Brier Island Trails Committee
What you can see
Big Meadow Bog
The Big Meadow Bog on Brier Island is within the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Nova Scotia. It is important as one of only two locations of the endangered Eastern Mountain Avens in Nova Scotia, found otherwise only in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, USA.
Brier Island is a recognized eco-tourism destination, with visitors arriving to observe whales and other marine life, migratory birds, the columnar basalt cliffs and our rich diversity of flora and fauna.
The trail is a new boardwalk, specifically constructed to be entirely accessible. It brings visitors close to and over a fragile ecosystem, without damaging the flora and fauna usually distant from the edge.
Flora and Fauna
Phase One of the boardwalk and trail project allows one to view a variety of grasses, sedges, lichens, and seasonal flowering plants such as blue flag (iris), goldenrod and meadowsweet. The next Phases will bring one closer to the bog and its abundance of arctic-alpine/boreal flora. Bring along a plant guide and a pair of binoculars and please keep to the designated trail.
Flora of the Big Meadow Bog Trail
The Big Meadow Bog is a raised bog surrounded by two basalt ridges. This is a rare landscape that has contributed to the ecosystem of the bog. A diversity of flora inhabits the fens, grassy marshes, forested swamps, and peat bogs that make up the Big Meadow Bog. Some flora native to the Atlantic Coastal Plain is found in the Big Meadow Bog as well as a number of plants that are disjunct (separated) from their main ranges. The arctic-alpine disjunct plant species and boreal disjunct plant species that grow in the Big Meadow Bog have their main ranges or population in arctic, alpine or boreal zones. The upwelling waters of the nearby Bay of Fundy keeps the climate cool in summer and has allowed these plants to thrive. Flora typical of a salt marsh can also be seen. Much of Big Meadow Bog has been inaccessible to plant enthusiasts. As Phases Two and Three of the boardwalk and trail are completed, more will be learned about the diversity of flora that inhabits these fens, grassy marshes, forested swamps, and peat bogs.
Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora
The Atlantic Coastal Plain is the area of flat land along the Atlantic Coast extending from Florida to New England. Southwestern Nova Scotia is home to a variety of Atlantic Coastal Plain plants that are disjunct from their main ranges in glaciated and unglaciated areas of this coastal plain. Atlantic Coastal Plain flora in Nova Scotia is largely restricted to wetlands in the southwest of the province but some are found in the Big Meadow Bog (ferns, orchids and shrubs) where they have mingled with arctic-alpine and boreal disjunct plant species.
Geum peckii - Eastern Mountain Avens
Arctic-alpine Disjunct Plants
Arctic-alpine plants are adapted for the arctic tundra or alpine environments. Typically, these plants grow much farther north or in the mountains. These plants are separated from their usual arctic-alpine habitat by the boreal forest. As glaciers formed, the plants normally found in northern regions were pushed south and grew along the ice sheet. As the ice sheets retreated, the arctic alpine plants followed. In the colder regions, the arctic plants remained. Arctic-alpine disjunct plants have a slow growth rate and a very short growing season, typically blooming in May or early June. Brier Island was possibly the first place in the Maritimes to deglaciate according to core samples taken in bogs on the island.
Two arctic-alpineplants that grow in the Big Meadow Bog are the endangered Eastern Mountain Avens (Geum peckii) and the rare Dwarf Birch (Betula michauxii). The Eastern Mountain Avens is an arctic-alpine relic dependent on the sea-level wetlands on Brier Island, where the Bay of Fundy creates a climate similar to an alpine climate. This population is disjunct from the only other global locations, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and a small population at Harris Lake on Digby Neck. The bog restoration project supports the endangered Eastern Mountain Avens population, which blooms in June through September. The Dwarf Birch is not accessible from the trail.
Boreal Forest disjunct plants.
The Canadian boreal forest in its current form began to emerge with the end of the last Ice Age. Boreal plants of peatland communities are able to tolerate acid, infertile and flooded habitats and include conifers (spruce, larch), shrubs (alder, Labrador tea, bayberry, sheep-laurel, blueberry, mountain honeysuckle), sub-shrubs (bakeapple, cranberry, bunchberry), sedges and cotton grasses. Other common species include herbs, mosses, fungi, and lichens. Two rare boreal plants found in the bog are Germander liverwort and livid sedge (Carex livida).
Sphagnum moss forms a thick, spongy blanket over saturated soils. Because the soils of the boreal forest are acidic, they are not favourable to nitrifying bacteria. Some plants have adapted ways of acquiring nutrients from animal protein, producing enzymes that digest nutrients from insects. These carnivorous plants include the pitcher plant and sundew.
“Biodiversity in the Boreal Forest: Shrubs, Mosses and Lichens.” Accessed February 20, 2019. http://www.ramp-alberta.org/river/boreal/alberta/plants.aspx
“Boreal Forest of Canada.” Accessed February 20, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boreal_forest_of_Canada
Crowley, Megan and Beals, Lindsey. Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora in Nova Scotia Identification & Information Guide. Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute, 2011.
Munro, Marian C; Newell, Ruth E.; Hill, Nicholas M. Nova Scotia Plants. Province of Nova Scotia, 2014.
Field of goldenrod near Big Meadow Bog Trail
Birds of The Big Meadow Bog Trail
Dr. Eric L. Mills
The birds of the Big Meadow Bog are not very well known, largely because access to the Meadow became increasingly difficult after the ditches were dug and heavy impassable vegetation invaded the drying areas. With the recent restoration, the rise of the water table, and the building of the boardwalk, we can expect more birding and greater knowledge, but also changes of the resident birds.
During summer, the main birds likely to be seen along the trail include residents such as Swamp Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats in the wetter areas, Savannah Sparrows in the drier grassy areas, and Song Sparrows and Alder Flycatchers in shrubby vegetation. It is an open question if Nelson’s Sparrows are summer residents, although as the area becomes wetter, they may colonize the Big Meadow Bog. Many nesting Herring Gulls, and a few Great Black-backed Gulls are still present in a long-standing colony in the central region. At least one pair of Northern Harriers has nested in or very close to the Big Meadow and adults regularly forage over the bog. After mid-summer, immature Harriers are frequent in the area. Flocks of Common Grackles, frequently with a few Red-winged Blackbirds, make feeding sorties into the Bog from the higher land on each side. Swallows find the marshy areas, especially near Westport, good for feeding. Most of them are Tree Swallows, but the island’s few Barn Swallows are usually there too, and occasionally a Cliff Swallow or Bank Swallow will join the feeding birds. Turkey Vultures are common overhead from mid-summer into the autumn, less common at other times.
The ponds are favoured by waterfowl, especially Black Ducks and the occasional Mallard, but Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon likely nest in the Bog or adjacent to it, possibly also Northern Pintail and occasionally Gadwall. Nearly every heron species on the Nova Scotia list has occurred in the ponds at one time or the other. Great Blue Herons do not nest on Brier Island, but immature birds arrive to feed in the bog ponds after mid-summer. Much rarer southern herons like Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron and Cattle Egret, along with two species of Night Herons are possible as vagrants, especially in early spring (March-April) and in late summer.
During spring and fall migration peaks – mid-May to early June and mid-August to October – nearly any migrant species and a good many vagrants could be seen fleetingly along the Big Meadow Bog trail. This makes it all but impossible to predict what could be there at these times. For an account of the more than 350 species known from the island, see the publication by Eric Mills and Lance Laviolette (2011), The Birds of Brier Island, Nova Scotia, published by the Nova Scotian Institute of Science and available in the Westport library.