The Mystery of the Black Duck:

A Miner’s Marsh Adventure

1 hr 15 min 1.5 km return Easy

Trail Info:

This trail is very accessible, having broad flat gravel trails that loop around 2 open ponds that border the Cornwallis river. This wetland was acquired by Ducks Unlimited and constructed from a farmer’s field by the Town of Kentville who maintains the site for public enjoyment. The site has viewing platforms, picnic tables and interpretive signage and is very popular for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts due to the abundance of wildlife that uses the marsh throughout the year. Miner’s Marsh can be accessed from the abandoned rail line trail at the intersection of the trail with Leverett Avenue, and from the parking area behind the County of Kings Municipal building on Cornwallis Street in the Town of Kentville.


Miner’s Marsh Trailhead
View in Google Maps

Coming from Halifax or the east, take Highway 101 west to the Annapolis Valley. Take Exit 12 and turn right at the bottom of the off-ramp towards Kentville/New Minas. Drive 1.5 km to the lights and turn left onto the Number 1 Hwy (Main St.) towards Kentville. Drive 2.3 km on Main St. and merge left onto the one-way Cornwallis St. in Kentville. Continue 150 m and turn right onto Barklay St. which is the driveway that goes behind the Municipality of Kings County Office and Courthouse building. Park at the far side of the parking lot and start at the Miner’s Marsh sign. The Kings Transit bus from nearby towns stops in downtown Kentville on Station Lane, just across from the Municipal Courthouse Building. The schedule is here.

Trail Tools

Discover the Secret of Survival

From the sign at the parking lot, walk 40 m until you are in front of the bridge over the river and a picnic table is on your right. Go to the old, giant willow tree which is just to the right of the picnic table.

Step into a duck’s world as you search for 4 clues to a mystery: the black duck’s secret of survival. Discover the clues throughout the trail and then unscramble the letters in the boxes at the end to figure out the secret word. Along the way you’ll have to care for and protect your own duck eggs. Are there hungry duck predators around?

You’ll have to do some spying too as ducks aren’t about to give away their secrets.

To gain the power you need to solve the mystery, touch the ancient willow tree, which is the Guardian of the Marsh, and say…

“Ancient Willow,

Giant tower

To be a duck and solve the mystery,

Give me power!”

Act and sound like a duck and you’ll blend in better. Do the duck waddle walk as you quack down the trail.

1. Spy on a Tidal River

From the trail sign, waddle 20 m up the trail to the bridge over the Cornwallis river.

Take out your duck scope or binoculars. Are there any animals on the river today? Look for:

  • Muskrats
  • Otters
  • Snapping Turtles
  • Ducks
  • Fish

This river is a tidal river, meaning that the water runs down when the tide is going out and up when the tide is coming in. What is the tide doing right now?

Tidal Rivers

This is a tidal river running under the bridge along the southern edge of Miner’s Marsh. Every six hours you can see the tide change from high to low and watch the water flowing up the river backwards when the tide comes in! Being a tidal river, it flows with fresh water when the tide is out and with saltier water as the Minas Basin pushes the salt-water tide up the river to mix with the fresh water. Animals such as the brown trout, muskrat and snapping turtle can live just fine in this changing water. Do you see them in the river looking from the bridge?

If you see some ducks, quack to call them over.

Waddle to the next stop.

2. Get Egg-cited

From the bridge, walk 30 m, continuing right at the Y in the trail. When you reach the main trail around the marsh, go right and walk 50 m to where the trail starts to turn to the left.

Is there a rumble coming from your eggs? Quick– you need to build a nest for them.

  1. Find a spot on the ground that is well hidden: under bushes, ferns or small trees. It should have an escape route to the water.
  2. Gather nest material like dried grass and cattail fluff.
  3. Make a nest just big enough to hold your eggs.
  4. Weave the material together in your special spot.
  5. Carefully place your eggs in the nest

Show off your nest to everyone and explain why you chose this spot to hatch your eggs.

Before you leave, spread your nest material on the ground for other ducks to use and bring your eggs with you in your carton.

This egg carton/touch box can tell you how long a black duck might live. The number of eggs that this carton can hold is:

This is the possible age of a black duck in the pond.

Black Duck Nests

Black duck nests must be well hidden to be protected from predators. The female chooses a nest site on the ground and digs a shallow basin using her feet and bill. She lines the nest with plant material. Down feathers are added to the nest after the eggs are laid. She lays about 8 to 10 eggs that are incubated for 23 days. Duck eggs are cream coloured with brown speckles.

3. Have an Egg Race

Waddle along the trail 150 m to a flat grassy spot to the right side of the trail.

What if your egg rolled out of the nest by accident? Could you get it back to the nest? Test your skill at egg rolling:

  1. Mark a start and a finish line on the trail with 2 water bottles or other objects, with five giant steps in between.
  2. Two ducks get down on their hands and knees behind their egg on the starting line.
  3. On “go”, the ducks push their eggs with their bills (noses).
  4. The first to reach the finish line wins!

Look for spots where a predator might hide as you move to the next stop.

Place Names

Miner’s Marsh borders the ‘Cornwallis’ River and drains into it. Rarely does one ponder the names of various features of the Nova Scotian landscape, but most were quite recently assigned by the British. These places all had original Mi’kmaw names which have been typically forgotten by mainstream society. The Mi’kmaw name for this river is Jijuktu’kwejk (sounds like gee gee wook took) and it means ‘narrow river’. There is a strong advocacy effort and petitions to return this river to its Mi’kmaw name, particularly because General Cornwallis, an early British Governor of Nova Scotia, was infamous for issuing a bounty on Mi’kmaw scalps. The river was also called Rivière St. Antoine in the 1600s and Rivière des Habitants in the 1700s by the Acadians. Names have traditionally been given by the dominant culture of an area. Maybe it is time to recognize the presence of diverse cultures in the landscape, particularly Mi’kmaw presence, which dates back thousands of years.

Learn about Netukulimk

4. Spy on a Duck

Waddle 50 m along the trail, and stop at the second pond, just passed an intersecting trail to the left.

Take out your duck scope or binoculars. Stay low and quiet as you creep closer to the pond. Make some quacking noises to call to the ducks on the pond.

Are there any ducks on the pond? What are they doing? Look for a small blue patch on the duck. The blue colour is located on the duck’s

Do You Know?

Black ducks actually have a very dark brown body with a somewhat lighter brown head and a yellowish bill. Watch for mallard ducks as well. The males have a green head while the females are a shade of brown similar to that of the black duck. The mallard is not native to Nova Scotia, having gradually moved in from the West. Ducklings that result from a mallard and black duck mating have lower chances of survival since they are not as well adapted to this climate.

Waddle to the next stop.

5. Test Your Bill

Waddle 200 m along the trail and around the corner passing the viewing stand. Stop at the wooden fence rails to the right.

The black duck has a very good sense of touch using its bill. Its bill comes in handy for finding good stuff to eat and for building nests. Collect touches for the touch box with your bill on the hill above the railing.

  1. Carefully remove the eggs from your box and set them in a safe place.
  2. Put your pointer and middle fingers together.
  3. Rub and tap them on your thumb to make your very own duck bill.
  4. Find a small natural item on the ground and pick it up with your duckbill.
  5. Put it in the touchbox cup that has the word in it that matches the item’s feel.
  6. Fill the box by finding items with the proper feel for each word in the cup.
  7. Close the box and gather as a flock.
  8. Take turns having each person close their eyes, touch an item with their duckbill and guess the word.

Scatter the items from your touch box on the ground for other ducks to find and replace your eggs before you move on.

Duck Bills

The black duck has a special sense in its bill to identify food before it is eaten. It filters out non-edible items through the sides of its bill and swallows the rest. Instead of teeth, ducks and other birds have a muscular chamber in their digestive system called a gizzard that grinds up their food.

6. Protect Your Eggs

Waddle 200 m along the trail, passing a trail to the left. Just before the viewing platform, you will see a little clearing to the right with a trail into the woods. Walk 20 m into the woods and find a giant maple tree.

Predators like raccoons are after your eggs. See how well you can hide them:

  1. One person is the duck and everyone else is a raccoon.
  2. The duck hides the eggs separately within a defined area near the trail while the raccoons hide their eyes.
  3. The raccoons see how many eggs they can find in 4 minutes.
  4. Switch ducks each round.

Place your eggs back in the touch box.

Snapping Turtles

What could hurt a duck? Snapping turtles, as well as raccoons, eat duck eggs and ducklings, and occasionally full sized ducks. They are the largest turtles in Nova Scotia and live in shallow lakes and ponds with lots of plants. They have been spotted in this marsh. Keep your eyes open at the surface of the water as they must come up for air occasionally. They have an excellent sense of smell and like to eat fish and amphibians. In late June or early July they come out onto land to dig nests and lay their eggs in sand or gravel up to a 100 metres from the water’s edge. They lay 20-40 eggs in a nest, which hatch in the early Fall. The nests are particularly vulnerable to predators such as raccoons, and to being disturbed by human activity. Snapping turtles are shy and avoid anyone in the water. They won’t hurt you unless you grab or attack them, and then they bite. So if you see one, keep your distance and marvel at a very cool creature.

7. Chow Down

Waddle back out to the main trail. Turn right and walk just 20 m to the next path off the trail going into the woods to the right. Walk 20 m into the woods to a cluster of large trees.

Black ducks enjoy eating insects. Search for them in little holes and crevices and under leaves and sticks:

  1. Choose a tree and stay within 20 steps of it; search for insect hiding spots.
  2. Look in and around the trees, under rocks and plants and in stumps and logs.

How many insects did you find? An expert duck can find 5 different kinds.

You can have your own snack now from your backpack if you have one. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Ducks constantly drink water to help the food go down and stay hydrated.

Duck Food

Plants make up 70 to 80% of a duck’s diet. It includes tender roots of pond plants and grasses on land, seeds and leafy parts of pondweed, rushes and water lilies. The small creatures they consume include earthworms, snails, clams, crustaceans, larvae, ants and other insects. It is not healthy for ducks to eat human food.

Ducks are always alert for predators. Practice hiding from predators as you sneak back to the main trail. One duck quacks a warning and everyone hides if there are possible predators close by. Two quacks mean all clear and everyone returns to the trail.

8. Look Underwater

Waddle 20 m to the floating platform to the left.

Use your duck scope again to spy on ducks nearby. Have you ever seen a duck stick its head underwater to “dabble” for food? Have you ever wondered what it sees when it does this? Use your underwater viewer to find out.

  1. Kneel down on the platform or lie down flat on your stomach.
  2. Carefully push the covered end of the underwater viewer into the water.
  3. Don’t push it in so far that water spills in over the top.
  4. Bring your eyes down to the viewer and have a good look.

A duck that tips up to get its food underwater is called a:

Earth Steps

Here are some things you can do to help keep ponds and other bodies of water safe for ducks and other water birds:

  • Conserve water at home. For example, turn off the tap when brushing your teeth.
  • Use sand instead of salt on driveways in winter.
  • Don’t use pesticides and herbicides around your home and garden. These toxins wash into ponds and streams every time it rains.
  • Join groups like the Ducks Unlimited. They help conserve wildlife habitats, particularly wetlands.

9. Join the Duck Party

Back on the trail, waddle 20 m and turn left onto the path leading to the peninsula sticking out into the pond. Waddle to the end.

Use your duck scope or binoculars to find some duck friends to hang out with at this party. Give a few duck calls. Some might come over, but they may be too shy. What can you figure out by watching them?

  1. Are any of the ducks dabbling (tipping their tails in the air)? Why do they dabble?
  2. Where does a sleeping duck put its bill?
  3. Duck’s bills are not all the same colour. Compare the colours of the bill and feet of several ducks.
  4. Find female and male ducks. The female black duck has brown legs while the male’s are:

What else do you notice about the ducks?


Wetlands are home to many special plants and animals. All sorts of creatures make a home and find their needs for life in and around ponds and marshes. It is a source of drinking water for land creatures, a home for water plants, a source of oxygen for swimmers and a feeding spot for bats and birds who eat flying insects. Creatures living together form a

Learn about the Earthworks

10. Solve the Mystery

Walk back to the main trail and waddle left back to the bridge. Sit at the picnic table on the other side.

Unscramble the key letters from the secret words to find out the black ducks’ secret to survival.

My Letters:

Congratulations, you have just solved the black duck mystery. Why is _ _ _ _ (secret word) the secret to survival? It is the layer of feathers closest to the duck’s body. Humans use it too for the same reason. We fill blankets, winter jackets and pillows with it. Why is it so important?

Your last challenge is to find the mystery plaque and figure out what creature is on it. Hint: It is on something wooden and made by humans that is nearby! Make a rubbing of the plaque in your Adventure Journal with the side of your pencil.

Upload your favourite picture of the marsh if you choose!

The plaque symbol is:



Please login if you would like to record your trail completion, provide feedback or upload photos to the trail gallery.

Login if you’d like to upload a photo to share in the Adventure Gallery

  • The Miner’s Marsh trail is connected to the larger Rail Trail system that runs through the communities in the Annapolis Valley along the old rail line. Access the rail trail by walking right before the bridge and walking up Leverett Rd. 50m. Learn more about Miner’s Marsh trail and other trails in Kentville.
  • Learn more about the Jijuktu’kwejk Watershed Alliance, a conservation group for the River.
  • There are also 2 Facebook pages with lots of lovely pictures and information, so check out “Miner’s Marsh” and “Friends of Miner’s Marsh” on Facebook.
  • “Valley Family Fun” is a wonderful Facebook group promoting family activities in the Kings County area.
Previous stop
Miner's Marsh
1 of 12
Next stop
Scroll back to top
You can install Earth Adventures as an app for easy access and offline use.
Tap share and then "Add to Homescreen".
You can install Earth Adventures as an app for easy access and offline use.
Tap share and then "Add to Homescreen".