October 6, 2021 at 12:15 pm
A few weeks ago, I was on Cape Cod for my niece’s wedding and Jeff and I had a morning free before we had to be at the ceremony. I suggested we visit Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, which was only about 20 mins away. We left the hotel before 7 and happily avoided the typical traffic one encounters on a Saturday in August on the Cape.
We pulled into the small parking lot and were astounded we were the only car there. “They limit the parking, so the refuge never gets too crowded,” I told Jeff. “But if the lot gets full, people usually just park on the causeway and walk up.”
Monomoy NWR includes eight miles of sandy beaches, miles of trails, two islands, and a 40-acre headquarters facility with a visitors’ center. It was also there I had my first job as a biologist – a seasonal biological technician with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I was so proud of that title… It was my first exposure to wildlife management and it’s where I fell in love with birds and wildlife behavior.
I spent lots of time leading nature walks, answering questions, building trails, putting in fences, and maintaining boundary lines. We also monitored the nesting songbirds, and managed endangered piping plovers, but the best part of the job was the shorebird monitoring.
I would spend hours and hours on the two islands, running transects and counting migrating shorebirds. Other times I would sit with my binoculars and spotting scope and count the species and numbers of shorebirds in a smaller area, for an entire tide cycle, day after day, for weeks. Monomoy is at the elbow of the cape and its location and habitat make it a critical migratory stopover. Shorebirds by the hundreds of thousands stop to rest, feed, and refuel before they continue their migration south.
That summer when I left the refuge in early September and I knew, this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I could tolerate all the manual labor, that frankly I didn’t and still don’t love, just so I could do the biological aspects. I loved this part of my job, I loved watching all those birds and their unique adaptations; different bills and feeding styles for almost every species. I loved the challenge of identifying them and the peace that came with sitting there quietly observing. A stillness takes over you, a sense of calm and then wonder when you watch these tiny birds and think how far they traveled (from the Arctic) and how far they must go (to South America). It’s why I chose this field and how I developed my passion for wildlife. I owe a lot to this tiny little refuge!
It was remarkable to go back to Monomoy after all these years, with someone who has never been before and see it through his eyes. We had hit the tides well, so there were thousands of shorebirds feeding on the mainland flats. Jeff was as enthusiastic about the birds as I am. It was a wonderful morning reconnecting with nature, remembering what got me started in the first place.
Being able to observe nature always inspires me, and sharing it with someone, an avid outdoorsman, made it even more remarkable. Monomoy is a magnificent spot, for new and seasoned birders, and for me it was a reminder of how lucky I was to work here, and experience the marvel of migration that not only sparked a lifetime of passion for wildlife and but also a career in the outdoors.