Please consider all images as copyrighted and ask permission to use for any reason. Thanks, DEClapp
As the last few posts have shown we have been walking the great outer beach around Race Point a lot. Actually a whole lot! Just ask my hips and knees. Four or five miles in soft sand that slopes sharply to the sea is testing. It wears a person out but it is the only way to get to certain places where the ocean wildlife meets the shore. There is a strong and rather permanent “race” where the Atlantic waters and the water leaving Cape Cod Bay brush against each other. Brush is a gentle word for a strong interface that roils the water and creates upwellings that enrich the area. Enriched water attracts fish, birds, and marine mammals. It is worth the walk.
We have done this walking/hiking/toiling mostly for the birds; often wintering birds that otherwise cannot be easily seen in our area. This group of unusual cold weather visitors includes Black-legged Kittiwake (BLKI), Little Gull (LIGU), and Pacific Loon (PALO). There are always our wintering ducks and grebes out there as well; birds like Red-breasted Merganser (RBME), all three scoter species, and lots of Common Eider (COEI) and Common Loon (COLO). In the summer it is possible to see four pelagic (purely oceanic) birds called shearwaters (Cory’s, Sooty, Manx, Great) looking out from this part of the Cape. These birds soar over the waves day after day and night after night, no matter the weather. Some migrate from near Antarctica in a giant circle that takes them all around the Atlantic; up the South American and North American coast and the under Greenland to Europe and then back down the African coast and our to Antarctica again.
Race Point is a destination with the Cape Cod National Seashore but most visitors look out into the vast sea toward Portugal and maybe sit in the sand for a while. From shore the wildlife mentioned above is often visible if you look hard and long enough, as are the Humpback Whales that are very common in the summer. The Northern Right Whale is an early season visitor and the Fin and Minke Whales can be seen in the summer as well. Not to mention the very common Gray Seal and the (now) less common Harbor Seal.
But the migrants in this area are not all birds or mammals – there are two very important fish that arrive here and depend on a third migratory fish (actually a group of smallish migrants) called Alewives, Herring, and Menhaden. These are the staple fish of our sea. They are the forage fish that feed the bigger fish. In some parts of the world there are Capelin, Sardines, and Sand Lance that do much the same thing. Here in the northeastern corner of the US we have Sand Lance (good whale food) as well as herring and pogeys, or menhaden. These fish are plankton eaters and are consumed by Striped Bass, Bluefish, Tuna and many other predators of the ocean.