TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Newfoundland

2nd to 12th June 2000


Leaders:
Neil Arnold - The Travelling Naturalist

Dave Snow - Newfoundland

INTRODUCTION

This is undoubtedly the most 'all embracing' holiday that I have led. Not only did we encounter an amazing variety of wildlife but we were able to enjoy an insight into the history of the province. Most importantly we came into close contact with the people of Newfoundland as a result of mixing with local rangers, boatmen and those people who looked after us in our accommodation. We really felt like valued guests in all these places.

Our special thanks go to David Snow whose enthusiastic leadership was the key to the success of the holiday. I am also grateful to you all for your fortitude on the two wet days of our trip and for your good cheer throughout.

I hope to meet you all again in the near future.

DIARY

Friday 2nd June

3/8th cirrus and cumulus. Sunny and warm.

Flight to St John's, Newfoundland. On our arrival we were given a short tour of the city including the Ocean Science Centre at Logy Bay. Here we made contact with Hen Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Black Guillemot.

Lobster for dinner!

Saturday 3rd June

8/8th cu. Cool. Constant rain.

St John's

The rain gave us the chance to operate 'PLAN B'. David gave us a brief but fascinating illustrated talk on the wildlife of the area we were to visit.

The talk was followed by a somewhat damp walk around the well kept Oxen Pond Botanic Park in St John's. Not only were the gardens a delight but, with a little effort, we managed to find some song birds.

After a good lunch we visited the university theatre to enjoy a brand new exhibition called 'Full Circle'. This displayed the early history of Newfoundland, especially its link with the Norsemen. We also visited the Newfoundland Museum where we concentrated on the small, but fascinating Natural History section.

The rain then abated sufficiently for us to take a short walk in the Quidi Vidi area. Yellow and Blackpoll Warblers were seen well.

Sunday 4th June

8/8 cu. clearing to 1/8th cu. by evening. Cool NW 1-2. Dull.

St John's

A pre-breakfast walk revealed a number of bird species including two Cedar Waxwing.

Our major objective was a visit to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. We were soon aboard the 'Atlantic Puffin' at Bay Bulls.

After a fine rendering of an Irish song by Danny O'Brien, our guide, we set off in search of whales and sea birds. Common Terns and Black Guillemots accompanied us out to sea. Soon we were approaching Gull Island. Thousands of seabirds wheeled over the island, the ledges of which were home to thousands of others. As we recorded the presence of Common Guillemots, Puffins, Razorbills and Kittiwakes we came to the most southerly part of the island. Here we were to see two rarer species, breeding Fulmars and Brünnich's Guillemot. Another great sea bird spectacle was provided by the nearby Green Island.

We then made our way further out to sea in order to get closer to two icebergs. These were the first of many we were to see during the holiday. Soon we had taken our photographs and were on the move again. The trip to the iceberg was our best chance of seeing whales but alas this was not to be the case.

After a fine lunch we moved on the La Manche Provincial Park. Here we enjoyed a pleasant walk to the cliff top noting a range of song birds en route.

Monday 5th June

4/8th ci. cu. clearing. Warm, fine. Cool wind NW 3.

St John's

Our day started with a trip to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans where we were shown the preserved remains of a ten metre Giant Squid which was caught in Newfoundland waters in 1970.

After a brief stop in Bay Bulls to see a Newfoundland Dog (!) we moved on south. En route we saw two Belted Kingfishers.

A brief stop was made at Ferryland, the site of a seventeenth century English settlement known as Avalon. Here we had distant views of a young Bald Eagle.

We ate our packed lunch at the village of Renew, a meal shared with a fine Savannah Sparrow. Nearby we saw the only Eastern Kingbird of the trip.

We continued to the south, passing Cape Race, the site of the Marconi radio station which co-ordinated the rescue of the Titanic.

Soon we were in Caribou country. We saw a number of small herds and a party of Canada Geese. Cape Pine was our next destination. Here we were to encounter Horned Larks, American Pipits and a number of Gannets. This was also the venue for a glimpse of our first Minke Whale.

On our way back to St John's we stopped at Holyrood Bay. It was here that we found twenty Great Northern Divers on the sea. Further round the bay were 200 Scoter sp. Unfortunately the sun was in our faces and the birds were distant. This resulted in our failing to gain a specific identification of the scoter - very frustrating!

As we approached St John's we came across an Osprey in the process of catching a fish.

Tuesday 6th June

Clear, cold N 3. Warm in the lee.

St John's

A pre-breakfast walk added American Goldfinch to our collection of birds.

By 09.40 we were out with Danny O 'Brien again. It was our intention to spend the morning on a boat out of St John's but David had heard that the 'whaling' was better off Bay Bulls. As we left the harbour a young Bald Eagle overflew the boat. Soon we were on a rather brief run around Gull Island and then we sailed north along the coast. Almost immediately Danny spotted a spouting whale. We made good time to the site of the spout, discovering three Hump-backed Whales. Time and time again the three whales surfaced, blowed and then rolled back beneath the surface. Every so often the whales dived deeper showing us their huge tails. It became obvious that there were two adults and a well-grown immature whale. The excitement on deck was almost tangible.

Once again we ate our lunch at Bay Bulls.

Our next destination was the Salmonier Nature Park, an educational wildlife park. At first I was unsure of the wisdom of visiting animals in captivity but I soon changed my mind when I saw the conditions under which the animals were kept. We walked around a well-built wooden walkway which wound between large open pens within the natural woodland. Some birds and mammals were in smaller, zoo-like pens but they all looked as healthy as they could be. The animals had come from rangers and vets after accidents so they could not be released into the wild due to their injuries. The only exception seemed to be the pair of River Otters which lived in a fenced off area of the local river. We were told that they tend to escape from their pen in the autumn when they develop a wanderlust. We watched them catching fish and frolicking in their own private 'pond'. Eventually we had to drag ourselves away from this spectacle.

It was very valuable to see a variety of mammals in captivity, especially those we were to see in the wild later in the holiday.The park also gave us the chance to watch Northern Waterthrush, Black-capped Chickadee and Rusty Blackbird. Soon after leaving the park we came across two more Osprey.

David was then kind enough to take us to his lodge where we sampled two brands of local berry wine. We admired the nearby rapids on the Rocky River and then the rather more impressive falls on the North Harbour River. Here we also saw a fine Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

The highlight of our motel in Dunville, as far as I'm concerned, was the halibut at dinner!

Wednesday 7th June

8/8th cu. Rain all day. At Cape St Mary SW 7-8, gusting 9.

Dunville

As we set off for Cape St Mary we realised that bird watching was not going to be easy. Once we had arrived at the interpretation centre we even found it difficult to walk from the vehicle to the doorway, the wind was so fierce! We could see why the area was also known as 'The Cape of Torment!'

We were disappointed that the conditions were so awful because the Cape and its huge gannet colony is one of the great wonders of Newfoundland!

The excellence of the display in the centre and the opportunity to view the Gannets through my telescope went some way to replace the real face to face experience of the colony.

The rain continued to fall so we went to Castle Hill overlooking Placentia Harbour. Here we had an insight into the lives of those who lived in this French capital city between 1662 and 1713. It was another excellent display which brought this period of history alive for us.

There followed lunch at the motel at Dunville and then the lengthy drive to Charlottetown on the edge of the Terra Nova National Park. As we entered the park an adult Bald Eagle soared overhead. After dinner we drove on side roads in the park in search of Moose. We were successful, finding a young male. We also came across another small flock of Grey Jays.

Thursday 8th June

8/8th cu, clearing to 3/8th cu. Warm and sunny. SW 1-2.

Charlottetown

The day started well when a pair of Pine Grosbeak fed on the blossom of a fruit tree in the motel car park as we walked to breakfast. We then came across a phone pole in which a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers were nesting. As we watched them we discovered another hole in the pole. As we watched a Northern Flicker poked its head out of the hole. We had found two woodpecker nests within a metre of each other.

Our first stop in the Terra Nova National Park was the Saltons Marine Interpretation Centre. This was not just a place where you watched videos or looked at static displays, there were fish and invertebrates in tanks and best of all the 'touch tanks' full of marine invertebrates that could be handled. That was great fun! A local walk gave us good views of Golden-crowned Kinglet, Spotted Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs.

After lunch in the centre we set sail on the ' Northern Fulmar'. As soon as we set off on the Newman Sound we came across the first of five adult Bald Eagles. We were to see them on nests and soaring over the hilltops but the climax was when they dived down to take fish thrown out onto the surface of the water. This activity (which was sanctioned by the park authorities) was amazingly dramatic showing the huge raptor at its graceful best. The sighting of four Harp Seals was the next thrill.

Once we had come about, making for the centre once again, we scanned the wooded shoreline. Suddenly the Skipper, Ian, cried out 'Bears!' There, on the massive stones which lined the shore, was a huge adult Black Bear. It was soon joined by two cubs and another bear which we assumed was a small adult. Four bears! Wow! We were able to watch the bears for two or three minutes. This was one of the most thrilling moments of the whole trip.

Once we'd recovered from the excitement of the bears Ian put out a plankton net, the contents of which took us to a new world of macroscopic marine animals. With the help of a hand lens we discovered medusae, sea gooseberries (comb-jellies) and crab zooplankton: a revelation. How much more varied could a day be?

Friday 9th June

1/8th ci. increasing to 8/8th cu. Sw 1-2 increasing to 8 on Change Island.

Charlottetown

Before driving North we found a singing Magnolia Warbler, a Downy Woodpecker and a small flock of Pine Siskins in the grounds of the motel.

The Thomas Howe Demonstration Forest was our first stop as we headed for Gander. The forest held a number of song birds including Hermit Thrush. In Gander we stopped to shop for a while.

As we crosed the bridge at Gander Bay we were astonished to see a cloud of fishing Gannets. This was an exceptional phenomenon in an area so far inland. Nearby were fishing Common and Arctic Terns. Then we found three Caspian Terns, a scarce bird in Newfoundland waters.

We moved on to Twillingate, noting two drake Ring-necked Ducks on the way.

At Twillingate we boarded the 'M.V. Daybreak'. The Skipper, Austin, took us out to two magnificent icebergs, one of which was lined with deep blue veins, signs of melt water refrozen many years ago. The array of sea birds included a Great Northern Diver.

Later in the day we boarded the ferry Captain Earl W. Windsor which took us to the lovely Change Islands.

We soon settled into the delightful 'Seven Oaks', a traditional guest house run by the Oakes family. Dinner revolved around the best fried cod known to Man! There are few places in the world where you can live in luxury and still admire the icebergs without settling foot out of your bedroom!

Saturday 10th June

3/8th cu. NW 8 gusting 9. Sunny.

Change island

Today's objective is to find sheltered walks. We started this quest on the beautifully laid out 'Squid Jiggers Trail'. This took us over a boulder-strewn path along the East shore.

We were soon making contact with a variety of song birds, enjoying the spectacle of fishing Gannets and searching the seashore for items of interest. It was soon obvious that the local gulls were active as we found many broken shells and urchins on the rocky shore. We also found the remains of two Leach's Storm-petrels that had almost certainly been predated by gulls. The plants were also fascinating. We gained further insight into the local way of life by visiting a local church and the 'village' shop. This was a revelation, for not only was it possible to buy twenty-six varieties of ice cream but galvanised nails, knitting wool, salami and a host of other 'rustic' items.

More food! This was to include moose soup!

Our attempt to enjoy the Woody Island Trail was made difficult by the strong wind so we went for short drive, during which we stopped to search through a gull flock, to admire a passing Bald Eagle and to delight in a male Red-breasted Merganser. The trail to Indian Lookout was more sheltered giving us good views of a handful of songbirds. The lookout itself gave us a spectacular view over the whole island and north to a berg-scattered ocean. Two icebergs were particularly impressive, one being massive.

Whilst digesting our salmon dinner we drove to the local beaver pond where we saw a single Beaver swimming to its lodge. This was the icing on the cake that is the Change Islands.

Sunday 11th June

2-4/8th cu. Sunny NW 4-5 decreasing to 1.

Change Island

We were sorry to leave the good cheer of the Oakes but this was the last day of our trip. We were soon aboard the ferry again.

As soon as we landed at Farewell we nearly ran over a family of Spruce Grouse, a female and nine chicks. David left the vehicle to usher them off the road. Much to our surprise the tiny chicks made a short flight!

We headed steadily south soon reaching the entrance to the Terra Nova National Park. Almost as soon as we entered the park we saw a female Moose by the roadside. Fortunately it crossed the road behind us. Then we saw another female. This one moved from the roadside into light cover allowing us excellent views. Seeing Moose on the roadside is a two-edged sword, already this year there have been ten road accidents involving this sturdy animal, and that is only within the park area!

We stopped at Ochre Hill where we were able to climb the fire tower which gave us stunning views over the park.

Soon we were in St John's enjoying the commercial opportunities afforded by 'Wild Things', David's shop.

The final venue was to be Cape Spear, the most easterly point in the New World. On our arrival we noticed that the wind had faded almost completely. The first thing that took our eye was the constant passage of sea birds including large numbers of Kittiwakes and auks.

It was then that David noticed a distant whale spouting. We soon established that this was an active Humpback. While we watched a much closer whale was spotted so we scoured the area. We soon established that there were two Minke Whales near the cliffs and three more further out to sea. It was then that we noticed two fins emerging from the sea in unison, these were obviously signs of a distant dolphin. As we watched we discovered four individuals. They all showed white and one obviously had a huge dorsal fin. We had discovered a pod of Killer Whales. The Orcas were obviously feeding as they patrolled a small area of calm water occasionally making the surface boil with their efforts. In the midst of all this excitement another Humpback Whale emerged at a point much nearer to the coast. During all this frantic whale-watching the birds were not completely ignored; a Great Northern Diver and a Sooty Shearwater flew south. There have been few more exciting experiences on a Travelling Naturalist trip !

David had to tear us away from Cape Spear so that we could enjoy yet another fine meal before heading for the airport, and our flight home.

BIRDS

A - Avalon Peninsula TN - Terra Nova Area I - Islands

Great Northern Diver - Noted on five days. Peak 26 on 5th (A).

Northern Fulmar - A breeding pair on Gull Island, Witless Bay (A).

Sooty Shearwater - A single bird past Cape Spear 11th (A).

Northern Gannet - Seen almost daily. Thousands at Cape St Mary (A).

Double-crested Cormorant - Two Renew (A) on 5th.

Great Cormorant - Three records on the coat. (A).

Canada Goose - Four small flocks(A) and (I).

Mallard - A few in the St John's area. (A). There were obvious hybrids on the local ponds.

American Black Duck - Widespread in (A) and (I). Many of the sightings were of ducks with chicks.

Ring-necked Duck - Two drakes New World Island. (I).

Scoter sp. - A flock of scoter was discovered at Holyrood Bay but distance and the setting sun made specific identification difficult.

Red-breasted Merganser - A drake on Change Island. (I).

Osprey - Seven records,six (A) and one on Change Island. (I).

Bald Eagle - Nine records Three (A), five adults (TN) and one on Change Island. (I).

Northern (Hen) Harrier - One sighting at Logy Bay (A) 2nd.

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Four widely spread records. (A) and (TN).

American Kestrel - A glimpse of one in St John's (A).

Spruce Grouse - A female and nine chicks at Farewell. (I).

Greater Yellowlegs - A single bird in Newman Sound (TN).

Spotted Sandpiper - Thirteen records on the sea shore, widely spread (A),(TN) and (I).

Common Snipe - Two sightings, one an adult with chicks.(A).

Ring-billed Gull - Noted widely, only missing from Change Island.

Great Black-backed Gull - Common and widespread.

Herring Gull - Very common and widespread.

Kittiwake - Noted on rugged seashores. Huge numbers in Witless Bay. (A).

Caspian Tern - Three fishing at Gander Bay. (I).

Common Tern - The most common tern; widespread.

Arctic Tern - A few scattered records.

Common Guillemot - Large numbers Witless Bay, smaller groups elsewhere.

Brünnich's Guillemot - At least three birds breeding on Gull Island, Witless Bay. (A).

Razorbill - Large numbers (A) especially at Witless Bay.

Black Guillemot - The most widespread auk but only seen in small numbers.

Puffin - Huge numbers at Witless Bay, uncommon elsewhere.

Rock Dove (feral) - Only in the St John's area.

Belted Kingfisher - Two records (A).

Downy Woodpecker - One at Charlottetown and one en route to Gander.

Hairy Woodpecker - A pair in Charlottetown.

Northern Flicker - A pair at Charlottetown.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - A single bird at Rocky River (A).

Eastern Kingbird - Two (A).

Shore Lark - Four at Cape Pine (A).

Tree Swallow - Widespread. Maximum count 20 at Rocky River (A).

American Pipit - Two at Cape Pine and one at Cape Spear. (A).

Cedar Waxwing - Two St John's. (A).

Hermit Thrush - One seen briefly at Thomas Howe Forest.

American Robin - Noted daily. Probably the most common passerine encountered.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Widespread in coniferous woodland.

Golden-crowned Kinglet - One sighting (TN).

Black-capped Chickadee - Often heard but only seen on two occasions. (A) and (TN) and (I).

Boreal Chickadee - Two at La Manche (A).

Grey Jay - Two at La Manche, three at Castle Hill,(A) and four in Terra Nova.

American Crow - Common and widespread.

Common Raven - Noted daily.

Common Starling - Noted everywhere except on Change Island (I).

Fox Sparrow - Widespread but especially obvious (I).

White-throated Sparrow - Fairly common.

Dark-eyed Junco - Very common, noted daily.

Savannah Sparrow - Three records(A) and (I).

Black and White Warbler - Four scattered records.

Yellow Warbler - Common and widespread.

Black-throated Green Warbler - One at La Manche(A) and three at the Thomas Howe Forest.

Magnolia Warbler - One at the Oxen Pond Botanic Park (A) and one at Charlottetown (TN).

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Widespread. The most numerous warbler.

Blackpoll Warbler - Six widely distributed records.

American Redstart - A male at La Manche (A).

Northern Waterthrush - Three at the Salmonier Nature Park. (A).

Wilson's Warbler - Five scattered records.

Pine Siskin - Up to eight at Charlottetown (TN).

Pine Grosbeak - A fine pair Charlottetown (TN).

House Sparrow - Two records St. John's. (A).

Rusty Blackbird - A single bird at the Salmonier Nature Park (A).

Peregrine and Snowy Owl were also seen in captivity.

MAMMALS

Black Bear - Four from the 'Northern Fulmar II' in Newman Sound (TN).

Harbour Seal - One at Cape Pine (A)

Harp Seal - Four in Newman Sound (TN).

Killer Whale - Four, including a male, off Cape Spear. (A).

Minke Whale - Brief sightings of single animals at La Manche and Cape Pine and at least five off Cape Spear (A).

Humpback Whale - Three viewed at close range off Bay Bulls and two off Cape Spear (A).

Moose - Three records in (TN).

Caribou - Twenty-seven in the Trepassey area. (A).

Beaver - One near St John's(A) and one on Change Island(I).

Red Squirrel - Six widespread records.

Snowshoe Hare - Noted regularly on roadsides.

Red Fox, Arctic Fox, River Otter and Lynx were also seen in captivity.

BUTTERFLIES

Spring Azure, Mourning Cloak, Pink-edged Sulphur and Canadian Tiger Swallowtail.


© The Travelling Naturalist 2000