BY LAURENT D'ENTREMONT
The Twin Islands, tiny islands about one mile, or less, from Lower West Pubnico (to the west) are also known as ‘The Brothers’ or in French ‘Les Isles-a-Vert.’ Today they are protected as the nesting place of many sea birds, mostly the rare colony of roseate terns.
During my boyhood days of the 1950’s we would visit the ‘Twins’ every summer. This was over 50 years ago. The last time I had set foot on the ‘Twins’ was in 1958 and I was long overdue for a visit. Expressing my wish to Ted d’Eon – our bard of birding, – I reasoned, would be my sailing ticket to the nearby islands. Ted d’Eon has worked very hard in cooperation with the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources towards the cause of preserving the endangered Roseate Terns. Ted graciously agreed to take me on a return visit, along with my brother Remi and Aldric d’Entremont, our municipal warden, as crew.
Unlike the old days when it took us several hours to row a long fishing dory there and back, Ted’s 30-foot fiberglass boat, powered by a 150-horse-power motor, took us to our destination in a matter of minutes. We landed on the Northern Brother and immediately I realized how much the island had shrunk and eroded away since I had been there last.
In a matter of time, strong winds and hurricanes will reduce the Twin Islands to mere rocky ledges. Another change was the lack of seagulls. The island had tern nests all over the place, mostly, on the gravel beach; one had to be careful not to walk on tern chicks or un-hatched eggs. It was feeding time and the mother terns, carrying small herring in their beak, were trying to land to feed their young. I could almost hear them saying, “If these intruders would only leave”.
It was an educational, plus fun, visit and Ted kept pointing out: “That one is a roseate tern, the other one is a common tern,” etc.
Of course to me, who can barely tell the difference between a Plymouth Rock hen and an ostrich, all terns did look the same.
Not so with our learned birder. D’Eon knows his terns and I was honored to be trusted to hold a roseate chick while he took a picture.
My island visit brought many memories and I cannot resist turning back the pages of time to my boyhood days. Often some of us boys would go with Clifford d’Entremont and his brother Hector and sail ‘The Red Sack,’ a long double-ender fishing dory that had been used for lobster fishing by their father and his cousin, Robbie.
The aging dory was now retired but Hector, the innovative son, kept it in top-notch condition and christened it the colorful moniker of ‘The Red Sack.’ Taking turns on the oars we would row to the Twin Islands, always visiting in early summer when the gulls and terns were still in the process of hatching their young. As soon as we set foot on the island beach we would see a variety of sea birds, terns and gulls being the most plentiful. There were dozens of other birds, many of which we could not identify.
The noise from their incessant cry was almost deafening as they protected their nests, which were scattered on the small rocks or gravel patches along the upper beach. The morning sun helped with the hatching process.
The gull’s nests were easy to identify – often they had grayish to olive brown eggs, with chocolate-colored spots scattered all over the surface for camouflage. The tern’s nests were not really nests at all; it was only a small depression scraped out of the sand or gravel, with a few feathers and such for a lining.
The eggs, usually three, were very small compared with gull’s eggs, and were sort of olive-green or brown and marked with dark brown blotches. The terns, like the gulls, were constantly flying overhead, with frequent cries and deep dives to warn us it was their island and we were the intruders.
We never disturbed any of the nesting areas and always sailed for home with many good memories. Those were the days. How well I remember.