Last night was very peaceful, and this morning seemed to come too early, especially for Sean, who is battling a head cold. As we walked along the beautiful sun-soaked waterfront in Montague, we watched as groups of cyclists from a Trailside Inn loaded their bicycles and cheerfully called back and forth to each other, discussing the day's itinerary and destinations. It was every reminiscent of the atmosphere in the albergues on the Camino de Santiago in Spain as everyone heads out in the morning.
As we made our way along the water, we stopped to watch three Common Terns fishing. As we watched an immature Bald Eagle swooped low over the river, rose effortlessly above the trees and was gone. A group of Bonaparte's Gulls were circling farther out on the water, and a mixed group of Double-crested Cormorants and Canada Geese were lined up along a dock. It was a peaceful and beautiful start to the day.
As we continued, we were delighted to find that work crews and volunteers had already been down the Montague spur to clean up the treed downed by the storm. Our elation was somewhat short lived when we discovered they had only gotten 4.5 km along, but the going was still much easier today than it was on the Murray Harbour spur. In 23 km of walking we had to climb under, over, through, or around 76 trees, which is a vast improvement over our first day of hiking in PEI.
Trail conditions were pretty much perfect today - warm sunshine, a cool day, virtually no biting insects, and a gorgeous shaded trail. To add to the perfection, early on Sean caught a fleeting glimpse of a silver fox with a reddish coat and black legs and ears darting across the trail and into the bush!
When we crossed the Brundell trestle bridge we were treated to views down the Brundell River, 15 m below the bridge. The reddish bottom of the shallow river was clearly visible as it wound it's way through marshy and grassy banks. It felt very wild and beautiful, and it was easy to imagine Great Blue Herons fishing along its edges.
After Brundell we came to a split in the tail, and turned west towards Charlottetown. Shortly after the break, we had another exciting moment. There are 1600 geocaches hidden along the Confederation trail, and today we found two! As I've probably said before, it is my goal to find at least one geocache in each province we hike through, so this find took care of the third province!
When we reached Cardigan we stepped off the trail for a short distance to visit the Heritage Center and the "World's Smallest Library." The heritage center was a lovely blue sided building right in the water, which contained displays showcasing photographs, written accounts, and objects from daily life in historical Cardigan. It was interesting, and the side trip also let us see the bridge that was the original reason for the establishment of this community.
Cardigan also offered an opportunity to get a coffee. This is one of the many fantastic aspects of the Confederaton Trail portion of the Great Trail. The trail is well marked, there are benches and covered picnic tables every few kilometers, and there are places to stop for a coffee or a meal each day, if your budget allowed for this. There are also plenty of B&Bs and Inns along the way for those financially better off. It is truly a pleasure to walk this beautiful trail!
We took quite a few breaks along the way today, and this gave us an opportunity to observe the smaller wildlife. We saw lots of different caterpillars, stopped to examine a nest in one of the picnic shelters, and admired some nifty moths on the shelter's posts.
One of the other wildlife highlights from today came when we paused on a bridge. Sean spotted a large Garter snake sunning itself on the concrete support, and stopped to take a photo. As he got closer a second snake appeared, and when a group of cyclists passed by a third one appeared! I love watching them 'taste' the air as they move forward, and we spent quite some time watching them. Apparently it is somewhat common to see groups of snakes congregating at this time of year, because they are getting ready to overwinter as a group in their communal hibernaculums. A fun fact Sean learned from a recent CBC article was that hibernaculums in PEI tend to contain only around a dozen garter snakes, while those farther west can house thousands.
Around 4:30 PM we decided to stop at one of the shelters. We were beside a marsh, and it turned out to be a very busy birding spot! Over the course of the evening three Bald Eagles flew over the marsh, one diving down to catch a very large, lively, unidentified meal that was nearly too heavy for it to lift.
A flock of Blue Jays passed through the marsh, pausing on the dead snags as they went, often with three or four birds on one stump. A Northern Harrier flew low over the marsh, startling a pair of Belted Kingfishers below. There were Wood Ducks and Black Ducks in the water, and several flocks of Canada Geese flew by overhead, their voices seeming to announce the end of summer. As we were cooking dinner a flock of 15 young American Robins landed on the trail beside us, and then a flock of mixed birds descended in a rush. Among them were Cedar Waxwings, Northern Flickers, Black- capped Chickadees, many immature Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Common Yellowthroat female, a Black-and-white Warbler, Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, and others. It was very distracting, but highly entertaining. As the sun is setting and the moon is rising in a pink and blue sky, we feel very lucky to be out here, even as the temperature plummets into the single digits.