10. Queenstown Wharf
Queenstown Wharf Road (off Route 102)
A stand of beautiful Red Oak awaits exploration when you head downstream of the wharf along the old railway line trail. Those fortunate to have travelled the river in late September have seen the scarlet beam of light emanating from this knoll. In the arm like branches of these mast producers play the brightly-lit Baltimore Orioles. This stand of hardwoods also contains good numbers of Great Crested Flycatchers, whose yellow bellies are visible well into July. On the upland side of the trail, a smattering of trees and shrubs that line the hayfields are occupied by the colour-challenged Eastern Phoebes. You will lock in on these birds only because they have such a recognizable call responsible for their namesake. If you get an eerie feeling that someone is watching you, then a Great Horned Owl might be surveying your every move. These creatures sit stoically, camouflaged by the curtain of leg-sized branches of the majestic river hardwoods. Along the river shore brilliantly coloured Wood Ducks, using a strategy quite similar to that of Common Grackles, flip up leaves and twigs looking for acorns, their favourite high energy food.
Return to the Queenstown Wharf and now head upriver along the trail to the railway trestle over the outlet of Otnabog Lake. The Otnabog is one of the many alluvial lakes associated with the lower St. John River, and is a wetland of major importance. Here one finds large stands of wild rice that offer carbohydrate rich food to Blue-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Mallards, and Wood Ducks. Diving ducks, like the Ring-necked Duck, are on the lake in mid-autumn in staggering numbers at times approaching one thousand birds. On a still day a large flock of feeding ringnecks can get the water to a rolling boil, as birds dive continuously to pick snails, freshwater mussels, and other aquatic life off the bottom of the lake, just a few hundred meters upstream of the outlet.
Look downstream across the river to the top end of Long Island. This island was one of the first places The Loyalists settled when they came up the river from Saint John. The stone-free alluvial soils of the island intervales grew impressive crops, but early settlers had to deal with flooding during the spring freshet. The island was once dotted with numerous old barns of which the last one was moved off in the mid-1990’s and dragged across the river ice to the Reicker Farm in Wickham. Not only did barns dot the island landscape, but at the mouth of Church Creek, a small inlet that dead ends at the centre of the island just below the Upper Lake, was a local tavern called the The Blizzards.
From the high vantage point of the raised rail line embankment you can look directly at perched Osprey and Bald Eagles waiting for a meal to come through the narrow and current filled outlet of Otnabog Lake. The effect of the tide plugging up and then releasing the pressure of the St. John River at the Reversing Falls creates a current of washout proportions at the outlet of the Otnabog, which always encumbers a few fish who lose their wits, hesitate, or float a little too close to the surface, and are snatched up by an unforgiving talon. If you travel far enough upriver on the trail you will come to view the daintily painted old houses on the eastern side of the lake whose front doors face the river instead of road.
Upon your return to the wharf make sure you ask someone in the village to point you to the Hewlett House. This home is the oldest documented building on the St. John River. Richard Hewlett was a Loyalist from Long Island with a reputation of having almost succeeded in capturing George Washington. After his forced departure from present day New York City, he settled along the river around 1784 where he was known to have been associated with the Hewlett Raiders, a band of active marauders who roamed the river at night picking up whatever they could get there hands on. The stone obelisks in the churchyard beside the house mark the resting place of the Hewlett family. After your outing along the river trail and a chat with some locals, you might conclude with some relief that the river is a much more civilized place today.