About an hour’s drive from my home in Nova Scotia the majority of the world’s semi-palmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) stop every year to gorge on “mud shrimp” on the mud flats of the Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin. Thousands of the birds (nicknamed “peeps” for the sounds they make) frenetically poke their beaks dozens of times each minute into the mud, doubling their weight in a couple of weeks before starting a non-stop flight to South America.
Like most locals, I’d never seen this phenomenon and vowed this summer to remedy the situation. Evangeline Beach is just past the famous Grand Pre National Historic Site, once an Acadian settlement and memorialized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem which gave its name to the beach.
Here, in early August I made my barefooted way through ankle deep squishy mud to see the tens of thousands of shorebirds up close. Not too close though or the birds are frightened into flight and will burn off precious energy needed for their grueling migration south.
The “mud bath” was well worth the effort, even if the mud shrimp (Corophium volutator) do tickle your toes. Thousands of birds wheeled past in synchronized flight, flashing startlingly white underbellies in unison while others fed near the tidal boundary. The tides here reach fifty feet (16 meters)!
We saw other birds including the semi-palmated plover, with its distinctive black neck band, larger than its diminutive cousin the sandpiper. A less welcome visitor were the worm-like white jellyfish dotting the mud flats, something I’d never seen here before. Apparently flushed from the bilges of irresponsible passing ships, who knows what the long term effect on the fragile Fundy ecosystem will be.
In any event, I’d crossed yet another item off my Province of Nova Scotia bucket list. This is a great activity for kids and adults combined with a visit to the nearby Grand Pre National Historic Site.
And don’t worry, the mud washes off easily in tidal pools closer to shore!
If you go, check out Fundy Shorebirds
All Photos By George Burden – All Rights Reserved