A Brief Visit to Nova Scotia

Mustard White

My fiancé and I went to Nova Scotia during the first weekend of May for a brief visit. We went there chiefly to visit family, but I managed to get some birdwatching in during our visit. We arrived late Friday night and stayed in a hotel near the airport; on Saturday morning we drove up to Maitland to check out Doran’s father’s land. While driving up Highway 215 I noticed a large bird in a field next to the road. I asked Doran to stop the car to confirm that the bird was what I suspected: a Ring-necked Pheasant. We had to backtrack a bit, but when we returned to the spot I was not only able to get a good look at the bird, but also some good photographs!

This was a life bird for me. Although they are uncommon in Ontario, they are extirpated from the Ottawa area. There are a few on Amherst Island and more near Point Pelee, though I’ve never been able to catch up with them there.

Ring-necked Pheasant

We stopped in Maitland to look around. There is a small scenic park right on the Bay of Fundy shore; I saw Barn and Tree Swallows hawking for insects above the gazebo and a large raptor gliding high in the sky. It was too far away and the sun was in the wrong position to discern any field marks.

Maitland, NS

While scanning the water for shorebirds and ducks I heard a familiar call coming from the pond across the road: “Pill-will-willet, pill-will-willet”. I recognized it from the Birding By Ear CDs I have and knew it was a Willet, a type of shorebird I had never seen before. To my delight, a bird flew over my head and landed on the shore. The black and white patches on its wings were clearly visible in flight, although when it landed it appeared a drab, non-descript brown. When it began probing the water’s edge for food items I noticed a second bird with it! This was my second lifer of the day, and of the trip. Willets are rare in Ottawa but common in Nova Scotia.

Bay of Fundy – Maitland, NS

One thing I love about Nova Scotia are the beautiful, old buildings and the brilliant colours they are often painted:

Maitland, NS

After checking out Doran’s father’s land we drove west to Greenwood in the Annapolis Valley. We stayed with one of Doran’s relatives, Iris, who recently purchased a house just outside of town. She has a lovely property on the side of the south mountain in an area dominated by agricultural fields. There are a few small patches of forest in between farms, so it was a great place to go birding! After dark I heard an American Woodcock “peenting” in the field next to her property, and Iris told me she has a Ring-necked Pheasant that visits her backyard every day. I only saw him once, but heard him every day that I was there. Every day I saw (and heard) Pine Siskins and Purple Finches singing in the trees at the back of her yard, and twice I saw a couple of Evening Grosbeaks in the trees!

Crocker Road

On our first morning at Iris’s I woke up early and decided to go for a walk up Crocker Road. From Google Maps I could see a large lake (Zeke Lake) just off to the side of the road, and I wanted to check it out. The road is gravel, and there were a few houses, set well back, on the west side of the road; mixed forest and a large wet area provided plenty of habitat on the east side. I saw and heard Yellow-rumped Warblers, juncos, Song Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows next to the road, and in the distance I heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming. The best birds were a single Evening Grosbeak calling from the top of a tree and a very yellow Palm Warbler. Palm Warblers have two races — “Western” Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum palmarum) and “Eastern” or “Yellow” Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum hypochrysea). I am used to seeing the browner Western race in Ottawa, so it was a treat to see this Palm Warbler with yellow extending from its throat to its undertail coverts. Of course it was flitting about too much to get a photo!

Although I found the trail leading to Zeke Lake, it was far too wet for me to attempt to walk it. Next time I’ll have to remember to bring my rubber boots!

Crocker Road

Later that day Doran and I drove to Belleisle Marsh in Annapolis County. I had discovered it through Blake Maybank’s book “Birding Sites of Nova Scotia” and thought it sounded promising as it has a small population of Nelson’s Sparrows (formerly known as Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows). Although sunny, the day was cool and a strong wind was blowing. A few Cabbage White butterflies were the only interesting insects that were flying. Overhead we saw a Red-tailed Hawk and an immature Bald Eagle soaring above the marsh, while two Northern Harriers – including one very white male that resembled a seagull at first – patrolled the fields a little closer to the earth.

View from Belleisle Marsh

The only sparrows we saw were Savannah and Song Sparrow….we didn’t travel too far because the wind was quite unpleasant. In the marsh itself we found several Tree Swallows hawking for insects, a large group of Canada Geese, several Ring-necked Ducks, and – my favourites – a male and female Northern Shoveler and three Blue-winged Teals, including one distinctive male. A small flock of shorebirds flew over the marsh but disappeared to the north; we also heard two Sora rails but was unable to entice either into view. Doran and I only checked out the first and second impoundment; we missed the third impoundment to the south and the fourth impoundment to the north. It seemed like a great spot for birding, and definitely one worth visiting again.

Belleisle Marsh

The following day the only birding spot we visited was the Bay of Fundy shore at Port George. The tide was going out, and although I spent some time looking for crabs I didn’t see any. There were a few ducks just offshore, but they were too far to identify without my scope. They were likely Common Eiders, with a single grebe (most likely a Red-necked Grebe) swimming closer to the shore. A few seals were present, and when the receding tide revealed a few large rock formations they hauled themselves out of the water to rest on top of the rocks.

Port George, NS

On our last day in Nova Scotia I got up early again to take a walk along Crocker Road. This time I found a greater variety of birds – 21 species in fact, including a Wilson’s Snipe winnowing overhead, one Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and two Hairy Woodpeckers, two Least Flycatchers, two Palm Warblers, several Yellow-rumped Warblers, three Northern Parulas, a couple of Black-throated Green Warblers, a Nashville Warbler, at least four Ovenbirds, several White-throated and Song Sparrows, a couple of Purple Finches, and one Pine Siskin. At the trail leading to Zeke Lake I spotted a hawk fly up from the ground into the tree; I wasn’t able to identify it until it whistled the two-note phrase of a Broad-winged Hawk!

Later that day, while returning from Greenwood, we crossed the Annapolis River. I stopped to take a couple of pictures. It would be interesting to stop here later in the summer to see what dragonflies I could find. Clubtails in particular prefer rocky streams and rapids.

Annapolis River

Back at Iris’s place I heard the Ring-necked Pheasant and saw two Evening Grosbeaks and one Savannah Sparrow in her yard. I saw several white butterflies fluttering among the flowers growing at the edge of her property and spent some time tracking them down. I am not sure what the flower is, but I was surprised to discover that except for a pair of mating Cabbage Whites, all the other butterflies were Mustard Whites.

Flowers in Bloom

These white butterflies are hard to miss in the spring and are separated from the more common Cabbage White by the yellow spot near the forewing apex and the dark veins on the underside of their wings. Later broods which appear in the summer are entirely white, with no dark veins on the underside of its wings. Primarily found in woodlands and open areas near woodlands, adults are on the wing from late April to mid-September in Ontario, with two overlapping generations in most areas. According to the Butterflies of Nova Scotia website, Mustard Whites were formerly quite common in Nova Scotia, but are now very scarce.

Mustard White

Although our trip was very short, we had a good time and I got to see some new places and some new birds. I was disappointed that there weren’t very many butterflies flying, and there was no sign of the massive Red Admiral migration that was occurring in the other eastern provinces and Ontario. The cool weather might have had something to do with this; the temperature didn’t rise above 15°C the entire time we were there. Still, it was the first time I’ve been there in the spring, and it was great to see “winter birds” such as the Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks with the migrating and breeding birds of Crocker Road.

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One thought on “A Brief Visit to Nova Scotia

  1. Pingback: Highlights from 2012 | The Pathless Wood

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