Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Among the Tall Pines

Early rhododendrons

In Milton, Nova Scotia, just outside the town of Liverpool, there's a riverside park that is one of the area's natural treasures. Pine Grove Park was established by the Bowater Mersey Paper Company in 1987 to celebrate Queen's County being named as the Forestry Capital of Canada for that year. In the winter of 2012 it was turned over to the residents of the county.

Tall pines along the trail

With 1.6 km (one mile) of looping trails, a swimming beach, toilet facilities and a picnic area, it's a pleasant recreational park. In spring and early summer, though, the park is ablaze with blossoms: rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and other flowers are abundant and several woodland glade are perfect habitat for pink lady slipper orchids. Many of the flowering trees and shrubs were selected and donated by retired naval captain Richard Steele, an Order of Canada recipient known as "Captain Rhododendron".

Soft pink rhododendron blossoms

The Mersey River flows past Pine Grove Park, and provides nesting areas for teal and black duck. The winding trails make a marvelous place to break up a long drive with a peaceful walk through the tall pines. The park is just minutes from Nova Scotia Route 103 at Exit 19 and is well worth a stop if you're in the area.

Mersey River

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

It's puffin time again!

Puffin on Gull Island, Witless Bay
It's that time of year again -- the puffins and other seabirds have returned to their colonies around the coasts of Atlantic Canada and Maine. There are many places around the region to see these small, sturdy birds, but two locations stand out: the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve for sheer numbers, and the Puffin Island at Elliston for land-based observation.

The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve lies south of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Witless Bay takes its name from an early family of settlers, the Whittles family; over the years the name has been corrupted to its present form. The four islands of the reserve lie just off the shore, from north to south they are Gull Island, Green Island, Great Island, and the fancifully named Peepee Island, whose name is said to be from the distinctive aroma that wafts from it in summer.

Typical "puffin weather" at Elliston
There are boat tours that allow for a closer approach to the islands; to protect the bird life, only those operators granted special permits are allowed to travel through the reserve. Bay Bulls is the primary starting point for these excursions, while operators can also be found in the town of Witless Bay and in Mobile, just to the south. All Witless Bay photos in this post are thanks to Captain Wayne's Marine Excursions of Bay Bulls. Other operators can be found here.

Puffins are true pelagics: they land on these rocky islands solely to mate and rear their young, spending the remainder of the year on the open sea. They burrow into the dirt of the island, or on rockier sites use narrow clefts in the rock for burrows. The pairs bond for life, returning to the same burrow year after year, although "divorces" are said to occur if one mate is a less-than-stellar provider. They're not the only seabirds that nest in the Reserve; there are also black-legged kittiwakes, common and thick-billed murres, black guillemots, and huge numbers of Leach's storm petrels among others.

Burrow entrance
Elliston, located on the Bonavista Peninsula, is the self-styled Root Cellar Capital of North America due to the large number of these storage structures that can be found there. Just outside the community is a headland accessed by a rocky trail that leads to a viewing point overlooking a small island that houses a breeding colony of puffins. The unusual thing about this spot is that when the weather and wind are right (often damp weather and a southeast wind) the puffins will land near the viewing area on the headland itself. This makes for some incredible up-close viewing experiences.

The puffins will be around until late August, with a few lingering into September, so there's plenty of opportunity for a good look during the summer months. Happy viewing!

Friday, May 06, 2016

Reflecting on Nature

While sorting through a few archived images for a project, I was struck with how many of them had one striking feature in common: reflections. Whether in sea water, glass or even wet pavement, this simple phenomenon has the power to captivate. I have to admit that I'm pretty much addicted to them. Sometimes the morning sun's low angle sets off a perfect combination of elements to create an unforgettable image.

Sometimes it's the evening light that does it, turning marsh grass to gold, deepening the colours of the blue-grey clouds and painting the granite rocks a stark white, like this scene in Atwood's Brook, NS.

Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia, is a picturesque spot at any time, but the touch of the early morning sun on the golden shades of autumn can make it even more beautiful.

Evening's soft rose tones on a winter day can create a Rorschach sunset around the inshore islands. This is another scene from Atwood's Brook, NS.

A few sanderlings scouting for food at the water's edge make for some striking reflections in the wet sand of Daniel's Head Beach, Cape Sable Island, NS.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Beer cans, balloons and bottles

Plastic bottles, coffee cups, Styrofoam and other plastics.
I often walk for recreation, for thinking, or sometimes just for the sake of walking. It's great exercise and it's carried out at a pace that allows for taking in all the sights and sounds of my surroundings: bird song, flowers in bloom, the whisper of the wind in the trees, small dramas like the remains of a crab at the waterline where it's become lunch for a marauding gull. It's far more interesting from my point of view to walk outdoors regardless of the weather than to walk on an indoor track or on a treadmill.

Yard sale leftovers.
One aspect of outdoor walking that's becoming almost universal, though, is the increasing amount of litter that's casually dropped -- or sometimes intentionally dumped in quantity -- beside the trail or into the ocean. I carry a reusable bag with me and often fill it completely in just two or three miles of walking. Coffee cups from Canada's best-known coffee shops, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, foam "clamshell" containers from fast food restaurants and miscellaneous trash fill the bag day after day -- and on one memorable occasion there was a car-load of leftovers from a yard sale, strewn on the ground for others to deal with.

Looks like I missed the party.
I honestly can't understand why anyone believes it's okay to just drop these things on the ground or in the water instead of disposing of them properly. I understand that some litter is inevitable; a plastic bag or a bit of paper gets caught by the wind and drifts quickly out of reach, ending up snagged high in a tree or far beyond reach. When the entire disposable wrappings of a fast-food lunch get dropped together in a heap, though, that's no accident. It's deliberate disregard for one's surroundings and for anyone else who happens along. In Atlantic Canada there's a spring cleanup of the roadsides that takes place sometime in April or May. Although disheartening, it's not unusual to see the first fast-food containers or coffee cups show up literally within minutes of the cleanup crew passing through.

Household items and lots of plastics.
There's another type of litter that's most often found on beaches -- the spent balloons that have marked an occasion then been discarded or have drifted away. Sometimes they're even released en masse by well-meaning people in organized "balloon release" events that are beautiful to watch only if you're not aware of how horribly destructive they can be to birds and animals. Sea turtles in particular tend to consume balloons and plastic bags since when these articles float in the water they bear a strong resemblance to the jellyfish on which the turtles feed. Check out this information from the group Balloons Blow to learn about the damage they can cause, and safe alternatives to balloon releases.

Thanks for dropping by, and thanks in advance for noticing and picking up litter. I know it's someone else's mess, but if we all do our part we can begin to make this a safer place for birds and animals, and for ourselves!