Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Puffin Express

North Sydney, Nova Scotia


Captain Mike is a tall thin older guy with a white, scraggly beard. He’s wearing an officer’s uniform with the one stripe of an Ensign on his uniform. Somehow he manages to look faintly disreputable with part of his shirt untucked from his pants.

I’m surprised when he clips on a speaker headset and keeps up an interesting monologue for nearly three hours. It’s about 40 minutes over to the bird islands. The bald eagles are here in numbers. They like to eat gull chicks for breakfast. Mike has a theory about why the the eagles are here earlier this year. It has to do with a poor lobster catch and less food for the gulls to eat as the fishermen change bait in the traps less frequently. We watch some gulls dive bombing an eagle. Mike says the gulls are hungry and less interested in protecting the chicks...maybe so.

Mike starts off with an interesting explanation of the tidal currents that rip though the narrow opening we are navigating between the Atlantic Ocean and the huge saltwater lake, the Bras D’Orr, one of the largest in the world. Sometimes one shore is flowing out, the other in and the middle is ripping trying to fill or empty a big lake though a small channel.

We see a lot of puffins, razorbills (kind of like puffins), great and double crested cormorants, seagulls and seals. There are also black guillemot, great black-backed gulls, herring gulls and kittiwakes.

Captain Mike keeps up an interesting line of patter, explaining about the regions “ferryman” pirates, which makes the place sound a lot like it used to be Somalia.

He has strong opinions about the seagulls, who are exploding in population due to their tendency to eat anything including landfill material. He explains that the gulls eat rodents, which answers one of my big questions. That is... why the bird islands around this area don’t have rats to prey on the bird nests like the islands up in the Aleutian chain.

The puffins dig small nest holes in the rocks over many generations by sharpening their beaks. It reminds me of the legendary small bird that sharpens its beak on a mountain once every 1,000 years and eventually wears the mountain away.
Captain Mike says the seal population has exploded since man killed off the orcas and now the seals are underweight due to over population and over fishing. Mike expounds on the lobster over fishing in the area. There are lobster traps everywhere and the catch is dropping 20% a year. Each of the 300 local lobster fishermen is entitled to 275 traps. They have to come out every day to change the bait in the traps. He says they get 70% of their catch in the first two weeks of the six week season.

Anyway, it’s all very interesting local color and I snap a lot of bird Pix. The puffins are fairly nervous because of the bald eagles and spend most of their time out in the water. They have little wings like penguins so they can fly though the water, but they have to flap pretty hard up in the air and take off into the winds. On this trip, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.

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