Grand Pre (KINGS-A1)

eBird Hotspot "Grand Pre -- general area", Kings County, Nova Scotia, CA

Grand Pre means Big Meadow, and it refers to the flat, prairie-like area to the north of the Hwy 101 between Wolfville and Avonport, sticking out into the Minas Basin. Originally inundated by the highest tides in the world twice a day, the Acadians, settlers from France, built dykes and sluice gates to reclaim the land, in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is now a large, very fertile area of fields, dirt roads and muddy beaches. It is possible to drive around all of the dirt roads, despite the signs indicating that they are privately owned. But local farmers and their vehicles have priority, and the roads are also popular with cyclists, so keep an eye out. In winter they are not plowed, and it's not hard to get stuck!

Because of the areas's history and unique geography it is now a UNESCO world heritage site, with excellent signage explaining the sites. There is a National Historic Park at the entrance to the area, with the famous church and statue of Evangeline, and the historical exhibition about the Acadians and their expulsion from the area is excellent.

The best birding is in Fall and Winter, although something can be found at all seasons. From late July till October, huge flocks of Peeps are found at high tide along the shoreline. Almost the entire world population of Semipalmated Sandpiper passes through here or the other side of the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick on southward migration. Least and White-rumped Sandpipers are also common.

Timing is important - at low tide all the birds are far out and spread thinly on the mud-flats. If the tide is very high they fly off to roost inland. So the best time to see them is 1 to 3 hours before and after high tide. Tide times can be found online or in the local paper. Peregrines and Merlins are often around to harass them. Gyrfalcon used to be regular, but not in recent years. The best spots are at the Guzzle, at the east end of North Grand Pre, at Evangeline Beach, (where there is signage explaining the flocks of shorebirds, and a canteen that sells ice cream) and along the dykes leading north from the Acadian Cross memorial at Hortonville. You will be sharing the birding spots with Bass fishermen, but the birds don't seem to mind them. Look along the road and field edges for Bobolinks and sparrows. It is also worth walking the road west of the T-junction at North Grand Pre. There is a lot of scrub, several feeders, and currently a huge active Bald eagle's nest near the far end.

In winter drive the dykes looking for Horned larks, Snow buntings and raptors (N. Harriers, Red-tails, Rough-legs etc.), and look for sea ducks and Red-throated Loons offshore, and Purple Sandpipers on the rocks. Short-eared Owls are regular - late afternoon at the Guzzle is best. Bald eagles are abundant here, and up to several dozen can sometimes be seen on and over the fields all over the area.

Walking the west end of the area from Wolfville along the dyke, it's worth scoping the sewage plant, and over the years some good sparrows have occurred here, and Wolfville Harbour before and after high tide can hold numbers of shorebirds - particularly both Yellowlegs.

Contributed by Richard Stern

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