June 17, 2015

2015 Atlantic Canada (Day 11)

"This area is beautiful!" My sister rejoiced.

"We'll definitely have to stop on the way back to shoot some pictures." I wholeheartedly agreed.

We were just 10 minutes from Peggy's Cove but the landscape surrounding us appeared wild and inviting.

There was a reason to rush to Peggy's Cove since my sister and I had too much coffee during breakfast. But it was 7:45am and the visitor center doesn't open until 8am. Luckily, a care taker was cleaning the washrooms and he allowed my sister and I to empty our bladder as long as we don't make too much of a mess.

We should have visited Peggy's Cove much earlier in the morning. The lighthouse was crawling with people already. It was cloudy but we could see a break of blue sky in the distance. We decided to wait for the break to move in while hoping for a lull in tour buses.

After an hour, everything finally fell into place!

As more and more tour groups arrived, we retreated back to the alpine like landscape that was just a short drive away. Everyone seemed to drive right by this area when it was one of the highlights for my sister and I.

I later found that there were hiking trails to explore the hills. This is definitely on my to-do list next time.

An hour later, we arrived in Halifax for a few hours of city tour.

I love beer made by Alexander Keith's so we stopped briefly to visit the brewery.

Walking along Provo Wallis St, we admired Halifax harbour from the Atlantic Maritime Museum of Canada to the Historic District. It was the warmest, sunniest day we had thus far on our trip and we had a great time being pedestrians.

Just a short drive away is the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. Known as Fort George or Citadel Hill, the hill was first fortified in 1749. The fort served mainly as barracks and garrisons through many conflicts that threatened national security, including the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the American Civil War, and the First and Second World War.

The fort had been reconstructed 3 times. However, one element of the fort remained unchanged through each built - the water well that is now located at the northwest corner of the courtyard. It was at the end of our trip and I was running low on camera memory. I would have love to take some panoramic shots of the area next time.

We spent close to an hour at the Army Museum to learn about our Canadian military history. Although I had learn about Canadian participation in various wars, it was much more emotive to see actual artifacts and read real accounts of those who served in the wars.

By 2pm, we were making our way to the airport. A little scare of an overbook flight threatened to delay my return home. My teacher's college convocation was the following morning and there was no way I can take the next flight home. I made my opinion heard at the bordering gate and thankfully we board our scheduled flight.

It had been a few years since I traveled with my sister. Our Atlantic Canada trip was everything we had envisioned, including the unsettled weather and hurried schedule. It was our first experience of our wonderful Maritime provinces and we both agreed that we needed to return in the future. We had already compiled a list of locations that we wish to visit next time!

June 16, 2015

2015 Atlantic Canada (Day 10)

"Should we get up?" My sister asked as I switch off the 5am alarm.

I poke my head out the tent door to see a cloudy sky. I guess our morning photography session was scrapped.

We didn't want to stay in bed for too long though. Rain was predicted for late afternoon and I had originally planned an evening of fishing in Nova Scotia's Boutiliers Point. The annual influx of Atlantic Mackerel into the harbours and bay around Atlantic Canada was drawing near, and I really wanted to experience fishing for the plentiful Mackerel.

We got out of bed at 6:30am. The rain had stopped for a while and thankfully our gear was starting to dry. It would suck to have to fly home with a wet tent. We barely made our luggage weight limit on our flight to Newfoundland.

By 7:30am, we broke camp, had breakfast and even had a shower. We were ready to roll!

The flowerpot islands were less impressive under a cloudy sky though...

Cutting our losses, we decided to drive to Boutiliers Point early. On our way through Moncton, we saw a tall church tower and decided to seek it out. When we were reading a plaque detailing the Catholic cathedral, a lady came out, spoke very rapidly in French with an unwelcoming tone.

When we replied her in English that we couldn't understand French, she simply said they were not open to visitors. It was a bit disappointing as it was Cath├ędrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, one of the oldest churches in Canada, and we were Catholics being turned away from a church that we should be able to visit.

Across the street, we noticed a fish market that luckily welcomed our visit. We bought half a pound of scallops, a pound of quahog clams and a piece of smoked herring and quickly forgot about the church.

Following my GPS navigation is always interesting. On this day, we almost went for an hour extra detour when I was given direction to follow Highway 2. However, recalling my mental map, there should be a shorter and more direct route by following the toll Highway 104. Luckily, I caught that GPS error quickly enough that we were not misled.

Around halfway toward Truro, I had to stop for a washroom break and pulled over at a truck stop/restaurant.

"Those guys were all looking at me weird." I pointed out to my sister. "Did they stare at you as well?"

"It was as if they had never seen an Asian before." She laughed. Funny as it may, I had never felt such an unwelcome vibe in Canada.

"Let's just get out of here." I simply wanted to get out of that strange place.

Two hours later, we arrived at Boutiliers Point by 2pm. The sky was cloudy but it wasn't raining and the wind was light. I may just luck out with a few hours of fishing. My sister was happy to prepare lunch while I fished.

The first hour was relatively unexciting as much as fishing can be. I caught a number of Cunner under the pier but nothing jigging a jig and grub. Speaking with the few people who were scouting for Mackerel, all of them agreed it was still too early. There was a very short run of them during the days in May but the Mackerel had not been seen or caught since. I knew mid-June was just the start of the Mackerel season on most year so my expectation was kept extra low, but I was hoping to get lucky.

Soon lunch was ready and I took a break for lunch.

The clams and scallops were perfectly cooked in the lemon pepper cream sauce with a small portion of smoked herring to add a briny, smokey flavour. However, the smoked herring were way too salty to eat on its own. I don't know how locals eat them like candy. No amount of water was able to quench our thirst following our meal.

Returning to the pier on a full stomach, a family was fishing at the corner of the pier. They were new to fishing and trying to help their son catch a fish. Using a spoon, the son eventually hooked a sculpin. Unfortunately, the fish came off before it was landed. The sculpin appeared much longer than the usually robust Shorthorn Sculpin, so I was suddenly excited. Perhaps it was a Sea Raven or a Longhorn Sculpin. My quest for a new species from Nova Scotia resumed!

Casting one rod with the dropper loop rig as far as I could baited with nightcrawlers and fished a jig and grub on the shorter rod. It took little time before a fish found the nightcrawler and it was a small Shorthorn Sculpin.

Keeping faith that the sculpin the boy lost was not a Shorthorn Sculpin, I waited another 15 minutes before finding out my next bite was the all too common Winter Flounder.

Seeing that all the bites came on the nightcrawler, I held the surf rod in hand to fish the dropper loop rig more actively with a slow retrieve on bottom. Two casts later, I felt a good tap and set the hook into a larger fish. Finally, I got what I was looking for!

Longhorn Sculpin (Myoxocephalus octodecemspinosus) - Species #470!

They look so badass! I was so happy and relieved to add this species as my lifer from Nova Scotia. Thus, I had completed my goal to catch a new species from each Atlantic Canada province!

Perhaps the tide had changed after our lunch break. The fishing continued to improve. I caught a second much smaller Longhorn Sculpin, and one more Winter Flounder, before catching the biggest Longhorn Sculpin on this trip.

They were so cool. They would flatten their mouth to expose the opercular spines, and then contract muscles inside to produce a buzz similar to a cell phone on vibrate. It was a bit freaky to hold a buzzing fish in hand.

It appeared as though I had caught all the sculpins in the area; so I looked at some micros closer to shore. One angler said there were some juvenile Red Hake see recently. I saw some small copper coloured fish and was hoping that they were Red Hake. However, they were simply juvenile Atlantic Cod.

I caught another juvenile Cod before it started to rain. It was already 5pm and my sister needed a washroom break. I decided to finish the fishing session.

Checking into our Howard Johnston Bluenose Inn and Suite, we were not impressed at all. There were a few rough looking people smoking pot by the stairs and drinking beer.

"Those guys creep me out." My sister sneered.

"Yeah, me too. Make sure to lock the door and use the chain lock as well." I warned.

It was raining hard outside and we had a lot of gear to pack. It took 5 trips before we moved all our gear into the room. We spread as much gear as well could on the floor to dry and started to pack away anything else that we would not need the next day.

I was hoping to prepare dinner at a park tonight, but with the rain falling earlier than forecast, I ended up cooking dinner outside on the hotel balcony. It probably wasn't legal, and I was keeping as low profile as I could. I'm sure it would be a cause to get kicked out of our stay if the manager found out.

With nothing to do but to watch TV and reply email, we went to bed before 12am.

June 15, 2015

2015 Atlantic Canada (Day 9)

"We'll be here for a while." My sister pointed out the obvious. Road crews were repaving the surface on the Confederation bridge and it was down to one-lane traffic.

"The shoulders are so narrow. It wouldn't even fit an ambulance or a fire engine." I said as I wondered how emergency vehicles could respond if there was an accident.

"I wonder why they built the bridge so narrow? There is no way to expand it."

"That's what we get with short sighted politicians."

We were stuck behind a long line of cars in a 30 minute long delay. I was starting to lose patience as I was trying to arrive in Alma for an incoming tide. The Bay of Fundy area is known for extreme tides. Many bays and inlets in the area can be left high and dry during low tide. If I miss the incoming, I would only have one more chance the next day to catch an Atlantic Tomcod on this trip.

Finally, traffic was stopped on the other side and our lane started to move slowly. After clearing the bridge on the New Brunswick side, we noticed what I thought was a convenient visitor information area. It was actually the visitor Center at Cape Jourimain National Wildlife Area. The visitor center was a shining example of sustainable design, including solar power, rainwater plumbing and innovative compost system for organic and sewage waste. A short trail lead to a viewing platform where visitors can watch migratory birds refuge in the protected marshland and also admire the Confederation Bridge.

Originally, I had planned to make a short stop at Hopewell to visit a friend. However, following the GPS navigation, it led us toward Salisbury on Highway 2 on our way to Alma. We had completely missed Hopewell and didn't realize the mistake until we had gone way too far.

Our alternative route did offer us a drive through Fundy National Park, an opportunity that we otherwise could not afford on our tight schedule.

We arrived in Alma just as the tide was about to peak. Wasting no time, I set up a carolina rig with a whole worm on the 9' surf rod so I could try for a skate, while I tied on a dropper loop rig on my shorter 7' rod to fish in hand.

My friend Eli mentioned that Atlantic Tomcod were caught on a mud flat during the incoming tide. As the tide was high and slacking, I started to worry the fish had pushed up the river as the tide enabled them greater access upstream; I hadn't receive a bite for more than 15 minutes.

Suddenly, there was a sharp twang from the surf rod. Running over to the bending rod, there were definitive head shakes twitching the rod tip. Unfortunately, the first fish at this location was a Winter Flounder. These flatfishes appeared to be very common in Atlantic Canada's inshore habitat.

Casting out the surf rod again, it took just a minute before the bait was taken again. This time, the bite seemed more tentative. The fish tug at the line a few times before committing fully. Whatever was on the line was not fighting with the determined bulldog dives of a Sculpin or the thumping headshakes of a Flounder. It fought very little, in fact. I was glad to see the long and golden body of an Atlantic Tomcod though!

Atlantic Tomcod (Microgadus tomcod) - Species #469

This smaller relative of Cod, Haddock and Pollock is equally tasty, but their diminutive size don't offer much for the table unless they are over 10 inches.

I caught 3 more Atlantic Tomcod as the tide switched to outgoing. The current stirred up feeding activity and bites were much more frequent. Once the current was strong enough that my 1oz pyramid sinker could no longer hold bottom, I decide to pack up. We had more locations to visit in the afternoon.

Before we left Alma, I took a couple pictures of the area when the tide was at mid outgoing.

Our first stop was Waterside Beach which is a UNESCO Biosphere site. The coastal wetland and muddy flat are important resting and feeding location for migratory birds. During our visit in June, there were very few birds in the area, but spring and fall would be the best time to visit for birders.

Further down the road, we reached Cape Enrage. As the tide continued to drop, more and more seabed was exposed in the Bay of Fundy. Cape Enrage gave us a great panoramic view of the bay.

I had rearranged to meet with my friend Casey in Hopewell at 3pm, but when I arrived, Casey was not home. Casey later let me know that he had to take his wife to the hospital. I guess it just wasn't to be this time.

Our final highlight of the day was The Rocks Provincial Park. The provincial park protects and give access to sea stacks and the exposed seabed. Many people (including myself initially) thought that the sea stacks were part of Fundy National Park. The admission gives two-day access to the park so you can visit both the low tide and the high tide on consecutive days. I found out that if you have already purchase your admission, it is possible to enter the park before opening hours and leave the park past closing hours at your own risk. However, this is best done during outgoing or low tide as the risk of getting trapped and drowned is very real.

There was no such drama for my sister and I this afternoon. The park was full of people and park staff. We were waiting for the peak low tide at 5:30pm, and for people to leave at 5pm when the park closes, so we had some time to burn. We spent an hour at the Interpretive Center to learn about the area and the geological processes that gave rise to the cliffs and sea stacks, and the biology of the seabed and coastal marshes.

"Are you hungry?" My sister asked as we started to walk along the shady gravel trail toward Flower Pot Rocks. We had completely forgotten about lunch so we were wolfing down granola and fruits. Many people were walking in the opposite direction toward the parking lot while we pushed deeper.

A few people, who like us, appreciate to enjoy nature and her majesty without the crowds. There were few who were scattered around the area. With the right timing, we took a few photos that illustrate what Hopewell Rocks looks like before it became so popular.

The seafloor was quite interesting. Closer to the rocks, the ground was hard conglomerate. The further we walk away from the cliffs and rocks, the more silty and muddy it became. My sister had no intention in getting her feet stuck in mud, so we mainly stuck closer to the cliffs. If we had more time, we would have venture further along the cliffs.

"I guess we can visit here very early tomorrow." I said "We could maybe get a few picture of these rocks as dawn breaks." Low tide was schedule for 6:30am the next morning. We would have about 1.5 hours to explore the park on our own before it opens at 8am when most people visits.

We worked our way back toward the Interpretive Center, we stopped at each lookout area. With the sun behind us, the lighting wasn't always great for photography since long shadows were cast toward the sea stacks and cliffs. We were hoping that shooting condition would improve the next day. The sun lit up Diamond Rock just perfectly though.

Without a doubt, my favourite location was Daniels Flats. As the tide receded each day, water from tidal creeks would drain off Daniels Flats. Over the years, deep drainage channels were eroded into the flats and mini canyons carve into existence. From this location, the magnitude of the Bay of Fundy tide was also illustrated as immense mud flats were exposed while the water's edge was 1000 feet away in some places. It was an astounding sight.

My sister and I were craving for food, so we drove back to Alma to hunt down a couple of lobsters for dinner. Unfortunately, all the fish markets closed at 6pm. We had to settle for a lobster roll that was tasty, but small and overpriced in my mind.

Before we return to Fundy National Park to set up camp, we took a few more pictures of Alma during low tide.

Mid outgoing tide

1h after low tide

Picture of fishing boats left sitting on the sea bottom were often taken here at low tide.

Mid outgoing tide

1h after low tide

Fundy National Park's campsites were not very impressive. There were no campsites equipped with a fire pit. Most of the sites sat on very hard bedrock with a thin layer of soil or crushed gravel. It was extremely difficult pinning down the tent as our pegs would not penetrate deep enough.

The only good thing that came out of our night at Fundy was the campfire we shared with our neighbours at a designated communal fire pit. The group were running out of firewood when we bought our leftover bundle of tinder and logs to everyone's delight. To sweeten our arrival, we also brought out ingredients to make some Eli's S'mores, a genius creation by my friend Eli using chocolate chip cookies and marshmallows.

The skies were dark enough that I could see the Milky Way. Throughout the trip, I was hoping to see the northern lights, but we had no such luck. We fell asleep under a clear sky and hope the great weather would continue into the morning.

June 14, 2015

2015 Atlantic Canada (Day 8)

"No one is at the parking lot!"

At this normally busy tourist spot, there was not a soul in sight - the beauty of June in the Maritimes. Unfortunately, the wind was howling and the skies covered. On a sunny morning, the warm glow of a low angle sun would lit up the vermillion cliffs to contrast against the emerald carpet and a sapphire sky. Although our view was less spectacular than I had hoped, the crashing surf added a level of dramatic effect.

Prince Edward Island National Park was designed to protect sensitive sand dunes and coastal wetlands. The park consisted of several parcels of shorelines with numerous trails suitable for walking and cycling. We chose to visit the Cavendish area since it is closest to Green Gables.

Just a short hop away, Green Gables Heritage Site celebrates one of Canada's most beloved fictional character - Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the award winning novel, drew inspiration for her character and the setting based on her summers spent in the farmstead and the area. The recreated setting included many genuine relics from the Victorian era, thus preserving historical heritage while fleshing out Avonlea and Anne's life at Green Gables.

We caught a glimpse of Anne standing by the door looking into he distance.

A mix of colours, shapes and textures combined to turn a bare soil canvas into a vibrant garden.

As we were leaving, two buses arrived flooring the property with tourists. Although we were on vacation, waking up early was worthwhile.

The next item on our itinerary was a self guided walking tour of Charlottetown, the capital of PEI.

Beaconsfield Historic House is the extravagant home commissioned by successful shipbuilder and merchant James Peakes. Unforutnately, Peakes lost most of his children to sickness and his fortunes due to a recession. The house was lost due to bankruptcy. According to his diary, the purchase of his home, $50,000 at the time (approximately $2.5 million in today's term), likely contribute to his downfall.

Province House National Historic Site preserves the legislative building where confederation of Canada was discussed in Charlottetown between September 1-7, 1864. It is the second oldest legislature site in Canada and the building continues to serve was the provincial legislature since 1847.

"It sucks that it is closed for restoration." My sister lamented.

Just down the street from Province House is St. Dunstan's Basilica, the only cathedral within the province. Rebuilt in 1913 after a fire, this French Gothic cathedral is one of the most recognized landmark as its spires contributes to the city's skyline.

Across from the cathedral, a bronze statue commemorates two of the Fathers of Confederation, a delegate from Prince Edward Island and another delegate from New Brunswick, who, serendipitously, shared the same name - John Hamilton Gray.

Shortly after, we were pattered by a passing shower and we took shelter at Cow's, a famous ice cream chain in the Maritimes, at Peakes Pier and enjoyed a chocolate cheesecake cone.

With the afternoon free, we returned to North Rustico seeking fresh seafood. We bought a pound of mussels ($2/lb), a pound of clams ($4.50/lb) and a pound of oysters ($5.50/lb) for dinner, all of which were locally cultivated or harvested.

My sister agreed to give me some time to fish while she read in the car. Checking out the pier closer to the mouth of the harbour hoping for perhaps a skate on the muddy bottom or maybe an early school of Atlantic Mackerel. I caught a few Cunner and Winter Flounder but no new species. Moving back to the commercial wharf, I fished a larger swimbait for an hour but failed to connect with any Shorthorn Sculpin. I wonder if these fish had moved to another area when water warms in the summer. From a distance, I could see water draining into the harbour from the fish market where we bought our seafood earlier. Quietly slipping behind the stacks of wooden crates and plastic bins, I didn't know if my fishing activity would be frowned upon. However, people seemed to be quite accommodating as they didn't ask me to leave or to stop fishing when they carry on their own business around me.

The waste water from the fish market not only carries a briny scent, but I could see small particle of matter that attracted a large number of stickleback. Under the sticklebacks were small Winter Flounder waiting to snatch up any small fish that venture too close to the bottom. I caught many Winter Flounder using a jig and plastic grub. Switching to the tanago hook, it was almost too easy catching the Blackspotted Stickleback that I had so much trouble catching thus far. The large concentration of these fish at the outflow increased food competition, thus they were not at all shy to take a baited hook.

Here and there, I saw a larger stickleback peeking out from cracks along the wall of the wharf. Putting my baited hook near the last location where I had seen the fish, it quickly darted out to receive the bait. I had guessed that these larger stickleback may represent another species. Indeed, this was a Three-spined Stickleback, a species that I had planned to find the following day in Nova Scotia.

Three-spined Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) - Species #468

The tail scutes and the bony body plates clearly identified the species.

I caught another one that had locked its spines and it was able to propped up like a tripod.

Thank you North Rustico for your bounty.

With another species added, I was most than happy to end the fishing session. My sister and I returned to our cabin to prepare dinner. I had never shuck oysters before, so I choose the dullest knife for the task. Even so, I managed to jab my thumb on the first oyster before getting the hang of the technique and shucking the remaining oysters efficiently. We progressively added ingredients to our onion and cream base until we had a seafood chowder. Gosh, it was delicious and it cost less than $15!