Signs of Spring – Amphibians Emerge to Breed at Sandy Neck

Sean a
If you are driving to Sandy Neck in the evening, you may notice a loud and familiar sound along the road. The high-pitched chorus of the Spring Peepers has returned to nearby wetlands at the park. These quarter-sized tree frogs are quite loud for their size, and can be heard over a mile away. While the first peepers were heard faintly in February, they are now out in full force, calling out in hopes of finding a mate. Spring Peepers are often one of the first signs of spring, and an indicator of warmer days ahead.

Here are a few videos of the Spring Peeper activity at Sandy Neck last week

Last week, we were also lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the rare and elusive Eastern Spadefoot emerging for the first time this year. While there was no breeding behavior documented, their presence above ground so early in the year is a great sign. Warm temperatures, heavy rains and a high water table will hopefully provide the right conditions for this state-listed species to breed in 2016. Spadefoots are listed as Threatened in the state of Massachusetts, and they have not successfully bred on Sandy Neck since 2013.
Sean b
Remember, amphibians will continue to breed throughout the Spring and early summer. On warm, rainy nights, please drive slow and keep an eye out for Frogs, Toads, and Salamanders crossing the road.

Times they are a changin’

Times they are a changin’!

Every other year, the Sandy Neck Park Manager and staff take a look at the rules and regulations for Sandy Neck Beach Park and make revisions and recommendations that are sent to the Town Manager for review and acceptance. Most, if not all changes, are based on keeping all beach users safe; it is a safety thing!

We are going to do our best to make sure that everyone who comes to enjoy all aspects of Sandy Neck is informed of these changes, well in advance of the summer season.


Sandy Neck Mission Statement

The mission of the Sandy Neck Program is to provide recreational opportunities and access to our town’s citizens and visitors while protecting the natural, cultural, and historic resources on Sandy Neck so that a long term, sustainable balance between use and conservation of these resources is achieved.


Off Road Beach Access Hours/Curfew

New hours for ORV beach access are going into effect immediately.  The changes are based on safe times of operation due to daylight hours and staffing.

 The In-Season ORV beach access is April 1st through October 31st. The ORV beach will open at 8am and will be closed at 11pm. You must be through the Gatehouse by 9pm in order to stay out until curfew. All ORV vehicles must be out of the park by 11pm.

The Off-Season ORV beach access is November 1st through March 31st. The ORV beach opens at 8am and closes at 4pm. All ORV vehicles must be off the beach by 4pm.

 Off Road Vehicle Campers

The first change in camper regulations has to do with camper safety and the second with camper consideration.  All campers, at time of yearly inspection, will be required to have a working carbon monoxide detector on board as standard equipment. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a potential problem we take seriously! Below are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning; it is colorless and odorless and can lead to serious health issues.


The second change regarding campers is the “courteous neighbor policy”. In order to respect all campers’ right to quiet enjoyment, all generators will be silenced between the hours of 10pm to 8am.


Campfire regulations are changing! Off Road Vehicle campfire rules will remain the same with the only exception being the following:

In-Season, April 1st through October 31st, off road vehicle users will be allowed campfires at 7pm or sunset, whichever comes first. All other customary rules and regulations will still apply.

Off-Season. From November 1st through March 31st there will be NO campfires allowed.

Public Beach patrons, intending to have a campfire in the designated area on the front beach, will need to purchase a campfire permit at the Gatehouse. The campfire permits will go on sale at 5pm each night, and may be limited in number.

In-Season, April 1st through October 31st, Campfires will be at 7pm or sunset, whichever comes first. All other customary rules and regulations will still apply.

Off-Season, November 1st through March 31st there will be NO campfires allowed.

 Horseback riding

Safety: All persons horseback riding on Sandy Neck will be required to wear an ASTM/SEI approved horseback riding helmet.

Horseback riding is now pay-as-you-ride; the fee is $20 per horse per ride. The first ride of the season, the horse owner will come in and fill out paperwork and receive a horse pass for the $20 fee per horse. Each time from then on, the rider(s) will present the horse pass or passes to the Gatehouse and pay the $20 per horse fee to ride on the beach.  During season, when beach parking fees are required, the horse trailer and truck will be allowed to park in the Bodfish parking lot at no charge, but any other vehicles associated with the ride will have to pay the daily parking fee.

Snowy Owl release on Sandy Neck


Norman Smith -- with help from his granddaughters Alexa and Carmella -- release Wampatuck, the latest Project SNOWstorm owl. (©Ray McDonald)

Norman Smith — with help from his granddaughters Carmella and Alexa — release Wampum, the latest Project SNOWstorm owl. (©Ray McDonald)

Here’s a great way to ring out the old year and usher in 2016. The newest Project SNOWstorm owl is Wampum, an adult female captured at Logan Airport in Boston by Norman Smith and relocated to a safer spot on Cape Cod earlier this week — with one of CTT’s new third-generation GPS/GSM transmitters on her back. She’s the 36th Snowy Owl we’ve tagged since Project SNOWstorm started in December 2013.

Wampatuck, already an adult, was originally banded by Norman last winter at Logan, and returned this year. (©Ray McDonald)

Wampum, already an adult, was originally banded by Norman last winter at Logan, and returned this year. (©Ray McDonald)

What’s more, this is Norman’s 35th year of work with snowies at Logan, one of the longest-running Snowy Owl projects in North America. During the mega-irruption of 2013-14 he moved more than 120 snowies from the airport, but even a more normal winter like this one, when numbers are much lower, he’s been busy — Wampum was the 15th snowy he’d moved from Logan this winter.

Caught, but in her case not banded — because she was already wearing one of Norman’s USGS leg bands. Turns out this was an owl he’d first captured and banded last winter at Logan, when the molt pattern in her flight feathers showed she was already an adult.

(Watch for a profile of Norman and his decades of Snowy Owl research in an upcoming blog.)

Wampum’s transmitter was underwritten by a generous donation, and while the donors wish to remain anonymous, we are nevertheless grateful for their support.

I had a chance to help Norman fit Wampum with her harness and transmitter, at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton, Mass., which Norman directs for Massachusetts Audubon. Because she was a bit of a biter, Norman draped a thin cloth hood over her head as we started, but like most Snowy Owls Wampum was remarkably calm in the hand as we eased the woven Teflon ribbon harness around her body and over her wings, testing it repeatedly for fit before we knotted, sewed and glued the attachments.

In addition to recording precise GPS locations, CTT's new third-generation transmitters are include a temperature sensor and an accelerometer to record movement. (©Ray McDonald)

In addition to recording precise GPS locations, CTT’s new third-generation transmitters are include a temperature sensor and an accelerometer to record movement. (©Ray McDonald)

Wampum was something of an anomaly this winter — the third female  Snowy Owl Norman has caught at Logan so far, tipping the scales at a respectable 2,260g. She was also the first adult; all the others have been juvenile males. In contrast, SNOWstorm collaborator Tom McDonald in upstate New York has caught all adults, and all but one of them have been female. Whether that’s just coincidence, or an actual pattern of distribution this winter, is anyone’s guess.

Regardless of age or sex, Norman and Tom report that all the snowies they’ve caught this winter have been fat and healthy. That’s in contrast to the situation in the western Great Lakes, where more than a few snowies that appeared in October wound up at rehabbers, unusually thin. It’s possible these birds were coming from different areas, and perhaps with different dynamics driving their movements south.

Norman and two of his granddaughters, Alexa and Carmella Nihill, released Wampum on Dec. 30 near Barnstable on Cape Cod, about 60 miles (95 km) southeast of Logan. Normally, we name our tagged birds for their capture or release sites, but in this case the site name — Sandy Neck Beach — had already been used. (Sandy Neck, you may recall, was a bird Norman tagged in 2014 that subsequently drowned on Martha’s Vineyard during a violent nor’easter.)

Why “Wampum”? The word comes from the Algonquian wampompeag, and refers to the tubular, purplish-black beads that coastal tribes made from the shells of quahog clams or (in the case of white wampum) the inner spiral of channeled whelks. In addition to its ceremonial and diplomatic value, wampum became the general currency of the 17th century Northeastern fur trade, and the area where Wampum (the owl) was released was one of the Native centers of wampum manufacture in the 1600s.

And by the way — if Carmella (age 5) and Alexa (3) seem a little young to be helping their grandpa handle large raptors, it’s in their blood — their mother Danielle, Norman’s daughter, and his son Joshua, were helping their dad trap, handle and band Snowy Owls and other big birds of prey when they were about the same age.

In the days after her relocation away from Logan Airport, Wampum moved south across Cape Cod and west to uninhabited Nonamessett Island. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

In the days after her relocation away from Logan Airport, Wampum moved south across Cape Cod and west to uninhabited Nonamessett Island. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

After her release, Wampum hung around Sandy Neck Beach until dark, then headed south across the cape to Hyannis. She spent most of the day on the harbor breakwater and on Great Rock, which sticks up about a mile from shore. As dusk fell on New Year’s Eve, she took off across the southern shore of the cape moving west toward Falmouth.

Relocated owls usually bounce around a bit — often hustled along on their way by established snowy owls defending their winter territories — until finding a quiet spot of their own. Fortunately, Wampum hasn’t been moving back toward Logan. She continued south and west, and at last report was on uninhabited Nonamessett Island, one of the Elizabeth Islands that extend southeast from Cape Cod, between Buzzard’s Bay and Martha’s Vineyard.  (Like most of the Elizabeths, Nonamessett is owned and managed by the Forbes family of Boston, which made its shipping fortune in the 19th century.)

It will be interesting to see if Wampum stays in the Elizabeth Islands, which would provide plenty of good habitat and solitude, or if she crosses the channel to Martha’s Vineyard, which is a traditionally good spot to find Snowy Owls in winter. Either way, we’ll know about it, thanks to her solar-powered transmitter. We’ll have her interactive map posted soon, and updated regularly thereafter.

Her transmitter just visible between her wings, Wampatuck heads for the end of Sandy Neck after her release. (©Ray McDonald)

Her transmitter just visible between her wings, Wampum heads for the end of Sandy Neck after her release. (©Ray McDonald)

Tips for Hikers to Ensure Safe and Enjoyable Adventures

Hunting on Sandy Neck: Tips for Hikers to Ensure Safe and Enjoyable Adventures

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The fall is a wonderful time of year. A warming sun brightens up the brisk October air as the leaves on the trees put on a spectacular display of changing color. The deep green grasses of the marshes turn to a fiery orange as the sun drops behind the horizon in the southwest, earlier and earlier each night. From the Loons that dive below the cooling waters of Cape CodBay, to the Snowy Owls arriving to sit atop their expansive kingdom of frozen sand, the fall welcomes all types of familiar wildlife, making their migrations to and from this region.


The fall is also a great time of year to explore the beauty of Sandy Neck. Birders, hikers, artists, and photographers alike, all arrive to take in the serene landscapes and observe the magnificent wildlife found throughout the park. It is important to remember that the fall is also the start of hunting season. Hunters also come to Sandy Neck to enjoy all that it has to offer.


Many hikers have expressed their concern in regards to hunting in the park during this time of year. Here are some tips to follow in order to ensure everybody has a safe and enjoyable experience while out on Sandy Neck.


- Hunting is allowed Monday-Saturday, 1/2 hour before sunrise until sunset.


- Check in with the Gatehouse before hitting the trails. Hunters are required to sign-in at the gate, so we may be able to tell you if anyone is currently out hunting before your journey.


- Check the trailheads for informational signs about the hunting season. Signs are posted at the marsh trail gate, and all trails along the front beach, providing the allowed dates for certain game. Knowing who is out hunting what species can be greatly beneficial in understanding what to expect while out exploring.


- There is no Hunting on Sundays! This is often the best time to hike out on Sandy Neck’s Marsh Trail system as there will be no worry of encountering hunting activity throughout the season.


- Wearing a blaze orange cap is highly recommended, making it easy for others to see you while out on the trails. Blaze Orange knit hats are available at the Sandy Neck Gatehouse for $20


- Always stay on designated trails. This is especially important during hunting season. Remaining out in the open and away from thick brush will greatly minimize any risk of an incident.


- Dogs run a higher risk of incidence with hunters due to unpredictable movements and their ability to be mistaken for other wildlife. If you are hiking with a dog, dressing them in an orange vest or attaching a bell to their collar is highly recommended.


- There is no hunting allowed directly on the front beach. Hiking the front beach is a safe, consistent route this time of year and provides hikers with beautiful views of Cape CodBay every day.


-Understand that hunters have every right to enjoy the same places and experiences as others. Harassing hunters or intentionally disrupting hunting activities is prohibited


Exploring Sandy Neck during the fall is a rewarding and gratifying experience for hunters and hikers alike. It is important that we all work together to share this beautiful park so that all can enjoy it safely and peacefully.



Sean Kortis Town of Barnstable Natural Resource Officer

The 411 on the Lone Star Tick

Our blog has received quite a bit of attention regarding the Lone Star tick at Sandy Neck. Larry Dapsis, Entomologist  with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, has been working with the Town of Barnstable to get the latest information regarding the Lone Star Tick out to the public.

Below is a link to Larry’s latest informational video.

Please stay informed and visit us often!

September 2015 – Lone Star Tick Bites or Chiggers?

Larry Dapsis – Cape Cod Cooperative Extension 508-375-6642

Lone Star tick was found to be established on the Cape two years ago in Sandy Neck Beach Park.  Lone Star tick eggs are laid in a mass by the female tick and hatch in August and remain active into late September.

Recently, people visiting the park have reported to have received many bites by “something” that left red welt all over their feet and ankles…lone star tick larvae down at ground level swarm onto anyone unfortunate to have walked into a group of them.



People have questioned whether these are chigger bites.  Well no…chiggers are not found this far north and are active during the summer.  This misdiagnosis continues to be a problem on Long Island where lone star ticks have been established for some time.  By the time people see the red welts the ticks have already dropped off so there is no hard evidence.

These bites can be prevented…wearing shoes and socks treated with the repellent containing permethrin is probably the most effective thing we can do right now.  One significant note is that the tick larvae do not transmit disease, however it is known that the bite of lone star ticks can trigger an allergy to red meat consumption.

For more information please contact Larry Dapsis.  I will also be on WXTK Sunday, October 4th at 10 AM with Pat Desmarais to talk all things ticks.

The secret of the Spadefoot Toad


By Sean Kortis


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It’s a rainy night in June. Walking along the road at Sandy Neck Beach, you spot a small amphibian hopping across the street. As you approach, you notice it is different than most toads. Its eyes are large and bulgy, with vertical slit pupils. Its skin is a yellowish brown, and the colors seem to blend together in an hourglass shape along its back. In fact, it doesn’t look much like a “true toad” at all.


That’s because this “toad” is actually related to a very old group of desert amphibians which have adapted to live in dry, arid conditions for most of their life.  As you follow the road up to the parking lot and look out across the dunes, you notice that these toads are everywhere: in the road, under the pine trees, atop the dune ridges, even inside the bathhouse! Documenting your discoveries, you identify this to be none other than the Eastern Spadefoot Toad, a rare sighting and a threatened species here in Massachusetts. You later learn that Sandy Neck is one of the last remaining strongholds for the Spadefoot in Massachusetts, cut off and isolated from the few remaining groups.


You return to Sandy Neck the following night to find another Spadefoot on your travels, but after hours of searching you discover no such luck. Night after night, you notice the Spadefoots who once dotted the roads and the dunes just a few days before are nowhere to be seen. Where have they all gone?


Spadefoot toads, like many amphibians, are fossorial inhabitants. This means they spend the majority of their life underground. The Spadefoot is extremely successful at Sandy Neck due to the dry, sandy conditions. Underneath the toad’s hind foot is a small, black flap of cartilage that protrudes out and acts as a shovel. This is their “spade” and it makes them great diggers. If conditions are too dry, Spadefoots have been known to burrow underground up to six feet and remain there for weeks at a time. In truly dry conditions, they can even excrete mucus which hardens the surrounding soil and encapsulates them to prevent any further moisture loss. Rarely emerging from their burrows, Spadefoots only come out to breed and forage on occasion. If conditions are not right, Spadefoots have been known to skip the breeding season entirely and wait until the next year to try again.


Weeks have now passed with no signs of a Spadefoot toad. As the cold weather kicks in, you give up your search. As the seasons pass and the snows melt, you return to hike along the trails at Sandy Neck. It is late Spring, and the water table is extremely high. Heavy Spring rains have filled many of the cranberry bogs and dune swales along the path. This is a particularly rainy night; the end of a heavy spring storm has just arrived. As the skies clear and the moon drops slowly beneath the trees, you hear a most peculiar sound. A deafening chorus of low-pitched belches rings out from all directions. A jubilee of Spadefoots emerge from the sands to breed along the shallow swales of Sandy Neck.


Thousands of eggs will be laid, and in just a short period of time, a lucky few may metamorph and emerge as toadlets, leaving the wetlands to burrow beneath the shifting sands of an ever changing sand bar. But how many will survive, how many remain, and what will become of this mysterious species? The answer lies beneath the ground, in the secret burrows below the dunes. So if by some chance, you are walking along the trails of Sandy Neck and you spot the bulging eyes of a Spadefoot Toad, hopping along the sandy slopes, he may guide you to the answers you seek. Or her perhaps just the sight of such an elusive creature is enough to keep you inspired; working to protect one of its last remaining strongholds, on a beautiful barrier beach in the heart of Cape Cod. A wild place where all can find respite: from the Spadefoot toad, to the Piping Plover, to the people who recreate along its shores, Sandy Neck is home to all who love the beauty and peace she provides.


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A whale of a time at Sandy Neck


A whale of an encounter off Sandy Neck Beach!

By: Town of Barnstable Natural Resource Officer, Amy Croteau


Seasonal shellfish enforcement officer Devon Harrington and myself were on the 13′ Whaler on Sunday August 30th, off tide patrolling Barnstable Harbor and Sandy Neck Beach Point.  I had contacted officer Nappi about the bomb shelter near the point and mentioned we were in the area when he stated there was a minke whale sighting between Trails 1 and 2. As the tide was dropping, there were concerns that the whale would get stuck somewhere, and he asked if we had time if we could keep an eye on it.


Devon and I motored out in that direction, where we found the whale and quickly made an enthusiastic paddle boarder increase his/her distance from the animal (they were paddling almost on top of it). As the paddle boarder made his/her way back to shore, we were met by a Harbormaster patrol boat that had Tom Lincoln and Brian on board.  We all kept eyes on the animal and began to realize that it did not look like a minke.


Devon, a whale enthusiast, was able to eventually determine that it was a right whale. This confirmation was also made by the Harbormaster boat, as the whale had come too close to comfort to the side of their vessel and they had taken a closer look at it.  The basic giveaway, the V spray from the blowhole, and the white belly.


A call to IFAW had been made by officer Nappi, and he stated that they could not give any further protection to the animal until they had photo confirmation of it actually being a right whale.


While maintaining a safe border around the animal from other boats, we were able to get enough pictures to IFAW for them to agree that it was a right whale, and start the calls to the Coast Guard and EPOs for additional protective orders to be relayed to boats in the area.  There are less than 400 of these whales on Earth, and boaters need to remain at least 500 feet away from these animals to be in compliance with federal regulations.


It was after that point that this whale, thought to be a juvenile that had been seen outside Boston Harbor the day before, really started putting on a show, breaching out of the water at least ten times through a heavily lobster potted area (extremely rare and cool to see, but nerve wracking at the same time).


Eventually the animal had moved at least 1.5 miles off shore, and because we were in such a small boat (and also because the EPO boat had arrived), Devon and I cleared the area and left the whale to continue on its way out to sea.


A once in a lifetime experience for sure and definitely a check off the bucket list!