Bird Islands

[Original] Introduction

The Bird Islands lie to the northeast of Cape Dauphin and are usually taken as forming the boundary between St Anns Bay, to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean, to the east. Ciboux Island is the northernmost of the two islands and Hertford Island is the southernmost; various small rocky outcroppings lie around and between these two islands, but none is large enough to merit the designation of “island” nor have a name of its own. According to this reproduction of Thomas J. Brown’s 1922 text, Place-names of the province of Nova Scotia, the islands were shown as the “Ciboux Islands” on very old maps. In spite of its apparently French spelling, Ciboux is nevertheless an Indian name meaning River Islands (the name Cibou (“Big River“) was once applied to St Anns). Hertford Island is presumably named for an English nobleman, though I have been unable to identify which of the several bearing that name was so honoured.

This document, dating from 2000, says that the Nova Scotia Bird Society owns Hertford Island, while the province of Nova Scotia owns Ciboux Island; at that point, the province wanted to create a wildlife management area in conjunction with the Nova Scotia Bird Society. I see no indication on their web site that this has happened. Nor does the Nova Scotia government web site’s Protected Areas listing contain an entry for the Bird Islands or either of its constituent islands. Yet I have seen elsewhere on the Internet and more than once that it is a protected area or a protected bird sanctuary. If anyone reading this can relay to me its official protected status, I’d be grateful.

A lighthouse on Ciboux Island was manned from 1863 to some time in the 20th century,¹ but both islands are now given over to the grey seals and the several bird species who favour the area: they host the most numerous colony of great cormorants in North America and bald eagles, Atlantic puffins, black guillemots, razorbills, double-breasted cormorants, herring gulls, black-legged kittiwakes, ruddy turnstones, and blue herons are all found there,² some in considerable abundance, depending on the time of the year.

Two different operators offer boat tours of the Bird Islands: Bird Island Boat Tours, located on Old Highway 5 in Big Bras d’Or on Boularderie Island a short distance from the Trans-Canada Highway between North Sydney and Kellys Mountain, and Donelda’s Puffin Boat Tours, located at the docks in Englishtown just before the ferry. I took the latter tour, which I highly recommend, as I happened to be in the area at just the right time; I will at some point try the other tour from Big Bras d’Or, which others highly recommend, as I would also like to see the waters of the Great Bras d’Or Channel from Big Bras d’Or to Cape Dauphin.

The boat ride from the Englishtown docks to the Bird Islands is roughly 15 km (9 mi) long and lasts approximately forty-five minutes; it passes through the southern portion of St Anns Bay, not far from its eastern shores, passing by Cowdy Point and approaching Cape Dauphin on its way to the Bird Islands, a route of great beauty that allowed me to see areas close up I had previously seen only from afar—as you will see, the view up close is often spectacularly different from that from a long ways away. I have included in this essay photos along this route as well as those of the Bird Islands, which we circumnavigated at a very slow pace so that we could see the islands and the birds that live there up close and at leisure. The entire tour lasts close to three hours. It was a fine day for the boat trip, sunny and bright, and the photos I took of things relatively close to the boat came out quite well; unfortunately, the considerable amount of haze in the air, which increased as the day progressed, substantially reduces the clarity of features (such as Cape Smokey) at some distance from the boat, so you will not see too many of those.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2011 August 11

¹ See this web page for a description of the three successive lights on Ciboux Island. The description of the third, which says the light is not still standing is incorrect, as a photo in this essay (and the one on the referenced web page itself!) prove; whether the light is still operational or not, I do not know, though I suspect that it is.

² This information comes from this web page and this web page.

Revision of 2012

This revision, like the others done this year, has made nearly all of the photos the uniform 900-pixel size (the one exception would have been distorted and pixellated at that size). This has necessitated a slight reörganization of the text, which before flowed around the smaller-sized photos. Except for minor improvements to the wording, the text is otherwise unchanged.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2012 April 24

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Note 1: If you are unfamiliar with the place names mentioned in this essay, a list of map resources is given here. Of these, the best computer-readable map of Cape Breton Island that I currently know about is the Cape Breton Travel Map, produced by Destination Cape Breton and, thanks to their express written permission, available as a PDF file here; I strongly urge you to download it. This map scales nicely, allowing you to zoom in on an area of interest, has a very helpful place name index, and provides a level of detail, both of back roads and streams, that is quite good.

Note 2: See the description here for the notation I use for GPS (Global Positioning System) coördinates, which are those I wrote down when I took the photos. I took Griselda on the tour with me, so the GPS coördinates shown in this essay result from correlating the GPS track times with the photo times; even though they are likely to be off by some small amount, I have not shown question marks with them, as they should be relatively close.

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