Waterfront wildlife

IMG_2779It is about a 2 1/2 nautical mile row from the Charlottetown Yacht Club to the site of an old wharf on the Hillsborough River which served what was then the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at Falconwood , later renamed Riverside Hospital and even more recently Hillsborough Hospital as both Falconwood and Riverside had somehow become tainted names.  The wharf served for coal delivery to the huge Victorian pile which was at the time miles from town.  Photos in the Public Archives show a large steamer at the wharf. When the bridge crossing the Hillsborough was built in 1903 to serve the Murray Harbour Branch Line of the PEI Railway it had a swing span to allow for river traffic.

Hillsborough Hospital showing site of coal wharf

Hillsborough Hospital showing site of coal wharf

The old railway bridge was closed in the later 1960s and the narrower  span of the new bridge caused changes in the currents and siltation and the site of the old wharf would hardly float a rowboat today. All that is left is a small rock pile running out from the shore and a shadow on the aerial photos on Google Earth.  Beyond the wharf site is a relatively undeveloped area and a number bald eagle nests are in the taller trees in a part of the  shore which once housed the city’s landfill site.

Other remnants of the past are the  pillars of the railway bridge.  When the bridge steel was removed following the opening of the new bridge the pillars marched across the river and included a circular base for the swing section and wooden cribs which supported the span when it was open. The cribs were the first to disappear but over the years even the sturdy sandstone pillars fell victim to frost heaves and ice movement and the ones in the channel have toppled, leaving stumps just under the water as navigation hazards. At low water the harbour seals heave themselves up on these rock and baste in the sun.

IMG_2780-1The remaining pillars have been colonized by the cormorants. Initially they used them only as resting points and spots to dry their wings between fishing excursions.  Their main location is Governor’s Island where the whole site is a rookery.   However on my rowing trip yesterday I noticed that nest-building was taking place on at least one of the six surviving pillars west of the current bridge. The site was formerly used by a tern colony but the cormorants have crowded them off,  The cormorants are dirty birds  and being downwind from a nesting area will really take your breath away. It is very hard to avoid inhaling as you pass beneath the rock piles, especially when rowing.

IMG_2781-1Nearby is another low tide resting point for  birds.  A rubble jetty extends to shelter the intake waters for the electric plant’s cooling system. Although covered at high tide as the waters recede it is used by gulls and the cormorants for sunning themselves.  Unlike the bridge piers this site plays host to a range of sea birds.   On my hour and a half row I was once again followed by a curious seal who seemed hardly able to believe that a boat would venture east of the Hillsborough Bridge. The low span and the swift currents of incoming and outgoing tide make the area dangerous for sail and the powerboats of the harbour seem more interested in the sea-side than the river side of the Hillsborough Bridge.

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