Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Mabou to Port Hood

We had a small breakfast of milk and cereal before heading out of Mabou. At breakfast we spoke with a lovely lady about our goal of walking to encourage youth to connect with nature through birding. She strongly related to the need to help young people break out of the isolation they experience by being online and gaming so much, and echoed a sentiment we've heard from many others. Parents don't want their kids to be online all the time, but most kids have phones for safety reasons now. Parents have to work so many hours to make ends meet that it becomes hard to monitor and restrict kids' online activities, and it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to find alternative activities that connect kids with themselves, their friends, and their communities. How to find the balance between the safety of family, communication, access to information, but still avoid the isolation of the digital world?  This conversation gave us lots go think about as we walked.

The trail between Mabou and Port Hood was just as nice, flat, and spotlessly clean as the section of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail we walked yesterday. In many parts it was shaded as well, which was a wonderful treat. Even with the fantastic trail conditions, we struggled to cover the 20 km to Port Hood. Today was 37°C with 69% humidity, and it felt difficult to breathe sitting still, let alone lugging a 40 lbs backpack. By 11 o'clock we were hot and tired enough to be seriously concerned about heat stroke, and so we decided to use some of our emergency funds and reserved an air conditioned room in a motel for tonight.


This wasn't to say the trail wasn't incredibly beautiful. For much of the morning we walked beside a river, which periodically opened up into beautiful wetlands and more open areas. In the still hot air the reflections in the water were stunningly beautiful.

We also walked through some agricultural areas, with the beautiful red barns and farm machinery set against recently harvested hay fields.

As we crossed one of trestle bridges over the river we were excited to see a family of Common Mergansers swimming in the water below. The four youngsters were about half the size of the mother, and they were very cute as they dove beneath her and came up on the other side.

Other birds we saw along the trail today included an American Robin sitting in her nest, a Dark-eyed Junco feeding a frantic fledgling that wasn't yet able to fly, lots of American Goldfinches and Red-eyed Vireos, and a Downy Woodecker. The birds were generally quiet in the heat of the day, and we really couldn't blame them.

Just before Port Hood we came to a section of trail that was closed. Looking down the shadeless gravel road that we would need to walk to bypass the closure, we decided to investigate what the cause was. It turns out there was a pretty big washout in the trail, where the gravel trailbed was cracking and collapsing. While the cracks were 4-6ft deep, one side of the washout wasn't a very big drop, and the path felt rock solid, so we decided to risk the crossing. We made it over safely, and continued on our way, very thankful of the shade.

One thing we did notice was that the closed section hadn't been groomed. As you would expect on an outdoor trail, there were small sticks and pinecones lying on the (closed) trailbed. So seriously, is the rest of it vacuumed or swept daily?  The immaculate conditions of the Celtic Coastal trail have led us to suspect so...

When we reached Port Hood around 1:30 PM it was extremely hot outside. The very nice people at the motel let us check in speedily and cool off. They were incredibly nice and helpful, and we appreciated it greatly. It seems there is even a chance of doing laundry!  While not a huge fan of scented laundry soaps, I can honestly tell you that anything is better than the smell hikers who have been on the trail too long and in too much heat. 

Once we were checked in I called my parents, and Sean headed to the co-op down the road for some supplies. He returned a few minutes later, empty handed. It turned out the co-op sold Lobster only. After searching online, Sean discovered there was another grocery store just one block farther away, so he headed back out into the heat, and this time met with success.


The rest of the afternoon we spent cleaning our gear, writing, and enjoying the air conditioning. It felt very luxurious, but also necessary in order to get caught up and avoid the heat.

In the evening, when the temperature dropped a few degrees we ventured out for dinner. It was our one chance to get get off the trail and enjoy since Newfoundland and we took it.  To our delight there was live music, provided by the talented Pius MacIsaac.  It was a cheerful dinner, which finished up with a devine chocolate mousse!

After our lovely dinner, which involved no rice or beans for a change, we headed down to the Port Hood Day Park.  This beautiful park includes a long sandy beach, grassy sand dunes, and a long boardwalk through a marsh.  It provides habitat for Yellow Warblers, Red-winged Blackbirds, Willets, Spotted Sandpipers, and many other birds.  As we walked the beach the tide was coming in, the sun was setting, and the lights of the town were beginning to shine.  It was a magical summer evening on the lovely Celtic Shores of Cape Breton.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Inverness to Mabou

Today felt like 36°C with 69% humidity. It took us 8 hours to walk 28.5 km, but not for the reasons you might think. Today was a fantastic wildlife day!

It began bright and early, when we managed to leave the campground in Inverness around 7:30 am. We stopped at Robins on the way through town for a quick breakfast of coffee and oat cakes, and then continued on to the Inverness Beach Boardwalk. The boardwalk weaves between wildflowers, blooming wild rose bushes, and dune grasses, down between the Cabot golf course and the Inverness harbour to the shores of the Atlantic. The morning light was beautiful, and we saw lots of Song Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, American Goldfinches, and Cliff Swallows, as well as an American Crow, a couple Herring Gulls, and a Greater Black-backed Gull.

When we reached the beach at the end of the road we came across a lady sitting quietly on a bench enjoying her morning coffee. She saw us with our binoculars and camera, and volunteered that there were often Bald Eagles behind us in the harbour, and that there was a small group of 10 Piping Plovers nesting in the area. She also shared a number of other bird stories with us. Later in the day we discovered from someone else we just met that she is a volunteer who watches the beach to protect the plover nests! How cool is that?

Eventually we headed back up towards town, past the Miner's Museum and old railway station, and on to the trail head, which had a large information sign and a sheltered picnic table.


The first four kilometers of the trail were a repeat of yesterday, but they were anything but boring! When we crossed the Deepdale trestle bridge, which is about 100 ft up in the air, we came across three garter snakes! Not only that, but one of them had just molted, leaving behind its empty skin, which was still moist and glistening. Who would have expected to find snakes sunning themselves so high up in the air?

Once we began the new stretch of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, which runs from Inverness to Port Hastings, we were delighted to discover that it stayed a flat, gorgeous, finely gravel trail with quite a few shaded stretches all day long. We passed a sign saying '24 hour grooming' and indeed, there wasn't even a stray stick or pinecone on the trail, which actually made us stop to wonder...


A few kilometers in we came to a beautiful lookout over the western shore of Lake Ainslie. As we stepped onto the small sandy beach to admire the clear water, sandy lake bottom, tall grasses and receding hills in the background, Sean noticed a Bald Eagle perched atop a dead snag down the shore. He switched lenses to take a photo, and as we stood there we heard a couple Common Loons calling out on the lake. Then a Great Blue Heron flew majestically past. Before we knew it we spotted a Canada Warbler hopping around in the shrubs, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzed noisily past. What a spot for a break!

Shortly after that the trail took us through the Black River Fen, which is one of the Treasured Wetlands of Nova Scotia. The Treasured Wetlands initiative features special wetlands across the province, and invites people to come experience their unique beauty and connect with nature in them. This is certainly a message we can get behind!

Just past that we entered the Black River Bog Nature Reserve. This alkaline fen and delta wetland is home to 13 species of rare plants, and is an important breeding and staging area for Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, and Osprey. As we passed through it we saw loads of baby Leopard frogs on the trail that jumped enormous distances relative to their size in order to avoid getting stepped on. It was very entertaining.

Just past the fen, as we were walking past the Glendyer Brook, we saw another garter snake on the trail. It was fascinating to watch how this little snake navigated. It would flick its black, forked tongue in and out of its mouth quickly, weave its head back and forth, and then proceed forward. It was easy to see how smell or taste is a part of how snakes navigate. Very cool!


After that the trail took us through a more open stretch, which was extremely hot in the afternoon sun. There was a picturesque farm with hay bales and cows at one point, and a field of blooming pink flowers in another part.

In the late afternoon we stopped at a metal covered trestle bridge. As we were standing there a Bald Eagle swooped low over the bridge, calling to a large fledgling that was perched in a tree nearby. We watched as they flew down river. In the middle of the slow moving body of water was a small rocky island, and on it we spotted a Solitary Sandpiper. What a day for birding!

Sadly we stopped to fill up our water bottles in the river, only to discover a short while later that the Mabou River is rather dry, swampy, and smelly at the moment. We did filter the water, but still .... gross!

The last section of trail into Mabou followed the Mabou River, which looked like its water level should be several feet higher than it was, but nonetheless was bordered by lush green wetlands. It was beautiful, and as we approached the town we got a good view of the white steeple on the Mother of Sorrows Pioneer Shrine across the water.

Finally we reached the town of Mabou, which is home to the Rankin Family, and where their famous Red Shoe Pub is located. The majority of settlers in this area were Gaels from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and they brought with them a strong tradition of music. Cape Breton is famous for its fiddle music, and this town in particular has given rise to many talented fiddlers.

We stopped on the way by to listen to a few fiddle songs played by Donna Marie DeWolf. It was truly wonderful playing, but the pub was absolutely packed, and the fare far beyond our price range. We continued on into the very hot evening, amazed at yet another day full of beauty and new discoveries on the trail.