Chapter 12. Nova Scotia 3
(Bert) We’ve moved campsites and are back in Nova Scotia. Nothing else to report today.
(Shari) I decide to go along with the birders this morning, although I am disappointed that Ginny and Bill do not. Bill has a bad back and is not feeling good. The first stop to bird is a ravine and I am so tired that I want to nap before I join the group. I do that and read my book until Ron comes back. I go back to the path and walk a bit down the ravine and notice it is very pretty but I do need to change my shoes. As I ponder my choices, I hear the group coming back. So I missed that site.
(Bert) We start the morning at Kentville Ravine with directions kindly pointed out by a resident. She calls the spot “God’s Country” with good reason, as the ancient towering hemlocks–some over 200 years old–and hidden marsh are heavenly on this comfortably warm summer morning. I notice Bob has taken interest in flowers and, like me, is photographing every new one we come across. Today’s picks are the tiny pink flowers of Hemp-nettle, the delicate string of yellow flowers of Dalmatian Toadflax and the tall bottle brush of intricate purple flowers of Small Purple Fringed Orchid. Ron focuses more intently on the birds, especially when we notice the narrow wet corridor at the base of the ravine is edged by trees filled with passerines, including Eastern Wood-Pewee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-throated Green Warbler, Ovenbird, Blackburnian Warbler and a pair of entertaining Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I hear on the radio that Carol has found a Brown Creeper. The best, though, is the American Three-toed Woodpecker that Doug accurately describes to me. Unfortunately for me, by the time I reach the two of them, the birds are gone.
(Shari) Next is a pond. Here the group has to plow through weeds to the shore. I am not interested in doing that so I stay in the car to read and miss that birding stop too. Next is lunch. I luck out here when I see a sign pointing to a restaurant called Between the Bushes. I notice it is one of the restaurants featured in “Taste of the Maritimes”. Although we are in the middle of nowhere, the restaurant is quite popular and many diners have reservations. Droves of cars are already in the parking lot when we arrive. Most of those people are here to pick blueberries. We go into the restaurant and are seated at a table with cloth tablecloths and linen napkins. I expect the prices to be high but I am pleased to order a salad and a piece of grilled haddock for $9.95 and Bert has a seafood crepe and salad for the same amount. Both are delicious as is the blueberry crisp with ice cream that Bert orders and gives me a dirty look every time I take a small bite.
(Bert) From the ravine we head to Canard Pond and then to lunch at Between the Bushes, a serendipitous find of a delightful restaurant among over a hundred acres of blueberries. We finish a leisurely lunch in time to reach the shoreline of Minas Basin as high tide is approaching. When we arrive the Semipalmated Sandpipers are not in sight, but just 20 ft. in front of us are a few resting Least Sandpipers, many finding depressions in the dry mud to nestle into and enjoy the warm sun. A fisherman walks past us, scaring up the sandpipers in his wake and we are surprised that over 50 were right in front of us and we only had noticed a handful, so well were they camouflaged in the caked brown mud and bits of grass stubble. As the flock takes flight, others join and now it must be closer to 100. It circles and careens before us and I call out to the others, “Look, one of the sandpipers is larger than the others”. The flock lands near us and we can still see the larger one. I’m trying to make it into a White-rumped Sandpiper, studying the length of its tail relative to its wings, but the birds shuffle around and are joined by others. I see other birds larger than the Least Sandpipers and eventually decide they are Semipalmated. It is only later when I study my photos that I see the white tail band of one White-rumped Sandpiper in the flying flock of 74 Least Sandpipers and then see the slightly longer wings on the resting bird. In a few of the resting flock photos I’ve got four species represented: White-rumped, Least and Semipalmated sandpipers plus Semipalmated Plover.
(Shari) Our next stop is a place where supposedly thousands of sandpipers come to the beach to feed. We need to get there two hours before high tide so that they are close enough to see when the water pushes them in toward shore. They eat the mud shrimp that are exposed after the tide recedes and are here for week or so to get fat enough to travel to South America for the winter. At first I do not see any, but then Pat points a few out. Sure enough, they are so hidden in the mud we could step on them, though they take flight when anyone gets too close. It is neat to watch as they take off from places you did not even know they were hiding, bunch together and fly one way, turn, then fly another like an artistic ballet: one way showing black, the other showing white, back and forth, up and down, swirling around to settle back down on the beach until they are disturbed yet again. I get bored before the rest and go back to the car to read. Bert calls me on the radio to come see over 100,000 of the birds come in. That is a sight I want to see too, so I gather my binoculars but by the time get to the viewing point a Peregrine Falcon has disturbed the flock and all I see is a cloud of black moving off into the distance.
(Bert) A fisherman walks up to us telling us of the huge flocks gathering at a distant point, across the basin, perhaps two miles from here. A grass-covered peninsula juts out from a higher ground forested portion. Sometimes beyond the point and low to the water, sometimes just above the grass and sometimes high above the clouds, an enormous cloud of sandpipers swirls through the air. We cannot make out individual birds, just a dark mass. The birds approach in our direction, filling the sky in a long swath high above the water, then dipping to a dozen feet above the surface in a narrowing and lengthening trail of birds. They swoop past us, catching the attention of fishermen on shore, and round the outcropping of a rock-piled point. Ron and others are watching from the point and when the rest of us hustle up to the spot, he tells us a Peregrine Falcon attacked the flock. We watch them continue in aerial dance with choreographed twists, banks and turns. They resist landing and, instead, somehow, disappear. Twenty minutes later we see them again, back at the peninsula two miles out. With my long lens I take photographs of the brown cloud thinly stretching across the land and water. We wonder how many birds are in the flock. It is certainly more than the 40,000 we saw at Johnson’s Mills five days ago and Bob and Pat tell me it is more than the 70,000 they saw at that spot two days ago. We decide it must be more than 100,000 that we are watching today.
The tide is in and the sandpipers have found someplace else to rest, so we decide to visit Grand Pré National Historic Site. We listen to a narrative film on the forced evacuation of the Acadians from Nova Scotia that started in 1755, a history that inspired Longfellow to write the Evangeline story. A peaceful farming people who avoided alliance with either the French or the English and refused to bear arms nonetheless were forced into exile by English soldiers nervous about the presence of these French-speaking Catholic settlers. Beneath the expansive grass lawns lies their settlement at Grand Pré, known by recorded history and a few artifacts only, now marked by attractive floral gardens, a large bronze statue of Evangeline, a commemorative church and visitor’s center.
(Shari) Next stop is Grand Pré, a national historic site. Here the British in 1755 evicted the Acadians from their land because they would not swear allegiance to the Queen and/or bear arms against the French. We spend two hours there before returning to the beach to get one last look at the sandpipers. We do not get home until almost 7 PM and I for one am birded out and exhausted.
(Bert) It is past 5 PM and Shari is anxious to return to camp, but she is outvoted by the group, all of whom want to go to the beach to see the sandpipers. They have now returned to the mud beach where the falcon previously disrupted them. I’m overwhelmed by the density and quantity of birds and I take dozens of photos of sleeping birds huddled shoulder to shoulder, flying birds skirting the mudflats and flocking birds flying across the swallow water. Some photos show flying birds so dense that only wings and bodies are visible, with nary a trace of the beach or water peeking between. We watch the birds for more than a half hour, transfixed by this display of natural beauty and wonder.
(Bert) We change campsites to get closer to Halifax. Rained today … not much happening.
(Shari) There is a song about Halifax and I wish I knew the words because I bet it would express my feelings about this city better than I can. I have the tune swinging around my head and I bounce down the street humming it as I enjoy the sights. Nine years ago we spent nine hours walking this vibrant city and I thought this time, since we’ve seen so many of the sights, we would be done by 2 PM. I was wrong. First we drive to The Citadel, a reconstructed 19th century British fort. A while back we visited a reconstructed French fort in Louisbourg to protect against the British. Today we are getting our protection from the British against the French. The Louisbourg fort defenses relied on the harbor while this fort relies on geography as well as the formidable star shaped two stone walled fortress. We have a costumed guide that takes us around the fort and explains the canons, walls, uniforms, rifles, etc. He is a good interpreter of the lifestyle and I stick with him the full hour. By now it is time for lunch and Doug and Kay tell us of The Wooden Monkey, a restaurant they ate at a few years ago. We just happen to be one block away when we are hungry so we visit its location. I have pan seared scallops on a bed of fresh greens that is simply wonderful. After lunch we walk to the harbor and along the boardwalk that follows it for many blocks. It starts to drizzle which puts a damper on the Busker Festival that is happening this week. It is a festival of street performers that have their acts set up on stages all along the boardwalk. Because of the rain nothing much is happening. We walk to Pier 21 where we visit a good museum about Canadian immigration. A wonderful 3-D movie presents the history of new people coming to Canada up to 1970 when the location was closed. It is much like our Ellis Island in New York where immigrants were processed into a new country.
We have to meet the group at 3 PM for our tour of the Alexander Keith Brewery, another sight we visited in 2000 and worth a return trip. Here we are taken back to the mid 1800s when the brewery started with the making of the delicious India Pale Ale. It is still made today and one of our favorites. After the tour we are taken into a tavern of the time and given two mugs of beer while the costumed interpreters entertain us with song and games. The tour lasts an hour but I feel a bit rushed in the tavern section, not given enough time to finish my last mug of beer. The drizzle has stopped and the street performers have taken to the stage. We watch fire eaters, acrobats and comediennes before we head out of the city. Bert has graciously walked back up the hill to the Citadel to retrieve our car so we don’t have to move another step too much. We stop to eat at Athens Greek restaurant on Quinpool Rd. that is simply wonderful. Again I have seafood, prepared Greek style. The meal satisfies our hunger but not our sore muscles and we look forward to resting at home after our wonderful but tiring day in Halifax.
(Bert) A sightseeing day in Halifax and in typical weather–foggy and light rain–we start at the Citadel, the fort that protected the western flank of Halifax. Star-shaped, with a dry moat, perched on a high hill overlooking the city and the harbor, our period-uniformed guide gives us a nicely descriptive tour of the fortifications and the kilted Highlanders that defended it in 1869. From the fort we walk into the city and have a leisurely lunch at Wooden Monkey, a favorite of Doug and Kay, and then continue a walking tour of the harbor. The planned street carnival seems on hold as the rain has put a damper on the vendors’ displays. We continue to Pier 21, Canada’s equivalent to Ellis Island in the U.S. I wish we had time to stay longer at the historic site. I catch a guided tour in progress, lead by a man who actually immigrated to Canada through this port and relates personal experiences, including Eastern European immigrant women smuggling in their precious sausages in decorative hats and around their waists. Over 100,000 immigrants entered, mostly in the World War II timeframe, and nearly a half million soldiers departed from this port. Fifty thousand soldiers did not return, yet others brought back that number of wives and children. The guide finishes by showing us his stamped immigration papers when we passed through this same building in 1951. Urged by his brother who came the year before, he had heard of Canada as the “Land of milk and honey”. His brother said that was true, but he would need to find his own cows and bees.
Too soon we move on to our next sightseeing stop, Alexander Keith’s Nova Scotia Brewery. Shari and I had taken the same tour in 2000 and urged others in our group to take it with us again. Actors play the role of period characters and give us a tour of what the brewery and a local pub would have been like at the time Mr. Keith started producing India Pale Ale for the soldiers at the fort–who were guaranteed a ration of one gallon per day–and local residents out for a good time at the colorful pubs. The tour culminates with pints of beer, song and a demonstration of a 3-card poker played at that time.
By now the skies have cleared and the rain gone, so we head back to the harbor where the carnival is in full swing. Up on stage is a man dressed in a suit splattered profusely with pale orange paint and he is rapidly applying brush loads of the paint to a large black canvas, to the accompaniment of loud music. For the longest time his painting marks seem to be random and without purpose. Then an image appears and strengthens until it becomes obvious he has drawn a portrait of Mick Jagger. After generous applause he proceeds on a fresh canvas, again with little recognition of his design. Another surprise, this time he draws a portrait of Elvis Presley, amazingly drawn upside down until he spins the canvas around and adds the final touches. We continue along the wharf, seeing more carnival acts, until I retrieve the car from the Citadel and we head back toward camp, stopping once more for a delicious and very filling meal at a Greek restaurant called Athens. It is late by the time we return tired and not long afterward we are asleep by 9:30.
(Shari) All my chicks are tired and bail out on our excursion today. Only Ginny joins Bert and me to Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg. The sun sparkles on the water as we follow the Lighthouse Route along the coast, stopping first at the memorial to the Swiss Air Flight that crashed near here in 1998. We arrive at Peggy’s Cove before the droves of tourists that will be here later and enjoy the quaint fishing village set in one of the most photographed coves of the Maritimes. We have lunch in Mahone Bay and buy an assortment of tea at the tea factory there. Ginny bought some tea here 6 yr. ago and remembered it. They must sell a lot of tea since they moved to a free standing bigger location just two weeks ago. Here shelves are lined with glass containers holding different varieties of loose leaf tea that you buy by the gram. I come out of the store with five kinds of tea that will be kept in the vacuum jar I bought yesterday in Halifax. Bert naps while we window shop but do not buy. It is not that I do not find things I like but that I live in a motor home and anything I buy has to fit. I have filled my spaces a long time ago. The only things I buy now are gifts or things we can eat. We drive to Lunenburg but the town is not what I remember. It is bigger, not as cute and full of tourists that take all the parking spots. The music festival I read about was in July not August so we miss that. I am not directing Bert very well and he ends up driving around the bay and across from the town: a good place for a photo but no place to shop. By now it is 2 PM and I for one am ready to head back. We take one more detour around a picturesque bay, stopping at another memorial to the Swiss Air flight and a lobster pound. Here large lobsters are cheaper than smaller ones. Bert and I decide to get a 4 lb. lobster at $5.99 per lb. and split it for tonight’s meal. The smallest size they have is 5 lb. Bert tries to justify the size as what we eat anyway but it is way more. I decide we will make two meals of it. When we get home I immediately set the water to boil. When Bert tries to put the lobster into the boiling water, the lobster fights back and makes its joints stiff so they would not bend and not fit in the pot. We decide to put him in backwards and then cook him for 30 min.; a bit less than the 10 min. per lb. my book states. The lobster claw is harder to crack than a smaller one but Bert takes it outside on the picnic table and hits it hard a few times with a hammer. The pieces of meat that are removed from the claws are fantastic. We save the tail for another meal.
(Bert) Another sightseeing day, we start our day trip at Peggy’s Cove, perhaps one of the most visited spots in Nova Scotia. Every turn provides another photo op at a seaside fishing village founded in 1811 that has barely changed in recent times. From there we follow the coastal roads to Lunenburg, stopping frequently to see the harbors of sail boats, the beaches filled with bathers and the pretty seascape. Lunenburg, even on a Wednesday, is crowded with tourists and we cannot find a convenient parking spot. While Shari and Ginny ask questions at Visitor Information I notice a sign at a cemetery about the early settlers. Curious, I go through the gate and study the oldest tombstones. The second and third ones I read are of a couple married in 1753 with the same surname as my mother. Born in Europe, but without further detail, they were married 44 years and died in 1798 and 1801, at ages 73 and 65, here at Mahone Bay. My mother tracks genealogy. I wonder if this is any relation to me.
Our last stop is at a lobster pound where we buy a 5 lb. lobster at the US equivalent of about $5 per lb. Back at R-Tent-III it barely fits into the large pot of boiling water. What a feast we have and when we eat our fill, we still have the tail left for another meal.
(Bert) We stop first at a beach and boardwalk, active with walkers and joggers. Ruddy Turnstones are in vivid harlequin patterns, the first we’ve seen of this species on the trip. Before we continue on, someone in the group wants restrooms and when Tim Horton’s is mentioned, all perk interest in getting a breakfast snack. Ron becomes everyone’s best friend when he buys a box of donut holes that he graciously shares. We continue to peninsula’s end, park our cars and walk along a dirt road through grasslands until we reach the rocky coast. We see many more turnstones and Semipalmated Sandpipers. I notice a rather bright reddish dowitcher and take many photos. Later I study my photos and decide it is the hendersoni subspecies of Short-billed. The usual Atlantic Coast migrant is griseus–and the one we have seen previously–which breed in northeast Canada, but in Kenn Kaufman’s book he mentions that some hendersoni cross Canada and migrate south.
The path leads us off the grassy cliff and on to the large-stoned beach. At the transition between beach grass and rocks I see a quick movement and up pops an Ermine. It ducks, then pops up at another spot, pivoting its head in our direction. Up, down, pop goes the weasel. Half my photos are of empty rocks and the other half show the upper body of the slim chocolate and white mammal. Continuing around the bend I get a bit ahead of the rest, walking closer to a forested patch and doubling back along the beach. Just when I reach a tall stand of beach grass I scare up a Ring-necked Pheasant that squawks loudly and flies into the dense trees. Ron is intent on seeing the pheasant too and walks through the trees on a short path. The surprise is that he finds a geocache and calls Carol over to see it too. Strangely, Carol finds another geocache a half hour later when she becomes suspicious of a red ribbon tied to a spruce. Finding geocaches requires computer research and a GPS to track the location, so what are the odds of finding two on the same morning without even knowing they are in the area?
Back at the same beach I photographed the dowitcher, we again watch the turnstones and Semipalmated Sandpipers, but this time I see some additions. I direct attention to White-rumped Sandpipers and Least Sandpipers in the mix and it becomes a good study of the finer points of peep identification, especially since we have a vantage point of a short cliff overlooking the birds directly below us.
After lunch we walk another road that meanders beside a golf course. Early afternoon birding is slow, but we add a few species before quitting. On the way back we hit a detour in Dartmouth and notice that a kayak contest is in progress. After parking on a side street, Doug, Kay and I walk to a steep grassy slope overlooking the river and contest. We find out it is a world championship contest with kayakers representing dozens of countries. We watch many heats in the 500-meter trials, including one race easily won by USA’s Ken Wallace, the Olympic champion at Beijing.
(Bert) Without a doubt our best inland campsite, we are camped in a dense tall forest, an ample site yet so treed that R-Tent-III is inches from trees on each side. I’ve been splitting wood for the past half hour and now light the campfire as we begin our 5 PM social. We compare notes on what each did during the day on the drive to Kejimkujik: Doug and Kay got brakes checked on their truck, others visited Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg, we tried a new route through interior Nova Scotia. Shari brings out the sausages, I get the sticks and we each cook our own sausages over the campfire. With all the side dishes brought to share, we soon eat too much but still have room for brownies. I suggest that this national park may be our best chance to see Barred Owl and we discuss whether to try tonight or early tomorrow. Kay is anxious to go both times, the rest of us think it is easier to get up early than stay up late, so four of us plan for 5:30 AM tomorrow.
(Bert) The forest is so dark I can barely find my way to my car at 5:30. I’m surprised in the silent campground that Bill, Ron and Kay are already standing here, ready to go. I note the outside temperature is 52º on the car thermometer as I drive with headlights to Big Dam Lake. I park and we are on the Hemlocks and Hardwoods Trail by 5:45. Although first dawn might be showing at seaside, it is still dark along the forested trail. We hear bird sounds, mostly clicks and clucks that do not readily identify origin, until 5:55 when a Common Loon calls forlornly and repeatedly from the lake. The well signed trail explains the forest transitions through which we pass: first 75-85 year-old White Pines, then young hemlocks and finally to the old-growth forest. The forest holds the morning coolness and a thermometer on one of the signs reads 56º. By now the light is ample, although still subdued by the very tall trees, so tall that the canopy limits life below to an absent understory and a soft blanket of mosses on decaying needles. We stop before the oldest known tree – a Eastern Hemlock of 400 years, surrounded by more 275-year-old hemlocks almost as gigantic. We walk as though through a 17th century cathedral pillared by giant trees, almost tip toeing in the grandeur, hushed to silence by a reverence that suggests I remove my hat on this hallowed ground. What a peaceful place! What a special early morning!
A Barred Owl does not preach, nor do any others in the vaulted cathedral, though on the edges a few distant Hermit Thrushes sing vespers, Black-capped Chickadees rudely talk among themselves and a very distant Wood-Pewee sings a hymn, accompanied by Red-eyed Vireos. It isn’t until we are back in the land of tall White Pines that we see a few calling birds in the canopy and then find a family of three Ovenbirds very close to us along the hiking trail. When we are finally free of the forest and back on the park road we study a crossbill high atop a tree backed by the rising sun, only a silhouette, so we cannot decide between Red and White-winged.
(Shari) Tourists often overlook this national jewel because it is not on the ocean shore. However, the park protects 381 square kilometers of inland lakes and forests and its gently rolling landscape makes it a delightful place to bike, canoe and hike. I join Bert, Bob and Pat on Bert’s second bird hike of the day. We choose to take the Snake Lake Trail. The birders seem to be trapped in the parking lot and I am anxious to walk so I tell Bert that I will always turn left when presented with a choice. I walk on ahead. I stop to rest numerous times but the little black flies bother me if I stay still. So I continue to walk and walk and walk. The birders never catch up and I reach the car hot and sweaty. The car thermometer reads 92º in the shade. I turn on the air conditioner and read. When I am cool, I turn off the car motor and continue reading. I read for a full 40 min. before the rest arrive. AND they tell me they DID NOT EVEN finish the trail. But they saw tons of birds and I saw two. After lunch we take a long nap and join the group around the fire pit at 5. Last night we had a potluck with sausages over the fire but tonight it is too hot to think about cooking. I think summer has arrived here in Nova Scotia.
(Bert) I drive back to the campground to see if our spouses have arisen. By 10 AM we are again driving to the start of another hiking trail and this time Shari, Bob and Pat accompany me. We are barely out of the car when Pat finds a Palm Warbler and Shari quickly decides she will hike alone while we slowly make our way among the birds. Slow is the apropos word, as we barely move a hundred feet in the first half hour. In the first flurry of birds is a Yellow-throated Vireo, identified by throat, belly, “eye-glasses” and two wing bars. I note the field marks since the vireo is rare in Nova Scotia and not expected until early September. We also find several Blue-headed Vireos and Red-eyed Vireos, completing a vireo trio. The birds are traveling in mixed flocks, some perhaps feeding together. One such flock consists of Blackburnian Warblers, Northern Parula, Black-capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Blue-headed Vireos and Brown Creeper. The mixed flocks are mostly in the canopy and difficult to see enough of the birds to identify quickly, so we spend much time at each flock and barely move 3 ft. in either direction along the trail. Since we encounter four mixed flocks – or perhaps the same one four times – it takes us hours to travel the trail and when we are about half done at 11:50 we take a shortcut back to the car. Not surprisingly, we see Shari already at the car and having completed the full trail in considerably less time than we did.
I’d finished my thoughts for today’s journal and around tonight’s campfire my fellow hikers of this morning remind me of an incident they expect to read about in my blog. Very early in the deep dark woods of hemlocks and pines, subdued by the silence except for warbling canopy birds, we wait quietly for a chance to see the birds that elude us. While Bill, Kay and I are looking upward, Ron is looking back along the trail we hiked. A nude jogger approaches, or as Ron describes the species, “a male homo sapiens in buff plumage”. He quickly about faces before Ron alerts us to the strange sighting. Kay is eager to pursue, but halts where Ron blocks the path. Two minutes later a very tall man wearing shorts, T-shirt and chagrin jogs past.
(Bert) Only Kay joins me at 6 AM, the others starting later or visiting other sites. The sun is just casting its first light and the two coyotes that cross the road are just dark shadows. We take the trail that eventually reaches a lake, the one we didn’t finish yesterday. Without a flock of birds to stop us, we complete the first part of the trail ten times faster than yesterday. Then just after we hopscotch across the wetlands on crossed branches and a rotting plank we come across a mixed flock, just like yesterday. Without moving more than a dozen feet we find, in order, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Black-capped Chickadee, Red Squirrel, Ovenbird, Hermit Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, Hairy Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-headed Vireos, Least Flycatcher, American Three-toed Woodpecker and hear a distant Common Loon.
A half hour or so later, the flock has moved on and we continue hiking. We reach the shore of a lake surrounded by forest and dotted with small islands. The sounds of silence whistle softly, gently, through the white pine needles. No car tires whining, no electricity humming, no motors purring, no people shouting, no air conditioners churning. Just the silence of wind blowing through trees. Peaceful.
I see a chance to take a photo that looks like aborigine pictographs, but is actually nature. When I put these journals up on my web site I’ll include the photo and let readers guess its origin.
We encounter a second mixed flock and we spend nearly an hour on this one. The birds hide so well in the tall canopy that it takes Kay and me a long time to pinpoint the singers and identify them in the leaves. Most are warblers–Black-and-white, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Blue (heard only), Chestnut-sided (heard only), Northern Parula–as well as Red-eyed and Blue-headed vireos. The best is a female Scarlet Tanager and while I point out the location to Kay a second yellow tanager flies beside it, probably a juvenile. The brochure for Kejimkujik shows a Scarlet Tanager and when I asked the staff at the Visitor Center about it, three of them said they had never seen it at this park. Well, we did!
(Shari) Who would think you would forget in nine years, especially if this is the third time to visit this location? You think it is age? Anyway, our third trip out on Digby Neck feels like my first. Everything is new to me. We leave at 7:15 AM in fog though it looks like it will burn off by 10. Earlier, Bert went to Tim Horton and got me a coffee and a dozen donuts for the group to share. I get all the glory for the donuts because I pass them out. Every donut looks wonderful but the one I have is maple cream. Yum! The first ferry guard tells me a book of ferry tickets will save me money over individual purchases and in return I offer him a donut. He thinks the fog will lift by 11 AM.
(Bert) Fog almost hides the orange buoy as the ferry to Long Island churns past. A quick crossing and then a short trip across the island, we pull off at a broad bay at high tide. The fog may shorten the horizon, though the forefront is clear. I hear chirping and look toward the large rocks shoring up the narrow road. Two mink scurry onto the pebbled beach, notice my presence and one runs back to the safety of the rocks and the other heads into the water. I don’t recall seeing a mink swim before, but this one sure can. He swims far from shore, makes a big circle and returns. I’m close enough with my long lens to take a dozen photos in burst mode as the mink scampers back to safety. Ron motions for me to come to where he is birding and when I arrive I see it is Least Sandpipers that have his attention. What is interesting is that these are juveniles in bright plumage with sharply edged scapulars, rusty crowns and a distinct herringbone pattern at the sides of the shoulders. They seem oblivious to our presence and walk almost to our feet, making for excellent close-up photos.
(Shari) We take our first ferry to Long island, bird for an hour in the fog and then take our second ferry to Brier Island. The ferry rides are both less than 5 min. but all we see of the shoreline is the immediate 15 ft. ahead. We drive to lighthouse number one and it looks like the fog might lift. At least we can see some distance out into the water and spot a seal. At 11:30 it is still foggy. We drive to lighthouse number 2, which is unseen due to fog, and eat our snacks and lunches at picnic tables while hearing, but not seeing, gulls on the island. We drive to lighthouse number 3 and again the fog looks like it might lift. The group birds at all these stops and I walk a bit, return to the car and read a book. I actually finish my book today.
(Bert) Checking my watch, we have just enough time to catch the next ferry to Brier Island. Fog is only slightly better when we visit the lighthouse at Northern Point. Northern Gannets fly just at the edge of the fog bank. On the seaweed covered rocks that have formed tiny islands in the receding tide Common Eiders rest. At a distance they all look featureless brown. As Bill and I study them we notice some are adult males in eclipsed plumage, with yellowish bills, white superciliums, a fuzzy zebra pattern of beige and brown on their breasts, flanks and tails. It makes me think back to the unidentified ducks we saw at sea in the rain a few weeks ago. They must have been eclipsed male eiders as well, but still held on to their white wings. Someone ought to write a book illustrating ducks in eclipsed plumage.
We visit Southern Point and eat packed lunches while looking in the direction of close-by Peters Island, heard by the presence of gulls but unseen in the fog. Here a plaque commemorates local resident Captain Joshua Slocum who alone from April 24, 1895 to June 27, 1898 sailed around the world in his 37-ft. sloop called Spray, the first person to do so. We continue on to other points around the island, enjoying walking near the beach, but finding few birds except for large flocks of gulls.
We cross back to Long Island, eat a mid afternoon meal at a good restaurant–my bacon-wrapped Digby scallops are superb–and go back to the bay we visited this morning. Now the tide is low and the beach exposed. A juvenile Northern Harrier hunts low across the beach and is suddenly attacked by a Peregrine Falcon. The swift falcon is the superior flier but soon looses interest and disappears and the harrier continues hunting. We make one last stop, at Balanced Rock, and Bill and I hike to the end of a long trail, boardwalk and stairs to photograph each other and the rock, just to prove we made the hike while the others waited at a picnic table next to the parking lot.
(Shari) Six of us decide to eat at a café next to ferry number 2. After lunch we drive to Balance Rock and make the ½- to ¾-mi. hike to the stairs down to the beach. I was hoping that I could see the rock from the top of the stairs but it is wooded and meanders down and down and down for 235 steps before clearing the trees. I decide not to make the descent as does Ginny and Kay. Doug says he needs to escort us ladies back to the car so does not make it either. Bill and Bert go down and take pictures to prove it. Even with the pictures, I don’t remember the site. We get home in more fog after 7 PM. Imagine how long this day would have been without fog. We had a good time and as this group is prone to do: we made our own sunshine.
(Bert) We’ve made a grand loop through south central Nova Scotia and are now headed northeast again, paralleling the Bay of Fundy to the end of Minas Basin. When we gather after 5 PM–no one is on time this day–we hear from Carol that she found her 1000th geocache today. It was a goal she announced at rendezvous in May when she had about 100 yet to find. At social we are surprised to see Pat C. She and Jim have been wondering around Nova Scotia since we first left them after the first caravan and occasionally I’d get e-mails from her. By chance, she and Jim picked the same campground tonight. As we relate recent stories to her, she says, “You are having just too much fun!” That we are!
(Shari) Blame Ron. If he had not mentioned this, we may not have done it. It is all his fault that we take the ride of our lives. Seven of us brave souls wear our oldest and darkest clothes, put on our slip proof waterproof shoes and prepare to take a Zodiac up the Shubenacadie River at bore tide just when the tide leaves the Minas Basin and enters the narrowest point of the river, quickly piling water on top of water. Nine years ago we watched the phenomena. We had heard about 10 ft. waves and were not impressed with the advancing 10 in. high mass of water coming towards us on the viewing platform. We sign a waiver that, yes, we understand things can get lost and we can get injured. Kay, big talker that she is, convinced me weeks ago to go on this trip. Now she wants to back out due to her back. I am disappointed, but do not let on and am glad after changing her mind umpteen times, she decides to join us.
We walk down the wooden deck to one of eight Zodiacs tied to an orange buoy. Kay and I take the back seats since we heard the ride is not as rough there. Ron and Bill jockey for the front leaving Doug, Carol and Bert in the middle. Our guide and boat operator Tom, a school teacher in other months, gives us the safety lesson. The boat has no seats and we are told to sit on the rubber sides, hold onto a rope behind us with both hands and lean in during a wave so as not to fall over backwards. At first Kay and I look at each other and think: well this is not bad at all. In fact, it is rather lame. What kind of wild ride can this be, we ask ourselves?
(Bert) “I didn’t think a boat could do that”, I mutter to myself. I doubt anyone else in the Zodiac could hear me over the splash of waves, the shouts and screams and the churning of the 50-hp outboard. Backtrack one hour ago to when seven of us plus driver Tom climbed over the bulging rubber sides of the Zodiac and rested calmly in the shallow water of Minas Basin at low tide. While we wait for the bore tide, Tom gives us instructions about tide rafting, how to sit on the raft without falling overboard and what to do if we do fall overboard. Now the river is calm, with a heavy appearance perhaps the illusion of its caramel milk chocolate brown color. First sign of the oncoming tide is a turbulent ripple along the edge of a massive mud island in the middle of the basin. Tom runs the boat in the direction of tidal flow and I am impressed at how fast we are moving and just barely keeping even with the bore tide. He tells us the tide flows at 30 kph. Our passageway narrows and the bore tide rises to about a foot high wave with us riding its crest. Convolutions in the river and the mud islands–one of which is 200 acres in size that soon will be submerged–cause turbulence, much like rocks and waterfalls do in normal rivers, but here it is only fine granular mud, no hard surfaces or buttresses to impact. The boat dances in the turbulence and Tom enhances the experience by crisscrossing the waves until we feel the first waves splash over the gunwales and spray our clothes and faces. Another misconception: I thought the dark water would feel grainy, but it is just like other saltwater. I’ve already felt the water run down my back and most of our clothes are wet when the turbulence plays out and the tidal bore has moved downstream. We pursue it to a second rapids and continue the sport of riding up the waves, plunging down into the trough only to rise again swiftly for the next wave. As the waves increase in height we catch some just as they crest and the warm water pours over us, filling the boat to a half foot. At the bow, Bill and Ron shout for more thrills; at the stern, Shari and Kay are more cautious; Doug, Carol and I keep quiet. We circle and come back to take the rapids again and again.
(Shari) Boy, were we wrong! The ride is wild and furious, let me tell you. Though as we meet and ride the bore, the ride is rather lame, things pick up as we chase, surf and jump the wave. My, oh my, the waves get bigger after that initial wave passes the 200-acre sandbar. We are “engulfed by the tide water rushing inland and creating tidal rapids, whirlpools, crosscurrents, and eddies”, as they stated in their brochure. For the next 2 hr. we go through and over and under the water. Some waves are 10 ft. high, crashing over us, although I never did see the big waves as I had my eyes closed through the roughest part. Bill is heehawing loudly in the front. Ron has a big smile on his face, like a little kid is asking for more. Carol, Bert and Doug are quiet and Kay and I are clinging to our ropes for dear life, counting the waves and wondering how soon this thrill ride will end. At each circuit, she counts the waves and number 10 always seems to be the biggie. The wildest set of waves is at a section called Killer K, a kilometer of very rough water. We are soaked.
(Bert) By the time we reach the bridge where Ginny, Bob and Pat are waiting with cameras ready we have been thoroughly drenched yet already partly dried by the warm sun. We wave to the cameras as the current and the outboard engine carry us farther downstream. My preconception was that our ride would only be along the edge of the tidal bore. Having seen the meager height of the bore at Turnagain Arm in Alaska and here at Bay of Fundy previously, I anticipated subdued excitement. What I didn’t know is the size of the waves tossing about at various rapids along the river. Now we come to the most turbulent of these. Someone jokingly says the waves are only 3 ft. high. Not what we see ahead of us. Revised to 6 ft. waves, we later decide they are much higher. The Zodiac becomes a roller coaster, motoring up steep waves and plunging down the backside until we again face the onslaught of water pouring over the boat, our arms grasping the ropes, our shoulders, our faces, our hats and completely swamping the rubber boat. Again and again we plunge over waves and then plow directly through them until the boat almost disappears beneath us and we begin floating above it, though still clinging to our lifelines. I can see other Zodiacs ahead of us disappear over a crest and then climb the next wave. Since the Zodiacs are 16-ft. long and the whole boat is aimed at nearly 45º up the wave, our original 6-ft. estimate of wave size must be revised upwards. Tom keeps the Mercury engine pushing forward until we break free of the rapids and our forward motion clears spillage from the boat and out the venting holes in the stern. Bill and Ron yell for more, more, more … and we circle back for more water fun.
(Shari) Those Zodiacs filled with half-day trippers head back and we full-day adventurers continue onward, riding a series of rapids over and over again until it peters out. Finally our trip ends and we are told we have traveled 9 km up river. It seemed shorter but it does take us a good 30 min. to motor back. We line up for three showers in women’s, men have their own three but are quicker, and finally get out of our soaking dirty clothes. We find the men upstairs, already eating their steak dinner and reliving the trip. Now that I wrote this I can hardly wait to read Bert’s take.
(Bert) We’ve been at this now for three hours and finally have played out the tidal force, although water still moves swiftly inland along the Shubenacadie, a canal built in 1856 to allow transportation between Minas Basin and Halifax. We stop at a calm spot behind a outcropping point and our two water boys Bill and Ron jump in for a swim. When we finally pull them back into the boat it is like landing bloated and floundering whales. By now we’ve traveled six miles along the river, plus at least six miles circling through the rapids, and we have left the six miles back to our starting point. The water is silky smooth, the ride only a massaging hum. We see Ginny is still at the bridge and takes one last photo as we turn down a side river that was only slick muddy slopes at low tide and now is wide and deep. Doubling back to the bridge again, we continue upriver. Bald Eagles are common along the waterway and Tom tells us they wait for low tide and then have easy pickings of fish stranded in pools on mud islands. Briefly, we see a porpoise stick up its head and we hear that sturgeon move along with the tidal waters. We pass between a tree and shore, a tree that earlier was in the mud, having slid intact down the muddy slope and survived multiple tides still in an erect position. We saw the root ball when we moved downstream and now only see the upper branches as we travel upstream. When we reach our starting point we have another illustration of the tide height. Our start was at an orange buoy lying on the mud at the end of a long boardwalk. Now the buoy floats with a fully extended 40-ft rope anchoring it to the bottom and only a few feet of the long boardwalk is still above water at the grassy shore. On land again, we shower, change clothes and ravenously devour a steak dinner. How can sitting in a boat floating downstream be so much exercise!
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