Autumn birding at its best!
Autumn produces the best birding in Nova Scotia, and autumn birding on the southern islands can be very exciting! Islands such as Bon Portage act as vagrant traps, and we can anticipate some unusual and unexpected sightings. From comfortable whale-watching boats, we view a spectacular array of pelagic species, from shearwaters, puffins and kittiwakes to jaegers and phalaropes, and there is always the possibility of a rarer species showing up—and then of course there are the great whales! Shorebirding is also productive, and could include such choice species as American Oystercatcher, godwits, Whimbrel, White-rumped and Stilt Sandpipers, and we have a good chance of seeing some exotic stray.
• Easy birding in picturesque coastal communities during mild pleasant weather
• Seabirds and whales in the amazing Bay of Fundy
• The excitement of autumn birding in the Maritimes
Day 1: Arrival and Orientation
The tour begins with arrival at our Halifax after dinner, where we meet our leaders. Night in Halifax.
Day 2: Kejimkujik National Park
We leave Halifax and head for Kejimkujik National Park, 381 square kilometers of scenic tranquil lakes and forests. The hardwoods will be starting their autumnal colors, there will be no biting insects with which to contend, and walking a couple of short trails will be very pleasant. We look for boreal forest specialties here — Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jays likely in family parties, Pileated Woodpeckers calling noisily, and we should encounter a warbler flock or two, perhaps with Northern Parula and Black-throated Green Warbler. Common Loons will still be on several of the lakes, and we could see several mammals including Beaver, Moose, White-tailed Deer, and maybe an American Marten. In the late afternoon we leave the rolling landscape of the interior of the province, and continue along the Atlantic coastline to Yarmouth, where we check into our hotel, our headquarters for the next three days.
Days 3-5: Birding on Bon Portage Island and Cape Sable
Each day we leave Yarmouth in the early morning, with a packed lunch. One trip will be to Bon Portage Island, about an hour’s drive away. The 3 km boat ride to Bon Portage Island from Prospect Point Wharf in Shag Harbour takes about 15 min. Evelyn Richardson, long-time resident of the island, wrote six books about the island, one of which “We Keep a Light” won the Governor General's Award for Creative Non-fiction, and “Desired Haven” won the Ryerson All Canada Fiction Award. “Living Island” is a delightful account of the natural history of Bon Portage during the changing seasons. Bon Portage Island was donated some years ago to Acadia University, which maintains a biological research and teaching station there. We may learn of some of the research on birds being carried out, and hopefully find a few young Leach’s Storm-Petrels still in their nesting burrows. The island is a famous migrant and vagrant trap; in past visits, we have found Clay-colored Sparrow and Yellow-breasted Chat. We take leisurely walks along trails, sampling the diversity of birds at this time of year.
On another day, we reach Cape Sable Island by causeway. This will be our best site for shorebirding, with American Oystercatcher, Whimbrel and Hudsonian Godwit as specialties, and with a list of rarities such as Curlew Sandpiper and Bar-tailed Godwit. Birds such as “southern” herons and warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Western Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, Dickcissel, and Grasshopper and Field Sparrows are routine on Cape Sable Island at this time of year, and real “improbables” (Evelyn Richardson’s phrase) are always possible. Nights in Yarmouth.
Departing mid-afternoon of Day 5, we drive up the “French Shore” (the heart of l’Acadie) and along the Digby Peninsula, and catch a ferry to Brier Island, where we check in at the comfortable Brier Island Lodge and enjoy a hot meal. Night on Brier Island.
Days 6-8: Brier Island
It is traditional on Brier Island to be at the North Light near dawn to observe the often-spectacular stream of migrants departing for the northeast; they are compensating for having gone too far out to sea during the night. Northern Flickers, Eastern Kingbirds, several warblers and vireos, with attendant Sharp-shinned Hawks, are prominent. There are always the unexpected among the birds — unseasonable “reverse migrants” and sometimes-real exotics from afar. These rarities often stay through the day, perhaps exhausted by their long, miss-oriented journeys. During the day, there will also be plenty of opportunity to study “obscure fall warblers” and other birding challenges. The island is famous for its raptor flights in fall, particularly of Sharpshins, Broadwings, and falcons. Short walks to Pond Cove will give us a good list of shorebirds: Baird’s, Western, and Buff-breasted are sometimes there at this season.
We choose the best weather day to board one of the island’s long established whale-watching boats—safe, well-outfitted and comfortable—for our half-day pelagic trip. Among the pelagic species, Greater and Sooty and sometimes Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, phalaropes, Kittiwakes, and Puffins are frequent. Jaegers and South Polar or Great Skua, murres and Razorbills are possibilities, and who knows what else! Then, of course, there are the great whales. Nights on Brier Island.
We spend the early morning of Day 8 again birding Brier Island. We leave the island and head to Wolfville in King’s County via the beautiful Annapolis Valley. We stop at the Ducks Unlimited impoundment to view shorebirds and waterfowl, before arriving in the picturesque and charming university town of Wolfville on the shoreline of the Minas Basin, an offshoot of the Bay of Fundy. Night in Wolfville.
Day 9: Birding King’s County
King’s County has an amazing variety of excellent birding habitats, from the mudflats and extraordinary tides of the Minas Basin to extensive marshes and meadows, and mixed forests and lakes. We spend a very pleasant day birding several hotspots in the area, including Blomidon Provincial Park for landbirds, dykelands and ponds for marshbirds, and the mudflats and beaches for shorebirds. As with much of Nova Scotia in the fall, rarities turn up regularly in this area, and we make an extra effort to track them down. In the late afternoon, we head for Halifax, perhaps stopping at Mount Uniacke for boreal forest species. Night in Halifax.
Day 10: Departure
Our tour concludes in Halifax after a wrap-up breakfast.
• Red Phalarope
• Greater Shearwater
• Leach's Storm-Petrel
• Black-legged Kittiwake
• Atlantic Puffin
• Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow
• Boreal Chickadee
• Common Eider
• Northern Gannet
Date: September 8 - 17, 2016
Duration: 10 days
Limit: 12 people
Price: t.b.a. (2012 was: $2,995 USD + 7.5% HST, $2,875 CAD + 15% HST, single supplement $595 USD + HST, $575 CAD + HST)
Tour Starts & Ends: Halifax, Nova Scotia
• Easy to moderate walking
• Unpredictable warm/cool climate
• Half-day pelagic boat trip from Brier Island
• Good quality accommodation, great seafood
• Includes breakfasts and lunches
• One or two 15-passenger vans
• 4 to 8 participants with one guide, 9 to 12 with two guides
We begin birding early in the morning, usually having breakfast around dawn. The longest van trips are from and to Halifax; otherwise, day trips are quite short and often for dropping off at trailheads or boat docks. None of the walks are onerous; the longest will likely be on Bon Portage Island, and this will be taken leisurely. Walks in Kejimkujik Park will be fairly easy, and there should be no problems with biting insects. We have been fortunate that our boat ride into the Bay of Fundy has been relatively calm and easy.
Weather at this time of year is generally unpredictable, although autumn is thought by many to be the finest season in Atlantic Canada, with long stretches of mild weather. Heavy storms generally pass through quickly, although we should expect rain on at least one day. On Brier Island, we dine at the commendable restaurant of the lodge, but we sample a range of good restaurants, especially for seafood, during our evenings. Evenings also give us a chance to go over the day's activities, compile our bird and other wildlife lists, and make plans for the next day.