Nova Scotia Part 3: Halifax

We spent the last two nights of our trip to Nova Scotia in Halifax. While Doran attended Hal-con, I walked around the city. It was very windy, and although I was hoping to find some good birds there weren’t too many around.

My first stop was the Halifax Public Gardens. I wasn’t able to hear much over the wind, but I did find two White-throated Sparrows among the usual starlings, pigeons, gulls and mallards that spend their time here. It would be nice to visit in the warmer months to find some different migrant or breeding songbirds, as the park – though beautiful – doesn’t seem to attract a great variety of species in the later fall months.

From there I walked down to the harbour, hoping the waterbirds would at least make the visit worthwhile. The usual Herring Gulls were bobbing on the water and lined up on the piers, but I didn’t see a single duck or seabird.

Herring Gull

Herring Gulls

Three Double-crested Cormorants were present, including this one posing nicely in the sun.

Double-crested Cormorant

Several pigeons were also hanging around the harbour. I decided I might as well take this one’s picture so I could add it to the list of species I’ve photographed in Nova Scotia (yes, this is a thing in eBird!).

Rock Pigeon

My trip to Point Pleasant Park the following day was much birdier, although the weather was cool and cloudy – as a result I took hardly any photos. The 22 species I counted in a 2.5 hour visit helped make up for the birdlessness of the previous day. While most were common woodland birds for this time of year (such as Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Pine Siskin, Dark-eyed Junco, and White-throated Sparrow, among others) the two grackles I found were unexpected, and a Common Loon and two Red-breasted Mergansers (new for my provincial list) were great to see out on the bay. The best bird of the visit, however, were the three Black Guillemots seen swimming off the shore on the eastern side of the peninsula. I’d added this bird to my life list back in July 2015 on a boat tour of the Bird Islands; in the summer, this small puffin relative has an inky black body, white oval patches on its wings, and red legs. Of these three characteristics, only one was visible on one of the birds – they were paler and much rattier looking than the dapper black breeding adults I’d seen off of Cape Breton.

Black Guillemot

I’d also seen them on my trip to Point Pleasant Park in November 2016, when I got used to seeing them in non-breeding plumage. They usually keep the white oval patches on the wings but are a speckled black and white. They are fairly common off the shore of Point Pleasant Park in the late fall and winter, so after checking the eBird reports I had been hoping to see them. It was too bad the day was so dark and the lighting was so awful, as one of them actually swam in quite close to me – this is the closest I’ve been to one yet.

Black Guillemot

They are cute birds, with dainty black bills, black eyes, and a shape that reminds me of a duckling. As seabirds they dive for their food, feeding on fish, crustaceans, and marine invertebrates, but because they feed closer to the shore than other seabirds they are more susceptible to ingesting plastics and pollution found on the ocean floor. They were clearly finding enough to eat as I ended up with multiple photos showing them capturing prey!

Black Guillemot

I find seabirds fascinating, and one of my favourite things about visiting Nova Scotia. Unfortunately I don’t see very many on the Bay of Fundy, so side trips to Halifax, the south shore and Cape Breton are always treasured on the chance I might see one.

Black Guillemot

Doran and I returned to the park the following day before we had to leave to catch our flight, but it was windy and rainy so we didn’t spend a lot of time there, and I didn’t see anything different. Point Pleasant Park is a terrific birding spot, and one of my favourite things (other than the seafood!) about visiting Halifax.


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