Wildlife Habitat of Barnstable County, Massachusetts

The Following is Reprinted from the Soil Survey of Barnstable County, Massachusetts, Fletcher, 1993,

Kathleen Hinkel, biological technician, Soil Conservation Service, helped prepare this section.

Barnstable County has a number of areas used only for the protection or management of wildlife and areas where one of the land use goals is wildlife preservation. These areas contribute to the wide variety of wildlife on Cape Cod. Several towns, including Orleans, Eastham, and Chatham, have active conservation trusts, established in part for the protection of wildlife. The Cape Cod National Seashore covers 43,558 acres and is administered by the National Park Service. Although it is not managed exclusively for wildlife, it provides good wildlife habitat in many areas.

Monomoy Island, located off Chatham, is a 2, 700-acre federal wilderness area established in 1958. It is an important feeding area for migratory birds (principally shore birds) as well as a nesting site for many species of waterfowl. Some of the bird species that inhabit Barnstable County are found exclusively on this island.

The Crane Wildlife Management Area, which consists of 1,668 acres in Falmouth, is the only state-owned area in the county managed specifically for wildlife. The Trustees of Reservation operate the 770-acre Lowell-Holly Reservation in Mashpee. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History owns and operates 215 acres in two areas, one in Osterville and one at a museum in Brewster. The Massachusetts Audubon Society owns a number of areas, including the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (700 acres in Wellfleet), the Ashumet-Holly Reservation (46 acres in Falmouth), and the 100-acre Lost Farm Sanctuary in Barnstable. Many smaller private and community areas also provide habitat for wildlife in Barnstable County.

The last verified sighting of an Eskimo curlew in Massachusetts was in Orleans in 1913. The species is rarely seen anywhere in the United States and is now listed on the federal endangered species list. In addition to the Eskimo curlew, a variety of species on both the

Federal and Massachusetts lists of threatened and endangered species inhabit Barnstable County and the nearby coastal waters. Those listed as endangered include the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the Atlantic hawksbill turtle, the Kemp's Ridley turtle, the Atlantic

Leatherback turtle, and the Plymouth red-bellied turtle. Those listed as threatened include the Atlantic green turtle and the Atlantic loggerhead turtle. A number of species are on the Massachusetts list of rare species. These are the gray seal, the eastern box turtle, the northern diamondback terrapin, the arctic and roseate terns, the northern parula warbler, and the short-eared owl.

Because of the abundant nesting sites provided by the extensive freshwater and ocean shorelines, a wide variety of waterfowl and wading birds nest in Barnstable County. The most common nesting species are the green heron, snowy egret, black-crowned night heron, mute swan (an introduced species), Canada goose, American wigeon, mallard, black duck, ruddy duck, wood duck, pintail duck, northern shoveler, green-winged teal, gadwall, American oystercatcher, least terns, common terns, willet, Virginia rail, laughing gull, herring gull, and great black-backed gull. Waterfowl and waders that winter on Cape Cod are: the greater and lesser scaup, common goldeneye, bufflehead, common eider, white-winged scoter, common and red-breasted merganser, canvasback, brant, great blue heron, and common loon.

Upland game birds in Barnstable County include bobwhite quail, ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasant, American woodcock, and common snipe.

A wide variety of nongame bird species nest in Barnstable County. These are red-tailed hawk, broad-winged hawk, northern harrier (rare), osprey (very rare), American kestrel, mourning dove, screech owl, great horned owl, long-eared owl, whip-poor-will, chimney swift, common flicker, downy woodpecker, eastern kingbird, great crested flycatcher, eastern wood peewee, horned lark, tree swallow, barn swallow, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, mockingbird, gray catbird, wood thrush, red-eyed vireo, and a number of warblers and sparrows. Some of the nongame bird species that winter in Barnstable County are the snow bunting, white-throated sparrow, dark-eyed junco, pine siskin, evening grosbeak, yellow-rumped warbler, and black-legged kittiwake.

Of the mammals in the county, the largest game species is white-tailed deer. Other game mammals are eastern cottontail, opossum, river otter (only on the western side of the Cape Cod Canal), muskrat, short-tailed weasel (very rare), long-tailed weasel, red fox, striped skunk, gray squirrel, and raccoon. Common nongame mammals are eastern mole, masked shrew, short-tailed shrew, little brown bat, big brown bat, red bat, eastern chipmunk, woodchuck, white-footed mouse, Gapper's red-backed mouse, meadow vole, Norway rat, and meadow jumping mouse. The star-nosed mole and New England cottontail are both on Cape Cod, but they are rare.

In addition to the rare and endangered turtles mentioned previously, a number of other reptiles inhabit Barnstable County. These are the eastern painted turtle, snapping turtle, musk turtle, spotted turtle, wood turtle (rare), milk snake, northern black racer, red-bellied snake (rare), eastern ribbon snake, and eastern garter snake. Spotted woodland and four-toed salamanders (very rare), red-spotted newt, spring peepers, gray treefrog, bullfrog, eastern spadefoot frog (rare), Fowler's toad, and American toad are among the amphibians in the county.

The freshwater habitat of Cape Cod supports a variety of fish species. These are brown trout, brook trout, white perch, yellow perch, largemouth bass, brown bullheads, bluegills, and chain pickerel.

Although not directly related to the soils in Barnstable County, the coastal fauna of Cape Cod are an important part of the wildlife habitat. The coastal waters off of Cape Cod are fished mainly for bluefish, flounder, black sea bass, striped bass, Atlantic cod, and skate. The brackish ponds, lagoons, and inlets in the county are inhabited by- common starfish, sand dollars, fiddler crabs, blue crabs, rock crabs, oysters, bay scallops, and softshell clams.

Soils affect the kind and amount of vegetation that is available to wildlife as food and cover. They also affect the construction of water impoundments. The kind and abundance of wildlife depend largely on the amount and distribution of food, cover, and water. Wildlife habitat can be created or improved by planting appropriate vegetation, by maintaining the existing plant cover, or by promoting the natural establishment of desirable plants.

In table 9 (NOTE: Table 9 is the Wildlife Habitat interpretive table in the Published Soil Survey), the soils in the survey area are rated according to their potential for providing habitat for various kinds of wildlife. This information can be used in planning parks, wildlife refuges, nature study areas, and other developments for wildlife; in selecting soils that are suitable for establishing, improving, or maintaining specific elements of wildlife habitat; and in determining the intensity of management needed for each element of the habitat.

The potential of the soil is rated good, fair, poor, or very poor. A rating of good indicates that the element or kind of habitat is easily established, improved, or maintained. Few or no limitations affect management, and satisfactory results can be expected. A rating of fair indicates that the element or kind of habitat can be established, improved, or maintained in most places. Moderately intensive management is required for satisfactory results. A rating of poor indicates that limitations are severe for the designated element or

kind of habitat. Habitat can be created, improved, or maintained in most places, but management is difficult and must be intensive. A rating of very poor indicates that restrictions for the element or kind of habitat are very severe and that unsatisfactory results can be expected. Creating, improving, or maintaining habitat is impractical or impossible.

The elements of wildlife habitat are described in the following paragraphs.

Grain and seed crops are domestic grains and seed-producing herbaceous plants. Soil properties and features that affect the growth of grain and seed crops are depth of the root zone, texture of the surface layer, available water capacity, wetness, slope, surface stoniness, and flooding. Soil temperature and soil moisture are also considerations. Examples of grain and seed crops are corn, rye, and buckwheat.

Grasses and legumes are domestic perennial grasses and herbaceous legumes. Soil properties and features that affect the .growth of grasses and legumes are depth of the root zone, texture of the surface layer, available water capacity, wetness, surface stoniness, flood hazard, and slope. Soil temperature and soil moisture are also considerations. Examples of grasses and legumes are fescue, timothy, bromegrass, clover, and alfalfa.

Wild herbaceous plants are native or naturally established grasses and forbs, including weeds. Soil properties and features that affect the growth of these plants are depth of the root zone, texture of the surface layer, available water capacity, wetness, surface stoniness, and flooding. Soil temperature and soil moisture are also considerations. Examples of wild herbaceous plants are bluestem, goldenrod, milkweed, quackgrass, and ragweed.

Hardwood trees and woody understory produce nuts or other fruit, buds, catkins, twigs, bark, and foliage. Soil properties and features that affect the growth of hardwood trees and shrubs are depth of the root zone, available water capacity, and wetness. Examples of

these plants are oak, maple, cherry, beech, holly, huckleberry, blackberry, and blueberry. Examples of fruit-producing shrubs that are suitable for planting on soils rated good are gray dogwood, autumn olive, Tatarian honeysuckle, and crabapple.

Coniferous plants furnish browse and seeds. Soil properties and features that affect the growth of coniferous trees, shrubs, and ground cover are depth of the root zone, available water capacity, and wetness. Examples of coniferous plants are pine, cedar, juniper, spruce, and hemlock.

Wetland plants are annual and perennial wild herbaceous plants that grow on moist or wet sites. Submerged or floating aquatic plants are excluded. Soil properties and features affecting wetland plants are texture of the surface layer, wetness, reaction, salinity, slope, and surface stoniness. Examples of wetland plants are skunk cabbage, smartweed, arrowhead, cattail, saltgrass, pickerelweed, cordgrass, rushes, sedges, and reeds.

Shallow water areas have an average depth of less than 5 feet. Some are naturally wet areas. Others are created by dams, levees, or other water-control structures. Soil properties and features affecting shallow water areas are depth to bedrock, wetness, surface stoniness, slope, and permeability. Examples of shallow water areas are marshes, swamps, and ponds.

The habitat for various kinds of wildlife is described in the following paragraphs.

Habitat for openland wildlife consists of cropland, pasture, meadows, and areas that are overgrown with grasses, herbs, shrubs, and vines. These areas produce grain and seed crops, grasses and legumes, and wild herbaceous plants. Wildlife attracted to these areas include bobwhite quail, pheasant, meadow vole, meadowlark, field sparrow, cottontail, and red fox.

Habitat for woodland wildlife consists of areas of deciduous plants or coniferous plants or both and associated grasses, legumes, and wild herbaceous plants. Wildlife attracted to these areas include ruffed grouse, woodcock, thrushes, woodpeckers, squirrels, gray fox, raccoon, and deer.

Habitat for wetland wildlife consists of open, marshy or swampy shallow water areas. Some of the wildlife attracted to such areas are ducks, geese, herons, shore birds, muskrat, frogs, and tree swallow.

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