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Dorchester prepared for 19th annual Sandpiper Festival

Semipalmated sandpipers put on an aerial ballet near the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Johnson’s Mills Shorebird Reserve and Interpretive Centre. This weekend is Dorchester’s 19th annual Sandpiper Festival with events in the village and at the interpretive centre. Cheyenne Carrier photo.
Semipalmated sandpipers put on an aerial ballet near the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Johnson’s Mills Shorebird Reserve and Interpretive Centre. This weekend is Dorchester’s 19th annual Sandpiper Festival with events in the village and at the interpretive centre. Cheyenne Carrier photo. - Contributed

Three-day event celebrates annual migration of sandpipers from the arctic to South America

DORCHESTER, N.B. —

Each July, tens of thousands of shorebirds stop over on the mudflats along the Shepody Bay on their way from the arctic to South America.

To celebrate that journey, the village of Dorchester and the Nature Conservancy of Canada come together to celebrate the bird in the 19th Sandpiper Festival. This year’s edition kicks off on Friday and runs through Sunday with events in both Dorchester and at the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Shorebird Interpretive Centre at Johnson’s Mills.

“It’s a big weekend for us here at the centre as well as in the village itself. There will be shuttle buses from the village to the centre and shorebird interpreters will be at the centre with spotting scopes and binoculars and the staff that work here will have activities for families,” NCC shorebird expert Kerry Lee Morris-Cormier said.

Each year at this time, more than 100,000 semipalmated sandpipers use the inter-tidal mudflat habitat to rest on their journey south. The sandpipers weigh approximately 20 to 25 grams, equivalent to the weight of a strawberry, when they arrive at Johnson’s Mills.

“After three weeks, using their semipalmated feet out on the mudflats eating invertebrates, their weight doubles to two strawberries, or 40 grams, before they fly that distance,” she said, adding their 72-hour, 5,000-kilometre flight ends in French Guyana and then then Amazon basin.

“Dorchester is the community closest to the shorebird reserve, it’s just eight kilometres, and this is one of the most important places in the world for the semipalmated sandpiper,” she said. “This is a bird that is born in the arctic and they start arriving from the north at this time of the year.”

By July 27, 2015 there were 35,000 sandpipers while on July 28, 2016 there were 24,000 and on July 28, 2017 there were 15,000 (but the festival was later than that and the numbers were approximately 40,000). Last year, during that period there were 30,000 birds.

“The festival coincides with the beginning of the most amazing sandpiper migration,” she said.

In the spring, the process is reversed with the sandpiper heading north from South America to Delaware Bay, New Jersey before concluding their journey in the arctic.

Johnson’s Mills is one of a dozen Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network sites. It’s hoped Minudie, across the bay from Johnson’s Mills, Cobequid Bay near Truro and the Minas Basin near Wolfville, N.S. will soon be added to the list.

“The festival really helps raise awareness about the sandpiper and why it’s so important to protect the mudflats that are their habitat,” she said. “One of the things we hope people learn from the festival and coming to the centre is the need to stay off the beach at high tide.”

She estimates the centre will see 200 people or more during the festival.

The three-day celebration will kick off Friday with a library book sale from 1 to 4 p.m. while birding expert Alain Clavette, who has hosted nature programming on Radio Canada and CBC Radio, will give a presentation on the sandpiper and other Bay of Fundy birds from 7 to 8 p.m. at the recreation centre in Dorchester.

Also on Friday, Andy Irvine will be in concert at Shepody House.

The shorebird interpretive centre will host an open house all weekend in Johnson’s Mills while on Saturday from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. the annual Sandpiper Festival Breakfast takes place at Keillor House Museum.

Another highlight of the weekend will be an art exhibit and fibre arts display at the Veteran’s Community Centre from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

There will be a raffle for a chance at one of three paintings as well as an additional draw for a $100 credit toward art display painting.

The opening ceremonies take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at Richard Park with a Sandpiper Chowder Takeout at Shepody House at 12:30 p.m., a historic walking tour at Keillor House from 1 to 4 p.m., a library cake auction at the Dorchester Public Library from 1 to 3 p.m. and kids zone activities from 1 to 4 p.m. including a giant rock wall, bouncy castles and more.

There will be a workshop with chalk master David Johnston from 2 to 4 p.m. near Richard Park and music that night at Shepody House, featuring the Back Nine Group, from 8 to 11 p.m.

The final day of the festival features a guided shorebird walk and talk with Mills-Cormier, meeting at 9:30 a.m. at the village square in Dorchester and heading out to Johnson’s Mills where there will be a easy walk along the Bay of Fundy coast.

Also Sunday is a heritage fair from noon to 4 pm. at Keillor House Museum and a community garden party from 4 to 8 p.m. at Maplehurst Manor with a barbecue, games, music, entertainment, tours (from 4 to 5:30 p.m.) and a history of Maplehurst Manor. There will also be a contest for the best garden party-themed hat.

Another highlight of Sunday is a car show at the village square from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

High tide is at 8 p.m. on Friday at 8:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday.

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