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?
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.