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of wood and warblers : musings on my upcoming 3rd spring migration season as a birder in Nova Scotia

of wood and warblers : musings on my upcoming 3rd spring migration season as a birder in Nova Scotia Posted on March 26, 2017

Warblers are among the highest prized things with wings for the avid birder.  And they call them wood-warblers for a reason.

I’ll be heading into my 3rd migration season as a birder with a bit of a heavy heart as I’ve recently become aware of the full extent of the clearcutting that is happening in Nova Scotia.

As well that a 13-mill consortium called Westfor has their eye on the Western Crown Lands which have been described  as “the last great wood basket” not committed to pulp companies, which will effectively destroy the last of our forests here in the province.

To enjoy spring migration to the fullest, brushing up is always recommended.  So, partially to encourage some discussion about the preservation of mixed, multi-aged forest in Nova Scotia, and partly as a little research project for myself to prepare I spent much of today studying the breeding habitat of Nova Scotia wood-warblers.

Of the 40 Wood Warblers that have been recorded in Nova Scotia, 22 of them breed here both currently and historically.  Two have been added to the list recently but one (Yellow-breasted Chat) was certainly incidental and the other (Pine Warbler) could be the beginning of an expansion of breeding territory to come in future years.

My lifelong love of walking in the woods, and back-country canoe camping in recent years, have proven to be a great foundation for studying our wood-warblers first hand.  While writing this today I realized that I’ve observed a great deal of warbler behavior and habitat in my two short years of birding.  And I’ve had some amazing mentors in these two years, I must admit and am so thankful for your guidance (you all know who you are and you are awesome).

There is still much to learn (this is a living work and I’m definitely at the beginning end of things) so I’ve referenced the following materials extensively today:

to compile the little spreadsheet below at the end of this post.

Someday I hope to write a book at which point I’ll work on more detailed citations, but for today I had time to write a blog in hopes it will inspire a few people to dig deeper into this issue.  Emails with corrections are always welcome and appreciated!

Anyway, basically our beloved wood-warblers drop in during spring migration, disperse into appropriate habitat, breed, and then flock off in the fall migration.

The NSBS hosted a presentation by Donna Crossland last Thursday evening  where I learned there is not much left of less than 1% of our old growth Acadian Forest left (it was about 50% in pre-Colombian times, and 15% in the 1950s) and even the remaining younger, multi-aged  (not clear-cut) Acadian forest is in grave danger.

Most of Nova Scotia’s working forest is clear cut.  We are on a 55-year cut cycle, far too short to maintain the Acadian forest which should be selectively harvested (not clear-cut), and trees such as red spruce, hemlock, and sugar maple allowed to grow to 150 years of age (or more).  The Nova Scotia government promised to reduce clear-cutting, and has done no such thing.

(thank you David Patriquin for the clarification of our forest compositions)

Aside from soil erosion leading to potential coastline erosion, and the release of carbon into the environment (remember plants remove carbon dioxide from the environment into the soil) imagine the horror for the birds and other animals who lose their homes, and inevitably perish.

Basically, if we keep chopping down their homes they will have nowhere to breed.  They are increasingly showing up to find their habitat and food had been destroyed which is a problem for both the present and the future.  My focus here is on the wood-warblers but many other bird species require the very specific habitat of the Acadian Forest such at the Black-backed Woodpecker, and the Nothern Goshawk to name just two.

Anyway, as I reflect on my last two years in birding I am reminded that you have to do a bit of work to find some of the most prized wood-warblers.  Well it’s not work for me at all to walk in the woods, but it’s something not many people seem interested in doing these days somehow.  All my favorite magical forests are old-growth forests and largely Acadian it would turn out, with Keji being one of my most treasured places to spend time.  I’ve also greatly enjoyed walking in the Thomas Raddall provincial park, the Abraham Lake Nature Preserve, the Mount Uniacke Estate park, the Herbert River Trail, and the woods around my parents’ house just to name a few.

I remember looking up so high in the trees to spot the singing Blackburnian Warbler in Mount Uniacke Estates park and realizing this now scarce habitat explains why they are not always easy to find in Nova Scotia.

Blackburnian Warbler (new to me today) June 1st, 2016 Mount Uniacke Estate Park

It occurs to me now why many of the seasoned birders frequently comment there are “no birds anymore”.  Migration season used to be a very different experience here in Nova Scotia apparently.  And that is very sad isn’t it?

Someone needs to do something and I agree with Donna Crossland who suggests the birders are the perfect people to spearhead the cause.

Simply put, clear-cutting is short sighted and harmful to wildlife.  We deserve a sustainable forestry industry in Nova Scotia that is guided by good science and education, and stewarded by forestry experts, not lumber executives.  And now that I know we are sending all this biomass to China and Turkey I am steaming mad.  We are chopping down all our forests for a cheap buck and sending it away in little wood chips.  Nothing to be proud of, indeed.

I don’t know much about the South Shore forests, but I do know the “banana belt” hosts some of the best birding opportunities in Nova Scotia and the birders down there are hopefully ready to chase Westfor right out of town.  I’ve not done the warbler run in Yarmouth but I’ll bet that strip on Thomas Road and Jerry Road is all old-growth forest, and it’s probably on the chopping block (literally). (I have found out since I posted this from Alix d’Entremont that the area I mention in Cape Forchu is not old-growth in fact but the Quinan and Great Barren Lakes Reserve and also Sporting Lake are likely the last stands of old-growth forest in South Western Nova Scotia.)

As a little aside, maybe we only hear of protecting the Boreal Forest because the Acadian Forest is pretty much already gone?

I digress, but basically we have two types of wood-warblers that visit Nova Scotia.  We have the “vagrants” who don’t belong here really, and certainly don’t breed here.  They are the ones who have us scanning multi-flora behind funeral homes and other odd places during migrations or fall outs, and making the non-birders wonder what the heck we are doing.  Then we have those 22 warblers who come to Nova Scotia specifically to make babies and fly off with them in the fall.  They go in two waves, the parents and new birdies typically not together.  It is a joy or nature everyone should witness so please consider getting involved and engaged with this issue.  In my opinion land conservation and activism is one of the best places you can donate your money or your time in our province.

I smile as a remember some of my favorite birding moments have involved fledgling birds, specifically warblers.

Anyway, look through the list for yourself and decide what you think is worth protecting.  And remember, these are the canaries of our proverbial coal mines because if they are in danger, so are we…

“I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away I don’t know where my soul is, I don’t know where my home is” – Nelly Furtado

Wood Warbler Breeds in NS historically Breeds in NS currently Prerred Vegetation
American Redstart yes yes alders tall shrubland garden shrubbery
Bay-breasted Warbler yes yes (in decline) tall conifers
Black-and-white Warbler yes yes broad leafed and mixed woodlands
Blackburnian Warbler yes yes tall conifers
Blackpoll Warbler yes yes cool, damp spruce
Black-throated Blue Warbler yes yes broad leafed mature woodland stands
Black-throated Gray Warbler NO no
Black-throated Green Warbler yes yes mature mixed but also broken fir and spruce
Blue-winged Warbler NO no
Canada Warbler yes yes broad leafed trees / shrubs / dense understory
Cape May Warbler yes yes (in decline) tall Spruce
Cerulean Warbler NO no
Chestnut-sided Warbler yes yes shrubs / raspberry / forest edge
Common Yellowthroat yes yes scrubby brush / cutover / marsh
Connecticut Warbler NO no
Golden-winged Warbler no no
Hermit Warbler no no
Hooded Warbler NO no
Kentucky Warbler no no
Louisiana Waterthrush no no
Magnolia Warbler yes yes open woodlands / balsam fir
Mourning Warbler yes yes dense deciduous shrubbery woodland edges
Nashville Warbler yes yes open woodlands and shrublands
Northern Parula yes yes mature forests uses old man’s beard for nests
Northern Waterthrush yes yes damp mixed woodlands alder and cedar
Orange-crowned Warbler no no
Ovenbird yes yes Blue-bead Lily under the Broad-leafed trees
Palm Warbler yes yes low conifers / bog / shrubs
Pine Warbler no (NB yes) one nesting in Truro 2010 recorded in the 2nd breeding atlas – also thought to be breeding in Miller Point Peace Park in Bridgewater and in Oafield Park near Enfield for a few years now pine
Prairie Warbler no no
Prothonotary Warbler no no
Swainson’s Warbler NO no
Tennessee Warbler yes yes (in decline) spruce/fir for the budworm
Virginia’s Warbler no no
Wilson’s Warbler yes yes shrubland early forest succession
Worm-eating Warbler no no
Yellow Warbler yes yes urban gardens / shrubbery / old fields / streams / marshes
Yellow-breasted Chat no 1 probable” record in NS during the second atlas dense shrubbery with a preference for blackberry
Yellow-rumped Warbler yes yes dense spruce cover and bayberry for food (wax myrtle)

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