Cape Cod's Nature Place

The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History

Little Cliff Pond

March 5, 2014

Winter returned this afternoon with more snow showers and dark gray skies -
but this morning for our hike from Little Cliff Pond within Nickerson State
Park in Brewster up and over the hills to Baker's Pond in Orleans, we had
brighter skies, 30 degrees and almost-sunshine!  What's not to like about

In getting organized for writing my hike notes, I looked back into my hike
archives and found my notes from "the same" hike - almost exactly 2 years
ago - but that hike was 3 weeks later in March - and those 3 weeks made a
BIG difference as far as "flora" was concerned!  Today we were watching our
footing because of snow and melting ice in shady places - and packed down on
the forest roadways!

Stealing from my own hike notes from 2 years ago, I had then done a bit of
internet research regarding the ponds that we walked toward and around.  We
started on the edge of Little Cliff Pond and then hiked toward the edge of
Higgins Pond (still within Nickerson), and then headed east toward Baker's
Pond on the Brewster/Orleans border.  My internet research regarding Higgins
and Baker ponds had turned up a little size and fish information - but
nothing regarding the "history" of the ponds.  Connie, our hike leader, had
noted, for example, that Baker's Pond is one of those that barely escaped
the developer's backhoe - with the heroic efforts of concerned citizens and
others in both Brewster and Orleans required to save as much of the
pond-front for conservation as possible.  But I didn't (easily) find
anything about this on-line.  So we'll go with what we know.

Per the internet, "Higgins Pond is a 25 acre natural kettle-hole pond with
an average depth of 29 feet and a maximum depth of 66 feet. Transparency is
exceptional, extending to 26 feet. The bottom is sand and gravel, aquatic
vegetation is scarce and the 0.9 miles of shoreline are undeveloped."
Within Nickerson State Park, "the pond is reached by taking a right onto a
steep, rutted dirt road suitable only for daring drivers with four-wheel
drive vehicles."  As we hiked the access road, I wondered who in their right
mind would drive a vehicle along the road!

With regard to "fish management", "in 1950, Higgins Pond became the first
pond in Massachusetts to be reclaimed for trout management. Its deep, cold,
well oxygenated water was producing 3 pound brookies by 1955. The pond was
subsequently used as an experimental pond and reclaimed in 1956, 1959, 1967,
1969, 1971 and 1973. In 1982, the pond was treated with ground limestone to
counteract the effects of acid rain. In 1987, it was designated as a catch
and release pond and stocked with the Temiscamie strain of brook trout with
the potential to grow up to 8 pounds in weight. A 6 pound brook trout was
reported caught in the pond in 1992. Additional Temiscamie strain brook
trout were stocked in 1989 and 1993. Since that time it was annually stocked
with a small number of rainbow trout and tiger trout. In 2000, the pond was
also stocked with triploid brook trout. In January 2004, the catch and
release designation for Higgins Pond was dropped. No reproduction was noted
for the stocked brook trout and anglers reported poor catches over the last
ten years."

Per the internet, "Baker's Pond is a 26 acre, natural kettle-hole pond with
a maximum depth of 60 feet and an average depth of 18 feet. Transparency is
good, extending to 11 feet or more, but aquatic vegetation is scarce. The
shoreline is moderately developed.  Fish include "pumpkinseed, smallmouth
bass, brown bullhead, banded killifish, golden shiner, yellow perch,
American eel (editor's note - yuck), brown trout and rainbow trout."

For those really into fishing, the internet suggests that "summer anglers
seeking trout should look for the fish at depths of 20 to 35 feet (editor's
note - a bit tricky in a pond with an average depth of 18 feet). All the
standard trout baits and lures are effective, but if all else fails, try
drift-jigging a small streamer or grass shrimp about two feet behind a split
shot within the depth range mentioned above. Don't overlook the smallmouth
bass here. Although not as plentiful as stocked trout, there are enough to
offer fair bass fishing action, and some of them are quite large. Try
bucktails and eel imitations along the bottom. Some anglers find they do
best with live bait in the form of grass shrimp."  Now you know!

But let's get off the water (much of it frozen over this year - at least
with a thin skim of ice) and into the woods.  The first part of the trail
took us along the northern edge of Little Cliff Pond - a bit above the Pond.
We were barely underway when the first "photo opportunity" presented itself
- a native American "winter glove tree" (photo 1) - with 4 fingers of the
good-sized glove pointing back up the trail.  Further along - a somewhat
beleaguered tree trunk (photo 2), with all the bark gone "above the waist"
and much evidence of insect activity.  What I thought was most interesting -
the bare wood above the bark line looked as though the tree had been twisted
in place - with clear striations on the wood.  I wonder how that happens.

environmental education programs


Photo 3 (below) - from above Little Cliff Pond - I think this is where the "Nessie",
the Loch Ness Monster, visiting from overseas, surfaced - with her head
coming up through the farthest opening in the ice and her tail through the
closest - and a loop in her long body coming up through the middle ring.
What do YOU think?

bird watching

Heading down hill toward the shore of Higgins Pond - another winter scene -
a mitten bush (photo 4) along the edge of the path.  I wonder whether the
Park People collect all of these left-behind gloves and mittens when the
season is finally over and make them available in a "lost-and-found" at the
Headquarters building?


Near the shore of Higgins Pond - about 8' up in a tree - what apparently was
some left-behind "tarp tackle" (photo 5) as identified by one of our hikers
- a plastic "triangle" with a hole in it, with several lines running through
it - thus perhaps leftover from when someone had rigged a tarp between trees
near the edge of the pond.  There was similar orange line wrapped at a
similar height in a nearby tree too.  One wonders why they ripped the tarp
from the tree and left the lines behind.  Big hurry perhaps.

environmental education programs

Next - several photos of the ice on Higgins Pond - with apologies from the
photographer (yours truly).  I've got a new computer - and I haven't yet
figured out how to "edit" my photos - to lighten or darken them.  It used to
be so easy.  I'm going to have to find a neighborhood middle school or
elementary school student to show me how to do this...

Anyway - the first ice photo (#6) show some interesting lumps and bumps in
the ice - as though someone or some THING might have ventured into shallow
water-and-ice and disturbed the ice - and then it re-froze?

family activities

 Next picture (7) shows a series of re-frozen holes - likely where someone threw a series
of rocks onto the ice - with good success at breaking through to the water.

environmental education programs
And then my favorite - what looked like a somewhat-furred dirt bomb out on the ice about 15' from shore (photo 8).

bird watching

 Or maybe an unwanted plum pudding
leftover from Christmas dinner?   Finally - at the corner of the pond - to
the right of the "landing" where we stood - reflections from the hillside in
the ice-free water of the pond (photo 10).  Before we left Higgins - a photo
of the motley crew - the "shore birds" (photo 11) along the edge of the

bird watching

family activities

We hiked from Higgins Pond in Nickerson State Park "overland" toward Baker's
Pond in Orleans - along a network of dirt roads that were sometimes a bit
snowy and sometimes clear - but mostly rocky and best-suited for pick-up
trucks and only the most rugged SUV's.    But there are houses in the woods
- occupied even in the winter-time.  And "traffic" helps to trigger Mother
Nature sometimes.  Or perhaps the weather was simply at work - creating this
little "landslide" along the roadway - with a small tongue of sand sliding
down over the snow in photo 12.  Dimensions?  Sand slide about an inch wide
and about 12-15" long - not something that will require revetments!

environmental education programs

Up in the woods, along Baker's Pond Road, lives someone with enormous
creative energy.  One of the "woodland creatures" in the yard is the young
Holstein (black and white, right?) in photo 13.  There is also a pig, and a
good-sized turtle - and other Forest Friends that I wasn't able to identify
without further study.  Very creative though!


After we circled one end of Baker's Pond and started back up the hill, away
from Route 6, we spotted this wind-ripped tree at the top of the hill (photo
14).  The rip marks were relatively fresh - thus I suspect that this damage
is from one of this winter's storms.  I always wonder what sort of noise it
makes when this happens.  Or don't I really want to know?

ecotourism at Cape Cod Museum of Natural History

Photo 15 is of Baker's Pond from a look-out point above.  One of our hikers
noted that apparently there is a 20' tall artist's (my word) rendering (my
word) of a person (my word) underwater at about this location - where the
open water is.  Someone apparently dropped rocks from a boat (or kayak?) to
"draw" said "person" underwater - a 20' tall "person.  I don't know if this
is true.  Or if the "person" is an outline, or "filled" in, or if all of the
rocks are still there (if they ever were).


But - here's an idea - if indeed this is true - and if the open water matches the location of all those rocks-
then maybe the rocks attract and hold the heat of the sun?  And that's why
there's open water overhead instead of ice?  Thermodynamics?  Local
historians are welcome to comment.  And scientists.

Circling the Pond and then moving up and away from the Pond - a pine tree
with a natural "spyglass" shape to its trunk - a natural "split", that
reattached itself at some point (photo 16).  

bird watching at Cape Cod Museum of Natural History - Little Cliff Pond

Trees are cool, aren't they?
And hardy too.

environmental education programs

 Photo 17 shows an oak that refuses to give up.  If you look
at the base of the tree - the bottom 6' or so - it looks like it's
completely open - with bark hulls on 2 sides and nothing on 2 sides.  Wrong!
There is viable tree growing up from both bark hulls on both bark sides!
Totally amazing!  Life springs eternal!

And speaking of "eternal" - final photo - further along Baker's Pond Road -
a thicket of bamboo (but no pandas in sight) - being forcibly held back by
several lengths of rope (photo 18).  


Though I know that the plan was to keep
the bamboo upright and off the road when heavy snow weighs down the bamboo -
still - it looks like they're trying to keep the bamboo from crossing the
road.  Ha!  Good luck with that!

Enjoy the photos -  and the story.  And weather permitting - join us next
week for our hike at Doane Rock in Eastham.

Lynn Bruneau