There’s more to the beach than the sandy shore. At Rainbow Haven park in Cow Bay, boardwalks and gravel trails offer an opportunity to explore the coastal ecosystem beyond the sand and surf.
Coastal erosion is a worldwide problem. Over time, tidal action and storms can eat into the beach, wear down rocks and eventually draw the sand out to sea. This is less a problem at Rainbow Haven than at nearby Silver Sands beach.
Increasing human activity during the summer months has made this popular beach less friendly to birds like piping plovers and sandpipers that nested in the dune grasses in years past. Year round, walkers often ignore signs to leash dogs, which also contributes to the problem.
Just beyond the beach lie rolling fields of tall grass growing in the sand dunes. Foxes make their homes in the small hills. They survive by hunting small mammals and birds in the local area. I’ve often seen hare and seagull carcasses in the dunes surrounding their holes. Sparrows make their nests in the bushy areas surrounding the spruce trees.
Purple asters can be found at this time of year, growing among the grasses. Strawberries thrive in some sandier spots in the early summer.
Many of the spruce trees gave up the ghost in recent years, likely due to trauma experienced during Hurricane Juan’s visit in 2003. Their grey skeletons remain erect on the landscape.
The top branches of some of the surviving spruce trees are heavily laden with cones this year. White spruce are especially tolerant of salt spray and are not uncommon in coastal areas.
Farther beyond the grassed area, across the road that leads into the park, a body of salt water is frequently visited by ducks, gulls and herons. Cormorants can usually be found congregating on a dock in a spot visited by seals last winter. Canada geese will sometimes stop here during migration. Rising and falling with the tides, this water is connected to the salt marsh where many of the shore birds now make their home.
Autumn’s quieter days are a good time to explore the ecosystem beyond the shore. Just be sure to stay on the trails.