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New Brunswick mudflats to fill with more than 100,000 sandpipers as part of annual migration


Hugging the mudflats of the Bay of Fundy just outside Dorchester, N.B., are 130,000 semipalmated sandpipers in the midst of a massive migration from the Arctic to South America.

Coinciding with their arrival is the 19th annual Dorchester Sandpiper Festival, which runs this weekend, celebrating the arrival of the small protected species to the Bay of Fundy.

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“The birds have arrived in tens of thousands this week, just in time, and are here to prepare for a migratory flight to South America,” said Kerri Lee Morris-Cormier, the manager of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s shorebird interpretive centre in Johnson’s Mills, N.B.

READ MORE: Rare feathered visitor draws onlookers to Brookfield, N.S

Through the rest of the summer, about 37 per cent of the world’s semipalmated sandpiper population will visit the Bay of Fundy, where they will hunt small, rice-sized mud crabs, eating about 40,000 a day to eventually double their weight before undertaking a gruelling four-day flight to South America.

“When they’re migrating, they fly for four days non-stop and they can’t swim, so they fly at a speed of 90 to 100 kilometres an hour,” said Amelia MacDougall-Fleming, also with the NCC.

While feeding, the birds move in and out with the world’s highest tides, congregating in large flocks on the mudflats of the Bay of Fundy.

“Again, they can’t swim, so they move with the tide,” MacDougall-Fleming said. “When the tide moves in, the birds move in, and they roost up here along the shore in this more rocky, sandy area. Then, when the tide is out, they’re out eating in the mud.”

The semipalmated sandpiper population has begun to plummet over the last several years. The birds are often hunted in parts of South America and their food supply has dwindled in some places along their main migratory route.

The Fundy population is fairly stable, but the species still faces challenges.

Though they only share space for a short time each summer, the village of Dorchester and the sandpipers have, in some ways, grown dependent on one another.

The birds create tourism for the village and, in turn, the village ensures the small, skittish birds are undisturbed while they try and rest between tide cycles.

“The birds depend on the people, for sure. The sandpipers and the village of Dorchester are very important to the Bay of Fundy,” said Morris-Cormier.

“We depend on the village to take care of them — to make sure at high tide that people and their dogs are not going onto the beach, just during those couple of hours every day when the tide is in, because at that time the birds cannot swim and they cannot eat so they need to save energy.”

The sandpipers have just begun arriving this week, with the smaller females arriving first.

They’ll be followed by the males, and then the juveniles, with the bay emptying out sometime in September.

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