West Mabou Beach Birding

One of the highlights of our trip to Nova Scotia has been the ocean swimming. We swim regularly at Miracle Beach Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, but the water is nowhere as warm as the sandy beaches on the west side of Cape Breton Island.

While the swimming has been spectacular at every beach we’ve visited so far, the beach at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park is definitely now on the top of our list. The sandy beach is backed by a dramatic line of dunes and stunning views across the harbour. By late afternoon the small parking lot was full, but the long length of beach still had plenty of space.

Of course, no trip to the beach would be complete without a little birding.

After a fantastic dip in the ocean to cool off with the kids, I managed to squeeze in a short walk down the beach to check out a flock of gulls. Most of the gulls were ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), distinctive with their bright yellow eye, yellow legs and ringed bill.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
A large flock of Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) rested in a quieter area away from the main area of the beach.

A few herring gulls (Larus argentatus) rounded out the flock of gulls and were easily identified by their larger size, pinkish legs, and lack of a ring on the bill. Generally, they’ve got a bit of meaner look to them.

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
A couple of Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) stood out in the flock of Ring-billed Gulls.

I was also keeping an eye out for piping plover (Charadrius melodus) which breed between the high tide line and the dunes at West Mabou Beach. When I spotted three small plovers amongst the gulls I hoped that I had had some luck.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
A trio of Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus) worked the beach near the flock of gulls.

Unfortunately, the plovers were semipalmated plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus). Superficially, they sort of looked like piping plovers in terms of leg colour and shape, but the overall darker colour of the back and strong face marking are good field marks for the semipalmated. Piping plovers are paler.

West Mabou Beach is number one on my top ten lists of beaches to visit on Cape Breton Island. The combination of superb swimming, birding and botanizing (more on that in a later post) make it a natural destination for any naturalist. Ideally, it would be good to arrive early and spend some time birding along the shore, dunes, salt marshes and nearby forests and fields. Wrapping things up with a swim (or two) would make for a perfect day.

Getting There:

From Highway 19 (Ceilidh Trail) turn onto Little Mabou Road and follow the signs to West Mabou Beach Provincial Park. Choose the beach trails access rather than the forest trails access parking area.