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Shell Bay

In my younger years one of my favourite places to go was to the land that lays just landwards from Shell Bay. This was part of the lands of Kincraig.  The only man made structure in the entire area was an ancient salmon fishermen's stone built cottage that stood by the burn at the south/ eastward end of the bay. When the salmon fishers no longer fished and the cottage stood empty I could very easily have moved in to live out my life in this place of solitude. Many times I stood inside it and visioned where I would place this and that if it were to become my home. The cottage stood empty for several years then slowly but surely the weather took its toll. When the roof collapsed and the cottage  became a hazard it was demolished. I felt quite a sense of loss when the cottage was no longer there.

In the springtime this land was the home and the nesting ground of a great many species of birds. Peewits, (lapwings) Killdeer, dinters, (eider ducks)  and sea birds too numerous to mention nested in profusion.  In walking through the area one had to be very careful not to step on a nest. Curlews and oyster catchers made their nests in the long grasses behind the sand dunes that front the shoreline of the bay. Families of rabbits  dodged in and out of their burrows as they shared the land with the birds.

Shell Bay was truly a wildlife  nature wonderland.

The only landward access to the area was by foot trodden pathways. No vehicle except now and then a horse drawn cart ever entered this place.   It may have been this way for hundreds of years.  It appeared to have been this way forever.  Except for the one salmon fishermen's cottage it was untouched by the hand of man.

Being far from traveled roadways the only sounds in the area were the sounds of the sea, the winds when they blew and the calling of the birds. When there and looking up at puffy clouds in a clear blue sky it seemed like time was standing still and there was no one else in the entire world.

Nearby is Ruddons Point which was the domain of the black headed Arctic tern.  Here you just couldn't walk through the area in the nesting season as the ground was completely covered with their nests.  When they rose up into the air the sky was literally darkened by their wings in flight. Arctic terns are highly protective of their nests.  If you attempted to walk through the nesting area, the terns in great numbers would dive on you and with their wings beat you on the head while screaming their protests at your intrusion.

Arctic Terns

Photograph courtesy of photographer David Stevenson

Ruddons Point was also the home and nesting place of a great many species of other sea and shoreline dwelling birds including  several species of ducks and geese.

There was one bird at Shell Bay that I haven't forgotten.  She was an eider duck.  Eider ducks are sea birds that spend most all of their lives at sea.  They're almost as big as small geese.  As I was walking through the long grass I almost stepped on her.  Only by her making a slight movement when I was almost on top of her did I know she was there. She was right down in the tall grass completely hidden.  I froze in my step and backed off.  She never made a move.  I got down on my knees to her level. Again she never moved.  As I quietly talked to her she completely amazed me. She got up and stepped aside to show  me what she was doing.  She was sitting on a down feathered nest that was full of eggs.

After a few moments of letting me look she got back down on to her nest. As I was on my knees I reached out to touch her, this wild bird of the sea.  It was an instant bonding. She allowed me to stroke her back and gave all the signs of accepting and liking me.  After this encounter, I went back to see her every day. She would let me pick her up and set her aside as I looked at her progress of hatching her eggs. After putting her back in place she never failed to primp and make little noises as I stroked her back. After the young hatched and when she saw me coming, she would get off the nest and for a few moments let me look. 

Then one day she and all of her brood were gone,-- off to spend their lives at sea.

I've never seen it written anywhere but wild birds lay their eggs with the pointed ends of the eggs pointing  outwards----"fresh". Each day as the process of incubation gets underway she slightly turns each egg by a small amount until finally all of the pointed ends of the eggs are pointing in to the center of the nest--- "deep."  I got so that by observing this process I could accurately predict on which day each egg would hatch.

Shell Bay and Ruddons Point   (Tide at low ebb)

 

Looking at this photo reminds me of the days that for a good fish dinner I would go to Shell Bay to catch flounders with my feet. Shell Bay is about a quarter of a mile long from the tide being fully in to the tide being fully out. Shell Bay is almost level so when the tide is on the inflow the sea will flow over the sand very rapidly and at first will be shallow in depth. With the tide come numerous flounders that lay on the surface of the sand that with a swish of their tails get covered with a fine covering of sand when they are threatened. By taking off your shoes and socks, rolling up your pant legs and wading in the bay you can feel the hiding flounders with your feet that become yours for the picking up as you keep a restraining foot on top of each one. Equipment needed: no rod, no reel, no line, no hook, no bait, just your bare feet and a bag to carry your flounders home.

 

Now a word of caution. Horse shoe shaped Shell Bay is far from being the Bay of Fundy but it has similar tidal characteristics. Only go floundering when the tide is ebbing and the bay is steadily becoming shallower. Twice a day at the low of the tidal ebb, the bay reverses its flow. The onward rush of the incoming tide can surround and entrap the uneducated and the unwary. Do not wade far out from the shore in Shell Bay on an incoming tide. If you go against this advice, wear a flotation device and be prepared to make a fast exit from the water when you can no longer paddle and you have to swim. As a boy I learned this lesson the hard way.