Sunday, June 26, 2022

Least sandpipers

Calidris minutilla is the smallest of the "peeps", in fact the smallest sandpiper in the world. Sparrow-sized, and usually found in pairs or small, loose flocks, quite unlike the large concentrations formed by its congeners the western and semipalmated sandpipers. The leasts we saw on Cape Cod were mostly paired up.

Least sandpipers frequent mudflats and sandy beaches; occasionally they will forage even in light surf, though not in the frantic manner of sanderlings, another Calidris species (and, by my reckoning, an honorary peep).

Least sandpipers are usually quite nervous—their tendency to glance around constantly is sometimes used as a field mark to differentiate them from other peeps—but with her unobtrusive approach Jessa was able to put the high-strung little pipers at their ease, capturing them scratching, preening, and even bathing without apparent concern.

"Thanks for all the lovely sandpiper pictures, Jessa," said I.

"Not to worry," she replied gallantly. "It was the least that I could do."

Friday, June 24, 2022

Cape Cod lighthouses (a few)

This first visit to Cape Cod, Jessa assures me, was just a scouting trip. With only a few days there, and with a necessary focus on fishing (we were here for the Schoolie Tournament), there simply wasn't time to see everything. That includes the Cape's lighthouses, of which there are more than a dozen. We didn't see the oldest (Highland Light in Truro), nor the tallest (also Highland Light), but the five we did see are, I think, an interesting sampling. Perhaps on a future trip we'll be able to document them all, but here's what we did see, starting with the most distant.

Long Point Light sits at the very tip of Cape Cod—if the Cape is a fish hook, Long Point is the sharp tip. (Incidentally, the name "Cape Cod" originally applied only to what is now Provincetown. Only after P-town was incorporated as such did "Cape Cod" begin to take on its present meaning.) The original lighthouse at Long Point, marking the southwest entrance to Provincetown Harbor, was established in 1826. It was replaced by the current square brick structure in 1875. 

The fishing village of Long Point was abandoned by the time the second lighthouse was built; most of its houses were floated across the harbor to Provincetown proper in the 1850s, and many still stand there today. In 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, the U.S. Army established a coastal artillery emplacement here. The Army designated it as Long Point Battery, but P-town wags called it "Fort Useless" or "Fort Ridiculous". The Confederate Navy never came calling, and the mound visible in this second picture, to the left of the oil house, is all that remains of the battery.

Wood End Light is nearly identical to its neighbour, Long Point Light—note, however, the different window configuration—but was built three years earlier, in 1872. 

Race Point Light, at the northwestern tip of the Cape, was established in 1816; the original stone structure was replaced with a cast-iron tower in 1876. Despite its different construction, it shares the same colour scheme—white with black lantern—as Long Point and Wood End Lights. Unlike those, however, it has retained its keeper's house, which is available for short-term rental. I haven't checked the rates, but somehow I doubt we'll be staying there for future Schoolie Tournaments.

Nauset Light, near Eastham, is arguably Cape Cod's most famous lighthouse; it is depicted on the "Cape and Islands" specialty license plate issued by Massachusetts, and on every bag of Cape Cod Potato Chips. Beyond its iconic status, however, it has an interesting history that begins not in Eastham but in Chatham. 

The Chatham light station, the second on the Cape after Highland, was established in 1808 with a pair of wooden towers, built on skids so they could be realigned as the channel entrance shifted. Those wooden towers were replaced with brick towers in 1841 and then cast-iron towers in 1877. Finally, in 1923, one of the cast-iron towers was moved 12 miles up to Nauset Beach to replace the "Three Sisters" (which regrettably we did not see). 

In its original incarnation as half of Chatham Light, and for a while after its move to Eastham, Nauset Light resembled the Provincetown lights: white with a black lantern. It only took on its current appearance when the top half of the tower was painted red sometime in the 1940s.

I haven't been able to find much history on Sea Gull Beach Lighthouse in West Yarmouth. It doesn't even appear on some lists of Cape Cod lighthouses, but is described as "rebuilt", so I assume it must have been official and functional at some point. It is the only one we saw that represents the original Cape Cod style of lighthouse, with the tower integrated into the keeper's house. Like the keeper's house at Race Point, Sea Gull is available to rent—here I have checked the rates, and we will definitely not be staying here for future Schoolies. The ospreys seem to like its mermaid weathervane, though.

Photography by Jessica Farrell-Churchill. She would likely be too modest to mention it, but I know that the three P-town lighthouses were shot from a moving boat, so I'm impressed they came out so well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hermit crabs

One of the things I like about the way Ellie and I fish is that we're never too busy fishing to get sidetracked by other elements of the world around us. Ellie and Jessa found a thriving population of hermit crabs near Sea Gull Beach, and even I took a break to catch one or two with them.