A birder's paradise

Find peace alongside the birds at Johnson's Mills

O n a hot August day, staff from the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and visitors to the Johnson’s Mills Shorebird Reserve and Interpretive Centre crowded together on the observation deck to catch a glimpse of one of Canada’s most magnificent migrations.

Each year, one-third of the world’s population of semipalmated sandpipers stops over in southern New Brunswick on their way to South America. And NCC’s Shorebird Interpretive Centre is one of the best places to observe this natural phenomenon.

Kerry Lee Morris-Cormier, conservation coordinator with NCC in New Brunswick, recalls standing here on a brisk, early fall day in awe as a flock of about 100,000 semipalmated sandpipers filled the beach, located on the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy.

“It was high tide and the sandpipers were resting together on beach, when all of a sudden, a gentleman sneezed and the entire flock took flight,” recalls Kerry Lee. “Every time they take flight, they expend precious energy they need for their migration. We all felt the vulnerability of the birds and quietly retreated to the centre to give them more space.”

The long journey starts here

Semipalmated sandpipers are just one of the many species of birds that visit Johnson’s Mills during their migration. Johnson’s Mills is located in a Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve, a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance and an Important Bird Area.

“The birds are here to feed on the rich mud flats of the Bay of Fundy, which are huge enough to support large populations like those of the semipalmated sandpiper,” says Kerry Lee. “The pebble beach, protected by NCC, is a critical resting place for shorebirds. The sandstone cliffs nearby are also perfect habitat for their predators – the peregrine falcon. So we see the circle of life here at Johnson’s Mills!”

Finding power and peace here

But the birds aren’t the only species that seek solace at Johnson’s Mills. Joining them is Kerry Lee, who, after working on the property for seven years, claims that the land has shaped her understanding of the importance of conservation.

“Johnson’s Mills is a peaceful and powerful place,” she says. “The landscape is dominated by a massive, velvety brown mudflat that constantly merges with a roaring body of salt water. My relationship with this land has changed. I’ve become more understanding of conservation and respectful of the cultural and natural heritage of the community surrounding the mudflats, which support more than 30 per cent of the world’s population of semipalmated sandpipers.”

If Kerry Lee can’t be found on the property’s observation deck taking in the view of the shore, she’s at the top of Dorchester Cape on the northwestern boundary of the reserve.

“It’s where you first see the Bay of Fundy and where I always feel the peace of the area,” she says.

Semipalmated sandpiper

The semipalmated sandpiper is a small shorebird with a short neck, long, black legs and a thin blunt-tipped bill. It is named for the partial webbing between its toes (“palmated” means “webbed”).

Semipalmated sandpipers breed in the Arctic, from far-eastern Siberia, east across Alaska and northern Canada to Baffin Island and Labrador – on open tundra, usually close to water.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) owns and protects several properties in Atlantic Canada that are used by semipalmated sandpipers as stopover sites during their migration from the Arctic to South America, including Johnson’s Mills Nature Reserve.

Species to Spot

– bald eagle
– cloudberry
– least sandpiper
– ovenbird
– peregrine falcon
– pink lady’s-slipper
– sanderling
– semipalmated plover
– semipalmated sandpiper

Making memories to last a lifetime

NCC owns 227 hectares (562 acres) in the area and actively promotes conservation, education and stewardship on-site. NCC staff operate the interpretive centre in July and August so that visitors can learn ways to respectfully explore the magnificent conservation area.

When visiting any natural place, it is important to take only memories and leave only footprints. When Kerry Lee considers the importance of nature and leaving it undisturbed, she thinks about that day on the observation deck at Johnson’s Mills.

“It’s a memory that motivates me to this day – to talk to visitors at Johnson’s Mills about the importance of not disturbing wildlife,” recalls Kerry Lee. “The community surrounding Johnson’s Mills is what makes it one of NCC’s finest Nature Destinations to visit – not just for the birds, but for the people, too. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.”

Photo Credits (Top to bottom): Mike Dembeck; Cheyenne Carrier; Denis Doucet; Chris Hill; Mike Dembeck.

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