Birders flock to Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is a wonderful place to go birding,with superb scenery, good travel infrastructure, and discoveriesaround every curve of the road and cove of the shoreline. But whatis it that particularly appeals to visiting birders? The province’sbirding attractions are linked to spectacles, spaces, and species.

Everyone, even non-birders, can appreciate a good natural history spectacle, an important consideration when birders travel with nonaddicted family members or friends.

The finest avian display is arguably the southward migration ofArctic-nesting shorebirds through the Bay of Fundy. Millions ofdiminutive sandpipers refuel in the rich mudflats exposed by theworld’s highest tides, and when the twice-daily high tides cover themud, the birds (primarily Semipalmated Sandpipers) usuallyconcentrate in enormous flocks wherever the mud remainsuncovered the longest. This migration period extends from mid-Julythrough early October, but the largest flocks, sometimes in excess ofhalf a million birds, typically occur in the second and third weeks ofAugust. Good viewing locations include the Causeway behind theInformion Centre in Windsor, Grand Pré beach in Kings County,and the picnic site beside Route #215 at Cheverie, in Hants County.Along the Atlantic coast shorebird flocks are smaller, but containmore species. Good vantage points include the Salt Marsh trail inCole Harbour near Halifax, and off the south end of Cape SableIsland (linked by a causeway to the mainland).

From June through October the Bay of Fundy is popular with whalesand whale-watchers, and the abundance of food that attracts thewhales also appeals to seabirds. While the number and variety ofwhale sightings varies on whale-watching trips out of Brier andLong Islands, there are invariably large numbers of seabirds sighted,making Nova Scotia the easiest, most affordable, and most reliablespot in eastern North America to see thousands of shearwaters (Greater, Sooty and Manx), storm-petrels (both Wilson’s and Leach’s),and phalaropes (Red and Red-necked), as well as numerous puffins,razorbills, fulmar, jaegers, and occasionally rarer species such as skua.

Nova Scotia, in common with other areas of Atlantic Canada, doeshave seabird colonies, and while they are generally smaller thanthose found in Newfoundland or Quebec, they are less remote andmore accessible. Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Great Cormorants, andBlack-legged Kittiwakes reign over the Bird Islands off Big Bras d’Orin Cape Breton, but tolerate thrice-daily visits by Bird Islands BoatTours, and visitors to famous Peggy’s Cove or Lunenburg enjoy halfdayboat excursions to nearby Pearl Island to view a small puffincolony there. Gulls and terns nest in dozens of colonies along thelength of the province’s Atlantic coast, and Canada’s largest RoseateTern colony lies on The Brothers, off the village of Lower WestPubnico in Yarmouth County.

Winter offers its own spectacle, when nearly a thousand Bald Eagles descend on the Annapolis Valley in Kings County, feeding on the largesse of a thriving poultry industry. Sheffield Mills hosts the annual winter Eagle Watch Celebration [], increasingly popular with each passing year.

Nova Scotia’s scenery is renowned, and with such a backdrop even a quiet day’s birding is a pleasure. Two of Canada’s finest nationalparks bracket the province, Kejimkujik in the south and Cape Breton Highlands in the north, both with extensive trail systems, visitorfacilities, and informed staff. Elsewhere there are dozens of smaller provincial parks, picnic sites, and beaches. In addition the man-madefreshwater marshes at Belleisle, Robert’s Island, and Amherst, provide a fine contrast with the natural saltmarshes that still frame so much ofNova Scotia’s shoreline.

Visiting birders, especially those from Europe or urban United States,enjoy the absence of crowds, and the freedom to wander almostanywhere the urge takes them. The joy of watching shorebirds on anearly-deserted pristine beach, or listening to warblers sing alongwell-maintained and secure trails, is an experience rare or absent inmuch of the world.

While there are no species unique (endemic) to Nova Scotia, theprovince has developed a reputation as a reliable and logisticallyfriendlybase to seek out certain much sought-after birds, includingboreal forest specialities (Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, BlackbackedWoodpecker, White-winged Crossbill), winter birds from thehigh arctic (Dovekie, Black-headed Gull), seabirds (Manx Shearwaterand Great Skua), and regional specialities (Bicknell’s Thrush thatbreeds in the Cape Breton highlands, and the Ipswich race ofSavannah Sparrow, that breeds only on offshore Sable Island, homeof the famous ponies).

Even without the lure of these special birds, the province is wellsituatedin all seasons. The surrounding ocean moderates the climate,and the cooler summers mean that northern species like to breedhere. Twenty-two species of warbler grace our forests, among our180+ breeding species. The ocean also moderates the winter, withnearly 200 species sighted each year between December andFebruary. And because Nova Scotia lies at the eastern end of thecontinent, and half-way between the pole and the equator, manywaifs and rarities are found here, comprising more than 30 per cent of theprovince’s impressive total of 455 species. Visits to Nova Scotia’smigrant traps in spring and autumn are exciting, with the oftenrealizedanticipation of something unusual about to appear in thenext tree or clearing. The most popular migrant traps include BrierIsland in Digby County, Cape Sable Island in the southwest, HartlenPoint near Halifax, and Schooner Pond in Cape Breton.

Birders and their needs
Many birders enjoy visiting a destination that offers a variety ofdifferent landscapes and bird species and experiences, in a settingthat offers the full range of expected tourism facilities. Most suchvisitors to Nova Scotia do so independently, in small groups or as afamily vacation, although a few professional nature-tour companiesoffer itineraries.

Whether birders are travelling to Nova Scotia specifically for abirding holiday, or are simply trying to fit in some birding around abusiness trip or family vacation, they need information.Nova Scotia’s combination of birds, scenery, and tourism facilitiesmakes it an ideal destination for every discerning birder. And if they are travelling with non-birding friends or family, the non-birders canbe distracted by the province’s culture, landscapes, shopping, history, and entertainment.

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