16. Colwells Wharf
Route 715, Lower Cambridge
From the old riverboat wharf you can walk downstream along the sparsely treed intervale for a look at the lighthouse on Lower Musquash Island. Over the years its beacon has guided thousands of vessels out of Washdemoak Lake. This reliable workhorse has been an insurance policy for unsuspecting or careless river travelers, who would have easily be fooled by the wide and inviting decoy passage at the head of Hog Island. Hog Island and the mainland intervale have an eternal affinity for each other, hidden in the shallow waters that lie between them, and the narrow but deep channel they have been trying to bridge for centuries. Many assume that Hog Island is a broken-off piece of the mainland that once extended all the way down to the prominent channel located off the downriver shore of Hog Island. The island is very special to birders in the know, because it is home to a few nesting Greater Scaup. The scaup were discovered here only about 20 years ago, not too long after a much larger colony of these birds was found nesting downriver at Grassy Island, just off of Oak Point. These two locations have the reputation of being the southern-most breeding location for this species. One would have to travel to Iles de la Madeleine and Anticosti Island Quebec to encounter the other atypical breeding sites outside of its normal nesting area that spans across the Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. The birds nesting on this low island can be seen close to its shores prior to nesting season, and then immediately after the hens bring their broods off the nest. The small family groups stay in the vicinity until the young birds have fledged and the hen has replaced last year’s plumage with new flight feathers. Once adult and young of the year are capable of flight they seem to disappear from the local area, and are only seen again around the middle of October. This same magic trick also occurs in the Common Goldeneye. It is speculated that once the broods of this species are fledged there is a northward movement of these birds to large lakes in northern Quebec, Labrador, and possibly Ontario. This species, along with its cavity-nesting counterparts, the Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser, have been taken under the wing by hundreds of dedicated volunteers. These altruistic men, women, and children can be seen every spring at the helm of small boats full of constructed nest boxes. These conservationists tempt their good fortune, as they install these nest boxes while hanging precariously from an aluminum ladder propped up against the large Silver Maples that line the shore of river islands. The Common Goldeneye is loyal to its birthplace and starts resurfacing on the St. John River about the end of October.
On the Washdemoak Lake side of the sparsely treed intervale you are following are little bays of quiet water interspersed with aquatic vegetation that is frequented by intervale nesters like the Blue-winged Teal and American Widgeon. These birds rely on delayed hay cut to insure their breeding success. A week of rain during the latter stages of egg incubation usually affords these birds the opportunity to hatch their clutch and get their brood to water before the hay swathers take to the fields. Odds are also on your side that you will see American Black Ducks, who are the most common nesting waterfowl species along the lower river. In addition, the ever-increasing numbers of Canada geese in the province has also seen the settlement of this Canadian icon along the shores of the Washdemoak.
The tranquil waters of this lower corner of the lake are also an ideal place to watch Great Blue Herons in work mode. With the setting sun at your back you can see the light paint these slate-blue stick birds with strokes of rust and gold.
The narrow channel that separates the mainland from Lower Musquash Island is known as Lawsons Passage. This very secluded and tranquil finger of the St. John River is an excellent place to view Osprey. These now common river raptors can usually be seen high atop the Silver Maples that line the eastern shore of Lower Musquash Island, inspecting every slab of moving water coming through the outlet of the lake. Sometimes they are even seen perched on the old lighthouse, in what seems to be a little bit of a desecrating situation when one thinks of all the good the lighthouse has done over the years.