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

1 comment:

  1. Wow I have never been to Newfoundland John. I hope to be so lucky one day. The furthest I have been is PEI and Nova Scotia. Gorgeous shots. I especially love the Gannets and Razorbills! What a site that must have been!!! Yes that is a blackpoll warbler in non breeding plumage.

    well done you must be exhausted and thrilled all at once! keep on having a great time my friend!