Visiting Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge

June 23, 2010

What started last week as a visit to Chappaquiddick Island to see the Cape Poge Lighthouse soon turned into a sandy trek through Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge.

Over the course of my week in Martha’s Vineyard, the lady and I had visited four out of the five lighthouses on the island. The Cape Poge Lighthouse was the only one left on our list.

By scanning area maps, we saw the lighthouse was at the end of the cape and no paved road led to the site. Our assumption that we could walk to the structure, and the associated pain that was to come with the attempt, was much harder to predict.

In the early afternoon we set off from Edgartown on the main island. Chappaquiddick can be seen easily across a short channel, but the lack of a bridge requires taking a quick three-car ferry, called the Chappy Ferry.

Sixteen dollars and a few minutes later, we were on Chappaquiddick.

Houses dot the landscape and a single store resides on the island. Martha’s Vineyard is remote to begin with, but Chap kicks it up a few notches.

Near a bend in the main road, an unpaved path continues into the distance. It is from this road that you end up in Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge.

After arriving in a small parking area and paying an entrance fee of $3 per person, we began our trek.

In the distance, a safari-style truck was shuttling people around the cape. I didn’t think much of it, but snapped a photo. An information board described the vehicle as a lighthouse tour, shuttling guests to the site for $25 each.

We can walk it, we thought. As we approached the beach, we slipped off our shoes and began to walk through the coarse sand.

Having grown up in Virginia Beach, I know sand. I also can tell that this was far from my hometown type of sand. The composition was crafted just right for sinking with every step and growing to feel more as though it was sandpaper with every step. Shoes magnified the problem. In Virginia Beach, a walk on the sand is no big deal. It is stable and soft. On Chappaquiddick it was a major physical and mental exercise.

Early in our adventure we decided that if we could only reach a point to see the lighthouse from a distance, that would be good enough to check it off our list. As we looked into the distance, the cape veered slightly to the right, obscuring our ability to see the final destination, so we marched on.

Along the beach there were few creatures, but plenty of signs that things were around.

Parts of various crabs and other marine life dotted the beach. There were even some curious bones from which I could recognize a spine, but little else.

Part of the beauty of Cape Poge is that debris does wash ashore, but it is natural instead of manmade.

Before long, the birds began to appear.

One of the early appearances was a Willet (Catoptophorus semipalmatus)

In the distance, a Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) looked on with concern as we approached. Many of the birds that we encountered from that point on simply ran further down the beach, and then we’d approach and the cycle would repeat.

Fighting heat and pain, we took a few breaks to sit on the beach. Overhead, the Least Tern (Sterna antillarum) came down the beach scanning the shallows. Occasionally it would hover before darting at the water. That approach, much like the Osprey’s technique, is how it catches prey.

After an hour of walking we saw a short wooden path. I’d never been so happy to see stable footing. However, I soon came to see that the path just led to yet another unpaved sand route.

This route must be what the lighthouse shuttle I’d seen earlier uses.

We followed it for a while, noticing a deer but little else.

Eventually we admitted the inevitable – it just wasn’t possible that we could reach the lighthouse and return in any reasonable amount of time, so we began our return trip to the car.

Along the way, I found the most interesting bird.

For a few minutes, this little guy ran a few feet and stopped, then ran a few more feet and stopped. Over and over.

I am unsure of what the species is, but I noticed its legs had been tagged. If anyone would like to take a guess, feel free.

Nearly three hours after we arrived, we stumbled back to the car.

Right before getting inside, I noticed a large platform in the distance with a hawk or eagle nest of some sort. The birds were home, but I couldn’t get a clear enough view. Regardless, it’s a nice touch having such a visible area set aside for nesting opportunities of predatory birds.

Thus ended our sandy death hike. And if you’re curious, I may have seen a distant speck of the Poge Cape Lighthouse later in the week as we left on the ferry to the mainland.

One Response to “Visiting Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge”

  1. janedwellable Says:

    Hi Evan,
    My name is Jane and I’m with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Chappaquiddick to share on our site and I came across your post…If you’re open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!

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