Over a dozen species of bird congregate near Generating Station

John Brannen
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TRENTON – It’s a bird, it’s a plane… no, wait. It’s a bird. 

A bald eagle sits on a tree next to Greens Point Road in Trenton Wednesday. The discharge area for the Trenton Generating Station between the road and the Trenton Connector has been a haven for bald eagles and other birds this winter. JOHN BRANNEN – THE NEWS

Hundreds of birds, actually, have flocked to the small part of the East River next to the Trenton Generating Station. It’s one the few locations along the river that remains ice-free during the winter, due to warm water discharged from the power plant.

According to Robert Sarson, a wildlife technician with Department of Natural Resources, open fresh water in the winter can be scarce, which is why birds congregate there.

“Water is taken into the power plant and used as a coolant,” he said. “It keeps the ice away and the birds take advantage of this. That's just nature at its best.”

The half-kilometre squared area is abundant in a variety of waterfowl, including some not often seen in the county. It’s why Ken McKenna avidly watches the area for any rare birds.

“There are three or four great cormorants, which are larger cormorants than the ones seen by the causeway,” said McKenna. “I’ve also seen great blue herron in this area as well.”

McKenna does reports on the number of birds in the area for the province. A member of the Nova Scotia Bird Society, he is the seasonal editor for their newsletter.

“I’ve been here since 1979 and there’s always been birds there in the wintertime. They leave when the ice in general starts to leave and there’s no need to be congregated there.”

By his observations, he noted there is a variety of waterfowl species present. Upwards of 18 species gather in what he calls the power plant discharge area. The most common would be the common merganser.

“This little spot probably boasts the most of these birds anywhere in the province,” said McKenna. “In fact, when I go online to report the number of mergansers I’ve spotted, it often asks ‘are you sure?’ since the number is so high.”

Other waterfowl in abundance include Canada goose, puddle ducks, black ducks, ruddy duck, greater scaup and the hooded merganser. While it’s a lot of birds in one place, food sources are mostly available.

“A lot of them feed differently,” said McKenna. “Some dive deep for food, others eat plant materials while others eat shell fish.”

But the bird that carries the most weight in the area is the imposing bald eagle. These birds of prey are at the top of the food chain, according to Sarson.

“We’ve been taking notice of what's there,” he said. “The reason the eagles are there is because they're preying on fish and the small ducks.”

Peter Boyles, who lives on nearby Boyles Road, has noticed an increase in the number of bald eagles in the area.

“There are definitely more around here,” he said. “The other day, we had ten sitting in the tree near my home.”

McKenna noted that while this phenomenon is man-made, birds have adapted to and embraced this warm patch of ice-free water.

“I’ve seen banded birds, such as the goldeneye and greater scaup come from New Brunswick and Quebec,” he said. “Instead of going south they go east. As far as bird species are concerns, swallows and night hawks are having a hard time, but water fowl are doing good and eagles are doing very good.”

Once the ice dissipates with warmer weather, the birds will disperse and mainly follow the retreat of the ice to Pictou Harbour and West River.

For those looking to take a look at the wildlife in the area, McKenna notes that these areas are somewhat dangerous places to park and get out of your car.

He recommended using your car as a blind if you wish to take photos of the birds and noted that if the temperature drops below –10 C, fog can reduce visibility considerably.



On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn 

Organizations: Trenton Generating Station, Department of Natural Resources, Nova Scotia Bird Society

Geographic location: East River, Canada, Boyles Road New Brunswick Quebec West River

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