A quick birding trip to Nova Scotia,
Before I go into my annual summer retail hibernation, I’ve decided to take one last birding trip. I chose Nova Scotia because it’s in Canada, and 2017 is Canada’s 150th anniversary. In honor of the big celebration, all of their national parks are offering free admission. That’s right, free! I’ll drive anywhere for something free, even to another country. I was, however, surprised to learn that Canada is only 150 years old. It seems like it has been around forever. Maybe it lost a few years in the exchange rate. Our ultimate goal was Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We haven’t been there in nearly forty years and back then we had to “pay” to get in. Darn it. I knew we should have waited.
Our first stop was in the New Brunswick town of St. George. If you are looking for St. George on the map, it’s right between St. Stephens, St. Andrews and St. John. (Who knew so many saints came from Canada?) We stopped here because I wanted to check out a little-known birding area called “Sam Hatt’s Point.” This turned out to be a good idea. Not only does this location have a cool name, but it had some great birds as well. Even before I had gotten out of the car, my wife said, “I hear a chicken.” I heard the sound, too, but it wasn’t coming from a chicken. It was a female Ruffed Grouse strutting a few feet off the trail. (More on her later.) Further down the path a pair of American Redstarts was so busy courting each other that they never noticed us. We next came upon a flock of Cedar Waxwings and heard a Common Loon yodeling from just beyond the trees. We also spotted a Hermit Thrush carrying food to its nest and watched a dozen Red Crossbills feeding just above our heads. We were off to a terrific start, but then we ran into a mystery bird. I hate that.
I could hear a bird singing from deep in the woods but I couldn’t figure out what it was, and it was driving me crazy. I needed help. I was going to ask my wife for assistance, but she would have said it was a “chicken.” So, instead I turned to technology. I held out my iPhone, pressed a button and recorded the bird’s song. Then I pressed a different button and sent the call through cyberspace to my son, Casey, in Orleans. Fourteen seconds later Casey replied, “Alder Flycatcher.” Sweet! Thank goodness for technology (and Casey). After solving the mystery bird mystery, I was about to refocus on the other birds when I came upon the cutest creature I’ve ever seen.
We were walking down a wooded path when I noticed something curled up in the grass along the trail. It was a brand new baby white-tailed deer. I couldn’t believe how tiny and adorable it was. The little guy (or gal) lay motionless. The only thing moving was its pounding heart. We knew its mother would be close by, so after my wife took a million photos (for her Facebook page) we left. And, yes, mom did come back for it.
We were still buzzing about the fawn when we came upon a spooky old house. This place was a wreck. All of the windows were gone and the entire structure looked as if it was about to collapse. My wife wanted nothing to do with it, but I thought it was the perfect place to find a nesting Barn Owl. So, acting brave, I walked up and stuck my head in one of the missing windows. This was not my best idea. I instantly heard a loud commotion. Uh- oh! Now I’m thinking I had either disturbed a nesting Barn Owl or awoken a sleeping Canadian hobo. My heart was now pounding like the little fawn’s. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, staring back at me I saw a very large and very upset porcupine. The prickly creature couldn’t decide if it wanted to charge at me or run away. Luckily, it chose to waddle up the broken staircase, climb out a hole in the roof and into an adjacent tree. Whew! The last thing I needed was to spend the rest of the trip pulling quills out of my forehead (and being on my wife’s Facebook page.)
Between the great birds, the fawn and the porcupine, the visit to Sam Hatt’s Point was one to remember. But our adventure wasn’t quite over. Remember the Ruffed Grouse? Well, apparently it didn’t like being called a “chicken.” When we arrived back at the car she was waiting for us. Without warning she came charging out of the woods, flapping her wings, spreading her fantail and clucking like…you guessed it, a chicken. The angry bird made two or three runs at us before slipping back into the woods. I’m sure she had babies nearby and was only trying to distract us, but my wife was totally startled. Now it was her heart that was pounding (and the grouse’s turn to post a funny story on Facebook).
Our next stop was the Irving Nature Park, which is just outside the city of Saint John, New Brunswick. It is a free park, owned and operated by the Irving Oil people (probably in an effort to pay nature back for their fossil fuelish ways). Anyone traveling to this part of the world should put this park on his or her list. We didn’t have the same adventures that we had at Sam Hatt’s Point, but we did see plenty of birds, including lots of Black-throated Green Warblers and several Swainson’s Thrushes. But the real reason to visit is the beauty of the park itself. The Irving people have done a wonderful job. Our own state parks could learn from them. (Now if we could only get Irving Oil to switch to solar.)
No, I haven’t forgotten about Nova Scotia. I’ll finally get to that part of the trip next week…if a porcupine or an angry grouse doesn’t get me first.