21. Wilmot Bluff Park
Thatch Road, south of Fredericton Airport off Route 102
Through the soft morning light and broken mist you can almost hear the riverboat forcing its diesel engine to combat the outgoing tide, and the excitement of weekly supplies arriving in river communities 100 years ago. Wilmot Bluff Wharf is now the place that greets youngsters with fishing rods in tow, families out for a boat ride, and many other seekers of serenity. Those who embark on the walking trail downstream trace the route of the old road to Oromocto. This gateway now leads to an undisturbed peninsula of floodplain forest, wetlands, and abandoned farm fields. The bird enthusiasts can pursue passion here to their heart’s content. The floodplain forest of mature Silver Maples, American Elm, and Butternut abounds with the more reclusive types, like the Great Horned Owl, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, and Pileated Woodpecker.
The massive hardwoods also provide appropriate-sized cavities to Hooded Merganser, Common Goldeneye, and Wood Duck, who all have the same selection criteria for nest sites – an entrance hole small enough and deep enough to discourage raccoons from entering or reaching down for an egg McDuckin, or crows reaching in with their dexterous bills to poke a hole and siphon out the contents of a precious clutch egg.
An American Black Duck or Mallard might surprise you as it flushes from one of the massive freckle-budding maples. Upon closer investigation you might assume that the bird jumped off a clump of grass wedged into the notch of the tree. You assume the grass was deposited there by the high water in April and May, creating a nest bowl for some ingenious Mallard to adopt. Curiosity has overcome you now, as a whole host of unrealistic approaches are considered in an attempt to discover if there are any eggs in the cake of straw that hangs precariously just out of reach.
Framed by the St. John and Oromocto rivers this peninsula offers countless opportunities to view fish eaters like the Osprey and Bald Eagle. Both of these species are responsible for the massive stick nests that sit atop mature floodplain hardwoods. The tilted hardwood obelisks hanging precariously over the water are the perches from which these river icons scan for meal opportunities.
Just below Oromocto Island, at the confluence of St. John River and the Oromocto River is a large expanse of water that regularly hosts Common Loons. These birds use this portion of the river as a staging area on their way to wintering waters on the Bay of Fundy, and in the spring while they await ice-out on their native lake deep in the boreal forest. The blending of currents has no doubt created conditions that attract forage fish and loons by extension.
Work your way further down this peninsula trail and you will meet a group of shrubs determined on invading abandoned farm fields. This low growth habitat teems with nesting Yellow Warblers and Chipping Sparrows. The canopy of tangles also harbours Eastern Phoebes, Red-eyed Vireos, and Common Yellowthroats. Out of the corner of your eye comes the subliminally familiar un-pruned bramble of an abandoned apple tree that will no doubt expose the ubiquitous American Robin. Assumptions are an interesting attribute of all humans including eagle-eyed birding enthusiasts. The large shadowy figures working their way through the trees on Oromocto Island are another anomaly of the river valley. These are hooved representatives of domestic stock, cattle that roam the river islands from early summer to late autumn, brought here by those barges you’ve undoubtedly noticed tied up to trees on the shores of the river islands.