At last, Nova Scotia,
Last week I wrote a column about birding in Nova Scotia. However, I spent so much time talking about the adventures along the way, namely in New Brunswick, I never got to the part about Nova Scotia. I promise this week will be all about Nova Scotia…maybe.
Our first stop was at the famous Peggy’s Cove. Peggy’s Cove is an iconic fishing village just south of Halifax, and is a favorite with artists and the tour bus crowd. Why did I go there? I had heard that several Harlequin Ducks were being seen in front of the Cove’s lighthouse. And even though one or two of these visually striking birds are regularly seen off Nauset Beach each winter, the viewing is always lousy. The birds are far from shore, hidden by large swells and the weather is always freezing. It would be nice to finally see them under decent conditions. My plan worked perfectly. The day was warm and sunny. The only thing missing were the ducks. It appears I spent too much time in New Brunswick and the birds got tired of waiting for me. All I saw at Peggy’s Cove were artists and tour buses. Sigh! We just turned around and headed for Cape Breton, but not before stopping at Dee Dee’s Ice Cream. Ice cream makes everything better.
It was in the late 1970s when I first visited Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Back then we did tent camping, but that wasn’t going to happen on this trip. These days I get stiff from watching TV, so there was no way I was going to spend my nights sleeping on the ground. Instead, we booked a room at the Park’s famous Keltic Lodge. The Lodge sits out on a rugged peninsula, so in addition to being super-cushy, it’s actually a great place for birds. On our first morning I was up and out early. (My wife opted to sleep late. When it comes to soft, cozy beds, she likes to get her money’s worth.) The first bird to catch my eye was a chickadee. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but this was a Boreal Chickadee. As their name implies, Boreal Chickadees are birds of Canada’s boreal forests and aren’t often found in the lower forty-eight. What do they look like? Unlike our chickadees, the heads of Boreal Chickadees are brownish, which makes them look like black-caps with a bad dye job. I was still studying the chickadee when I heard a voice coming from behind me. It turned out to be Wayne, a local birder, whose wife was also still asleep. Wayne was really friendly and told me where I could find some other interesting birds, including Bald Eagles. He also called me “Bill,” no matter how many times I corrected him.
After breakfast, my wife joined me on the famed Middle Head Trail. This area was once owned by Henry Corson, who was a good friend of Alexander Graham Bell. (Yes, the same Bell who invented a much earlier version of the iPhone.) One highlight of the hike was seeing a Pileated Woodpecker attack a rotting tree. The tree didn’t have a chance. Eventually, we came to a cliff that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. I was still taking in the spectacular scenery when my wife asked, “What kind of ducks are those?” I looked down. Well, what do you know? In the water, just below us, were ten very handsome Harlequin Ducks. Yay! It seems the ducks had grown tired of the tourists at Peggy’s Cove and moved up to Cape Breton, and we found them. I spent the next hour watching them dive in and out of the crashing waves. I would have stayed longer, but my wife was giving me the “look” that told me it was time to go for lunch. I know better than to argue with that look.
After lunch, we drove up a small mountain road in hopes of finding a Bicknell’s Thrush, which we never found. But the trip wasn’t without excitement. As we neared the top of the mountain a massive bull moose stepped out in front of the car. I slammed on the brakes and, after taking a couple of deep breaths, followed the moose down the road. The chase didn’t last long though. As quickly as it appeared, the big animal vanished back into the woods. It too must have been looking for the Bicknell’s Thrush. I hope it had better luck than we did.
At this point it was getting late, so we headed back to the Lodge. While my wife was getting ready for dinner, I took one last walk and I’m really glad I did. In a patch of woods not far from our room, I heard a strange call coming from the trees. It sounded like a cross between a crying baby and Jimmy Cagney. It turned out to be a Great Horned Owl. It was pretty cool, but then it got awesome. As the big owl hooted, two fuzzy baby owls flew out of the darkness to be with their mother. Sweet! I immediately started snapping photos of the babies, but when I turned to photograph mom, she was gone. I thought, “This can’t be good.” Then I heard her hooting from the tree behind me and I knew it was time to go. The last thing I needed was to have her lethal talons jammed into the back of my head. I hate that. At dinner that night I ran into my new buddy, Wayne, and showed him my pictures of the owls, to which he replied, “Great photos, Bill.” Oh, well.
Anyone looking to take a nice trip this summer should consider Cape Breton. The park admission (in 2017) is free, there are great birds to see and the scenery is stunning. Also, if you happen upon Dee Dee’s Ice Cream, hit the brakes as hard as I did when I saw that moose, and order “Berry Berry” ice cream. You can thank me later. Finally, if you have questions that you want me to answer about my trip, feel free to stop by. Just ask for “Bill.”