The Buzzards Bay region is particularly beautiful in the winter months. What’s more, there are some outdoor pastimes and special sights that are only around during this time of year! Bundle up and get moving with one of these eight great outdoor activities around your Bay, and you’ll forget about the cold before you know it.
1. Go winter seal-watching
Winter brings some playful visitors from colder climates: seals, which travel down from places like Maine and Canada to enjoy the relative warmth of our coastal waters. In between diving to catch fish, you’ll see harbor seals and sometimes grey seals “hauled out” from the water to rest and warm up in the sunshine.
You can sometimes spot these seals on rocky shorelines, like that of Demarest Lloyd State Park in Dartmouth, West Island in Fairhaven, and Barges Beach on Cuttyhunk. More often, seals seek the privacy and safety of rock clusters in protected harbors and bays, like Apponagansett Bay, New Bedford Harbor, Nasketucket Bay and Woods Hole’s Great Harbor. You’ll also spot them lounging on small islands further offshore, such as Gull Island, which sits between Penikese and Nashawena in the Elizabeth Islands chain.
If you’re out looking for seals, it’s important to keep a few things in mind to respect these adorable mammals and keep both humans and animals safe. To learn more, check out our 5 tips for winter seal watching in Buzzards Bay.
2. Take a long hike
The best way to heat up is to get your heart pumping with a hike on one of the Bay’s many trails. And if you think that you need to hit the road to get in a long hike, think again!
Tackle one of ten hikes over 5 miles in the region, and you’ll be rewarded with some special winter views. Frozen ponds are a standout at Four Ponds Conservation Area in Bourne and Plymouth/Carver’s Myles Standish State Forest – try bouncing a rock on their frozen surfaces to hear strange, sci-fi laser sounds echo through the ice! Atop some hills along the 9-mile Falmouth Moraine Trail, bare winter trees and leafless branches provide rare views of the surrounding landscape and Buzzards Bay glinting in the distance. The winter vegetation also provides extra opportunities to spot wildlife no matter where you hike: look out for swift-moving deer, brightly-colored foxes, and chattering winter birds in the woods around you.
3. Beachcomb for treasures
Winter provides some of the best beachcombing all year. Winter wind and storms churn up interesting objects from the deep, and fewer crowds mean that the best treasures may remain untouched! Some of our favorite finds include the colorful shells of moon snails and whelks, the papery, slinky-like casings that hold whelk eggs, and the ”devils purse” egg sacs of skates, which can be found both empty and with baby skates still swimming inside!
For more tips on what you might find on beaches this winter, comb through our guide on where to go beachcombing on Buzzards Bay, which includes 14 unique objects to look for.
4. Search for rare birds
On Buzzards Bay, winter is unquestionably “duck season.” During the cold months, unusual ducks like surf scoter, common goldeneye, greater scaup, and hooded merganser become just as common as your local mallards in Bay harbors, rivers, and ponds. Some favorite duck-spotting sites include Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in Dartmouth, Egypt Lane in Fairhaven, and the Cape Cod Canal.
But ducks aren’t the only exotic winged visitors you might see in local waters during the winter months. Our guide to winter birds to watch for this season has 14 fascinating species you can check off your birding bucket list. What’s more, during the winter, pairs of bald eagles often migrate from inland ponds to coastal areas like Buzzards Bay in search of food. If you’d like to catch a sighting of these massive, majestic raptors, try one of these ten local eagle hotspots.
5. Capture winter’s beauty
According to Westport photographer Greg Stone, the best place to take pictures is “right where you are” – and that includes the season that you’re in. Nature photographers love the stunning contrast created by winter colors, the atmosphere of swirling snow, and the many possibilities of shifting light through clouds and ice.
Whether you’re an expert shutterbug or learning how to use the camera on your phone, anyone can learn how to take great nature photos. The winter season provides a great time to experiment with this new hobby. If you’d like to give it a try, Greg shared these seven great recommendations with us, perfect for photographers looking to create stunning images in their own backyards.
6. Explore by cross-country skis or snowshoes
Snow isn’t always a guarantee around our Bay, so when we do get a good snowfall, be sure to take full advantage of it! We love the combination of good exercise and novel exploration provided by taking cross-country skis or snowshoes on a snowy local trail, like Destruction Brook Woods in Dartmouth or the paved extent of Falmouth’s Shining Sea Bikeway. If you’d like to give it a try, many local outdoor gear companies rent skis and snowshoes. The Mattapoisett Free Public Library also rents out kids’-sized snowshoes to SAILS Network card holders!
For the best experience, look for wide, well-groomed trails that will be easy to explore as you whoosh atop the snow. We gathered up seven of them in our list of spots to try out snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in southeastern Massachusetts.
7. Seek out a geocache
If you like puzzles or have always wanted to be a treasure-hunter, try geocaching. This fun combination of modern technology and outdoor exploration uses GPS technology to lead you to hidden caches at parks, along trails, and in cities and towns around the world.
Geocaching is a great winter activity to get kids and families outside and engaged with an exciting mission. (Pirate hats encouraged, but not required.) All you need is a smartphone and the Geocaching app, which will point you to caches hidden near you. Get started in this neat hobby with our geocaching guide — we can almost guarantee that pursuing your treasure will lead you somewhere new!
8. Hook some winter fish
Dedicated anglers will find plenty of on-the-water action during winter from rainbow trout and tautog. Like many New Englanders, these two fish don’t mind staying out even when temperatures drop!
Tautog are found offshore hiding around bottom features like rocks and shipwrecks. Stocked rainbow trout can be caught in freshwater ponds, including Mary’s Pond in Rochester and Grew’s Pond in Falmouth. Learn more about when and how to hook these addictive fish with our guide to local cold-weather fishing, complete with suggestions of where you should plan out your next fishing trip.