A Birds Canada program protecting shorebird roosting locations in Nova Scotia has received renewed funding from the province.
Space to Roost has been running since 2016. The program closes off certain areas of beach around the Bay of Fundy to allow migrating shorebirds like semipalmated sandpipers to rest and feed on their journey from the Arctic to South America.
"These are really important stopping grounds in the inner Bay of Fundy where they can rest, they can feed, they try to double their weight in order to make that nonstop flight down south," said Laura Bartlett, a coordinator for the Space to Roost program.
During the fall migration, up to 30,000 shorebirds can be seen at a time at these beach sites. The sandpipers fly in a pattern called murmuration in which the group glides and banks through the air, glinting like the sun on the water.
The spectacle draws birders and tourists, and that's why Bartlett says it's so important to protect them during this delicate period.
"If they're being disturbed and they're flying around, they're using up that energy just to avoid, you know, humans or predators," Bartlett said.
"And so having that safe place to rest allows them to more efficiently put on the weight, because if they can't put on the weight, there's a chance they won't make their flight down south."
One of sandpipers' main predators is the peregrine falcon. Longtime birder Richard Stern said peregrines were once plentiful in Nova Scotia. Over the years, they faced threats from hunters and harmful pesticides, and their numbers began to decline.
They were recently reintroduced and have been thriving. While this is good for the peregrines, it's a threat to the sandpipers.
"If a peregrine appears, the birds that are in the process of gaining energy and fattening up all take to the air using that sort of hard-gained energy and the calories and then they land again when the peregrine goes," Stern said.
This means it's more important than ever to limit human impact on the shorebirds' roosting areas.
'A natural wonder'
The Space to Roost program is run mostly by volunteers. Members of the Blomidon Naturalists Society have been helping out with the project for years.
"These programs are really there to educate people that, you know, maybe enjoy them at a distance but don't disturb them because it really does have an impact," said Soren Bondrup-Nielson, president of the society.
In his role as president and as a professor of biology at Acadia University, Bondrup-Nielson said he's made it his mission to help people understand the effect they can have on the environment.
"We humans are part of nature, we're not visitors, and that it's up to us to ensure that we act in ways that an area like this is protected from human disturbance."
Bartlett said the Space to Roost program has seen an 80 per cent decrease in human disturbance at their sites over the years. Now, with their new funding from the Nova Scotia Habitat Conservation Fund, they hope to recruit more volunteers and expand their sites to more beaches.
"The goal of the Space to Roost program is really to just instill an appreciation for the shorebirds, to give them the space that they deserve, but also knowing that we are so lucky to have them stop through here," Bartlett said.
"It's really just a natural wonder that they're here."
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