Watershed Highlight: Belcher’s Marsh

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Relocating to Atlantic Canada has been nothing short of an adventure. When I decided to leave my home in Toronto to relocate to the East Coast of Canada, I had no idea what to expect. I had never visited Nova Scotia before, but heard nothing but praise from family and friends. So ready for adventure, I took the plunge and joined Atlantic Water Network, as their Network Outreach Coordinator. 

Initially the adjustment didn’t seem that difficult, living in Airbnbs and experiencing some of what Nova Scotia has to offer, felt like I was on vacation. But as time went on, with my partner and pup coming later in the month and most of my friends and family back home, I was feeling very lonely.   

Finding a quiet place by the water has been a long time comfort for me when I need to unwind, relax and reflect on nature. So, it was naturally a priority for me after cementing a place to live. With

in my first few days in my new neighbourhood, I went exploring with my camera in hopes of finding some inspiration. To my surprise within my first 15 minutes, I stumbled in to Belcher’s Marsh. 

Belcher’s Marsh isn’t your run of the mill waterbody. Located on Parkland Drive in the Clayton Park Neighbourhood of Halifax, lies a paradise within a city suburb. With a trail spanning 2.5km weaving in and out of the trees surrounding the water, and a look-out point atop a small man-made tower, Belcher’s Marsh features woodlands and wetlands that showcase the beauty of Nova Scotia’s varied natural habitats. 

Rated Fairly Easy’ the trail is inclusive to most mobility types, making it a frequented place by seniors, families, and anyone that wants to take in some nature while staying very much ‘on the beaten path’. The water and surrounding trail is teeming with biodiversity, never ceasing to amaze on every visit.  With over 250 confirmed sightings on inaturalist, it’s safe to save you won’t get bored easily hiking these trails. 

I’ve been a lover of wildlife ever since my parents took me to a small creek as a child where I saw my first beaver. Coming from downtown Toronto, I was used to seeing animals like raccoons thriving in our urban areas. While there are many studies on the psychological value of seeing wild animals, I can personally attest to how seeing these animals in their natural settings leaves you with a childlike sense of wonder.

Each time we returned to the marsh we got the pleasure of observing different plants and creatures than the last. On our first walk we stood on the observation deck for quite some time just taking in the sunset over the water. When we thought we were ready to leave, we turned only to see a large beaver swimming in the water.  Obviously, we had to stay and take in this magnificent creature enjoying his evening swim, munching on an apple that had been floating nearby. 

On our next visit we chatted with a couple on the trails, who asked if we had seen the otters earlier today. I had never seen an otter before and she said we were unlikely to catch them this late in the day, but told us how to identify them if we did. Further on, we saw something reflect the light of the flashlight. And while it wasnt otters, it was something else we had never seen before. Raccoons, living within the wild trees of the marsh, swimming from place to place to scavenge for food. I wasn’t used to seeing these cute fuzzy bandits in their natural habitat.

After a few more visits  we finally got what we had been waiting for, Otters. When we first spotted them I wasn’t sure what we were seeing, but as it dipped and bopped near the surface of the water, exactly what our neighbour had described as the tell-tale sign that those were in fact North American River Otters. While Beavers and Raccoons tend to swim with their head above the water, Otters continuously dip below the surface with playful dives. And we were in luck.  Not one or two, but a family of 3 otters enjoying the afternoon sun. We were, of course, ecstatic and spent most of the next hour sitting and watching the family play.

Marshes are more than we realize and this one is no different. Whether it is hundreds of acres in size or just a small plot of land off the roadside, marshes are abundant in plants and animals. Many species of animals like frogs and salamanders can spend their whole lives within a marsh. Abundant vegetation and easy water access provides protection and nourishment for countless species from the white tailed deer to the western honey bee.

Freshwater marshes are nutrient-rich areas showcasing lush aquatic plants and open water habitat, brimmed within shrubs and grasses. The wet seasons increase the nutrients and sediment in the water,  attracting and feeding a community of plants, animals and fungi. Marshes are thriving places full of wildlife activity, and can produce up to three to four times as many plants as lakes and streams. Not only that, but they can help reduce erosion, stabilize shorelines and protect against storm surges, making them important resources in climate action. All this and more, makes marshes an important wildlife habitat, essential to the wellbeing of the environment. 

When my partner arrived in our hatchback filled to the brim, Belcher’s Marsh was the first place I spoke of. Since then, we’ve gone back countless times and it has become an integral part of our transition to life on the east coast. Going there has helped us form a connection here, and given us a sense of belonging within a new community.

After completing a few freshwater related projects in my graduate program I have become increasingly interested in how communities interact with their freshwater resources. One of the first  things I noticed about Belcher’s Marsh is the sincere interest the community has in the habitat and ecosystems it supports. From small children learning about the ducks, to the regular hikers you meet amongst the trail, everyone you pass makes it clear this is a special place to all that are lucky enough to experience it. 

Written by: Belle Teixeira