As my fiancé and I were working remotely during our week at Scot’s Bay, we did not have a lot of time to do much hiking or birding. Poor weather, especially on our one free day – the rainy Monday of the August long weekend – further reduced the number of opportunities to spend much time outdoors. Still, we were able to visit a couple of places during our week at Cape Split. The first was a new spot for us, Cape Split Provincial Park, which was intriguing enough to warrant a return trip. We stopped in briefly on Monday, August 2nd ahead of the rain just to check it out. The parking lot was busy with avian activity, including a Ruby-throated Hummingbird checking out the flowers, a pair of Bald Eagles (one adult and one juvenile) flying over the coast, a Blue-headed Vireo singing, a Common Raven “quarking” in a tree, and a couple of Song Sparrows chipping at us from the vegetation surrounding the parking lot.
I wanted to walk a kilometre or so into the woods, just to get a sense of the trail and see what birds were around. Right inside the forest we found some songbirds flitting through the trees, including a Black-and-white Warbler, an American Redstart, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Deeper inside the woods, which reminded me of Algonquin Park’s rugged beauty, I heard a Dark-eyed Junco, a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Purple Finch, a Winter Wren, and the slower, buzzier call of a Boreal Chickadee! It was a great introduction to this wonderful trail, and if rain hadn’t have been imminent I would have loved to explore the woods more thoroughly.
Our second visit occurred after work on Friday, August 6th. It was a gloomy day, and earlier rains made the trail muddy with rivulets of water flowing over the path in many places. This time we wanted to make it at least as far as the first look-off (the Minas Basin Lookoff), as a full hike to the end of the peninsula plus the return takes between four and six hours, which we did not have due to the late start. We only tallied 17 bird species compared to the 18 we saw on Monday, which was also likely due to the late afternoon visit.
We heard one Red Crossbill flying over, and two Winter Wrens on this outing. At least six Dark-eyed Juncos were present, including an adult leading a juvenile around. Two Blue-headed Vireos, one Red-eyed Vireo, a Hairy Woodpecker, two Brown Creepers, and two Red-breasted Nuthatches were also seen. Best of all, I not only heard three Boreal Chickadees foraging in the conifers, I actually managed to see two of them! If the woods hadn’t have been so dark I would have attempted to photograph them. These bird species definitely gave the park a northern Ontario feeling.
We made it to the Minas Basin Lookoff where we took some photos. To my disappointment there were no birds present on the water below or flying off the observation deck.
On the return trek we ran into a flock of songbirds foraging together, including Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Black-throated Green Warbler and a Magnolia Warbler. With so much potential I would have loved to return to see what else was present, but that will have to wait for another trip.
We didn’t leave for Greenwood until the following day, so we debated how to spend our Saturday. I was torn between a return trip to Cape Split Provincial Park, a visit to Blomidon Provincial Park, and a trip to Grand Pré – the stopover site of millions of shorebirds on their journeys to and from their breeding grounds up north. In the end Grand Pré and Evangeline Beach won out, especially as we could be there in time for high tide – the time when the shorebirds are closest to shore and easiest to see. As usual, we stopped by the Guzzle first, where we spotted an accommodating Red-tailed Hawk perched on top of a pole at the farm. Most Red-tailed Hawks fly off as soon as you stop anywhere near them, so we pulled up ahead of it to use the car as a blind while I took a few photographs.
When we reached the small parking area at the end of the road I spotted a Great Black-backed Gull sitting on a hay bale in the field of all places – this seemed as incongruous to me as the ones we saw on the roof of a building with a couple of Herring Gulls a few years back. We made our way to the edge of the small cliff and were happy when we looked down to the beach below and saw at least a couple hundred shorebirds resting on the sand and rocks above the water. The tide appeared to be almost fully in, so the birds were crammed into a small area. Most appeared to be Semipalmated Sandpipers, but there were six Semipalmated Plovers and many Least Sandpipers and White-rumped Sandpipers among them.
A single Sanderling also stood out among the sleeping birds, all doing their best to imitate the rocks of the beach.
The only other species of note was a Black-bellied Plover…I heard it first, and watched as it flew by.
From there we drove to Evangeline Beach, which never has been as birdy as the Guzzle on any of our previous trips. We walked up to the edge of the small cliff, and at first I noticed a small island completely filled with shorebirds. As the rest of the beach came into view, I was stunned. There were more birds here than at the Guzzle, and they completely filled what was left of the sandy beach.
Again, the majority appeared to be Semipalmated Sandpipers, though I did see the yellow legs of at least one Least Sandpiper, while a few White-rumped Sandpipers were loafing at the water’s edge.
Most people were happy to watch the birds from the top of the steps that lead down to the beach; however, a few people who had been out in the water started walking along the beach toward the stairs. They flushed the shorebirds immediately closest to them, and the small flock flew out over the water and landed behind them. As the people got closer to the stairs, more and more birds took off into flight and eventually settled again on the empty sand.
A few minutes later a Peregrine Falcon rushed in toward the beach, and ALL the sandpipers whirled up into the air! This time the whole flock flew out over the water toward the Guzzle, and did not return. The Peregrine Falcon did not return either, so we shrugged our shoulders and left.
The road to Evangeline Beach passes through an agricultural area where we’ve seen numerous birds of prey over the years, including Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks. This time we were lucky to find a pair of Bald Eagles sitting together on top of a telephone pole!
The lower bird appeared much bulkier than the bird perching on top, identifying it as a female and the top bird as a male. Their plumage might be identical, but females are 30% heavier than males, with a longer tarsus (lower leg bone), larger feet (the male’s dainty feet are just visible here!), longer wings and a deeper bills than males. This makes it easy to distinguish the male and female of a mated pair when seen perching together. I rarely one, let alone two, eagles perching conveniently close enough to look for these details, so this pair was definitely a treat!
The northeastern portion of King’s County encompassing the Grand Pré peninsula and Cape Split is spectacular for birding…in less than an hour you can go from Boreal species to sea and shore birds, with open field species and birds of prey in between. I wished we could have spent more time in this part of the county, but our cottage at Greenwood was waiting. I have no doubt we’ll be back; I just hope it doesn’t take another two years before we return!