My introduction to birding came about six (6) years ago when a Eurasian Kestrel showed up in my neighborhood. I have lived in Eastern Passage since 2007. The winter of 2015 was an extremely cold one with a lot of ice, so I was sticking close to home when I saw the news that a mega-rare bird at Hartlen Point was attracting the attention of birders from all over North America. Since it is only about 2km from my house, I took a drive down to see what all the fuss was about. The birders welcomed me into their fold, and life has never really been the same.
The pandemic has undoubtedly pushed things to the edge, and I think even the non-birders have learned firsthand how precious our wild spaces are. Being cooped up with no access to nature feels a bit like being a zoo animal in a small cage. Most backyards are not big enough, and the parks we do have are too busy for our fast-growing population. The lockdowns have been noisy, crowded, and stressful for anyone who does not have an exceptionally large property, and that is most of us.
More and more people are moving into our small communities, while our access to green spaces and coastal access is being lost to development at record rates. This is not sustainable for the long term. It is vital for our mental health to have access to nature to reconnect and recharge.
We should at least try to protect our own special little corner of the world. Surfers, birders, dog walkers, nature lovers, kayakers, farmers, fisherman, and families of many generations have enjoyed our beautiful seaside community of Eastern Passage and Cow Bay.
Perhaps it is time to think about what a Hartlen Point Nature Reserve might look like and incorporate Silver Sands Beach Park into the concept. HRM already owns about 10 acres of beach at Silver Sands, and this could be an opportunity for three (3) levels of government to work together to create something of lasting value for people and wildlife.
The entire community could rally and work together to create a unified vision that celebrates our history and culture, while preserving green space and coastal access for future generations.
If you have visited Rainbow Haven lately, you will find it is increasingly overcrowded, and down the road a bit, access to Silver Sands Beach Park has been contentious in recent months, and there seems to be little else in the community in the way of public beach access.
In early June, we found out that Hartlen Point will be the future site of increased development for a warship testing facility. Birders are afraid of losing access to the wealth of habitat bordering the golf course as they have been documenting birds at Hartlen Point for over 50 years and logged over 300 species at this location.
Cow Bay and Eastern Passage are beautifully intertwined at this coastal headland, with Silver Sands on one side, and Hartlen Point on the other, separated by no more than a small tidal channel.
Birds and other critters use the larger area as one expanse of habitat and do not recognize boundaries imagined by humankind. There are many hectares of federal land between Hartlen Point and Murray Road that are currently undeveloped, also Moses Island and other private lands that border the tidal flats. When you stand at the edge of the Hartlen Point Golf Course, you overlook the Silver Sands Beach Park.
Hartlen Point is long renowned worldwide as a prized birding destination as the headland is an attractive landing spot for migrants and rarities in spring and fall. The area incorporates coastal habitat, wetlands, forests, and grasslands.
HRM birders would like to see this area declared an IBA (important bird area). Many migrating species nest throughout Hartlen Point and Silver Sands, and many of our long-term human residents have a vast knowledge of breeding locations for both native and migrating species. Blue Heron, Northern Harrier, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Willet, Alder Flycatcher, Barn Swallow (a species at risk), and a long list of others you may not have heard of such as Common Redstarts and other visiting wood warblers raise their babies in this habitat each summer.
This ecosystem is also home to White-tailed Deer, Snowshoe Hare, Bobcat, and Eastern Coyote who are all quite well behaved with a vast expanse of green space but tend to become a problem when they lose their habitat. Their homes also need to be protected to maintain a proper balance for the good of both humans and nature to continue to coexist peacefully.
There are organizations and experts we can engage who have a wealth of knowledge and education to share about coastal protection and erosion, wetlands, and wildlife corridors and how to protect land if we unify and reach out as a community who cares. A green space with excellent coastal stewardship would be a huge success for our little seaside community.
Eastern Passage is one of the earliest settlements in HRM, with a rich history worth preserving. While Devil’s Battery and other military installations represent our more recent past, there is a strong background of farming and fishing throughout Eastern Passage and Cow Bay, which you can still feel in the soil and in the surf. We need to celebrate what makes us unique while respecting the heritage of all peoples, including our Mi’kmaq peoples who used Eastern Passage as a season home before European settlers arrived.
In the blink of an eye, it could all be gone if we do not protect it, or we can work together as a community to reclaim our natural spaces and heritage. Maybe the dream of a Hartlen Point Nature Reserve could become a reality if we stay positive and focused on the greater good. The time is now to safeguard our unique land and seascape that sets us apart from the rest of the world.