Governor’s Island, Prince Edward Island: A Land (Seemingly) Before Time

Oh my, I just realized that it’s been exactly six months since my last post. A lot has happened since then, namely winter in general when time spent photographing things drops significantly, but also my PhD comprehensive exam and uber-busy field season. The latter has consumed the last three or so months, but like a light switch that someone flipped off, my business has come to an end. So, that’s opened up more opportunities to get out with my camera. YAY!

This past December I dropped our local Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) representative an email asking if they needed photo support for any of their projects, current or future. They indicated that photographs of their properties, field work, and volunteer events would be greatly appreciated and as someone that is sympathetic to their cause, I was more than happy to oblige.

Tuesday June 30th marked the first day I was able to get out and help the NCC with some field work. Actually, other than take  photos I didn’t really help at all; I just tagged along. Nevertheless, we met at a boat ramp near Charlottetown and headed out mid-morning.

It was the craziest boat ride I’ve ever been on. But that’s a story over beers…

After nearly breaking my fingers gripping the gunwale so hard, we finally made it to Governor’s Island. GI sits near the mouth of Charlottetown Harbour, within sight of Stratford and a few other communities on the South Shore. It’s accessible only by boat (yeah…island… duh, Sean) and really only by motor boat unless you get great conditions and are experienced sea kayakers.

As we approached the low elevation chunk of land, you could make out small shapes on the shoreline. Their size increased as we approached land and it was apparent we were looking at close to 100 seals, mostly of the grey variety. One of Governor Island’s claims to fame is a colony of seals, thought to number around 300, that calls this piece of terre “Home”.

Speaking of Governor’s Island factoids, here are a few more

  • The first offshore oil well in North America was drilled near GI
  • GI was one of the first pieces of Canadian land owned by a woman
  • The island was proposed as a religious retreat for followers of American evangelist, Billy Graham
  • To follow with the last bullet point, an air strip was constructed and trailers brought to the island
  • GI has very old geology reminiscent of mainland Nova Scotia rather than the younger stone of PEI… together this suggests that PEI was once connected to the mainland
  • It is home to a large colony of double-crested cormorants and great blue herons and it’s a stop-over point for migratory songbirds and waterfowl

I won’t bore you with a ton of text. What follows are the Editor’s Choice from a most-enjoyable 4-hours in a place with a decidedly prehistoric feel (save the airstrip remains and the old trailer). And you can click on each photo to make them BIGGER

Dead trees, killed most likely by the acidic poop of the cormorants sitting in them, provide the backdrop for vibrant green shrubs.

Dead trees, killed most likely by the acidic poop of the cormorants sitting in them, provide the backdrop for vibrant green shrubs.

A juvenile bald eagle hops off its perch above a family of double-crested cormorants, who are clearly protesting its presence. There were several eagles flying about and perching around, and I assume the eagles are picking off cormorant and heron chicks... Mmm, yummy.

A juvenile bald eagle hops off its perch above a family of double-crested cormorants, who are clearly protesting its presence. There were several eagles flying about and perching around, and I assume the eagles are picking off cormorant and heron chicks… Mmm, yummy.

Governor's Island was once proposed as the site for a religious retreat for followers of American evangelist, Billy Graham.

Governor’s Island was once proposed as the site for a religious retreat for followers of American evangelist, Billy Graham.

Two cormorant chicks await the return of their parents... and their next meal.

Two cormorant chicks await the return of their parents… and their next meal.

In addition to a major nesting site for double-crested cormorants and great blue herons, Governor's Island is also a stopover for migratory song birds like this common yellowthroat.

In addition to a major nesting site for double-crested cormorants and great blue herons, Governor’s Island is also a stopover for migratory song birds like this common yellowthroat.

Cormorants aka shags in flight.

Cormorants in flight.

A gathering of cormorants in a stand of dead spruce. The acidic cormorant poop has killed and bleached the trees.

A gathering of cormorants in a stand of dead spruce. The acidic cormorant poop has killed and bleached the trees.

NCC biologist, Mitchell MacMillan, walks along the shoreline of Governor's Island. Notice the grey boulders scattered about. These rocks are old, much older than most of the rock on PEI, and are of similar composition to rocks found on mainland Nova Scotia. This is evidence that Governor's Island - and by extension PEI - was once connected to the mainland, but broke off eons ago.

NCC biologist, Mitchell MacMillan, walks along the shoreline of Governor’s Island. Notice the grey boulders scattered about. These rocks are old, much older than most of the rock on PEI, and are of similar composition to rocks found on mainland Nova Scotia. This is evidence that Governor’s Island – and by extension PEI – was once connected to the mainland, but broke off eons ago.

Walking through Governor's Island felt very surreal. Contrasting scenes like this with fresh, live vegetation and dead trees inhabited by smelly, squawking cormorants were very common during our trip.

Walking through Governor’s Island felt very surreal. Contrasting scenes like this with fresh, live vegetation and dead trees inhabited by smelly, squawking cormorants were very common during our trip.

A grey seal swims just offshore of Governor's Island. In the background lie homes near Stratford, PEI.

A grey seal swims just offshore of Governor’s Island. In the background lie homes near Stratford, PEI.

A wide-angle shot showcasing the landscape of Governor's Island. Note the several cormorants flying overhead.

A wide-angle shot showcasing the landscape of Governor’s Island. Note the several cormorants flying overhead.

An NCC staffer takes note of several cormorant nests in a dead tree.

An NCC staffer takes note of several cormorant nests in a dead tree.

A composite of the same double-crested cormorant taking flight from its nest.

A composite of the same double-crested cormorant taking flight from its nest.

A cormorant chick peers at me from the edge of its nest.

A cormorant chick peers at me from the edge of its nest.

An NCC forestry expert pauses to take a snapshot on his cell phone of a dead tree and cormorant nest in the middle of Governor's Island.

An NCC forestry expert pauses to take a snapshot on his cell phone of a dead tree and cormorant nest in the middle of Governor’s Island.

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3 thoughts on “Governor’s Island, Prince Edward Island: A Land (Seemingly) Before Time

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