Birders flock to Pictou over black vulture sighting

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An interesting kind of tourism has brought a number of people from other parts of Nova Scotia to Pictou County recently.

The sighting of a black vulture in Bayview has caused quite a stir in the birding community as birders flock to the area to trek down a dirt road and check the species off their list and snap a couple of photos.

“One of the things birders like to do is keep a list of the birds we see,” said Jason Dain, from the Halifax area.

Dain is one of several bird watchers who made the trip from HRM and some even came from as far as Yarmouth or Cape Breton to spot the vulture. Having been a birder for nearly five years, Dain was thrilled when he heard of the initial sighting on January 11. Property and abattoir owner Harold Ferguson and local photographer and retired doctor Gerry Farrell were the first to spot the species that is quite uncommon to Nova Scotia.

Dain shared that having met Ferguson through birding, he gave him a call and requested permission on behalf of himself and others to travel to the property to see the vulture. With permission being granted to walk into the site down a one-way road and respect the bird and property appropriately, Dain and others packed their cameras and made their way here to the area to see the anomaly.

“For something like this it is important not to forget your manners,” Dain said, explaining why he requested permission to access the area to see the bird.

Black vultures are not a common sight in the province, as was once the case for the now more widely spotted turkey vulture. The turkey vulture — which also sometimes hangs around the bone dumping area for the abattoir — is easy to differentiate from the black vulture though with a bright red wrinkly head as well as more subtly noticed alternate colour patterns on the wings. Dain also explained that a black vulture is also slightly smaller than a turkey vulture.

Dain explained that the spot where the vultures are found is safe for them to be as they have a steady food source and there is no threat to them there, other than humans.

“They have it really good there,” he laughed. This is where the ethics of birding comes in for many. With birds counting every calorie and trying to preserve energy, having people disturb them can cause their energy and rest balance to fall out of wack and seek more food.

“Birds are fighting for every calorie they can get,” he said.

This can happen when people wishing to see the bird or get a great photo of it ‘flush out’ the bird, meaning they agitate the bird until it flies to another spot. Trying to feed or scare the birds are also big no-no’s for birders, Dain shared. With many vying to mark the uncommon find off their list of birds they have seen, the birds and land also need to be considered.

“Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the bird first,” Dain said. “It’s a really hot topic in birding right now, the ethics of it… we have to be mindful.”

Ferguson shared that he doesn’t mind folks respectfully looking at the birds without disturbing them. The visitors are nothing new to him as many people stop by to take a look at the eagles and other wildlife that his food source attracts.

After initially being alerted to the sighting, Farrell took some photos of it and posted them to the birding Facebook group seeking identification. Not a birder himself, although he is familiar with the turkey vulture, Farrell was not sure what type of bird it was. Upon identification and confirmation of the species, Dain and others made their way to Pictou to check it out.

“They were interesting, ugly as hell,” Farrell laughed. He added that he could see just through posting photos how excited birders of Nova Scotia had become about the sighting.