|A Photo Diary:
Musquodoboit Trailway, Nova Scotia, Canada
19 August 2006
On Saturday 19 August 2006, we cycled the 15 km Musquodoboit Trailway from the village of Musquodoboit Harbour to Gibraltar Rock and back. It is hard to imagine a more ideal day for the excursion; sunny, warm (24°C), and a cooling breeze. Biting insects were infrequent and indolent, and birds and berries abounded. Being a confirmed Nerd-Naturalist I carried a variety of electronic gear, including a digital camera, GPS, and palm pilot.
Being on a bike precluded scope, tripod, or telephoto lens, so photos were restricted to landscapes.
We felt blessed, and we will leave aside the debate regarding from whom or what the blessings derive. I frequently feel blessed when I explore Nova Scotia, an emotion whose genesis I trace to diverse nature, pleasing landscapes, and a dearth of people. I’ve had a number of visits to England and Europe under my belt, and as we cycled the Musquodoboit Trailway I tried to imagine how many people might use a similar cycle route "across the pond". I tried to picture “hordes”, but couldn’t quite grasp the concept. Many more, certainly. On our six-hour outing, in perfect weather on a summer Saturday, we encountered precisely four cyclists, three hikers, and four dog-walkers accompanied by eight dogs. For nearly all our time afield we were alone. Exquisite, yet mildly depressing, as the Trailway does lie within 40 km of 400,000 people, many of which surely would benefit from some physical exercise and mental stimulation.
But on to our own mental stimulation. There were numerous small flocks of post-breeding pre-migrating passerines, almost invariably centered on garrulous groups of Black-capped Chickadees, and occasionally Golden-crowned Kinglets. Even stopping for only one flock in three we took nearly four hours to cycle the outward leg of the trail. I bypassed most of the flocks on the return journey. The day’s bird list is here.
(A more comprehensive list of the species I’ve recorded in this portion of the Musquodoboit River Valley is accessible through the links below. As this is an inland area the list is composed primarily of breeding birds, with few passage migrants or vagrants).
We were also waylaid by diverse and numerous berry bushes:
Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata)
Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
Common Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis)
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Partridgeberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
We sampled all but the Partridgeberry, the only species not yet ripe.
The Trailway itself was in fine fettle between Musquodoboit Harbour and Kelly Meadow, but a rough patch followed, with sections of course gravel, loose sand, and some small rocks and annoying roots. But that is why we were on mountain bikes. Hikers would have no difficulty.
It was a wonderful visit to a remarkable environment. We shall return.
The Musquodoboit River is just over 70 km long, but that still makes it the second longest river in Nova Scotia, after the 80 km long Annapolis River. The name"Musquodoboit" comes from the Mi'kmaq First Nation, meaning "lovely water". The river’s headwaters are in the NE corner of Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), near Pictou and Guysborough counties. The river flows SW through the Musquodoboit Valley before shifting abruptly S and SE through an ancient fault that bisects the granite uplands of eastern HRM, eventually flowing into innermost Musquodoboit Harbour, itself an extension of the fault.
The Trailway follows an abandoned railway bed running just east of the Musquodoboit River; Hwy 357 also charts a parallel river course to the west. Habitats are varied, including lakes, streams, meadows, fens, scrub, mixed-wood forest, and coniferous forest. This makes for a fine variety of breeding birds, as well as other flora and fauna. There are strategically placed benches, picnic tables, and pit privies along the Trailway, and a few information signs.
Four back-country hiking trails extend as loops east of the Trailway, and these are in various states of disrepair following the devastation of Hurricane Juan in September 2003. The Trailways Association is clearing these trails of dead fall, but it is necessarily a long process. (You may leave donations for the Association in their modest interpretive centre, which rests in a caboose beside the Musquodoboit Harbour Railway Museum, which also hosts an Information Centre).
In addition to the superb breeding-season birding along the southern Musquodoboit River Valley, there are fine sites in and near Musquodoboit Harbour, all detailed in the "Birding Sites of Nova Scotia". These include the harbour itself, Martinique Beach, the Mines Road, and Petpeswick Road.