Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Salvages

The name of some places can evoke certain feelings. "The Salvages" conjures up thoughts of an inhospitable place fraught with danger. The Salvages are aptly named. Western Halfmoon and Eastern Halfmoon are two islands 2 km south-east of the Blanche Peninsula. These two islands are known as The Salvages. Keep going east after these islands and if you're lucky the next land you'll hit will be the fabled Sable Island. 

These islands are extremely exposed to the elements. In 1915 a fog alarm building was built on Western Halfmoon, the most southerly of the islands. To withstand the punishing Atlantic Ocean the walls of the building were built with 41 cm thick concrete. Visit for more information on this or any of Nova Scotia's many lighthouses.

On the morning of August 2, 2014 Bertin d'Eon and I put the Zodiac in at the wharf at Commercial Street in Port La Tour, Shelburne County. We had planned on visiting some of the islands east of Port La Tour. The ocean was very calm and the forecast was predicting light winds for the entire day. We decided to seize the opportunity and head for The Salvages.

As we were crossing from Baccaro to Blanche we came upon a pod of 5 porpoises. We got some great views thanks to the very flat waters. Our first stop was Blanche Island. This island was home to approximately 1300 Double-crested Cormorants. This was by far the largest colony that I've ever seen.

Hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants - Blanche Island - August 2, 2014

Blanche Island held my first Pectoral Sandpipers of the season as well as 20 Ruddy Turnstones, 15 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 6 Canada Geese. Black Guillemots were both on the water and on the rocks on the island. We landed and walked around the northern half. We were very pleased to find a Black Guillemot nest in some of the large rocks on the north western side as well as this single egg.

Black Guillemot Egg - Blanche Island - August 2, 2014

Our next destination was Western Halfmoon. On our way we spotted an adult Razorbill moulting into basic plumage. To my knowledge the nearest nesting sites for Razorbills are on Green Island (south of Yarmouth) and Ram Island (east of Lockeport). Surrounding the Razorbill was a group of about 100 Arctic Terns that must have nested nearby, possibly on Blanche Island.

Razorbill - near Blanche Island - August 2, 2014

Saying that I was excited as we were approaching The Salvages is an understatement. Western Halfmoon is simply a rock with a shingle beach, an old fog alarm building and a new automated solar-powered light tower. Our greeting party was made up of two Irish Moss harvesters. 

Western Halfmoon - August 2, 2014

Minutes after stepping foot on Western Halfmoon we had 4 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 14 Ruddy Turstones and 1 Whimbrel. I climbed to the top of the automated light to get a better angle for a photograph of the impressive building. The large treed island in the background of the photo below is the picturesque Cape Negro Island.

Fog building - Western Halfmoon - August 2, 2014

Northern Gannets were flying by in ones and twos. Most were adults and I only counted 2 immature birds. They were passing by much closer than you'd see them when on the mainland. We were able to enter the old structure to find it practically empty. The paint was peeling off of the walls and the place had a strong musty smell. 

Western Halfmoon Fog Building - August 2, 2014

I assume that the building isn't locked so that anyone stranded at sea will be able to use it for shelter. There was an emergency supply box that was last stocked in the late 1990's and some office furniture like the nice desk in the photo above.

We then headed to Eastern Halfmoon and found Black Guillemots leaving from within holes in the large rocks on the island. They were most likely nesting there. There were 19 Ruddy Turnstones and 10 Semipalmated Sandpipers on this tiny rock of an island.

On our way back towards Port La Tour we re-observed the Razorbill and were delighted to see the pod of Porpoises again. We made a quick stop at Crow's Neck Beach to count 75 Willets along with a few more species of shorebirds.

Soon after arriving at the group of islands east of Smithsville we found a lone American Oystercatcher. I was hoping we would find it. Last summer on August 4, 2013 we had 2 Oystercatchers at this exact location. This may be evidence of this species moving further east along the Nova Scotian coast. At present, the only confirmed breeding pairs of American Oystercatchers in Canada are at Cape Sable Island. I will have to check this location again next spring to try and confirm nesting.

Rare American Oystercatcher - Sheep Island - August 2, 2014

One of the islands east of Smithsville is named Sheep Island and this island hosts a colony of both Arctic and Common Terns. I was able to count about 225 individuals, most of which were Arctic Terns.

Common Tern - Sheep Island - August 2, 2014

We covered about 27 km during the morning's trip. Below is the track from the Commercial Street wharf at Port La Tour to The Salvages and back. Use Google Maps to explore this wonderful area.

Our trip

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