Nova Scotia·Video

Witness a 'marvel of nature' as thousands of sandpipers fly as one over Minas Basin

Thousands of sandpipers migrate to the Bay of Fundy every summer and will soon begin their southern migration back to South America where they will spend the winter months.

Sandpipers flock to Bay of Fundy before three-day migration to South America

A sandpiper perches on a rock in the area known as the Guzzle in North Grand Pré, N.S. (Joe Kearney)

For Carol DeCoff of Halifax, sitting near the beach in North Grand Pré, N.S., to watch thousands of sandpipers do their "magical" flight over the Minas Basin is to witness what she describes as "a marvel of nature."

"On one side, in the light, you will see their dark backs, and then they will all turn on a dime and move the other way and you will see their white rumps," said DeCoff, as she sat on rocks Monday with her sister.

It's been a weekly trip for the pair this summer to the spot known as the Guzzle. Huge flocks of sandpipers gather here from late July to late August, flying in unison in what seems like a massive zig-zagging cluster.

On this day, unfortunately, there weren't as many sandpipers as usual at high tide. It was a cool morning, and a pair of predatory peregrine falcons and a northern harrier may have scared them off to other beaches.

The sandpipers will soon begin their southern migration back to their winter grounds in South America.

The shore birds cannot swim and are eating as much as they can to prepare their bodies for the non-stop three-day flight over the Atlantic Ocean.

"They make these long migrations after they fatten up on invertebrates here in the sand," said Dave Shutler, a biology professor at nearby Acadia University.

The world's highest tides in the Bay of Fundy make for ideal feeding grounds.

"They are doubling in fat and they're calculating how far they can fly on each gram of fat and how many grams they need to have," said Shutler.

Dave Shutler, a biology professor at Acadia University, looks for sandpipers at the Guzzle in North Grand Pré. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The sandpipers do a similar migration in the spring from South America to their breeding grounds in northern Canada before coming to the shores of the Bay of Fundy in July.

But their numbers are declining. Since 1976, their population has been cut in half.

Now there are programs to educate people on the importance of giving the birds their space on the beach. Bird Studies Canada has been putting up signs asking people to avoid popular sandpiper habitats in North Grand Pré and Avonport during high tides.

"This spot here in Grand Pré can see as many as 30,000 birds during peak migration time," said Laura Bartlett, Nova Scotia program co-ordinator for Bird Studies Canada.

Laura Bartlett and one of the signs she has been posting at the Guzzle. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Since the beginning of August, Bartlett has spent most of her days educating visitors who come to the Guzzle.

"This site is definitely good for people who want to see the birds," said Bartlett. "You can get very close by staying up on top of the dyke without disturbing the birds down on the beach."

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