The Story so far………..
With Calgary, the Canadian Rockies and the Alaskan cruise behind us, we headed east for the next phase of our adventure, looking forward to catching up with sister Sheila (Sam) and brother-in-law John and seeing a bit of the eastern side of Canada.
On the downside Gerda’s suitcase had gone missing on the Air Canada flight from Calgary to Ottawa, another of those trying irritations of modern air travel. It was delivered to the farm a couple of days later so the use of the term “delayed baggage” that airlines now use instead of “lost baggage” turned out to be accurate – it only becomes lost if it is never traced again.
Monday 25 August 2014 : The Farm and some light birding
The farm, which is close to the town of Alexandria in Ontario, and which we had only ever seen in photos and heard about in communication with my sister over the last 40 years, came to life today as we explored the rambling house and outbuildings (but “the boys” were held over for another day) and took a walk around the large garden.
The bird feeders were drawing a constant stream of mainly House Sparrows and Mourning Doves plus a few other interesting species such as American Goldfinch and Chipping Sparrow. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were taking sugar-water from the nectar feeder – this was one bird I was looking forward to seeing and I was duly excited when they literally buzzed in at high-speed, sounding like bumble bees. They performed their special tricks such as hovering (which only a handful of species can do) and flying backwards and straight up and down (which only Hummingbirds can do) as I tried to get a photo, not an easy task at all.
A birding walk around the garden had me sweating in the 30 degree heat and high humidity but did produce a selection of new species for my growing Canadian list, amongst them:
- Eastern Wood-pee-wee (where do they get these names?) – a flycatcher like bird
- White-breasted Nuthatch – white and grey with a black crown
- Swainson’s Thrush
- Canada Warbler – quick and elusive in and among the low bushes
- Several other small Warblers which were difficult to ID but I’ve had a go along with some valuable assistance from Ronald Orenstein
The relaxing day was rounded off with a ribs dinner (delicious!) and a movie in the cinema room, which is John the movie buff’s pride and joy, complete with recliner chairs and twinkling ceiling lights (super comfortable!)
The day after was more of the same, while getting ourselves ready for our trip to Nova Scotia the following day and included a late lie-in. I joined John on a trip to nearby Cornwall and Alexandria to take care of a few chores and when we got back I took another birding walk around the garden, adding a few more species in the process including :
- Great Blue Heron – flying overhead
- Northern Harrier – in the fields
- American Crow – they are everywhere
- American Robin – around the house
Later it was time for pasta (lekker!) and a movie before doing final preparation for the trip
Wednesday 27 August : On the Road
Leaving the farm around 10am, we headed north-east, bypassing Ottawa and Montreal as we crossed into Quebec province, then on past Quebec City and Riviere-du-Loup into New Brunswick.
We reached our overnight stop in Fredericton after 9pm having done close to 1000 km and found a Howard Johnson motel and burger joint nearby – our first taste of motel accommodation was not inspiring, but as it turned out this was one of the older motels of those we stayed in for the next 6 nights and was showing its age.
One puzzling feature of all the motels is the variety of plumbing fixtures used – showers and basin taps and even toilets took some working out to figure out how they operated and we spent some minutes pulling, pushing, twisting and turning the various bits of chrome until we found the correct combination.
The scenery along the highways was a fairly constant stream of trees and more trees, which became the standard for much of the road trip until we reached the coast.
Our second day on the road took us from Fredericton to Baddeck in Nova Scotia, continuing along the Trans-Canada Highway through seemingly endless kms of forest on both sides. On the spur of the moment John diverted to Fundy National Park and Hopewell Rocks where we had a pleasant lunch of lobster sandwich before taking the golf cart ride to the lookout point for Hopewell Rocks, which we found were large rocks with interesting shapes projecting out of the sea. At low tide the open sands can be accessed, but these same sands are inundated by the tidal change of a massive 10m, one of the highest in the world.
On the way there we passed by the little fishing village of Alma, where there was more evidence of the extreme tidal changes, with boats moored far below the landing.
Further along Hopewell Cape historic village caught our eye and we spent an hour or so walking the site which had a number of original buildings such as the County Court house, Stores and County Gaol all in beautifully restored condition.
From there we found our way back to the Trans Canada which took us via a series of towns to Baddeck Nova Scotia where we found a pleasant motel with a view across part of Bras d’Or Lake.
Friday 29 August : Driving the Cabot Trail
After breakfast we set off to drive the famous Cabot Trail and were soon on the trail proper where it branches off the 105 route from Baddeck. The trail, which is actually a tarred road all the way, runs right around Cape Breton for about 300 kms, twisting through hills, mountains and along the coast with many places to stop and admire the beautiful views. We were surprised to see all the Gaelic signs along the first stretch, once we turned off at exit 11 to St Anns – testament to the Scottish pioneers who first settled in the area
Some light rain fell to start with, but it gradually cleared up into a bright sunny day, albeit windy – at one viewpoint where we ventured onto the rocks, the wind tried its best to knock us off our feet, making photography of the many Gannets and Cormorants particularly difficult as they flew by in numbers close to shore.
At Neil’s Harbour we turned off to find a lunch spot and came across a charming restaurant, almost on the rocks overlooking the sea, called Chowder House and we, appropriately, had a delicious bowl of chowder with fresh bread and the best atmosphere for a sea-based meal.
At Cheticamp we stopped at Flora’s for some shopping where Gerda was drawn by the quilting being done by a local lady. Then it was just a question of completing the circle back to Baddeck and finding a motel not far from Englishtown, where we were due to catch the boat to Bird Islands the next day.
We found Kelly’s View motel in Boularderie with a very nice homestyle restaurant called Fitzgeralds right next door.
Saturday 30 August : Bird Islands, Louisbourg and full motels
After yesterday’s windy conditions which stirred up the sea, Saturday broke calm and sunny (obviously heard about my birthday) – perfect for our “Puffin Expidition” by small boat to the Bird Islands which lie 45 minutes from the harbour at Englishtown.
As it turned out there was very little chance of seeing Atlantic Puffins as they had completed their breeding cycle a couple of weeks earlier and had left the islands – a great pity the Puffin lady didn’t inform Sam properly as it would have saved a lot of effort and trouble getting there, however we did get to see other interesting birds and some Grey Seals which made up for the disappointment on the Puffins. What a sight it must be when some 1200 Puffins and several thousand Razorbills occupy the rocky islands.
The highlight of the boat trip was the Bald Eagles who obligingly swooped down when Donelda threw a freebie Mackerel or ten into the sea alongside the boat, snatching the offering from the sea surface at full stretch with talons extended in spectacular fashion. What a photo opportunity!
Leaving Englishtown behind us we had a decent lunch at Fitzgeralds then headed to Sydney (still in Nova Scotia) for a quick drive through the uninspiring town, then onwards to the Fortress of Louisbourg, a beautifully reconstructed town from the 1700’s where we spent a few hours taking it all in and enjoying the location on a small bay and the period-dressed people who added to the atmosphere.
By now it was around 5pm and we made our way back via Baddeck, across the causeway to New Glasgow, where, much later, we at last found an available motel room after a few failed attempts in earlier towns (something to do with it being Labour Day weekend). By this time we were fairly desperate so even the fact that there was just one room available did not deter us – as it turned out the room was a suite with a bedroom and separate sitting room with a pull-out double bed. Needless to say we slept very soundly after getting some snacks from the vending machine in the foyer and making a soothing cup of Rooibos tea.
To be continued……….