By Richard Stern
Birding, the activity of watching, appreciating, listening to, identifying, making lists of, and just generally enjoying, birds, is an increasingly popular activity, well suited to the “new normal” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a hobby that can sustain you for a lifetime and help you build a deeper connection to the natural world. Birds are everywhere, and many people have commented that now, when there is less pollution from travel and more people are at home and enjoying the great outdoors, birds are more obvious than ever. There is a great birding tradition locally, with Robie Tufts of Wolfville being well-known in the early 20th century, continuing with many local birders well known in the province and elsewhere, and the activities that have been and are being actively done through Acadia University.
It’s an activity that can be enjoyed at many levels, from just enjoying the dawn chorus or watching a bright red male cardinal singing to his mate, to identifying the minutiae of similar species, or contributing to the various citizen science projects that exist online. You don’t really need any special equipment to enjoy birds, but a good pair of binoculars helps, once you become interested in identifying particular species. A field guide or phone app are also important. More and more birders go into the field with a camera, and bird photography can be both rewarding and challenging.
Locally, birding can be excellent at all times of the year. In winter, many species are attracted to feeders, such as cardinals, goldfinches, white-throated sparrows, blue jays, the hawks that prey on them, and the occasional rarity to add to the excitement. Bald eagles abound, and the feeding station at Sheffield Mills is always exciting. A popular winter activity is participation in a Christmas Bird Count, of which there are several in our region. Spring brings the arrival of the tiny long distance migrant songbirds, returning from Central and South America to nest in our woods and gardens. They are often challenging for beginners to identify, but beautiful once you see them. In summer many of the woodland and garden birds are nesting, and youngsters can be seen being fed. Hummingbirds come to their favourite flowers and feeders. Young waterfowl are all around in our wetlands. By late summer southbound migration has started again, and by fall, many immature birds are active again. A particular specialty of our region is the massive flock of sandpipers wheeling in formation around the mud flats at Grand Pre at high tide from late July to mid September, a staging post of world importance for these birds on there way from the Arctic tundra to their wintering grounds in South America.
Travelling to far off lands to see birds is a popular activity for keen birders, but in this time of travel restrictions, self-isolation, and “bubbles,” more and more birders are just travelling within their own province, and finding that Nova Scotia is very rewarding, with almost any of the local walking trails, woodlands, fields, and even your own backyard, as well as the better-known specific spots, worth exploring. It’s a great excuse to get out into the natural world with a purpose.
There are good local resources to help with and foster the activity, with the Nova Scotia Bird Society and Blomidon Naturalist Society being very friendly and offering field trips and meetings (currently online only), and having a presence on social media. There are a number of keen local birders affiliated with Acadia University, and a vast amount of information online.
Photo: Blackburnian warbler in Kentville, by Richard Stern.