Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Brunswick: Bay of Fundy

On the last day of May 2012, Eileen, Cynthia, Lau and I, having arrived at our friends' house in Fredericton, New Brunswick, set off for a tour of the province's most remarkable natural attraction: the Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides on the planet.  Our first stop was to see the Hopewell Rocks, near the head of the bay.

We reached them by walking down to the beach through handsome stands of trees.

Downy Alder (Alnus viridis)
On the way, I paused to photograph the catkins of Downy Alder (Alnus viridis).

Usnea lichen (Parmeliaceae)
Strands of Usnea lichen (Parmeliaceae) dangled from forest branches.

The undergrowth was dominated by a carpet of mosses...

Common Wood-Sorrel (Oxalis montana)
…and a covering of low flowering plants, including Common Wood-Sorrel (Oxalis montana).

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a very common plant in Canadian woodlands.  It is one of the dogwoods, most of which are bushes or trees.  Bunchberry, instead, is a creeper, spreading by underground rhizomes and forming mats on the forest floor.  As for other dogwoods, what appear to be its flowers are actually inflorescences.  What appear to be petals are actually showy white bracts surrounding the cluster of true flowers.  By late summer, the inflorescence will be replaced by a tight cluster of bright red berries - hence the name "bunchberry".

The path ends with a warning for anyone planning to descend to the beach.  The tides come in high and fast, and can be dangerous.  The sign posts the time by which all visitors must be back on higher ground.

Our first view of the bay, and the rocks below us, is a remarkable (and famous) one.

On the beach, Eileen was dwarfed by the weathered pinnacles of stone (actually heavily-eroded columns of compressed sand and rubble laid down as a conglomerate some 330 million years ago).

As usual, I searched for the little things: signs of life along the beach, waiting for the sea to return at high tide.

Masses of seaweeds covered the lower faces of the rocks, below the high-tide waterline.

Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus)
Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus)
Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus)
Most abundant were mats of Bladder Wrack (Fucus vesiculosus), the same species I had seen only a few weeks earlier in Ireland, on the other side of the Atlantic.  In North America it is frequently known as Rockweed.

Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus)
Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus)
Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus)
Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus)
The swollen vesicles that give Bladder Wrack its name are highly variable in shape and size.

A park guide showed us that the bladders are full of a gelatinous substance (as I demonstrate here to Cynthia).  Bladder Wrack itself is full of chemicals, particularly iodine, and has been collected as a source for medicinal supplements.

Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus)
Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus), Knotted Wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum), Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus)
Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus), a red alga, has been used for generations to produce jellies and drinks, as a source of traditional medicines and as a clarifying agent in the brewing of beer.

Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea)
Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea)
Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea)
Animal life in the intertidal zone included Common Periwinkles (Littorina littorea)...

Northern Rock Barnacle (Balanus balanoides)
and Northern Rock Barnacles (Balanus balanoides).

Even the rocks themselves looked alive when seen from the right angle (no, this is not a mummified dinosaur head).

From the Hopewell Rocks we drove south along the New Brunswick side of the bay to Fundy National Park, were we walked through another patch of woods and descended a long wooden staircase to another beach, still exposed at low tide, looking across to the sea cliffs at Alma.

The pebbles on the beach are remarkable in themselves - you can find amethyst, agate, jasper and other semiprecious stones among them, once part of the peaks of a vanished mountain range.

Surf Clam (Spisula solidissima)
Among the coloured pebbles I found the occasional bleached shell, here probably from a Surf Clam (Spisula solidissima). 

Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus)
Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus)
Here, too, were more clumps of Bladder Wrack clinging to the exposed rocks.

The fallen tide exposed a vast expanse of mud along beach.

Mud Dog Whelk (Nassarius obsoletus)
Mud Dog Whelk (Nassarius obsoletus)
Mud Dog Whelks (Nassarius obsoletus) [also known as Eastern Mudsnails (Ilyanassa obsoleta)] plower through the fine wet silts seeking bits of organic matter, their chief source of food.

Returning from the beach as the tides rose, we had time to look again at the coastal woods and their flowers...

Bedstraw (Galium sp)
…clumps of Bedstraw (Galium sp.)...

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)
…and blooming Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) on the forest floor.

Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens)
The woods were full of wood warblers (Parulidae), the colourful sprites that are the chief delight of many Norh American birders.  Here is a female Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens).

Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica)
This is one of its cousins, a male Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica)...

Northern Parula (Parula americana)
…and here is a bird whose genus gives the family its name, a Northern Parula (Parula americana).  Parulas frequently build their nests in clumps of the Usnea lichens featured near the top of this post.

From the trail to the highway: our final view of the Bay of Fundy before we headed back to Fredericton, from a viewpoint above the National Park.  Our next sight of it would be of its southern end, as we crossed its waters on the ferry to Nova Scotia.

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