Sunday 28 June 2015

Nova Scotia/Cabot Trail and Bird Island "Mini Big Year" Part 20

June 18/15 Bird Island,Cabot Trail, Cape Breton-Nova Scotia.

Bird Island, Nova Scotia

Back from Newfoundland on the overnight ferry and straight to Bird Island Boat Tours. The tour was led by Captain Vince Van Shaick.

I had photographed Atlantic Puffins in the UK but never in Canada and so the Bird Island trip for that and to hopefully tick off a Great Cormorant. The guided tour is good value and costs just $45. The skipper gives a running commentary all the way out explaining the lifecycle and habits of all the creatures on view. Did you know that seal eats 40 kilos of fish a day! He explained how the Black-legged Kittiwakes are beginning to use the island in greater numbers than ever before. 
We approached within 50 metres of Bird Island. Crystal clear shallow water, not deep but too shallow for whales which need at least 30 metres to dive.
Great black-backed Gull

Did you know the Great black-backed Gull is the largest Atlantic gull with a wingspan of 54" or 137cm.
Just another gull to everyone else on board but when I explained that I rarely see them Vancouver they were still unimpressed! I wonder what they would think if I told them birders hangout at garbage dumps and sewage., Hmmm!

Black-legged Kittiwake
I think the rocks have a painterly quality, probably because it was taken on the lee side of the island in the shade.
A Lifer. Great Cormorant
Finally, the Great Cormorant was one of my target birds which I had missed in the other three Maritime provinces.
 Double-crested Cormorants. Two adults and first year bird (middle)

Below is a 15 year old study that gives some interesting insights into the island, the birds and human interaction.

I have yet to photograph a Razorbill with catchlights in the eye but i'll keep trying until I succeed.

Harbour Seals

The seals may look cute but to the fisherman they are competitors. What I find very worrying is the amount of lobster pots, ropes and other fishing paraphernalia strewn over almost every estuary, bay and even open sea. I hardly saw any open water free of fishing gear. The lobster pots go out tens of kilometres. During one crossing I took, the ferry was halted for ten minutes after tangling with ropes and pots. I just wonder how the whales, porpoises and sea turtles manage to make their way to the feeding grounds.

The Cabot Trail
There is so much history in the region starting with the Mi'kmaq First Native culture to the numerous villages and towns many named after Scottish or French settlers. Some villages are French speaking only, others English. There is so much to see and so little time. I decided to view the scenery and take a rest after a few long days driving.
The commonest bird I came across on Cape Breton was the Willet, almost every bay or riverbank had one. There were very few duck, mostly Mallards here and there. The lack of raptors surprised me, I saw the grand total of two American Kestrel, one Red-tailed Hawk and a Merlin. The Common Raven seemed was the main predator on most telephone poles and there were lots of them, Ravens that is! By now most of the songbirds were hiding way, protecting their nests and very hard to see. The odd male could be seen collecting food but in a few weeks the woodland fields should be alive with fledglings.

Willet from the car window with the D7100 and Tamron 150mm-600mm

Parts of the Cabot Trail reminds me of Scotland and Wales. No wonder the first settlers thought they could begin new lives there. What they hadn't planned for were the long winters, many perished. However many persevered and the rest is history.
Here is some of the signage found around the trail. I hope it gives you an idea about the wildlife, none of which I witnessed first hand. My chief aim was to find and photograph Bicknel's Thrush, alas I couldn't find any, a long shot but worth the try and one of the few places the bird nests on the East Coast.
There were however a few American Redstarts, Yellow and Black and White Warblers. Black-capped Chickadees along the trails. Over open fields Northern Harriers hunted. Mosquitos were ever present, no mention of them in the tourist guide!

There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the view and learn about the natural history.

The Cabot Trail goes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada. The trail is 185 miles in length and can be driven in a day but two or more days would give the visitor a better feel for the area. I found a superb beach campsite at Presqu'ile where I spent a pleasant even enjoying the sea breeze and watching a spectacular sunset.

Not too much birding more sightseeing and enjoying some special time relaxing after the Newfoundland trek.

"It's never to late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Newfoundland "Little Big Year" Part 19

May 13/15 Port aux Basques to St John

When the ferry arrived at Port aux Basques on the West Coast of Newfoundland the shoreline was barely visible.

Fog shrouded Newfoundland
I headed through the fog for J.T.Cheeseman Provincial Park, where there is a small population of endangered Piping Plover. I hardly had time to park the van when a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers chased each other through the campsite, eventually landing on a branch a few feet away. After supper and when everything was put away I retreated into the van to hide from the swarm of poisonous Black Flies. They’re small but how they bite, their poison circulated around my body so that one or two bites felt like 20 and four days later the bites were still itching.
I had just retreated into the van to hide when a Northern Parula landed on my side view mirror. At first I thought it was picking off insects caught by my resident spider but then I realized it was attacking its own reflection, territorial behaviour I expect.

Northern Parula checks out the Westfalia.

 It was almost dark so I had to use a flash to capture the action. This is the best of many attempts.

Next morning and itching all over I made my way through the mother of all rain storms across Newfoundland and when I could drive no longer I stopped off at Notre Dame Provincial Park.
A good thing about Newfoundland Provincial parks is they cost only $17 a night. They have showers, indoor plumbing laundry and wildlife. In Ontario the cost with taxes is almost $40 per night.

Blackpoll Warbler
It's 868 kms from the ferry to St John's so I broke the journey into three parts. My next stop was Butter Pot Provincial Park about half an hour outside St John's.
Just before the park I saw my first Moose and a little later five Woodland Caribou with young but by the time I had applied the brakes and grabbed my camera they had retreated into the forest.

At Butter Pot I fond Ruffed Grouse, American Redstart, Blackpoll Warbler, Wood Thrush, Song Sparrow, Gray Jay, Savannah Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler and no doubt others whose song I couldn't recognize. A much as I tried, the shy Wood Thrush would not pose for me but at least I saw one.
Dark-eyed Junco
All the junco's I saw were dark like the bird above. They were often the loudest birds in the forest and seemed to be a little plumper than our west coast cousins.
Blackpoll Warbler in non-breeding plumage. Thanks Mel for the ID.

When sun finally came out I took the opportunity to visit St John's waterfront and heritage district. It was as unique as anything I had seen on any of my travels.
If I had my time again in Newfoundland I would visit the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve rather than Bird Island In Nova Scotia. I just didn't have the time to go everywhere. However I see there are direct flights to St John's from Dublin or London so next time I visit the UK a return trip might be possible. I would plan at least 2-3 weeks for Newfoundland alone with an extra week to visit Labrador. For iceberg and whale viewing I would go July as I was a little early for both but for birding early May would be better for shorebird migration and later in summer for pelagics on the ferry crossings.

The Heritage district of St John's streets colourfully painted houses.
I then birded around Signal Hill National Historic Site where there are numerous trails all of which have good birding and can be easily reached from downtown for those at a conference or on whirling visit.

Signal Hill

 I liked birding the hillside as the wind which kept the bugs away and the views are stunning. I even saw a whale spouting off shore.
As the crow flies it is the same distance from St John's to Bristol UK and Vancouver BC.
I actually drove 10341 kms from Vancouver to get to this sign atop Signal Hill. I did have quite a few detours in Saskatchewan and Manitoba but nevertheless they proved to be some of the best birding.

The view atop Signal Hill

 June16/15 St Mary's Ecological Reserve/Avalon Peninsula

Heading out to St Mary's can be a bit of a lottery. I was warned the colony could shrouded in fog or battered by high winds or worse rain. As I drove from St John's the roads became progressively worse, cavernous potholes appearing without notice.

The village of Jigging Cove

I passed through many small fishing villages that once existed on the cod fishery but now rely solely on the lobster catch. Due to the absence of cod the lobster fishery is now booming. The enormous shoals of cod used to scour the bottom of the ocean for the tasty crustacean but with the cod long gone, the lobsters have few natural predators and have proliferated. It will be interesting to see how long the lobster fishery will last, from the amount of lobster pots out in the ocean I would guess a decade or so and then what?
The fishing communities I drove through were unlike any I had seen before, even in Newfoundland. 
The weather battered homes looked like they needed a coat of paint, the children and men weathered and no sign of prosperity that many in the rest of Canada enjoy. So, after all those years of listening to CBC and Peter Gzowski's Morning Show I was finally travelling across my adopted country and the scenes in front of me began to make better sense. All the interviews, the stories, the place names I used to hear about suddenly synthesized and this whole trip I am undertaking came into focus.

CBC detractors can skip the next link!

The Gannets, Common Murre and Black-legged Kittiwakes nest only 30 metres from the path.

Panorama St Mary's from  Nikon P900
For those of you who have been to St Mary's, the interpretation centre is the tiny speck on the top right hand side of the picture.

Northern Gannets cover every inch of rock.
The 100 metre rock face is home to the most accessible and spectacular seabird colony in North America. There are 11,000 nesting Northern Gannet, 10,000 nesting Common Murre, 10,000 Black-legged Kittiwake, 150-200 nesting Razorbill, 60 pairs of Black Guilimot, a 1000 breeding Thick-billed Murre and a small colony of breeding cormorants both Great and Double-crested. Herring Gulls also net on the cliffs.

Black-legged Kittiwake

A Black-legged Kittiwake repels a Common Raven from stealing eggs. Nests on the edge of the colony were the most predated but even the larger gannets nests suffered the same fate.

Common Raven
With thousands of nests to choose from, stealing eggs is a full-time occupation for the wily raven. Both the gannet and kittiwake colonies are expanding.

Black-legged Kittiwakes prefer a ledge to build their nests.

Black-legged Kittiwakes bringing in nest building material.

Two Northern Gannets look on as a kittiwake brings in food for its mate.

Northern Gannets pair for life.

Common Murre 

On a bird colony like St Mary's there is quite a lot of, for a better word...Poop! It, the poop has to go somewhere and often it would lands on an unsuspecting bird below. Way below I watched hundreds murres in the ocean, all they seemed to be doing washing themselves. 

Common Murre
Note the "bridled eye" marking which appears on some Atlantic murre but not others.

Northern Gannet 

Ungainly on land, the Northern Gannet use upwinds to take off and land. Out at sea there is nothing more elegant than seeing a gannet dive from a hundred metres in the to catch a fish. The species return to Newfoundland each year from the Gulf of Mexico where it winters.

More about Gannets 

The least common bird to found at St Mary's is the Razorbill.

A wide angle view from the pathway. Not the place to be tripping over a tripod and big lenses!

More about St Mary's

June 17/15 Port aux Basques
Finally the clouds part and the sun re-appears.

Black and White Warbler

When I arrived in St John's I contacted a few birders who gave me some tips about where to go and the first suggestion was Codroy Valley, the very first place I had started my journey and camped a week earlier. I had decided to spend a day there, weather permitting on my return journey. This time the sun was out and the birds were active. Red-winged Blackbirds, Black and White, Yellow-rumped and Yellow Warblers were the most common birds. I did spot numerous Great-blue Herons and a pair of nesting Black Duck.
The picturesque Codroy Valley is and the Wetlands Interpretation Centre is only ten minutes from the ferry and Port Aux Basque.

The final hours in Newfoundland I walked and drove around the town of Port aux Basques. Away from the busy ferry terminal the pace of life was quite different. Although I wore a fleece and tuque due the crisp breeze off the ocean many of the residents had already decided summertime had arrived  and were in flip flops and t-shirts! A hardy bunch I say!

Last view of Port aux Basques and Newfoundland.
The ferry from Sydney Nova Scotia runs year round and is the least expensive way to reach Newfoundland from the mainland. During the summer an overnight ferry runs from Argentia to Sydney but is twice the price. It does however save a considerable amount of driving.

The next leg of the trip will take me from Nova Scotia's Bird Island around Cape Breton's Cabot Trail another exiting adventure to look forward to.

It's never too late to start travelling"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Friday 19 June 2015

Cape Enrage/Hopwell Rocks-Little Big Year Part 18

Morning Feb 9 2015 Cape Enrage Morning/Hopwell Rocks

Cape Enrage is a light station overlooking the Bay of Fundy near Fundy National Park. The Bay of Fundy is officially recognized as one of the Marine Wonders of the World. Tides can reach 53 vertical feet over a 12 hour period twice a day. The Severn Estuary, my old stomping ground in Gloucestershire is second only to Fundy.

Fromer’s Travel Guide named Fundy the best view in Canada. I’m not too sure of that but the best time for birders to visit would be spring and fall for the shorebird migration.
View from Fundy National Park New Brunswick toward Nova Scotia
When the tide goes out there is a four hour walk along the cliff base and exposed ocean floor for those who like to look for fossils.

Plant fossils recently fallen from the cliffs.

The cliffs are in a continuous state of collapse unearthing new finds on a regular basis. As advised no fossils can be removed from the beaches. Later when the tide forced me off the beach I visited the lighthouse. You all know what a lighthouse looks like!

A raft of  male Common Eiders
The view is spectacular  and when I looked down perhaps 150 metres I spotted a raft of thirty male Common Eider. They looked like a flotilla of chess pieces bobbing in the waves. They were ways off so I looked away to enjoy the vast ocean of a red muddied water of Fundy Bay. A little later the eiders had floated much closer, close enough to take a picture or two.

Afternoon and evening Feb 9/15 

I camped my VW Westfalia beside a local beach just below the lighthouse.

My campsite for the night.

After supper I sat and photographed two Snowshoe Hares and an American Redstart.

American Redstart catching insects.

A pair of amorous Snowshoe Hares. The female on the left was very pregnant.
It blew a gale that night, and the waves crashed on the shore dragging thousands of pebbles and rocks up and down the beach.
Next morning I made my way Mary’s Point Bird Sanctuary which in the spring and late summer is a major stopover for hundreds of thousands shorebirds as they make their way to their breeding grounds. As much as I like birding the mosquitos drove me out and back to my van. I had been interested in looking for the Seaside Sparrow, a very rare visitor to St Mary’s and the Maritimes. It has been recorded at St Mary's as the Long-tailed Sparrow but has I think since been re-classified. No luck but at least I tried.  The bird needs bullrushes and for some reason there were hardly any to be seen, perhaps blown away by severe winter storms or destroyed by a seawater surge.
I then moved along the Fundy Coastal Drive to Hopewell Rocks. The only birds I saw there were Dark-eyed Junco's which were nesting along the cliffs. In the forests leading to the site were plenty of Wood Thrush, Yellow Warblers, American Robin and Savannah Sparrow.
Here are a few pix from my afternoon at Hopwell Rocks.

Hopewell Rocks Ocean Tidal Exploration Site. New Brunswick

Some signage from the site.

ET Eh!

Bloody tourists!
As much as I tried, some clown would always jump in the way but the happy snappers do give scale to the formations and by the time the bus loads had dispersed my demeanour had had changed somewhat!
I waited for this couple to walk by to give some sense of scale.

As you can see there wasn't much birding going on but when there are sights like this to explore I can be excused for taking a break and put the Sibley's away for the afternoon.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada