Bird Islands from the Third Look-Off

Bird Islands from the third look-off
Photo 14 of 25: Bird Islands from the third look-off
Taken 2007 August 10 from the Cape Smokey Trail
at the third look-off (counting from the trail head in the park)
GPS 46°36.4??'N 60°22.1??'W

Eight minutes from the second look-off, one arrives at the third look-off, from which the views are considerably improved over those of the second look-off. This view to the southeast shows (from right to left) Cape Dauphin at the northern terminus of the Great Bras d’Or Massif (which runs along the west side of the Great Bras d’Or Channel from Cape Dauphin in the north to Beinn Bhreagh near Baddeck) and the northern end of Boularderie Island, with the Bird Islands, a popular boat tour destination from Englishtown and Big Bras d’Or, in the centre of the photo. The topographic map shows six islands, of which only the two large islands are named: the leftmost is Ciboux Island and the rightmost is Hertford Island; the other four are minuscule rocky islets, one just off the left tip of Ciboux Island, one just off the right tip of Ciboux Island, and two between Ciboux Island and Hertford Island. These islands are known for their fine bird-watching opportunities, featuring the black guillemot, the razorbill, the black-legged kittiwake, and the great blue heron among other species, but they are best known for their Atlantic puffins, small marine birds that nest here between May and August, and the largest colony of great cormorants in North America. Grey seals are also present from mid-July to mid-September.

At the right of the photo is the Great Bras d’Or Massif, which tapers down to Cape Dauphin at its northeast tip. The topographic map shows Cape Dauphin Mountain at its northern end, while Kellys Mountain is further south (just north of the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 105)); however, the northern end of the whole massif is also commonly referred to as Kellys Mountain.

There seems to be general agreement that the waters to the east of the Bird Islands belong to the Atlantic Ocean. The waters to the west of the Bird Islands and directly below Cape Smokey, i.e., St Anns Bay and the coastal waters north to Aspy Bay (on the east side of the Cape North Massif), are often considered to be part of the Atlantic Ocean as well; however, the typographic maps label them (including St Anns Bay on 11K07) as part of the Gulf of St Lawrence! At first, I thought this was an egregious error, but further research indicates that these waters are indeed sometimes classified as part of the Gulf, since where the Gulf ends and the Atlantic begins seems to be completely undefined. All sources agree that the Cabot Strait is one of the three straits connecting the “inland sea” that is the Gulf of St Lawrence¹ to the Atlantic Ocean (the other two are the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and Québec/Labrador and the Strait of Canso between Cape Breton Island and mainland Nova Scotia, though this latter is now almost entirely blocked by the Canso Causeway). Given its connecting function, it is natural to consider the Cabot Strait both as an egress of the Gulf and as an ingress of the Atlantic, so the lack of crispness in the definition where the Gulf ends and the Atlantic begins is quite understandable here. Still, I find the extension of the Gulf into the waters east of Cape North and south of the Cabot Strait to be very unhelpful and downright confusing, as these waters are definitely not part of any inland sea, and most especially since the adjacent waters to the east of the Bird Islands are universally agreed to be part of the Atlantic Ocean. In this essay, as in those which precede it, I therefore consider the Gulf of St Lawrence to end at the line between Cape North and St Pauls Island and I continue to refer to the waters off the northern coast of Cape Breton as the Cabot Strait and to those south of Aspy Bay and north of Cape Smokey as the Atlantic Ocean.

[2012] Since this essay was written, I have taken the Englishtown boat tour around the Bird Islands, photos from which are in this photo essay.

¹ I am indebted to Mike Little both for the reference to this web page, whose maps are very helpful, and for enlightening discussion on the local naming of these waters. [2012 addendum] This web page has since been moved to the archives, but its contents remain available and germane, in spite of a note declaring the page to be “outdated and no longer relevant”.