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Grand Manan/Fundy 2017 – #2: Sandpipers and Flowerpots and a Reversing River

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Grand Manan/Fundy 2017 – #2: Sandpipers and Flowerpots and a Reversing River

If you are here for the Puffins, they will be appearing in considerable number (and in video) in the last post of this series 🙂 … but today we offer you spectacular video of 30,000 Sandpipers instead.

The week started in Moncton and along the coast of the upper Fundy Bay – perhaps the muddiest place on the planet. Moncton is not a scenic city but it does have a very, very good seafood restaurant that if you should find yourself staying there (on a quest for shorebirds during next year’s migration perhaps) you might enjoy – Catch 22 is the name [http://catch22lobsterbar.com/main.html]. Of course the principle, perhaps only, reason for being in Moncton, apart from it having an airport to arrive at, is the famous “Moncton Bore”. The Peticodiac river discharges into the Bay of Fundy at a lower level than high tide and as the bay has the highest tides in the world this puts enormous pressure on the flow of water coming down the river. The consequence being that twice a day the bay overcomes the river and a (low) wave rushes up river from the bay, reversing the flow entirely. At really high tides, people surf the wave. Certainly a curiosity to be enjoyed once in a lifetime … the downside is that the river runs through totally flat and uninteresting land and is solid mud from bank to bank. Anyway, we had a few hours to kill and took in the sites … here’s a short video to enjoy. Turn up the sound to enjoy the noise of the rushing water trying to overcome some rather strong wind 🙂 The normal flow of water in the river is from right to left.


But you are really here for the birds and wildlife. We will get to that shortly, but first in chronological sequence was a visit to the Hopewell Rocks after the group had gathered and we had introduced ourselves. As noted above the rise and fall of the tides are a massive 52 feet (16m) from low to high. At low tide you can walk out on the sea floor and look up at massive pillars of rock and, if you are lucky as we were, enjoy a fly-past of shorebirds just above the waves. Very impressive bit of geology … shame about the number of people there to take selfies.

Look at the tall “flowerpot” on the right … it’s a bear.

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Johnson’s Mill Bay – where the Sandpipers congregate

Black Scoters

Semi-palmated Sandpipers

Semi-palmated Plovers

 

The next morning we were out early to drive to the Nature Conservancy site at Johnson Mills, just outside the small town of Dorchester where they are so proud of their shorebirds that they have erected a massive, and surely unique, statue to the Semi-palmated Sandpiper. This statue has been banded and bears a suitably inscribed ring on one of its legs.

Johnson Mills is a well set-up site preserved by the Nature Conservancy. Every summer, massive flocks of shorebirds journey through the Bay of Fundy from the Canadian Arctic before heading to South America. Johnson’s Mills becomes the stage for one of nature’s great spectacles, as its mudflats and beaches serve as a temporary stopover for flocks of shorebirds numbering up to a quarter of a million individuals. Several species stage along this shore, but the by far the most prolific are the Semi-palmated Sandpipers with some third to half the entire world population visiting in a short August window of opportunity for birders to enjoy.  The Sandpipers stop to feed up on sand shrimps before undertaking a three or four day flight, non-stop for a distance of 3,000 – 4,000 km (1,900 – 2,500 mi) across the Atlantic to South America fuelled entirely by the fat reserves they build up eating the Fundy shrimps

On the day we were there it was estimated that some 30,000 Semi-palmated Sandpipers were present, accompanied by rather smaller numbers of Semi-palmated Plovers pottering around the edges of the flock.

Out on the waters of the bay were a number of Black Scoters which I was trying to video when something set the Sandpipers into the air where they twisted and turned for about three minutes. Really, a “wow” moment for everyone there …

This massed wheeling and and black/white flashes as they turn back or belly to the viewer was highly reminiscent of a Starling “murmuration”, so I assumed, as one does, that the same word applied for their flight formations. However (thanks Sue for the information) it turns out that for Sandpipers you should choose from one of a “bind”, “contradiction”, “hill”, “time-step”, or a “fling” but their movement is not a murmuration.

Anyway … here’s the promised video. Turn up the sound and you will hear strong wind – the wind being my excuse for not having a tripod to fully stabilise my camera. These birds were amazing.  (note … probably because the birds are twisting and turning so fast and there is a difference in refresh rate between different types of screens I think you will get a better experience viewing this on a “proper” computer than on a  tablet.)


Tomorrow’s chapter will involve Black’s Harbour and the crossing to the island, accompanied by our first real sea-birds.


NOTE:  I never sell my photographs, but I do make them freely available to friends who like them. If you stick with me to the last post of this series (that will be #8) then I plan to include download links to print quality versions of my two favourite photographs from the week – they are both in the “Prologue post” from yesterday [http://www.greenbirding.ca/grand-mananfundy-2017-prologue/] if you would like to look – the Puffin and the Sea Cliffs in Mist. 

Any other images you like the look of though, from any of the posts, just ask and I’ll happily send you a link. You can reach me at greenbirding@gmail.com

By | 2017-08-14T18:13:37+00:00 August 14th, 2017|birding, birds, summer|6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jeff Card 2017-08-14 at 12:39 - Reply

    What a wonderful place!

  2. Gay mcdougall 2017-08-14 at 16:43 - Reply

    Really beautiful the way the cloud of sandpipers is transformed by the sun.

    • richard 2017-08-14 at 18:06 - Reply

      It’s wonderful – and the flash of white as they turn their bellies towards you. Loved it.

  3. Darlene Harvey 2017-08-14 at 18:09 - Reply

    The video of the pipers flying is truly spectacular! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Jean-Sébastien Guénette 2017-08-14 at 20:47 - Reply

    Richard, you said : “the downside is that the river runs through totally flat and uninteresting land and is solid mud from bank to bank.”

    However, when I lived in Moncton (during 4 yrs, 13-yrs ago), this “uninteresting land” was a pretty nice spot to observe Short-eared Owls. It was possible to observe few of them from the boardwalk close to the Château Moncton.

    • richard 2017-08-15 at 12:40 - Reply

      I meant from a purely scenic point of view … indeed, it looks like a Short-eared Owlish sort of place and across from the hotel there was a large, shallow pond that had assorted shorebirds on it in the early morning but too far away and inaccessible (to us) to identify other than to say there were Yellowlegs amongst the rest.

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