Prior to this tour, I had only ever seen the Bird Islands from the western shores of St Anns Bay, as, for instance, here, looking south from Cape Smokey. From such a perspective, they appear to be rather low to the water and more or less nondescript.
What a difference proximity makes! Although the topographical map shows only one contour line, indicating that the maximum height is greater than 20 m (65 ft) and less than 40 m (131 ft), when one is staring up at them from the water, the islands were much higher than I had expected.
And they were spectacularly worn by erosion, giving them a look quite unlike any other terrain I have seen in Cape Breton. Not that erosion is uncommon there—quite the contrary! But these are rocks that have been worn and often, destroyed, by the action of the waves, wind, and winter ice, much beyond what one usually sees elsewhere. Notice, for example, the pile of rubble beneath the cave at the end of the island. The rocks here clearly came from above, falling down as their weight pulled them away from the rocks above, likely from the weakening caused by water and ice entering between their layers. And notice too how sharply the rocks have been chiselled, not only on the protruding ledge where the cormorants are perched, but along the side of the hill. It is likely that at one time these rocks were covered by soil that has since been worn away, leaving the rock skeletons underneath exposed and bare.
In addition to their most interesting land shapes, the islands certainly merit their common monicker: birds are everywhere, on the rocks, in the grass on the hills above, in the caves below, in the water, and often in the air (though these two shots don’t seem to have any of the latter).
The captain slowed the boat to a crawl so that we had plenty of opportunity to gape and to gawk; the tour guide pointed out many things that were easy for the uninitiated to miss and did a fine job answering all of our many questions. On the eastern side of the islands, in the waters of the Atlantic, a significant amount of wave motion made getting a sharp photograph on a rolling boat while keeping one’s balance a bit tricky, particularly the farther north we progressed; notice the white caps in the waters even here at the beginning of our slow circumnavigation.