Most people know Prince Edward Island (PEI) for Anne of Green Gables, red soil and potatoes. I can confirm that all of these things exist on the island (especially the potatoes, they are everywhere!), but it was the Prince Edward Island birding that really excited me. In August there are shorebirds galore, mixed warbler flocks, Bald Eagles aplenty and more Great Blue Herons that I’ve ever seen. PEI is also a landscaper’s dream with endless deserted beaches, lighthouses and quiet maritime scenes.
Read on to find out my impressions of PEI and to get some ideas if you decide to visit the “garden of the gulf” yourself.
Map of Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island Birding: Shorebirds
Shorebirds are lacking this year in Ottawa, but I certainly got my fix in PEI. At first I was worried about finding them, but I soon realized that every beach at low tide is a shorebirder’s paradise. We were staying off-the-beaten track on the west coast of PEI and it didn’t take me long to find a fantastic shorebirding beach in West Point (right across the road from The Catch restaurant).
I lay down on the red sand (everyone knows you have to lie down to get the best shorebird photos!) and was surrounded by shorebirds. After an hour of photography bliss, I shook off the sand and joined my friends for a wonderful seafood lunch. This is PEI!
Prince Edward Island Birding: Other Birds
To maximize my limited time (I was travelling with non-birders), I focused on shorebirds. Of course, I couldn’t help but notice some of the other birds around me. In terms of birds of prey, I saw many Bald Eagles, Osprey, Northern Harriers and American Kestrels. Warbler migration appeared to be in full swing – I passed by one mixed flock and had 7 species without much effort.
I saw a group of Common Eiders off the beach at the accommodation where I was staying. I also noticed a lot of Common Nighthawks around. Finally, there were more Great Blue Herons on PEI than I’ve ever seen in one place before! At low tide, you could see up to 25 individuals in one mud flat.
Favourite PEI Places
I was in two minds about whether to visit the famous Cavendish beach in PEI’s National Park, but in the end I’m glad that I did. The road that leads to the beach is dotted with tacky tourist attractions, but the beach itself is beautiful. I was warned about crowds, but at 4pm at the end of August I didn’t find it crowded at all.
We walked west down the beach and came across a wonderful collection of birds where a river met the sea. Bonaparte’s Gulls, Common and Caspian Terns, Great-blue Herons galore and shorebirds! Further out to the Gulf of St. Lawrence you could see Northern Gannets torpedoing into the water. Piping Plovers nest in Prince Edward Island National park, but I didn’t see any.
Victoria-by-the-Sea is a quaint fishing village that makes a great stop on the way to Charlottetown. If you visit during low tide there are extensive tidal flats which of course means shorebirds. Shockingly, I didn’t actually bring my binoculars or my long lens to this spot. Gasp! Instead, I focused on landscape photography and enjoyed a seafood lunch at a local restaurant.
Another attraction at this spot is digging for clams aka clamming. People seemed to take this task very seriously. Next time I’m in Victoria-by-the-Sea, I am definitely joining the clammers – it looked like fun!
I really started to understand the capabilities of my new wide-angle landscape lens on this trip. You can be standing right in front of a building, but the wide-angle lens will capture the entire building and the space on either side of it. Trying to get close-ups with this lens is a waste of time – you have to think big, err I mean wide!
For Next Time
PEI is big enough that in one week you don’t feel like you’ve seen it all. Although I enjoyed being off-the-beaten-track on the west coast, it meant a lot of driving to see the rest of the island. The north shore had many more beaches and shorebird spots that I would have liked to explore. I didn’t even make it to the east coast! I was told that taking a deep-sea fishing trip is a great way to get closeup Northern Gannet photographs. I’m pretty sure that would make me horribly seasick, but it sounds like an amazing opportunity if you’re good with boats.
In short, I would definitely go back for more Prince Edward Island birding – 6 days was merely a taster.
Planning on visiting PEI? The Birding on PEI Facebook group is a good resource.
Have you ever visited PEI? Where are your favourite spots?