The secret of the Spadefoot Toad


By Sean Kortis


Spto 1


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.


Spto 3

Spto 4

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!

Dune Protection and Erosion Control


Sand dunes serve an important purpose by absorbing the impacts and protecting inland areas from high energy storms and act as a resilient barrier to the destructive forces of wind and waves. They also act as sand storage areas that supply sand to eroded beaches during storms and buffer windblown sand and salt spray.

Where vegetation can get a foothold in the dry, unfertile sand, the windblown sand grains get batted down to the base of the plant and the sand surface incrementally rises, one grain at a time.  Your feet are a threat to  dune vegetation.  Without realizing, people crush fragile plants and flatten nests and small creatures hidden in the grass. 

Sandy Neck Dunes 2001

Beach grass has adapted to being buried by the sand and it makes its way to the new surface as it gets buried. In time of large ocean storms waves crash into the dunes and the sand is re-supplied to the beach on front, which has been eroded in the early stages of the storm. The relationship of the beach and dune is an important symbiosis.  This process that occurs during the winter months dictates how we manage our beach in the summer. 

Without vegetation, the dune is exposed to wind erosion resulting in blowouts or breaches in the dunes.  As a result, inland areas become more vulnerable during coastal storms. Protecting dunes protects the sand supply that slows shoreline erosion.

Help preserve the sand dunes, dune grass, and nesting habitat for our bird species.  Please stay on maintained trails.  Shortcuts leave lasting scars.  Picture3

Things that can go wrong will go wrong on a Holiday!

sad face a


Turn the frown into a smile!!! The pumper is fixed and we are all set!!!!!!!!!!

Tell the guy who drives the pump truck that he is AWESOME!

We all plan the best we can for the holidays. This fourth of July 2015 is no exception. The staff here at Sandy Neck Beach Park has been working around the clock to insure that our guests have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July weekend.  But sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, things beyond our control go wrong…

The porta potties on the Off Road Vehicle Corridor are currently out of order!  The pumper truck is not working and we are doing everything we can to get it fixed as soon as possible.

We apologize for this inconvenience and will post on our website as soon as they are back in working order!

4th of July at Sandy Neck Beach Park

The Sandy Neck Beach Park Staff wishes to extend a warm welcome to everyone for the 2015 Summer season at the beach!


 With the 4th of July fast approaching we want to update you on Beach conditions. The Off Road Vehicle Beach is open to Trail 2, (1.4 miles).  The speed limit is 5 MPH.  Park with your headlights facing the dunes. Campers may park with either their headlights or taillights to the dunes. We ask those campers who park with the taillights to the dunes to put their hang tags in the rear window of the camper for easy viewing!

Please visit our website at for ORV parking diagram.

We expect a busy 4th of July weekend and want everyone to have fun and remain safe!  A couple of reminders to help you enjoy your time here at Sandy Neck:

1. On the Off Road Vehicle Corridor, dogs must be leashed at all times (15′ leash or less). No dogs allowed in parking lot or on public beach.

2. Fires are allowed in designated areas at 7 pm.

3. Per the fire department, NO sky lanterns are allowed to be set off from the beach.

4. Anyone visiting the beach, either going to the parking lot or Off Road must be through the gatehouse by 9 pm.

5. Curfew is 11 pm. You must be out of the park by that time.

Please call the gatehouse at 508-362-8300 with any questions

Thank you for making Sandy Neck Beach Park your vacation destination!



Something for everyone at the Sandy Neck Gatehouse Store!!

With Memorial Day fast approaching, the staff at Sandy Neck is working hard to get everything ready for the Summer Season.

One of the great things about a new season is the new merchandise! We have added to our items this year and already folks are liking what they see!  We would love for you to come by and take a look.  Below is a sample of what we have…Stop by the Sandy Neck Gatehouse/Store soon!

snk bag ORV Tee mug or glass long sleeve tee kids corner H2O Floppy hat SNK Merchandise

Spring arrives at Sandy Neck, really!!

In spite of the cool temperatures and gray days, there are signs of Spring here at Sandy Neck!  The beach conditions continue to improve and with the hard work of the staff, new ORV signs are going up and much of the debris from the Winter have been removed. The new dune nourishment at the lower parking lot is holding and and hopefully the storms out of the Northeast will stay away!

4 6 2015 sunrise

The new season brings with it the return of the Ospreys to their nests. We have a pair in the Great Marsh nest across from the gatehouse. Please come and see them as they prepare their nest for the breeding season.

Osprey return a


Plovers are making their way back and you may see them scurrying about the beach on their way to the shoreline to feed. Please be respectful and careful when driving on the ORV corridor. Keep your eyes open and slow down when you see a Plover!

Plover a 2015

At the gatehouse we have added credit cards for your convenience! The minimum charge is $10. Credit cards cannot be used to purchase a Public Parking hang tag when we begin to charge for Bodfish parking in the Summer months. Credit cards may be used to purchase your ORV Stickers, Camping nights and Merchandise.


Gatehouse hours for the month of April are: Daily from 9 am to 4 pm.

The entire staff here at Sandy Neck is looking forward to a safe and fun 2015 and we look forward to seeing you all at the beach!

Update on Neptune damage

Sandy Neck took yet another hit from the latest winter storm, Neptune.  We added a foot of snow, not counting the drifting. Off Road Vehicle access is closed for safety reasons. The access trail is snowed in and it will take a while to get things back to normal.

The lower Bodfish parking lot suffered damage on the front dune and while we are awaiting emergency sand, we have the lower lot closed.

Please be careful if you are walking the front beach or marsh trail. Snow on the front hides the debris, lots of wood with nails in it, and the snow drifts on the marsh trail make walking treacherous.

This winter’s weather has taken a toll on all of us and we are all looking forward to spring!looking from lower parking lot e to w Handicap stairs b front dune w to e y front dune w to e f

Alaska? Antarctica? No, Sandy Neck!

Ice being pushed up onto the ORV corridor

Ice being pushed up onto the ORV corridor


Partially frozen "slushy" water battering the beach

Partially frozen “slushy” water battering the beach


The point at SNK where the birds are staying in open water

The point at SNK where the birds are staying in open water

Recent storms and sustained frigid temperatures have changed the beach drastically this week. Cape Cod Bay is beginning to freeze and all of that frozen, slushy water is being pushed up and piled on the beach forming large ice formations.  The landscape has changed from a wide open beach into a frozen wonderland.  If you can stand the weather take a walk down the beach and see it for yourself.  It is truly a rare site.

The snow and ice has buried a lot of the debris that washed ashore during the blizzard. These conditions make it treacherous for driving so please be patient, we will open the beach as soon as possible.

Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew


This gull thought the surf clam was going to be an easy meal. Little did he know the clam had other ideas. It clamped down on the gulls beak, trapping it and anchoring it to the ground. When Park Manager Nina Coleman found them the clam was frozen from the fridgid temps and the gull was tired from being anchored down all night. The two were brought to Cape Wildlife for a health evaluation and two days later the gull was released. Unfortunately, the clam died from the interaction but it was fed to the gull. This gull will think twice before he tries to eat shellfish again.