11. Fox Road Wharf
Fox Road (off Upper Hampstead Road), South of Gagetown on Route 102
A more pastoral setting would be purely fictional. Even when not in bloom one can smell the sweetness of the apples. From Sterling Apple Farms make your way upriver on the old railway line trail. Within a few hundred meters you will come to the old railway trestle that crosses over the outlet of Boyds Marsh. This Ducks Unlimited wetland was dedicated to wildlife artist John Swan. The marsh is fed by Kettle Creek that originates deep within Canadian Armed Forces Base Gagetown. The high vantage point of the former railway embankment provides the birder with the obvious advantage of looking down into the marsh from above, but more importantly for the more skilled pursuers of birds, is the echo effect that broadcasts bird calls up and out of the marsh, especially on calm overcast days or at dawn and dusk. This place is a haven for waterfowl, but the variety of adjoining habitats and its undisturbed nature make it a jewel of a birding spot!
The large hardwoods along the edge of the marsh and those lining the trail embankment make great postings for raptors. Watching over the apple orchard could be the efficient and unforgiving Northern Goshawk. Identifying these birds is very difficult as they are usually only seen momentarily, and often during an attack. Plumage is similar among several related species, forcing many birders to rely on the bird’s wing beats as a more user friendly identifier. The adult male Northern Goshawk is easily confirmed by their brilliant bluish gray colour and impressive size. On the smaller trees that lie closest to the waters edge one can find the Belted Kingfisher. A favourite feeding area for these birds is in the large expanse of water located just upstream of the fish ladder and water control structure at the outlet of the marsh. These active perchers and hoverers are colourful birds whose call is heard long before they are seen. In this rather open section of the wetland it is common to see the shy but common Pied-billed Grebe slipping silently underwater to escape any hint of danger or disturbance. Further up the trail is a spectacular view of Upper Musquash Island. In the autumn the long strip of river intervale at the head of the island is dotted with massive rolls of bailed hay. Immediately after the hay is harvested numerous Northern Harriers head to the intervale to feed on exposed rodents, and the flocks of sparrows foraging for grubs and bugs. Prior to freeze-up you can see tractors hurriedly working the island intervale, loading river scows that will bring the hay back to the mainland for the winter. Though the island intervale is fairly high, an abnormal year of deep snow cover, and warm temperatures combining with heavy rainfall in the spring along the river’s massive watershed, can spell havoc for farmers who unfortunately did not bring their hay off before the snow came.
If you decide to cross the abandoned train trestle the trail ahead offers an ideal place to view the flamboyant American Redstart. Even the females of this warbler, who in contradiction to the natural law of being drab coloured for avoiding detection during nesting, are showy, with their soft yet conspicuous yellow markings. There is no mistaking the male American Redstart. Look back down into the marsh now and you will notice that the vegetation has become much denser. These thick stands of Bulrush and Horsetail, and floating mats of Buckbean, interspersed with small pockets of open water are where the ‘puddlers’ congregate. Mallards, American Black Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, and American Widgeon can be seen sifting the surface of the water and tipping up to selectively scavenge on the helpless and unsuspecting Duckweed, or the sluggish aquatic invertebrates. A flock of birds working a small pocket of open water can resemble a beehive preparing for winter. Birds are swimming around, back and forth, and criss-crossing each other resembling an ancient and chaotic traffic circle like the one at the Piazza dell Popolo in Rome, or the one where the Arche de Triomphe and the Champ de l’Ysée come together in Paris. No matter how hard you look with binocular or spotting scope, it will be very difficult to see the bystander American Bittern, jammed up motionless against the wall of Bulrush watching intently for any sign of a disoriented frog or crayfish that might surface within reach for a nanosecond too long! Further up the trail you will need to look for a large but fairly obstructed area of open water in the middle of the marsh that seems to be attracting a different kind of duck. These are most probably the runway-requiring Ring-necked Ducks. These birds travel in large flocks, especially in the autumn, and prefer open water wetlands without much emergent vegetation, where they can come in for a viciously fast and long landing, and where they can execute successful getaway in the form of a prolonged running takeoff.
Just when you think you have seen as much of the marsh as you can from your sentinel location high up on this old railway embankment, you will rejoice in discovering that now, on the river side of the trail, lies another beautiful marsh waiting to be discovered.