A Cape Cod Notebook | CAI

A Cape Cod Notebook

Credit Kathy Shorr

A Cape Cod Notebook can be heard every Tuesday morning at 8:45am and afternoon at 5:45pm.

It's commentary on the unique people, wildlife, and environment of our coastal region.

A Cape Cod Notebook commentators include:

Robert Finch, a nature writer living in Wellfleet who created, 'A Cape Cod Notebook.' It won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing. He has lived on and written about Cape Cod for forty years. He is the author of six collections of essays, including "The Iambics of Newfoundland" (Counterpoint Press), and co-editor of "The Norton Book of Nature Writing." His new book, "The Outer Beach: A Thousand-Mile Walk Along Cape Cod’s Atlantic Shore."

Mary Bergman, originally from Provincetown, now lives on Nantucket.  She is a writer and historian, working in historic preservation and writing a novel. 

Nelson Sigelman is an award winning former reporter, outdoor writer and author. He has been honored by the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the New England Press Association. His most recent book is Martha’s Vineyard Outdoors, Fishing, Hunting and Avoiding Divorce on a Small Island. He currently works part time for the Tisbury Shellfish Department and lives with his wife Norma in Vineyard Haven.

Susan Moeller - Susan Moeller is a freelance writer and editor who was a reporter and editor with the Boston Herald and Cape Cod Times. She’s lived on the Cape for 45 years and when not working, swims, plays handbells, pretends to garden and walks her dog, Dug. She lives in Cummaquid. 

Dennis Minsky's career as a field biologist began in 1974, at Cape Cod National Seashore, protecting nesting terns and plovers.  A Provincetown resident since 1968, he returned full time in 2005.  He is involved in many local conservation projects, works as a naturalist on the Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch, and tries to write.

 A Cape Cod Notebook is made possible in part with support from Titcomb’s Bookshop on Route 6A in East Sandwich.

Mark Stevens / flickr

The lion’s mane gets its name from its reddish-brown umbrella, trailing behind it a long, thick “mane” of pale-yellow, angel-hair tentacles. These exquisite, fine tentacles may resemble angel hair, but they contain stinging cells that can inflict painful welts on bare skin that comes in contact with them.

Robert Finch

From August 2 to August 9, the Town of Wellfleet will be celebrating Founders Week. This commemorates the week 250 years ago when Wellfleet broke away from Eastham to become a separate town. There will be special events to celebrate that anniversary, including an original play dramatizing the town’s beginnings,  walks to illustrate the town’s rich history, music concerts and art exhibits, dances on the Town Pier, the opening of a time capsule, the publication of a collection of local reminiscences, and a boat parade and fireworks in Wellfleet Harbor.

kke227 / flickr

It is on foggy days like this that the beach most nearly resembles our movement into the future. We look ahead toward the constantly retreating edge of the beach, not quite able to see beyond the next bend. We walk along in the soft bubble of the present toward some increasingly cloudy and obscured next phase of our lives, lives whose meaning seems to be whispered into our ears with soft, rhythmic, susurrus by the constant breaking of the waves.

Eric Haynes / Governors Office

For the past dozen years or so my wife Kathy and I have spent a part of each summer in Squid Tickle, a small fishing village on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. It’s a long story of how we got there, but one thing that immediately fascinated me about Newfoundland was the many correspondences – some similar and some contrasting – between the two places.

Bruce Irschick / flickr

Flipper-smacking, lobtailing, breaching - on a recent whalewatch boat trip, Robert Finch witnessed the most spectacular humpback acrobatics he had ever seen.  And it got him to wondering: do whales play to the crowd? After all, a whole generation of whales have now grown up in the presence of whale boats. Maybe they like performing. 

And if they did - how would we know, except by their actions?

Listen to the audio essay above.

Beth Knittle / flickr

This year Wellfleet celebrates the 250th Anniversary of becoming a separate municipality. Historians believe that the town was originally settled on Bound Brook Island, a large marsh island a good mile and a half north of the present town center. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch considers the factors that likely influenced early settlers to choose Bound Brook Island.

Audio essay posted above.

Following the Daily Dramas of a Family of Nesting Flycatchers

Jun 25, 2013
Vern Laux

The pair of birds took up residence in a cedar bluebird box nailed to a tree in the yard. Soon there were four black-spotted, chalk-to-light-brown eggs in the nest. On a Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch recounts how the three hatched Great Crested Flycatcher chicks appeared as a single organism of gray pinfeathers: three pink heads, three beaks, six big, bruised, closed eyes, all respiring together like one beating heart.

Eric Fleming / flickr

 No beast possesses such a lethargic, amorous progress as the horseshoe crab. On a recent day, Robert Finch found a pair of mating horseshoe crabs on the bank of the tidal creek.  The paired crabs had apparently been stranded by the outgoing tide only minutes before.  Attempting to help, Bob tossed the pair off the end of a jetty and into deeper water - and only to recognize the old truth that misplaced compassion and ignorant attempts to influence the direction of another’s life, however well-meant, are at best ineffective, and at worst, unintentionally harmful.

Boobook48 / flickr

Spending the day with a group of birdwatchers from the Boston area on Chatham's South Beach, Robert Finch found his observational powers playing upon his human companions. What this group of earnest enthusiasts didn't pay attention to - clammers, natural history - was as noteworthy as what they did study: the birds, and, in at least one possibly romantic development, each other.

Audio essay is posted above.


The thesaurus lists over 80 different words for green, more than any other color. But Robert Finch believes this may still not be enough. At a time of year when many are rhapsodizing the flowers, Bob contemplates the richness and variety of leaf tones that nature crowds into the season.

Dave Inman http://www.flickr.com/photos/79254232@N08/

Going ashore on Bird Island one morning 30 years ago, Robert Finch and two companions found 30 freshly killed Roseate terns - what amounted to one percent of the entire continental population. As the men collected bird corpses, they gradually pieced together a picture of the predator. It seemed most likely to have been a peregrine falcon, by sad irony another endangered species.

Audio essay posted above. This is part 2 of a 2-part essay. Part 1 is posted here.


Mark Hatchski http://www.flickr.com/photos/8752845@N04

In May of 1984, two-thirds of the entire North American population of Roseate terns were believed to nest upon Bird Island, a small pile of glacial debris located in Buzzards Bay about a half-mile off the coast of Marion. The colony at Bird Island was long considered secure from predation. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch recalls the morning when he and others made a painful discovery which shattered that presumption of safety.


Nature flourishes even in unlovely locations. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch peeks behind Wellfleet Center where, amid dumpsters and bags of recycling, grows an immense black willow. It rises over 60 feet into the air. A true wild native, it is there not because of human tending and protection, but in spite of the lack of it – a king in an environmental slum.


Every six hours a 6-foot-diameter weather balloon is launched from Truro to gather data on the atmosphere. On spring evenings, a balloon's release may be accompanied by the flights of woodcocks engaged in their distinctive rocket-like mating display. On A Cape Cod Notebook, writer Robert Finch ponders the curious juxtaposition: helium-filled science balloons and avian courtship behavior.

Audio essay posted above.

Here's a video of a weather balloon launch at the Cape Cod National Seashore:

AFP/Getty Images

The high percentage of seniors on Cape Cod can make personal indications of aging easier to ignore. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch tallies some of the signposts of aging, including failings of the body, and encounters with professional figures younger than appears seemly. Recently, he was struck by a fresh age-related realization: the newly elected Pope might just be his last.

Audio essay posted above.


Between two spasms of violence that gripped the nation's attention - the Marathon Bombing and the subsequent manhunt that shut down Boston - Robert Finch found himself seated on a bench in Harvard Yard reading poetry. It was only later, looking back, that he perceived how unknowingly that pretty spring day embodied the eye of a storm. 

Audio essay posted above.


Scattered groups of migratory herring – pink, dark-finned shapes, curved and elusive in the water - appear no more than wisps of current that circle and disappear with each shimmer of light. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch notes that these fish, also known as alewives, represent visual camouflage of the highest order. They become an integrated part of the stream as they proceed to spawning ponds each spring.


Many rewards in nature come from procrastination. On a Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch recounts a recent experience of walking out to get the mail and finding his wind-littered driveway alive with bright foraging birds.

Audio posted above. 

Robert Finch

An indoor swimming pool may be artificial, chlorinated, fluorescent-lit, and tepid. But on A Cape Cod Notebook, naturalist Robert Finch notes that the indoor pool does have its charms and pleasures, its distinctive character allowing for an observation of the nature of water in a way that would be impossible out of doors.

Robert Finch

An impressive number of trees were blown down or fractured by winds in our recent season of storms, as gusts reportedly reached hurricane force in many places. The trees fell according to their nature; shallow-rooted red maples in low-lying swamps tended to uproot entirely, raising great, shaggy, vertical disks of roots into the air. Oaks, stronger and more deeply rooted, did not succumb as often, or if they did, showed that they were weakened by inner decay. But it was the pitch pines that suffered most.

Robert Finch

At the height of the tide, with a 3-foot-plus storm surge urging it on, a mighty cataract of furious white-water poured through the break, shattering the flanking dunes and spreading out in a 500-foot fan of salt flood waters into the marshes of the Pamet. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch witnesses this dramatic event at the height of last week's storm, and he recalls other incursions made upon Ballston Beach by the sea.

University of Leicester / Reuters/Landov

Sometimes the past returns, and surprises us with what it tells us about the present. The recent discovery of Richard III's bones under a parking garage in England sparks Robert Finch's newest essay for A Cape Cod Notebook.

Cape Cod Times

Coast Guard Beach came through the recent blizzard largely intact - a surprise to some. In A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch remembers the devastation imparted on the beach and its surroundings by the storm of 1978. He attributes the beach's survival amid the brutal Blizzard of '13 to nature having been allowed to run its course in this location.

Joanna Vaughan bit.ly/2kPJKDi / bit.ly/1dsePQq

The coast assumes a different character in winter. In A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch sets out on a solitary walk in the Provincelands, visiting the dune shacks that stand against the wind in a desolate landscape.

Niels Linneberg / http://www.flickr.com/photos/linneberg/5411013129

Used to be, bitter cold was an expected part of New England winter. In A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch observes that in recent years cold snaps have come to seem more a novelty. During a recent spell of frigid weather, he walked out to admire how extreme conditions can make art of nature.