Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hiking and Searching for Wildlife on Remote Ferguson Beach

As a child, my parents took me and my sisters exploring all over Cape Breton Island and over the years, we each developed a love for your own special place.  My special place was Ingonish and throughout my teen years when I first learned how to drive right up to the present, it is still my favorite place in the whole wide world.  My home away from home.  My escape.

One of the places my parents often took me as a child was an area in Richmond County along the Southern part of the island known as Framboise.  We had a summer home there and dad loved to fish and hunt in the area.  I loved it there.  Remote, rugged beaches, wild country back roads.  But it didn't draw me in like The Highlands around Ingonish did. Up there I had the sandy beaches, mountains, the windy roads of the Cabot Trail and, in my younger days, the opportunity to mingle and party with tourists from all over the world. Ingonish is a favourite escape for young people in Cape Breton.  Beach parties, barbecues and epic road trips filled the lazy summer days of my youth.

Since I moved back home from away, I've been doing a lot of hiking with my father and since his favourite part of the island is Framboise, we naturally end up doing a lot of our hiking in that area.  Now, while I still love the Highlands, I am growing quite fond of this other area too.  One area we visited quite a bit this winter is Ferguson Beach, mainly because it's the only road in that area that stays decently-well-maintained throughout the year.  We drive down the long dirt road, park at the top by the beach and walk to the left as far as we can go.  Some days we can go quite far if the river is not overflowing while other days we have to turn back.  We don't go right back to the car though; we keep going to the right of the beach and around the other side and up around an old summer home and onto and old wood road that leads back to the main road where the car is.  One particular hike on this beach a few weeks back yielded something that is not often seen around here anymore.

Dad likes to reminisce about the good ol' days when the deer were plentiful and every hunting season saw him get at least one deer.  The freezer would be full of deer meat all winter.  I remember driving through town on Friday and Saturday evenings and seeing the men who spent their days off hunting in the remote areas of the island parading their kill on the roof of their cars.  Over the years, the deer population declined dramatically and no one could figure out why.  Was it the booming population of coyotes?  Was it illegal hunting? 

As we were hiking along the path above the beach, Dad spotted something moving in the patch of trees close to the river.  As we watched the brown figure, it started to move some more and that's when we realized we were looking at a deer.  In fact, there wasn't just one deer.  A look through the binoculars conformed that there were six of them munching away on some grass.  We inched closer to them so we could get a better look.  The wind was blowing in just the right direction to send our scent away from them but as we quietly and stealthily got closer, an ear flicked and all heads went up.  They knew something was around and they started to grow agitated.  We got close enough to get some pictures and off in another corner of that little field, Dad spotted more movement.  Three more deer to make six total.  I managed to get several pictures before the white tails went up and they took off running into the forest.

We continued walking in the direction that they ran but were forced to turn back when we reached the river and there was nowhere else to go but back the way we came.  I thought maybe the deer had made it onto the ice and might be crossing to the other side but a quick scan of the horizon revealed nothing.  When the car came into view again, I thought our walk was done until dad suggested we keep going along the other side of the beach .  In the sandy area, I noticed some fresh and rather large coyote prints.  We may have seen a handful of deer (which is the most either one of us had seen in many years) but this was a sure sign that the coyotes are still around too.

We walked for quite a while and walked even more when we spotted something on the beach up ahead.  It didn't like it was moving until we got closer.  Wanting to see what it was, we inched even closer and realized it was another deer...and another...and another.  When they caught our scent, they bolted and we are able to count seven deer.  That brought the total up to 13 deer in one day.  A record for me.  The most my dad has seen in one day in decades.   Perhaps this is proof that the deer are coming back.

We circled back around to the car and, as per usual, we ate lunch at L'Archeveque, drove around on some of the back roads for a while and headed toward St. Peter's for coffee before heading home along route 4.

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