Baie des Chaleurs Seabird Survey 2023

Black Scoters (Lewnanny Richardson)

Spring 2022

It’s a chilly spring morning as I look out over the Baie des Chaleurs in Dalhousie, peering through my binoculars in search of Black Scoters. As I scan slowly across the horizon, I see Northern Gannets, Long-tailed Ducks, and Double-crested Cormorants amongst the small chunks of floating ice, but Black Scoters by the flock are nowhere to be found. A few Scoters dot the horizon here and there, but their presence is severely lacking compared to the usual thousands that migrate through this area each year; the reason why the first Important Bird and Biodiversity Area was established here. Mike Lushington, a longtime friend of Nature NB and local nature club member is baffled by the absence of the birds, but takes me to several other birding hotspots to satisfy my birding itch. As I head home from the trip, I’m left with more questions than answers.

Spring 2023

Fast forward one year later to this year. As I step out onto the wharf at Petit-Rocher, a cool, gentle breeze greets my skin as the early morning sun warms me. The ice has broken up much earlier this year and the birds took notice. Members of the Jacquet River and Restigouche Nature Clubs arrive at the wharf and greet me with warm enthusiasm for a great day of birding. As I set up my spotting scope, I can hear thousands of birds calling in the distance. It’s not a bird call I’m familiar with, but as I turn to look at Mike and company, wide smiles fill their faces.

“The Scoters are here!”

Black Scoter, male (Lewnanny Richardson)

I excitedly grab my spotting scope and begin slowly scanning the waters of the bay. Impossible to see with the naked eye, they become crystal clear in the view of the scope; thousands upon thousands of Black Scoters lining the horizon as far as the eye can see. It takes me a moment to register what I’m seeing: this is the largest congregation of birds I’ve ever seen in my life! Just when I think I’ve reached the last raft of birds and there can’t possibly be more, I move the scope again and the view fills with even more.

We take our time watching the birds through our spotting scopes, enjoying the spectacular display of nature before us. As we try to estimate the number of Scoters we are seeing, we also see Harlequin Ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Common Eider in small groups across the water, along with several other species. I take quick breaks from looking in the scope to jot down what I’m seeing, but return quickly to take it all in once more. Watching the ever-moving ocean of birds is an amazing sight to see. Eventually we come to the conclusion that we are seeing at least 15,000 birds before us, and likely more beyond where we can see.

Common Eiders (Lauren Verner)

This years trip left me feeling energized and excited to continue work in the Baie des Chaleurs region. We know that this area is highly important for Black Scoters and other migratory seabirds, but that their range along coastal areas may be changing. Thanks to our dedicated volunteers from the Jacquet River and Restigouche Nature Clubs who continue to survey the area, we hope to have clearer answers to these questions soon. Hopefully, we see Black Scoters continue to thrive in the Baie des Chaleurs for years to come.

– Lauren Verner is a Program Coordinator at Nature NB.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top