7. Evandale Ferry Landing
Route 102 at Evandale Ferry
Down river from the ferry landing along the old Valley Railway nature trail lie farm fields, floodplain forests, seasonally flooded wetlands, and one of the many alluvial lakes that dot the lower St. John River valley. The ephemeral nature of the seasonally flooded wetlands located between the trail and the St. John River create a richness of micro habitats. The edge of shrub cover in the more elevated portions of the wetland is home to the Eastern Phoebe. Though dull in colour this flycatcher is easily distinguished by its distinct Feee-be call and checked off by maniacal ‘listers’. In the grass-choked sections of the wetland one will hear the gurgling chatter of Marsh Wrens, who are easy to spot because of their busy demeanour and being especially talkative during the breeding season.
Within the wet grass can also be heard the Nelson Sharp-tailed Sparrow, whose familiar pi-teeshhhh call will stand out to even the most of novice birders. The large expanses of contiguous wetland habitat at this location harbour the Least Bittern, a threatened species in Canada and very uncommon in New Brunswick. The Least Bittern typically breeds in large marshes containing pools and dominated by tall emergent vegetation. This species’ population decline is undoubtedly related to the draining and filling of wetlands. The unique characteristics of the river have no doubt been a good to this species.
Within the small fringe of hardwood forest that lines the trail can be found the soft-hued Great Crested Flycatcher and the boldly coloured Baltimore Oriole. At the base of the riverside hardwoods feed the brilliantly coloured waddling Wood Ducks. These birds are very adept on land, and during the autumn can work a piece of ground searching for acorns as thoroughly as any metal detector-wielding beachcomber. On the river shore hang the Red-winged Blackbirds, clutching to stems of wild rice while picking the sought after grains before they fall into the water, to the delight of newly fledged American Black Duck broods, who only recently have discovered that life is good when one can fly from one buffet table to another. This river garden seems to provide something for everyone.
Further down the trail, the large open water wetland called Nutter Creek contains a breeding colony of Black Tern. This uncommon ‘marsh tern’ has a very sharp and unrelenting, some would say annoying call. You will no doubt recognize the bird immediately as it has a habit of swooping down on intruders that may be getting too close to their nesting area. These beautiful creatures have a distinctly buoyant and seemingly effortless flight, swooping down to a few inches above the surface of the water to pick off insects suspended there. The Black Tern is found in the lower river valley because of the abundance of open water wetland habitat such as that supplied by Nutter Creek.
Upon your return if you decide to head upriver you will be treated to a beautiful vista of Spoon Island. Islands of the lower river are normally flooded each spring. The determination of generations gone by, built homes, barns, and other amenities on the precarious little rises of intervale land known to keep rising waters at bay. Barns, some with floating floors, were a common feature of these river islands until only a few years ago, and places like Spoon Island had families living there year-round until about 1915. Once you arrive at the old railway trestle you will be looking down on the marsh at The Quarries. Upriver of the trestle is the quarry that until very recently was a source of granite for craftsmen across the Maritimes and beyond. On one occasion several large granite blocks were hoisted onto railcars on this very trail destined for central Canada. The blocks, accompanied by a maple leaf pattern designed by a school teacher from Hampstead, have long since arrived at their destination and are assembled into a monument that will continue to unite Canadians for a long time. Those granite blocks form the structure of the National War Memorial in Ottawa.