks seem to be arriving later and later. But instead of waiting by the local ponds and tapping your foot, here are some less traditional birding locations for you to check out. Hardcore birders have known about these places for years, but most causal birders don’t even have them on their radar. I’m talking about community gardens. I know community gardens sound a bit like something found in an old hippy commune, but they can be fun, productive and great for fall birding. And some people even get food out of them. Community gardens consist of small plots of land that local residents can rent (usually for twenty-five to fifty bucks a year) to grow flowers or vegetables or anything else that can be consumed (but at this point, not smoked.) These gardens are perfect for apartment dwellers or anyone who doesn’t have land of their own. During the spring and summer gardeners work hard to keep the weeds down, but like most hobbies, eventually the enthusiasm starts to wane. Ultimately, the weeds get ahead of the gardeners and this is when the birds move in. Birds love unguarded vegetables and flowers, but what they love most are the weeds. The Harwich Community Garden is my favorite. It is located on Rt. 124, just past the fire station. Two acres in size, with nearly 100 plots, this garden is large by Cape Cod standards. In the fall some of the plots are still being maintained, but many aren’t and those are the plots the birds are attracted to. When I go, I walk past the plots with the pretty posies and snapdragons and head right over to the weed-filled shabby plots, the ones that look like they belong to the Addams Family. So far this year, I’ve seen White-crowed and Swamp Sparrows, Bobolinks, Indigo Buntings and Blackpoll Warblers. Birds really dig the Addams Family look. The community gardens in Brewster, on Lower Road, used to be my favorite, but things have changed. The Brewster Land Trust operates these gardens, but ironically, the Trust doesn’t “trust” anybody. A large fence, with locked gates, now surrounds these gardens. (It’s like birding in the old East Germany.) But even with the fence the birding can be productive. Bluebirds are always present and there is constantly a large assortment of sparrows, plus the occasional Blue Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. On a recent visit I was sadly peering over the fence, hoping to see a few birds in the caged-in area, when a very nice woman and her young daughter drove up. The woman was not only kind enough to unlock a gate and allow me to enter the guarded gardens, but she shared some of her fresh kale with me. She then said I could pick some celery if I wanted to, but I hesitated because I didn’t know what garden celery looked like. (Where was the shrink wrap and the barcode?) Sensing my confusion, her attentive daughter quickly picked several stalk and handed me the best celery I have ever eaten. (Now I understand why they keep the place locked up.) I’ve also spent time at the community gardens in Wellfleet, Orleans, Falmouth, Yarmouth Port and W. Barnstable (I get around), but these gardens tend to be smaller and neater, which means fewer weeds and thus fewer birds. However, I did find two gardens that appeared to have great potential. The Marstons Mills garden, off Newtown Road, is good sized and has lots of weedy areas. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover it until too late in the season and all the wonderful weeds had already been picked clean by the birds. Another spot to check is the community garden in Sandwich. Although it’s near the industrial park and looks like a place where punks dump stolen cars, don’t let the location fool you. The gardens are quite nice and have potential for good birding…in mid-October. Not so much right now. Sorry I didn’t get to your question sooner, Warren, when you could have actually used this information. Just put this column away until next October, when all of the above areas should be active with birds. In the meantime, head for the ponds. The ducks are steadily starting to arrive. As for me, I’m still watching highlights of the Red Sox winning the Word Series. That never gets old.