TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
23 August - 1 September 2003
This was a peach of a trip. We were very fortunate to be gifted with weather conditions which allowed us to enjoy a passage of migrant raptors, a fall of songbirds, a myriad of fascinating insects, swathes of colourful flowers and exceptional whale-watching. My personal favourites were the whales. We were able to identify twenty-eight whales of four species and a host of Harbour Porpoises.
It is not uncommon for leaders of birdwatching trips to ask clients to name their 'bird of the day'. Arthur volunteered his choices:-
SUNDAY LEOPARD FROG
TUESDAY PIPING PLOVER
WEDNESDAY GARTER SNAKE
THURSDAY N. RIGHT WHALE
FRIDAY PITCHER PLANT
SATURDAY TWELVE-SPOTTED SKIMMER
SUNDAY SORA RAIL
The choices sum up the vast variety of our experiences on this trip.
My thanks go to Denis, whose good nature, tireless patience and huge knowledge of every aspect of life in New Brunswick were the key to the success of this holiday. I am also grateful to you all for being such good company, for your alertness in the field and your ability to relax and enjoy the evenings of good food and entertainment, which included Denis's wonderful singing to his guitar.
I hope we will meet again soon.
Saturday 23 August
We flew from London to Moncton via Toronto and then drove to the Florentine Manor (built 1860s), Harvey Bank in time to settle in and enjoy a home-cooked meal.
Sunday 24 August
WEATHER 6-7/8 Cumulus, dull, cool. W 1-2, Showers,sunny spells.
A pre-breakfast walk was enjoyed by some of the party. This gave us a chance to familiarise ourselves with a variety of birds and the enchanting Leopard Frog. It was obvious that we were in the grip of a cold front coming in from the west.
We were to spend most of the morning at nearby Mary's Point. As we approached the shore the tide reached its zenith. Before us was a mass of waders, or shorebirds as they are known in this neck of the woods. Some ten thousand Semipalmated Sandpipers mixed with smaller numbers of Least and White-rumped Sandpipers, Sanderling and Semipalmated Plover. As we watched all the waders took to the air, wheeled and returned to the shore, they had reacted to a passing Northern Harrier. Off shore were flocks of Eider and Common Scoter. The excitement was not confined to watching waders though we also watched a passage of birds of prey. Two more Northern Harriers quartered the local marsh as Sharp-shinned and Broad-winged Hawks soared overhead. Then a male Merlin, an adult Bald Eagle and an Osprey joined the fray. Just before we moved on two immature Peregrines were mobbed by a party of Ravens.
Lunch was taken at Herring Cove in Fundy National Park. The raptor passage continued as a Red-tailed Hawk was mobbed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Northern Goshawk flashed across the valley into the forest. The afternoon walk took us downhill to the sea on the Matthew Head Trail. The woodland birds were a little elusive including Pine Siskins and White-winged Crossbills which were only seen distantly. At the Head both Cliff and Tree Swallows and Chimney Swifts were gathering as we watched two Harbour Porpoise offshore. The most unexpected event though was the appearance of a flightless Red-breasted Merganser. Two canoes came around the point and frightened the bird. It pattered across the water for perhaps a kilometre; an amazing sight. We also stopped briefly at the precipitous Cape Enrage where we noted the only Turnstones we were to see during the trip.
After dinner Denis organised a star-watch. Mars (at its closest approach to earth for 60,000 years!), the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Hercules Cluster vied for our attention with passing satellites and shooting stars.
Monday 25 August
WEATHER Clear, cool, sun NW1-2. Becoming warmer 1/8 Cirrus later.
Before breakfast we visited Daly Creek Marsh. The main features of the trip were wildfowl and the elusive Sora Rail and American Bittern. We also saw a lone Turkey Vulture.
The drive to Bouctouche was interrupted by visits to a variety of wildlife venues. The first stop was at a fine covered bridge at Sawmill Creek. Here we saw a Bobolink and continuing evidence of raptor movement featuring Merlin and Sharp-shinned Hawks.
We then visited Hopewell Rocks, a series of eroded conglomerate monoliths known locally as 'flowerpot rocks'. Passing Monarch butterflies also demonstrated that insects were also migrating south.
Lunch was taken at the enchanting Sackville Wildfowl Park, a wildlife reserve in the middle of the town. Grebes, duck and waders were abundant as were a variety of insects. Short-billed Dowitchers and a Pectoral Sandpiper were seen well as were ten species of damsel and dragonflies. There were mixed feelings in the group when we saw a Muskrat, some went 'Ah' but one client summed it up as ' An overfed, damp Guinea Pig'. The identity of this observer is highly confidential, well, unless the bribe is big enough.
Our hotel in Bouctouche was a one-time convent built in 1880. We soon felt at home in this grand historic building.
Tuesday 26 August
WEATHER 1/8 Ci, sun, NW2 becoming 4/8 Cu
The local Forest Trail was full of activity first thing in the morning. Warblers abounded, including the usually skulking Ovenbird, and three Pileated Woodpeckers gave us a grand show.
Later we returned to the forest and enjoyed great views of Downy Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Once again the butterflies were splendid, including the very attractive Mourning Cloak.
We were all impressed by the organisation of the Bouctouche Dune Boardwalk. From the boardwalk we were able to watch fishing Common Terns, a Great Northern Diver, Song and Savannah Sparrows and a range of local insects including a dashing tiger beetle. One of the strangest finds though was a dried shrivelled husk which when wetted became a most attractive earth-star fungus.
We walked back to the reserve centre along the beach, where, despite considerable disturbance from holiday-makers, we found a party of six Piping Plover, one of the most endangered shorebirds in North America. We were all delighted to see this delicate, elegant wader.
As we ate lunch we were thrilled as a Merlin buzzed a flock of Common Terns which scattered in a panic. Later the same Merlin chased a Sharp-shinned Hawk (probably a migrant) along the beach.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Bouctouche Rotary Park where we found a Willet, and at the sewage ponds which were full of wetland birds including Bonaparte's Gulls, Common Goldeneye and a Greater Scaup.
The day closed with a half hour recital of singing to the guitar by Denis. Amongst the songs that he sang were two that he had written:-
'Osprey on the wing'
'Kouchibouguac Bog Trail Insect Blues'
Wednesday 27 August
WEATHER 8/8 Cu, rain,0. Later 1/8 Cu,sun,w4
We drove straight to the Kouchibouguac National Park. We were spared the insect blues though as it was raining. We took advantage of the fine visual presentation in the park centre before moving on. Soon after leaving the park the weather improved so we stopped to shed our raingear. Denis found a pair of wellington boots on the roadside and his curiosity nearly got the better of him. He looked into one boot and saw a movement so he turned it upside down. Out came two Garter Snakes that proceeded to hiss and prepare to strike. There must be a moral there.
En route to the ferry at Black's Harbour we had a surprise. In a small garden on the edge of St John we discovered a fine buck White-tailed Deer.
We were soon on the ferry 'Grand Manan' heading for the islands of that name. The bird highlights of the trip were Great, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Arctic Terns and Kittiwakes. We also saw Harbour Porpoise and blows from a number of rorqual whales, probably Fin Whales.
Once again our accommodation was comfortable and homely.
Thursday 28 August
NORTH HEAD, GRAND MANAN
WEATHER 1/8 Ci, sun,W2-3
By 08.00 we were aboard 'Sea Watcher' with skipper, Peter Wilcox and mate, Durlan Ingersoll, both experts on the identification of seabirds and cetaceans.
Soon we were surrounded by shearwaters, Puffins and Gannets. Porpoises soon joined us as we passed close to a Fin Whale. The 'Sea Watcher' was on a mission, speeding out to an area of deep water beyond White Head, to the east of the islands.
At 09.20 we spotted a 'V' shaped blow from a whale; we had reached our quarry, a Northern Right Whale, probably the rarest of all the well-studied whale species. We too were the subjects of curiosity as a Right Whale 'spyhopped', lifting its head vertically out of the water to have a look around. It then rolled and 'sounded', that is deep-dived, displaying the whole of its huge tail.
Another individual then emerged next to the boat, showing off its huge head adorned by cream-coloured callosities (horny growths). We were even able to see the strongly arched mouthline. The whale then dived, only to emerge next to the bow. The sound of its blow was accompanied by the clicking of camera shutters. As if we were not excited enough a group of five whales began a prolonged mating ritual within a hundred metres of the boat. Peter explained that we could see the female lying on her back to deny the male the opportunity to mate. We could see the white ventral surface of the female as she waved her lateral fins in the air. While this was going on the four males were manoeuvering for position. Further away from the group was a single whale 'posturing', that is lifting the head and tail into the air, leaving the body beneath the surface. Then two whales emerged from the sea head to head. The heads touched in what is known as 'love taps'. There were more blows and then a whale emerged head-first and blew. We were close enough to see the muscles closing over the blowhole as the whale rolled and dived. We had watched the whales for nearly two hours yet it only seemed like a moment. We saw nine Right Whales in all.
On our way back to port we saw a migrant hummingbird, divers and five rorqual whales, two of which were definitely Fin Whales. [The local experts had not seen the rare Sei Whale during 2003, but we were erring on the cautious side in only recording rorquals as Fin Whales when the evidence made the identification certain; they could all have been Fin Whales.]
Once ashore we headed for Castalia Marsh for lunch and wetland birdwatching. We then drove to The Whistle, the headland at the north of the island. Here we found an area of roiling water off the head that looked as though it might be full of fish. There were gulls in their hundreds. Careful watching also resulting in our finding small groups of Harbour Porpoise, amounting in all to some 70-80 animals. Further out to sea was a single Minke Whale. As we watched all the gulls took to the air as three Bald Eagles hunted along the shore. Then a fine Pomarine Skua flew west. All the action was not at sea though the nearby bushes held a collection of song-birds including the scarce Blue-grey Gnatcatcher.
In the evening we enjoyed more songs from Denis, Arthur's birthday celebration and a slide show from Laurie Murison from the Whale and Seabird Research Station. It had been a full day.
Friday 29 August
WEATHER 4/8 Cu, sun,SW 1-2
Once again we sailed on the 'Sea Watcher' but this time we moved south beyond Gannet Rock. We were delighted to share our trip with a party led by our old friend Tony Beck.
While still in sight of the harbour we passed a fine male Surf Scoter. Soon, though, we were surrounded by seabirds including a wanderer from the South Atlantic, Wilson's Storm-petrel. Red-necked Phalaropes also made an appearance.
As we made our way south we also came across three Minke Whales and a host of Harbour Porpoises. At 09.35 we saw the first Humpback Whale. In fact there was a group of four. Unlike the Right Whales of the previous day, though, they were fairly inactive. For much of the time they were 'logging', lying in the sea relaxing, perhaps even asleep; this was understandable as the sea was wonderfully calm. Every so often the whales would blow more strongly, dip their backs, flex their tailstocks and lift the whole tail into the air as they sounded, diving deep beneath us. After one of these incidents the whale surfaced right by the boat. Once again we were privileged to see a whale at point- blank range. We eventually saw nine Humpbacks.
As we approached Steel Cove we were lucky enough to encounter three skuas: two Pomarines and an Arctic. On docking an immature Black-crowned Night Heron flew into roost in the bushes on the quayside. It was undoubtedly our lucky day.
The bog at Long Pond in the Anchorage Provincial Park was our next port of call. Here we found masses of Pitcher Plants and sundew, plants that capture invertebrates to supplement their mineral supply.
Later we visited South Western Head where there was plenty of evidence of migration in action. As we arrived we encountered seven Monarch Butterflies and migrant American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Merlin. We also discovered three Smooth Green Snakes sunning themselves.
Saturday 30 August
WEATHER Fog, 8/8 Cu, dull S6 gradually clearing.
The Whistle abounded with grounded songbirds: mainly warblers, nuthatches, chickadees and kinglets. One of the most unexpected finds, though, was a Common Nighthawk which had landed on a gravel track.
Eel Lake had also attracted a number of flycatchers and a two Solitary Sandpipers.
The middle of the day was spent at Castalia Marsh. We arrived just as the tide was flooding so the place was full of waders including American Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Knot and Short-billed Dowitcher. Once again we were entertained by a Merlin chasing off a Sharp-shinned Hawk. A lone Great White Egret was also a surprise.
We spent the late afternoon at Southern Head where we visited 'The Flock of Sheep', a series of huge glacial erratics. The final find of the day was a delightful dragonfly, the Twelve-spotted Skimmer.
The day closed with more songs from Denis, this time in French.
Sunday 31 August
WEATHER 1/8 Cu,sun,0.
The ferry trip to the mainland was entertaining as we were able to watch a variety of seabirds, Minke and Fin Whales and lots of Harbour Porpoises.
The drive to Moncton Airport was made more enjoyable by a mid-day stop at Bell Street Marsh, Moncton where we were able to enjoy a variety of wetland species including Sora and Virginia Rail.
The flight to London via Toronto was comfortable.
Monday 1 September
We arrived at Heathrow on time. It had been a great and wonderfully varied trip.
[ ] TOTAL COUNT
( ) PEAK COUNT
FNP FUNDY NATIONAL PARK
GM GRAND MANAN
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer One Bouctouche and nine GM, including two in breeding plumage
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps Eight Sackville and one Bell Street Marsh
PETRELS & SHEARWATERS Procellariidae
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus Uncommon GM 
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis Common GM 
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus Common GM 
Wilson's Storm Petrel Oceanites oceanicus Common GM 
BOOBIES & GANNETS Sulidae
Northern Gannet Sula bassana Uncommon GM 
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus Common
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo One off GM
HERONS & BITTERNS Ardeidae
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias Common
American Great White Egret Casmerodius albus One Castalia Marsh GM
Green Heron Butorides virescens
Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax One Steel Cove GM
American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus One Daly Creek Marsh and one Sackville
Canada Goose Branta canadensis Widespread in small flocks
Wood Duck Aix sponsa Ten Daly Creek Marsh and nine Sackville
American Wigeon Anas americana Small flocks on lakes 
Gadwall Anas strepera Scarce 
Green-winged Teal Anas crecca Scarce 
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Small flocks on ponds
American Black Duck Anas rubripes Common and widespread
Northern Pintail Anas acuta One Daly Creek Marsh and one Bouctouche
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors Widespread
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata Two Daly Creek Marsh and two Sackville
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris Two Daly Creek Marsh and at least seven GM
(Greater) Scaup Aythya marila One Bouctouche and one GM
Common Eider Somateria mollissima Common, especially GM [some 300]
Black Scoter Melanitta nigra Fifteen Mary's Head
Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata A fine male GM
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula Three Bouctouche
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator A single juv Matthew's Head
AMERICAN VULTURES Catharidae
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura One Harvey Bank
Osprey Pandion haliaetus Widespread 
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus Widespead on the coast 
Northern (Hen) Harrier Circus cyaneus Delightfully common 
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis One Herring Cove FNP
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus Common 
Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus Widespread 
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis Scarce 
FALCONS & CARACARAS Falconidae
American Kestrel Falco sparverius Four records. We expected to see more of this common species
Merlin Falco columbarius Surprisingly common 
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus Two immature birds Mary's Point and one Hopewell Rocks
Ruffed Grouse Bonasa umbellus One heard flying off FNP
PHEASANTS & Partridges Phasianidae
(Common) Pheasant Phasianus colchicus One Harvey Bank
RAILS & COOTS Rallidae
Virginia Rail Rallus limicola One swimming Bell Street Marsh
Sora Porzana carolina One Daly Creek Marsh, one Sackville and one Bell Street Marsh
American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica Three Catalia Marsh GM
Grey (Black-bellied) Plover Pluvialis squatarola Common,especially GM 
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus Common (200) Mary's Point
Piping Plover Charadrius melodus Five immature birds Bouchtouche were delightful
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus One Castalia Marsh GM and one near St John
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca Common [ca 80]
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes Common [ca 200]
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria Two Eel Lake GM
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia Scattered records 
Willet Catoptrophorus semipalmatus One Bouctouche
(Ruddy) Turnstone Arenaria interpres Eight Cape Enrage
Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata Eight Sackville
Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus Six Sackville and eight Castalia Marsh GM
Red Knot Calidris canutus Five Castalia Marsh GM
Sanderling Calidris alba Twenty St Marty's Point and two Bouctouche
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla Common (2000) St Mary's Point
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla Common (400) St Mary's Point
White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis Some 200 at St Mary's Point
Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos One Sackville
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus Twenty three GM
Pomarine Skua (Jaeger) Stercorarius pomarinus One off The Whistle and two at sea GM
Arctic Skua (Jaeger) Stercorarius parasiticus One GM
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis Common
Herring Gull Larus argentatus Common
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus Double figures at roosts
Bonaparte's Gull Larus philadelphia Eighteen Bouctouche and five Black's Harbour
(Black-legged) Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla Only GM 
Common Tern Sterna hirundo Eighty Bouctouche and forty terns off GM were probably of this species
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea Seven off GM
Razorbill Alca torda Four GM
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle Common off rocky shores, especially GM 
Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica Common GM, most in breeding plumage 
PIGEONS & DOVES Columbidae
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia Common in towns
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura Widespread
Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor One in daylight Eel Lake GM was probably a migrant
Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica Twenty or so in coastal locations
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Archilochus colubris Common. Widespread in small numbers, even noted at sea
GIANT KINGFISHERS Cerylidae
Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon A dozen records at marshes and ponds
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius Three Bouctouche
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens One Bouctouche
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus One GM
Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus Three Bouctouche
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Empidonax flaviventris One Eel Lake GM
Alder Flycatcher Empidonax alnorum Two Eel Lake GM
Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus Six records
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor Common over water on the mainland
Bank Swallow (Sand Martin) Riparia riparia Small flocks over water on the mainland
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Scattered records including one at sea
Cliff Swallow Hirundo pyrrhonota Five Matthew's Head
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedorum Very common, often flycatching
American Robin Turdus migratorius Common
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher Polioptilia caerulea One The Whistle GM
Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa Small groups in woodland
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula Less common than satrapa
TITS & CHICKADEES Paridae
Black-capped Chickadee Parus atricapillus Very common, the core constituent of feeding flocks
Boreal Chickadee Poecile hudsonicus More often heard than seen, four GM
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis Seen in most woodlands, but especially common during a fall on GM (15)
JAYS & CROWS Corvidae
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata Widespread
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos Very common
Common Raven Corvus corax Much more common than in Europe
Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris Common
NEW WORLD SPARROWS Emberizidae - Emberizinae
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia Noted daily
Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana Two Bell Street Marsh
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis A skulking species at this time of year
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis Seven records, probably all migrants
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis Widespread
NEW WORLD WARBLERS Parulidae
Nashville Warbler Vermivora ruficapilla Three Harvey Bank
Northern Parula Parula americana One Bouctouche and three migrants GM
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia One FNP and thirteen migrants GM
Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia Widespread (6) on GM during migration
Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens One GM on migration
Chestnut-sided Warbler Dendroica pensylvanica One migrant GM
Blackburnian Warbler Dendroica fusca One migrant GM
Black-throated Green Warbler Dendroica virens Two on the mainland and five migrants GM
Magnolia Warbler Dendroica magnolia At Harvey Bank and FNP. Migrants GM (14)
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata Scattered records
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla Widespread. Seven migrants GM
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus One Bouctouche
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas A scattering of mainland records. Four migrants GM
Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus Three scattered records
Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus Three Matthew's Head
American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis Very common
Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus Widespread
White-winged Crossbill Loxia leucoptera Eight to ten seen distantly St Matthew's Head
NEW WORLD ORIOLES Icteridae
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus A handful in marshes
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula Only brief glimpses of this common bird
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater Two females SW Head, GM
Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorous A brief view Sawmill Creek Bridge
CARNIVORES - Seals Carnivora - Phocidae
Common (Harbour) Seal Phoca vitulina A dozen GM
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus Six Bouctouche and one or two GM
CETACEANS - Porpoises Cetacea - Phocoenidae
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena Very common GM [some 170]
CETACEANS - Rorquals Cetacea - Balaenopteridae
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata Six GM
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus Four (and ten probables) GM
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae Nine GM
North Atlantic Right Whale Eubalaena glacialis Nine GM
EVEN-TOED UNGULATES - Deer Artiodactyla - Cervidae
White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus One near St John
RODENTS - Squirrels Rodentia - Sciuridae
American Red Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus Widespread, including GM
Eastern Chipmunk Tamias striatus A few Harvey Bank, FNP and Bouctouche
RODENTS - Mice & Voles Rodentia - Muridae
Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus One Sackville
REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS
Smooth Green Snake
DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES
Common Green Darner
Pink Edged Sulphur
American Painted Lady
© The Travelling Naturalist 2003