Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Wareham
By: John Galluzzo

It's been five years since I started conducting regular breeding bird circle counts on Mass Audubon sanctuaries. To some, it might be boring, perhaps a bit on the impossible side. It's takes a special skill, for sure, the ability to hear and translate the songs of the regular birds that appear in our many Plymouth County habitats. In a place like Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Wareham, where I've been counting for two years, that's doubly important, as the habitats go from high and dry (the tops of hills) to downright wet underfoot (a marsh on Bass Cove, which spills into Buzzards Bay). To me, there's no better way to spend a morning. It's just me, the rising summer sun, and the sounds of the awakening Plymouth County forests.

A short walk at Great Neck is much like many short walks on Cape Cod. There are 2.5 miles of trails, including many ancient carriage roads that wind past and through stonewalls built by settlers in the 1600s. Ephemeral wildflowers are just now starting to fade. They capture the sun they need for the year during the early days of spring, before the canopy is fully leafed out, burst into color, then retreat for the darker days, ready to return again the following spring. Pink Lady's Slippers, I'd say, are my favorites, but the Starflowers come in close second. 

But there's always something to see, at every turn. Highbush Blueberries are flowering, and will soon begin to produce fruit, as will the Huckleberries. The Osprey Overlook is perfectly named. An Osprey nesting platform across Bass Cove is occupied every year from March to September, and this year is no exception. As for my surveys, to this point I've recorded about two dozen species of birds that are probably nesting on the property, from Baltimore Orioles to Barn Swallows to Fish Crows. But Great Neck is not just for the birds in summer; on winter walks I've spooked Great Horned Owls in the middle of the day.


The property represents an important change in the way we look at protecting land, too, as it's a novel partnership between a religious organization, the federal and state governments and Mass Audubon, the largest conservation organization in New England. Together, they possess the necessary tools to properly protect the land - and its wildlife inhabitants - well into the future.

So, whenever I'm in Wareham, I make time for Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. As with many natural places, it holds ever-changing surprises, and no walk is ever the same as the last.

Trails open dawn to dusk

Stockton Shortcut, Wareham

For more information: 
Mass Audubon's South Coast Sanctuaries



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