The Boardwalk Trail
Follow the Boardwalk Trail across the salt marsh to a sandy beach and the tidal flats of Cape Cod Bay. Listen for fiddler crabs rustling among the grasses and look for shorebirds feeding on marine invertebrates in the sand.
Highlights of the The Boardwalk
Salt Marsh Plants
Plants living in the salt marsh cope with salt spray, salt water, and extreme tidal fluctuations. You may notice a distinct zonation from lower to upper marsh, based on varying abilities of plants to deal with these conditions. The following are representative plants of the salt marsh:
- Salt marsh hay (Spartina patens) is a fine-bladed grass covering wide stretches of the upper marsh that are flooded only at high tide. It was harvested by colonial farmers and used as food and bedding for cows and horses.
- Taller and coarser, growing at the outer edge of the marsh or along the edge of the creek, is Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora).
- Also known as beach heather or marsh rosemary, sea lavender (Limonium nashii) grows at the upper edge of the salt marsh. Its rosette of basal leaves lies close to the ground to conserve moisture. Feathery sprays of tiny purple flowers bloom in late summer and retain their color into fall.
- Glassworts (Salicornia species), sometimes called sea pickles, look like miniature cacti. Notice the thick, fleshy stems, allowing resistance to the drying effects of salt water. These jointed, leafless stems turn bright red in autumn and grey in winter.
Northern Harriers and Whimbrels
You may see Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus), graceful hawks, flying low over the tops of the grasses, tilting back and forth, searching for small mammals. The adult males are grey above with black wing tips, while adult females and immatures are brown above and pale below. Look for the white rump, a helpful field mark.
Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) are large, brown sandpipers, with long, down-curved bills. In July and August, watch for them feeding among the salt marsh grasses. Cape Cod is just one stop between their breeding grounds in Canada and wintering areas in South America.
If you arrive at the end of Boardwalk at low tide, you'll see tidal flats stretching to the water's edge. Marine invertebrates such as crabs, clams, snails, shrimp, and worms live on and below the surface of the sand. If you walk out on to the flats, you may see signs of their activities, such as holes in the sand and winding trails. These animals are an important food source for sandpipers and plovers throughout the spring, summer, and fall.