Try Island Trail
Some of the nicest views on the Sanctuary can be seen from Try Island. Try Island supports an oak/hickory woodland, a habitat found nowhere else on the property and in very few places on Cape Cod. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, during the days of whaling, there may have been a tryworks located on the island, hence the name. A tryworks consisted of a cast-iron cauldron, placed over a fire, in which whale blubber was boiled down into oil.
Highlights of the Try Island Trail
If you face the hill behind the Marsh Cabin, you will be looking at a coastal heathland, one of the rarest habitats in the world! It is dominated by a low-lying ground cover called Bearberry, an evergreen plant in the heath family. Plants found growing among the Bearberry include eastern red cedar, scrub oak, beach plum, bayberry, golden heather, and broom crowberry. All of these plants grow successfully in well-drained and nutrient-poor soils, where wind and salt spray suppresses the growth of taller trees and shrubs.
The habitat on Try Island is very rare on Cape Cod. Most of the trees are Mockernut Hickories and Black Oaks and are approaching 100 years in age. Some people believe this type of woodland was much more common before the arrival of European settlers in the 1600s. You can identify hickory most easily by the shape of its leaves and its enormous buds. Look also for hickory nuts scattered on the ground.
Herons and Egrets
Scanning the salt marsh during the fall might bring views of Great Blue Herons roosting or feeding among the grasses. The Sanctuary is a great place to observe long-legged wading birds, with nine species having been recorded, including Reddish Egret. The most common species are Snowy and Great Egrets, Green Herons, and Black-crowned Night-Herons. With some luck you might discover a Glossy Ibis, Little Blue Heron, or Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.
During the winter, ice often covers Cape Cod Bay as far as the eye can see. If you scan the water's surface you might find Harbor Seals using ice floes as haul-out sites. Approximately 300 seals overwinter in Wellfleet Harbor. Most of them arrive during October and November and stay until April, when they swim north to Maine and Canada to have their pups. Jeremy Point (the southern end of the sand bar that you can see on the horizon) is one of the best places to see seals on the Outer Cape.
The dominant grasses making up the salt marsh are known as Spartinas. The two most common species can be distinguished by their heights, textures, and locations within the marsh.
- Spartina patens (salt marsh hay) is short, thin and wispy, and grow near the upper edge of the marsh.
- Spartina alterniflora (cordgrass) is tall, thick and coarse, and grows in the lower parts of the marsh or around tidal creeks and pools. If you walk the boardwalk these differences are easy to see and feel.