Chapter 6. Newfoundland
(Shari) Promptly at 1 PM we head out of the campground in rig order to the ferry loading area. We get our boarding passes, propane shut-off cards and are told to wait in lane 7 or 8. And then we wait. At 2:30 some start to board. Bert and I move up a bit but then are stopped for what seems like hours. Finally we can move forward. We load on the lower deck. Others load above us. “Wow”, we all say as we get on the ferry. “It is beautiful”. I must admit it is the nicest ferry I have ever seen. Bob and Pat, Bill and Ginny, Doug and Kay have gotten on first and have saved seats for us on the 7th deck, in the front, facing the windows. Too bad it is raining. No matter. The ferry is so nice I hardly notice. Before we even start to depart from the dock, the birders put on layers of clothes and head outside. The rest of us stay warm and dry, listening to the live music, reading, talking or walking the ship. It has a nice gift shop, snack bar, kids play room, game room, bar and restaurant. When Bert comes in for his camera, he mentions that he is seeing lots of birds. Boy oh boy, the stampede to get dressed and outside is amazing. Luckily Doug and Kay had just finished their Bloody Mary or I am afraid Kay would have left it behind to get watered down by the ice. They bought me one too and it’s delicious. I savor it, making it last about an hour, since I have not had any alcohol for some weeks. Around 6 PM, I join Bill and Ginny for a wonderful buffet dinner. Bert stays out on deck. Doug, Kay, Bob, Pat and Judy come into the dining room sometime later. Of course, we all eat too much from the delicious salad bar, topping it off with shrimp, salmon and mussels. We can then choose from an array of meats and vegetables. Most of us sample the carved beef and baked cod ending with chocolate mousse cake and coconut cream pie. If anyone is still hungry, they can have ice cream sundaes topped with fresh fruit.
We dock in Newfoundland 4-1/2 hours after we left Nova Scotia and Bert and I are the first to drive off the ferry. We wait for our group to catch up so that we can drive to the campground together. It is getting late and I want to avoid anyone getting lost. We are treated to a gorgeous sunset across the water with rugged mountains at our side. It’s too bad we all can’t find a spot to stop and watch it. We hesitate at the road we think we should turn on, and are happy to see the campground sign on a car parked at the corner. Apparently the government has decided to cut down their sign. Since the road almost looks like a driveway, many people will miss it. Our group parks pretty quickly in the dark and I think everyone goes to bed immediately.
(Bert) Light rain paints shiny surfaces on flat asphalt, metal rooftops and fiberglass-sided RV’s, reflecting a bit of light on a dull gray mid day. Will the weather dampen our birding enthusiasm for the sea crossing from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland? It seems to take an eternity for us to move RV’s from the parking lot to the ship’s hold: large RV’s to the lowest deck, smaller ones to the next level up. We take the elevator up to level 7, opening to an amazingly well-furnished series of lounge areas including linen-cloth silver-set dining tables, bar, computer room, kids’ game rooms, shops and a spacious forward section with comfortable stuffed chairs and panoramic windows. I pass it all up, put on four layers of clothes, topped with raingear and explore the vast outer decks for the best spot to watch for seabirds. I check out level 10, but decide the port side of level 7 is best sheltered and gives a wide view of the ocean in the direction of the Gulf of St. Lawrence–the starboard side looks toward the Atlantic Ocean.
The ship slips from the dock at 3:40 PM. A dozen Common Terns fly erratically and a few sit on the wooden pilings, including two one-third-size Great Black-backed Gull chicks with bedraggled gray-brown feathers, sadly looking like abandoned wet mops. Briefly, the ship follows the coastline, then breaks free into deeper water. At 4:08 starts the best display of birds: 2 Northern Gannets, 2 Common Murres, 1 Black-legged Kittiwake, 6 dark shearwaters actively flying 1-10 ft. above the waves on long stiff wings. Only four minutes later the Sooty Shearwater flock has increased to almost 300 and we can see the white underwings as they skim the surface. Another bird, distinctly different in shape and with a white rump flies on this side of the shearwaters, is a Leach’s Storm-Petrel. And a flock of 25 dark-looking Wilson’s Storm-Petrels rests on the rolling sea. Top billing for the circus performance is an Atlantic Puffin with fast wing beats but slow progress in passing the ship. What a spectacular start to our ferry trip!
I head inside to retrieve my camera and inform those who had been less willing to challenge the weather of my great sightings. Within a few minutes most of the others are on deck to see what else will occur. Birders come and go, as do the birds. I stay on deck the entire trip and only one 15-min. segment, 1 hr. into the trip, is without birds present. Greater Shearwaters (6) are in the first half of the trip, Cory’s Shearwaters (33) concentrate in the mid segment–1.5 to 1.75 hr.–of the trip, Manx Shearwaters (9) are from 0.75 to 2 hr. into the trip, Leach’s Storm-Petrels (69) are concentrated in the second part 2.25 to 3.5 hr., and we do not see a Northern Fulmar until 6:45 PM, with the biggest concentration (32) fifteen minutes before we reach Newfoundland at Port aux Basques, just after seeing our second Atlantic Puffin.
Unloading the RV’s is faster and R-Tent-III takes the lead to the camping site. It’s 9 PM Nova Scotia time, 9:30 Newfoundland time, a strange half-hour time zone difference. Dimly-lit tall dark mountains drip green tundra over dark chocolate. Fluffy cumulus clouds are blackened above and glow red below as if on fire from the magnified red-orange sun just beginning to dip into the tranquil Navy-blue sea. Brush strokes of red violet tie clouds together. What a colorful spectacle to welcome us to Newfoundland!
(Bert) The wetlands hiking trail tracks the drier edge of the marsh and lake, winding through a spruce forest. Birds are singing, mostly well-hidden. At a partial opening we line up along the path and all face the scattering of spruce and tamarack, trying to zero in on a rather loud warbler. Ron finds it near the top of the third tier of trees and I identify it as Northern Waterthrush, the first of our trip. In a deeper part of the forest we watch a Boreal Chickadee investigating a spruce bough just above our heads. At the edge of the wetlands I hear a familiar call, dial my iPod to the song and out pops a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. I’ve photographed this species many times in Belize, but this is the first good photo I’ve gotten on its breeding grounds.
We continue on the winding road, over a bridge, following the coastline, through a village and until it dead ends at Cape Anguille, the most westerly point on the island. Fishermen are preparing boats and gear for tomorrow’s start of halibut fishing. On the dock a Great Black-backed and a Herring Gull stand side by side and my photograph illustrates different head shapes. Inside one of the wharf buildings a crew is processing live lobsters. A large holding tank is 3 ft. deep in circulating seawater and a checkerboard array of dozens of boxed cages nearly fill the tank. Each cage holds dozens of lobsters as we see when they lift them out of the water and sort through the catch. One Newfoundlander picks up two lobsters and shows me how to distinguish male from female by the shape of the tail–thin for male, fat for female–and the two appendages protruding from its base–stiff for male, flexible for female.
From Codroy Valley we head northeast on TCH1 to Stephenville Crossing. It’s almost a 1.5 hr. drive and I’m disappointed when our first stop to scan the broad tidal estuary turns up nothing except large numbers of Herring Gulls. I suggest we try the other side of the dilapidated impassable iron bridge and Bill finds an abandoned road that takes us to that viewpoint of the estuary. I’m relieved when Pat C. announces she sees one of the Black-headed Gulls, my main reason for making the long drive. We get a good view of the adult, both through binoculars and scopes, and then see a second one in the green reeds poking up from the mud flats. This one is performing a strange dance, head bowed below shoulders, folded wing tips pushed upward, and then a quick march forward, followed by repeat performances of the choreography. I wonder how many birders have found Black-headed Gulls in three Canadian provinces on one birding trip!
One car heads back, the other two head into Stephenville where we find MacDonald’s for a late lunch. Most noteworthy is my first House Sparrow of the trip. I make note of the warm temperature shown on Bill’s truck thermometer. The exterior temperature is a warm 74º at 2:42 PM, surprising for Newfoundland by my experience. On the return trip we watch a moose slowly cross the highway in front of us, our first moose for Newfoundland and one of many I suspect.
(Shari) Bert has left me the car so Marlene and Larry join me on a search for lobsters. Nine years ago we found a fishery with Don and Jean and enjoyed our first boiled lobster of the trip. This time it will definitely not be our first. Arriving at the dock we see crates and crates and more crates of lobsters. Men are standing in boots sorting them by size. We ask where we can buy some lobster. Larry understands the answer to be “Right here”. I only hear mumbles. I will have to get used to a new dialect again. Since no one seems to move to get our lobster, I ask again and have it repeated. Finally I understand that the boss is coming. I tell him we want 13 lobsters, each 1-½ pounds. He puts them all in a bag for us. I really wanted them weighed two at a time but he assures me that they are each 1-½ pounds. Just to make sure, I have him weigh six of them, 2 at a time, and sure enough the scale lights up to 3 lbs. Now how do they sort them so accurately? Our lobsters are a bargain at $5 per pound. On our way home, we stop for lunch. Larry and Marlene get turkey and dressing, I order pea soup. We each get homemade rolls and a homemade dessert on the house. After arriving home, I attend a tea and chat. The campground owner has invited some local seniors for tea and dessert and we can talk with them. I learn four of the women came to the area from other places in Newfoundland as young teachers. They found a man and stayed, saying how lucky the area was. At 4, we borrow a pot and propane from the campground and Larry starts to boil our lobsters 6 or 7 at a time. At 6 we hand them out and eat them and our side dishes on tables spread with yellow clothes. This may be our last lobster for awhile as the season here in Newfoundland ends June 28.
(Bert) Shari and I travel to Deer Lake without stops, reaching camp by noon. In route, my only bird of note is a Common Loon on Georges Lake. I bird around the campground for a short time, adding Lincoln’s Sparrow to my trip list. When the others arrive and we gather at a campfire I hear of their finds during a more leisurely travel day. Ron studied Lesser Scaup at Doyles, Ray and Nancy watched Olive-sided Flycatcher at Barachois Pond, Bill and Ginny found Northern Harrier at Robinsons River. Best of all is the Northern Goshawk that Kay watched flying along the tree line at Stephenville Crossing. Being a species not often seen (I’ve only found one eight times), I quiz Kay on details and she has them, a very good description of shape, size and coloring.
(Bert) “Wrmantit!” he says to me. I’m scanning the bay at Trout River and look over at the local Newfoundlander that walked up to me and ask him, “What was that?”. “Wrmantit!” he repeats. I say, “Yes, it is warm”. It being over 70º F, I ask him how often it is this warm. I don’t understand his response, so I comment on the whale we just saw and are waiting to resurface. Somehow I hear the word “Minke” folded into his next sentence, so I suspect I got the identity correct. I point in the direction where I expect the Minke Whale to come up, based on the three times it has already surfaced. He disagrees and I think the jest of what he says is that it went around the north end of the bay instead of the south where I expected. At least that is what I think he said, based on his hand motions. I remember John James Audubon relating the story of talking to a woman at Madeleine Islands, she speaking French and he fluent in the language, but he not understanding a third of what she said. So is my experience of conversing in English with a Newfoundlander.
We started birding in light rain early this morning, tracking down a singing Lincoln’s Sparrow and than a singing Tennessee Warbler. Crossing Lomond River, I see two Buffleheads in flight. We stop for a first-year Bald Eagle at the edge of Bonne Bay and then continue to the Discovery Centre at Gros Morne National Park, a good place to visit while the rain continues more emphatically. After an hour, a well worthwhile hour that is, Nancy notices the rain has stopped and skies beginning to clear. Anxious to bird while the birding is good, we round up the birders and head uphill to The Tablelands, an unusual mountain of raw barren rock with winter’s snow still clinging to crevices in the cliffs like the furred toes of a Snow Leopard. We’ve learned that these are the northern part of the Appalachian Mountains, cleft from North America and compressed with portions of the Euro-African continent in the more easterly parts of Newfoundland. Standing resolutely high above us, the barren rock once was the bottom of an ocean. A meadow beside a rushing stream has a depression where I find dozens of Pitcher-plants sporting globular nodding wine-red flowers that hook at the top like antique street lamps. Thickened green basal leaves fold into tight receptacles in which I can see liquid for trapping insects, the fluid including digestive enzymes exuded by the plant.
But for singing Fox Sparrows and robins clinging to utility wires, birdlife is sparse on The Tablelands. We scan for ptarmigans, yet see none. Descending into the Trout River valley, the density of trees and wetter habitat supports many warblers that we can hear and a few we can see. A Wilson’s Snipe whistles wings unseen above us and from wetlands we hear Alder and Yellow-bellied flycatchers. It is at the remote fishing village of Trout River where I have the conversation about weather and whales. At the small harbor the lobstermen have stacked their lobster traps five high and nine wide in clusters across the wooden dock, signally the end of a season where a good supply of lobsters results in depressed prices, a boon for us but not for the men who work so hard to handle the traps.
We continue on the road past Trout River and climb just high enough to gain perspective over the fiord: raw red mountains on our left, rugged green mountains on our right, separated by a soft green blanket of lowland forest and a broad pale blue Trout River. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet performs its recurrent 3-movement symphony. We’ve reached the end of the road and turn around, enjoying the scenery one more time in the opposite direction.
(Shari) I love it: getting up late and still seeing the same sights as the birders. The four of us SOB’s pile into the car and head north looking for the moose burger place Larry and Marlene loved in 2001. We don’t find it but do find a moose on the side of the road. We eat moose burgers at another restaurant, before driving to the Discovery Centre of Gros Morne National Park. I had forgotten just how much like Alaska the scenery in Newfoundland looks: jagged mountains, lakes, tundra and spruce forests all bordered by an ocean. Even the mammals are alike: moose, caribou, Arctic and snowshoe hare, bear. No wonder we like it so much here. After lunch we drive the coastline road to the Discovery Centre and watch a 20 min. film about the park. The day turns out nice and the sun peaks out just as we pass The Tablelands, a flat coppery mountain hugging the shore. Turning around we stop for ice cream and ask about capelin. Even though the store has no ice cream, he calls the fish plant at Wood’s Point and finds out that right this very minute they are processing capelin. Capelin are smelt-like fish that arrive to spawn at this time of the year. We rush to the plant and are told they are just finished for the day. Seeing my disappointment, they offer to give me a bag of capelin from those that have fallen to the floor during processing. While the hoses of water clean the conveyer belts and wash the floor, a young gentleman picks through the small fish to fill a nice size bag. We put them in the ice chest before driving home. Looks like Bert has some work to do this evening. He has said he will clean anything I catch. I expanded that role into anything that I obtain. After Bert cleans them, I dust them in flour and pan fry the tasty tidbits for our dinner tonight.
(Bert) We drive past a moose at the exact same place Shari, Jim, Larry and Marlene saw it yesterday at the south entrance to Gros Morne National Park. We see another in the park near Rocky Harbor. For 55 mi. we climb and descend the forested mountains of Gros Morne and then follow the coastline of Gulf of St. Lawrence in view of calm waters under gray skies, but no rain. The unusual ecology is tuckamore, a miniaturized world of stunted windswept salt-sprayed spruce that lean inland, often nearly leafless on seaside and luxuriously dense needles on the inland protected side. The flat terrain is pockmarked with ponds and lakes, sometimes meeting the sea in short cliffs, but mostly gravel beaches that stretch northward for many miles. The highway is much improved since when we drove it nine years ago and it is tempting to drive the speed limit. Shari tells me to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Just after I slow to 40 mph I see a small flock of gulls disappear behind buildings at Sally’s Cove. I tell Shari I think I saw a Glaucous Gull and I pull to the side of the road, grab binoculars and camera and walk back to the buildings. An adult Ring-billed Gull, a first-cycle and a second-cycle Great Black-backed Gull, and a first-cycle Glaucous Gull stand close together on wet rocks on the beach, presenting an educational study in comparative plumages. They allow close approach and I get photos of their feathers and features.
Another good stop is Parson’s Pond where Tree Swallows and Bank Swallows spin around the cliffs and Common Eiders rest on exposed rocks in the sea. The ratio of adult females to downy chicks suggests many chicks did not survive. Our campsite tonight is a stone throw’s distance from the sea, separated by a narrow strip of wildflowers–yellow Canada Hawkweed, pink Bird’s-eye Primrose, purple Sweet Violet and white Starry False Solomon’s-Seal. Gentle waves roll over unusual tables of conglomerate rock, rounded and curved by years of water etching. Some of the rocks show marine fossils and I photograph a chambered nautilus. In one broad section of the beach the waves are yellow and on closer examination I see the color comes from billions of eggs dumped from spawning Capelin. I recognize the eggs from the few females among the dozens of Capelin I cleaned for last night’s dinner. In the bay four Common Loons dive for fish. On shore I hear a shorebird and continue walking in that direction. A pair of Semipalmated Plovers is in bright plumage and as I walk closer for better photos one of them feints injury, like a Killdeer does, but a better performer. It cocks its wings at awkward angles, spreads its tail and points it skyward, dips its chest to the rocks, cries painfully and gives all appearances of being in death throes. I follow the bird away from the presumed nest and then it disappears, undoubtedly convinced it successfully fooled another predator.
(Shari) Departing at 9 AM, we have plenty of time to travel the 143 mi. to our destination. In 2000, we drove this road in rain and fog. Today we see the gorgeous scenery, through the forested park and flatter land north. We have plenty of time to stop to enjoy the view at the many pullouts and feast our eyes on the quaint towns and villages; some only containing a few houses hugging the shore, but all with lobster traps piled high in the yard. Our campground is another jewel, facing the ocean. After a travel meeting, we join Bill and Ginny for dinner at a local restaurant. Upon our arrival so many cars pack the parking lot we wonder if we will get in. The restaurant is bigger than it looks and we have numerous tables from which to choose. We each order a seafood dish and none of us are disappointed. Ginny tops our feast with a dessert she shares called figgy duff. It tastes like heaven and is described as a raison pudding seasoned with molasses and cinnamon topped with warm vanilla cream sauce. The description does not do it justice. As we depart the restaurant, the sun is shining on the boats across the harbor. It does not look real and we all have to snap pictures of the colorful scene. Each boat is brightly painted a different color and the reds and blues tied to the wharf with the hill of houses behind is a postcard ready to be sent. We look forward to a beautiful sunset from our rig windows when we get back but the fog rolls in just about the time the sun is to set. No matter, we had a gorgeous day anyway.
(Shari) Ron, who is in charge of fog, is doing his job just a little too well. We depart this morning following the coast in pea soup and it does not start to lift until we are ready to turn inland. All the beautiful scenery of the coastline will have to wait until our return trip. We detour a bit when I realize the campground and ferry to Labrador is only 1.5 mi. off the main road. I want to confirm the reservations and scope out the facilities. Good thing I am a worry wart since our reservations on the return are wrong and I must call the ferry office to change them. This takes us over an hour and we again forgo lunchtime in order to make our 1 PM arrival. After a nap, I take the car to confirm our Viking dinner feast. I forgot how big St. Anthony is. I was picturing it as a small little town with one street. I drive so long along the main road that I think I may have to ask directions. But finally I come to Fishing Point Lighthouse and the location of our feast. Everything there is set for Sunday. As I talk to the woman in charge, I notice lots of whales offshore. I think that is why there was a steady stream of traffic on the road both coming and going. The locals have come to see the return of the whales that are eating the capelin. It must designate “Summer has arrived”. I pull up beside Ray and Nancy and notice Doug and Kay are also parked here. I watch mesmerized as at least 10 whales cavort, dive, jump and blow. What fun they seem to have! By the way, I am also treated to three icebergs floating in the bay and am told quickly that Nancy has finished her bingo card. So has Ginny. We will have to see who finished first. When I arrive back, Bert has already started a campfire, Ginny has set the table with snacks and Doug is serving his tray of cheese, complete with handkerchief on his arm used as a napkin, as Kay is cutting fruit.
(Bert) Our drive starts through a lowland evergreen forest of spruce and tamarack with few trees taller than our motor home. Trees are so closely spaced as to make the forest impenetrable without an axe to clear the way. Beside the highway are hundreds of neatly aligned stacks of firewood, apparently gathered deeper inland and transported to the roadside for retrieval next winter. In other sections are stacks of many hundreds of lobster traps, surprisingly positioned in openings of the forest edge and remote from houses or docks. Also along the highway we see small garden plots, again remote from houses. Beyond the lowland forest is the edge of green mountains with steeply vertical sections of bare rock forming broad horizontal bands. Clouds cap the mountain tops. We follow the coast along the Strait of Belle Isle and Shari spots a Fin Whale. Birdlife is sparse, at least from the perspective of driving, and I only find a female Mallard and a pair of Common Mergansers to be unusual. At tonight’s campground we find many Gray Jays and around a campfire I hear from others of their sightings of Northern Gannet (Ron), Northern Harrier (Bob and Pat), American Kestrel (Bill and Ginny), Glaucous Gull (Ron) and White-crowned Sparrow (Ray). An afternoon that warmed enough for stripping to a T-shirt becomes chilled by 5 PM and we add several layers of clothes and still huddle near the campfire until after 7 PM.
(Bert) I’m surprised how many birders are ready to leave at 6:30 this morning, not because of the hour, but because it is only 37º and a strong wind blows. A moose meets us in the parking lot at Pistolet Bay Provincial Park, yet the birds are nearly absent and after a brief walk we retreat back to warm cars. We continue along the road to Raleigh on the edge of Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve. Raleigh surrounds a picturesque bay and across its inlet we see snow banks still intact. With the chilling winds frosting our fingers, it is not hard to believe the snow will still be there in July. On Cape Onion we park cars and hike along the bay. With the tide out, rocks are exposed and I see hundreds of vacated blue mussel shells along the gravel beach. A few gulls rest on rocks but they seem reluctant to fly. I find a diagonal cut that takes us back uphill toward the parking area. A pair of Pine Grosbeaks lands in nearby alders. I go back to the car to retrieve my camera and the grosbeaks have moved to short bushes at the edge of the road, only a few feet from where we stand. Quite content to continue feeding so close, I take photos of them through the branches. At the coast off the village of Cape Onion Common Eiders are in four flocks totally 150 birds. The bitter winds finally take their toll on the birders and we return to camp by 11 AM, hours earlier than I planned.
In route I see another array of stacked woodpiles, this time with a man splitting wood into kindling. I stop and initiate a conversation by asking questions about the wood. Frank tells me he and his wife cut the wood in the winter and his two long rows of 15-20 cords of stacked wood will last them two years in their wood-burning stove, supplemented by an oil furnace. He points out logs of spruce, White Birch and Balsam Fir and I ask him if it is White Spruce. He says the government doesn’t allow cutting White Spruce, so the log I am pointing to must be Black Spruce. He pays $21 for a permit to cut wood on Crown land, as do all of the others whose wood piles surround us, each marked with a small sign or stick scratched with the permit number. He hauled the firewood from deeper in the forest–they cannot cut near the road–with his Skidoo and a trailer on skids and stacked it here where we stand. It will dry during the summer and in October Frank will load it onto his pickup and take it to their home in Raleigh. Frank retired and moved back to northern Newfoundland where it is warmer. As we shiver in the cold, we wonder where he spent his working days. Labrador City, he says. Look at a map and find Labrador City and see how remote it is and presumably very cold, as confirmed by Frank. I asked him what he did when he was working. He replies, “R-an’-R”. I ask him again and he says “R-an’-R”. Doubting he means “rest and relaxation” in Labrador City, I ask him a third time, getting the same answer, but this time I recognize he is saying “Iron ore”.
After lunch Shari and I head into St. Anthony, stopping on a side road toward St. Anthony Bight. We meet Ray and Nancy coming from Great Brehat and they tell us of a Common Goldeneye on a nearby pond. We find it again, the first of our trip. We reach Great Behat and see two small icebergs floating in the harbor. Not thinking this is the one Ray and Nancy meant, we curve around the bay and find a much larger one, the size of tall ship after we climb stairs to the lookout, shivering in the extremely cold wind. Along the way I photograph blooming bake-apple, the favorite local berry otherwise known as cloudberry, but deriving its name from a visiting French fisherman who asked what do you call this berry, “Comment cette “baie qu’appelle”. In French, his question sounds like bake-apple.
On the way back from Great Brehat, we find an American Bittern at the same spot where we had met Ray and Nancy. I wonder if they found it too. At Fishing Point Lighthouse we enjoy a delicious lunch, accompanied by Jim. From our dining table we see Humpback Whale blow and then dive, raising its flukes into the air before it descends.
(Shari) I don’t even want to imagine what winter is like here. It is 40º as Bert and I ride in the car in search of icebergs. Ray and Nancy tell us they saw a big one at Great Brehat, after climbing stairs to the top of a cliff. We reach the spot, but getting out of the car is an effort of determination, will and strength just to open the door against the strong wind. This had better be worth it. We climb the wooden staircase for a view of the town and a pretty good-sized block of ice floating in the harbor. It is worth it, but we do not tarry long as the wind chills straight to our bones. A good bowl of hot chowder sounds good so we drive to Fishing Point Lighthouse and find five others from our group. We just cannot sneak away for anything! Later Larry makes a big campfire and seven of us brave the cold to enjoy the fire’s warmth and each other’s company.
(Bert) I finally picked a starting time that eliminates most of my fellow birders. At 4:50 AM only Bill and Ginny are ready to leave, although a mile along the highway we find Larry and Marlene waiting to join us in their vehicle. We are headed to St. Anthony Airport to see moose. I did this same trip at the same time of the morning nine years ago and found many moose at the cleared forests surrounding the airport. This morning the count starts 1 mi. from camp with our first moose cow. We continue to see moose on the roadsides along our 25-mi. trip to the airport, reaching a total of 10 cows and 2 bulls. However, the airport is completely absent of moose. The rocky stubble appears defoliated; either by severe cutting or chemical agent, so no fresh tree sprouts attract the moose. On the return trip we find three more moose at different locations, for a total of 15 moose between 5 AM and 6:11 AM, three-fourths of which were concentrated in the first 18 min., i.e., just at or before dawn.
We turn onto Route 435, bordering the western edge of Pistolet Bay. Unlike yesterday, I am better prepared for cold weather–this morning 38º at 6 AM–with more layers of clothes and more willing to hike in winds. It helps too that the day warms nicely into the 60s. Bill, Ginny and I have great luck at birding, finding many species for this northern clime, although not high numbers of any. At one stop beside the road I hear sparrows and warblers and a distant flock of Canada Geese when I am distracted to two Wilson’s Snipes circling together above us. A third snipe enters their airspace and a territorial dispute erupts. One whistles wind through its wings, both call anxiously and swoop and swing toward the intruder, sometimes narrowly avoiding mid-air collisions. The battle ensues for several minutes before the invader is thwarted.
Back into our cars, a Short-eared Owl passes and we follow it along the roadside as it hunts low over the marshlands, fluttering lightly like a white moth. A pair of Common Loons calling in flight over our heads distracts me and I lose sight of the owl. An hour later I see another Short-eared Owl shoulder deep in grass, large rounded eyes and oval face staring in my direction. I reach for my camera on the seat next to me and as I do the owl takes flight. It begins hunting and is soon joined by another. The pair circles the seaside village of Boat Harbor and one flies around a house. I shoot multiple photos of it in flight, some of which fortunately are in focus.
The terrain is limestone gravel and barren ground, giving the appearance of an Arctic rock desert. Yet when we stop and examine life in the first few inches above the rock we find blooming Mountain Avens, Moss Campion, Roseroot and Rosy Stonecrop. A sign warns of an endangered ground willow called Barrens Willow which I photograph nearby, along with two other willow species with tree branches hugging the ground rather then rising upright. We meet up with Jim and Pat who tell us about Horned Larks just down the road a bit. A mile or so later I hear the larks and zero in on where one is singing from atop a rock.
The best is saved for last. At the lighthouse on Cape Norman the fog horn blasts mightily ever few seconds and the fog closes in on the steep rock cliffs. In the mist we can see the humpbacks, a pod of at least six, feeding on capelin. The whales are close enough for us to hear their breathing. Circling, blowing, fluking, diving, gliding; we can see it all. We even see them stick their snouts into the air and periscope. I shoot a hundred gray photos, but later I use PhotoShop to remove the fog and I have 50+ sharp photos. Too many to keep, but I cannot bring myself to delete any of the action backed shots.
(Shari) As stated in the guidebook, Leifsburdir or Leif’s Camp is a reconstructed sod hut overlooking the ocean. Here we enjoy a “lighthearted look at Viking life while dining on salmon, moose, cod, squid and other Viking specialties”. I don’t think the Vikings had moose, or electricity or heat, or lettuce or … But other than that the evening is fun. Our waiter, dressed as a Viking, tells us he is the lord of the manor and judge. He tells us to think of crimes committed and he will determine the judgments. After our buffet meal of all the delicious foods, the entertainment starts with Bill accusing Doug of keeping a retainer but never doing the legal work. Doug turns it around and says if Bill still has money in his wallet, he did not keep the retainer. Bert is called as witness, but he declares both sides are hogwash. We the jury decide and Bill is convicted of false accusation. The Viking lord of the manor declares Bill’s punishment will be to serve as Doug’s slave. A lady at the next table accuses her husband of giving his dessert to a stranger and ignoring her. Found guilty, he must sing a love song to his wife. He fittingly obliges with a French ballad. Later I get called to make my claims and I tell the judge I have many. Larry gathers wood without a permit, Bert gets up at an ungodly hour and disturbs me, Ron hugs other women that are not his wife and Bob smuggled pizza into Canada. I am prepared to accuse everyone of something but the judge stops before I get to Bill who walks his dog without a leash. All of the men plead guilty, but I suffer the punishment because I wasted the time of the court and now am required to get up at 4:30. Jim steals the show by accusing Pat of stealing his heart 48 years ago and she is not found guilty at all. We thoroughly enjoy our evening and have a much better time than we did 9 years ago.
(Bert) One group starts early, the second late, both to meet up at the 1000-year-old Viking site on the northern edge of Newfoundland. You can guess which group I lead. We are barely underway when I stop for four moose feeding in lush grass beside the road. The three bulls and one cow curiously watch us watch them, ignoring our flurry of photo taking, and they go back to browsing. I take a side road to Quirpon and stop beside a wet meadow, thinking this looks like good bird habitat. A pair of Northern Harriers calls in flight above us, one of them carrying a small mammal in its talons. On the utility wire is a reddish bird. I first think House Finch, others suspect Purple Finch, and Pat C. tries to decipher the song she hears. Several more fly undulating flight patterns above us, calling in a quiet low-pitched staccato. I know that isn’t either finch. Another lands closer to us and now I recognize Common Redpoll. Before we leave the spot we also see Swamp Sparrow and American Tree Sparrow. At Quirpon we stop to watch terns, still hoping to find an Arctic Tern, but these are Common Terns yet again. As we are leaving we see an object on a large rock surrounded by shallow water. Nancy and I dismiss it as a rock on a rock, but after we pull away Pat says the object moved and Ron in the car behind us confirms it was a mink that slipped back into the water. Darn! I would have liked to have gotten a better look at it.
We reach L’Anse aux Meadows about the same time the second group arrives. Inside the well designed Interpretation Center we see exhibits with artifacts collected at the site and these take on greater meaning when we view a movie in the theater narrated by the original discovers of the Viking site. The couple believed the ancient Norse stories of Vinland must apply to the New World and set about searching for evidence. The movie is followed by a tour, lead by a middle-aged man who grew up at L’Anse aux Meadows and never left the area. He relates about his childhood, playing among the mounds of ground near the beach. As a kid he thought the mounds had been made by native Ameri-Indians. After the discovery that they were really the remains of Viking houses and work sheds, as a young man he worked with the archaeologists in uncovering the artifacts that proved their Viking origin and established the current theory that L’Anse Aux Meadows was a camp from which the Vikings explored other parts of North America and stopped at this spot to repair their ships before returning to Greenland. Hearing the stories from the archeologists in the film and from the local resident who lived through the discovery period adds greater meaning to our visit this morning. And, we couldn’t have picked a better day for our visit: clear skies, listless sea, temperatures into the 70s, a view across the bays and islands to Labrador on the opposite side of the strait.
In the afternoon, after shopping in St. Anthony with Shari, I head back with Pat C. to explore Goose Cove. Before we reach that bay I stop for four Bufflehead chicks floating on a pond, absent of adult supervision. Seeing a gravel side road leading closer to the lake I turn into it. Closely surrounded by alder trees, densely woven into bushes, I continue driving through the valley. We stop when we hear a Wilson’s Warbler–is this our first of the trip?–and then see a Rough-legged Hawk circling above us. We continue on the road, it becoming so narrow the branches scratch on both sides of my SUV, until we reach a secluded tranquil bay. We again encounter the Rough-legged Hawk, this time flying lower and calling constantly in flight. I’m sure we must be near its nest and Pat and I scan the rock cliffs. We cannot see a nest. A second hawk appears, also calling. This one returns repeatedly to a spot between two short spruce trees at the very top of the cliff. The nest must be out of sight, just above the ridge. By now it is 5 PM and time to head back to camp. We take a few minutes to see the pretty Goose Cove at the end of the road and return in time to join others around the campfire.
(Shari) “im and er” discovered the site and excavated it, says our guide as he takes us on the boardwalk path of L’Anse Aux Meadows, a Viking settlement established over 1000 years ago. The him and her referred to by our guide was the team of Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad who discovered the site in the 1960s. Our guide, only a kid at the time, had thought the strange looking mounds were from the Indians and of no worth. Had he and his friends known, they would have dug them up with picks and shovels, looking for buried treasure. Fortunately for us, they thought them worthless and left them for professionals to uncover and Parks Canada to preserve. Upon arriving we first view artifacts found on the site, then view a movie mostly narrated by the Ingstads. After that we step into the past, walking a long boardwalk and stopping at various depressions in the ground where we are told the Ingstads uncovered a dwelling or a smithy. Last on our tour is a recreated Viking house complete with costumed guides to tell us tales of the past. The house has walls of sod 6 ft. thick, dirt floors and no windows. It must have been dark, damp and cold inside. The walls inside are lined with hard benches covered with skins for sleeping and bags of grain hung on the walls to keep them free of rodents. It must have been a hard life and not one I would enjoy. I very much enjoy our lunch at the Norsemen Café, however. We share a table with Bill, Ginny and Pat, later Doug and Kay arrive too. Bert and I share crab bisque and Greek salad and snow crab legs that is delicious. So good in fact we drive to the seafood factory with mouths watering for fresh snow crab. Unfortunately the boats don’t bring it in until Friday. While I make my first attempt at Figgy Duff, Bert and Pat go birding. Using the pudding bag Marlene and Larry brought me; I stuff it full of the bread crumb, raisin and molasses mixture and set to boil for 2 hr. Meanwhile I sit outside by the fire enjoying a social in the warm sunshine. By 6 my Figgy Duff is done and I serve it to those still around. It is deemed a success and will definitely get added to my repertoire of recipes.
(Bert) Backtracking from St. Anthony to St. Barbe, we change campsites and are now in position for tomorrow’s ferry to Labrador. At 1:30 we take a few cars back to Flower’s Cove and walk the boardwalk and trail around the bay. I’ve forgotten what thrombolites look like and we poke around the boulders and rocks looking for tiny one-celled fossils until Pat C. and Doug shout in our direction about a sign up ahead showing a drawing of what they look like. We should have been looking for something big, not small. The huge bun-shaped Cambrian mounds are the growth form of millions of tiny algae and bacteria in a warm and very salty sea. The sign tells us, “These structures are very, very rare” and mentions only one other place where they have been found, in Western Australia.
The bay is intoxicatingly beautiful in the warm sunlight and cool breeze blowing over pastel shades of blue, depending on the depth and composition of the dolomite ocean floor. Spring wildflowers are in bloom and butterflies flutter. I photograph a Short-tailed Swallowtail. We drive down a bumpy gravel road toward a dock filled with abandoned hulks of irreparable fishing boats. In a flooded meadow we inspect a flock of gulls and I find one different from the norm. We study it through spotting scopes, eliminating the species we’ve seen previously on this trip. It is a second-year gull with wingtips only slightly darker than its wings and a mantle mottled in barely different earth tones of gray, white and brown. The bill is a muddy separation of half dark near the tip, half flesh near the base. I deduce it is either an Iceland Gull or a Thayer’s Gull (not expected) and move closer to get photographs for better study. Back at R-Tent-III, I download the photos and see the close resemblance to a second-year Kumlien’s Gull, once thought to be a cross between Iceland Gull and Thayer’s Gull, but now considered a subspecies of Iceland. With no more time to study the books and photos, I go outside for my presentation on Audubon’s trip to Labrador, finishing with his journal entry July 2, 1833, the same day of the year as our scheduled visit. Having spent the last few days in the far north of Newfoundland it is easy to identify with his description of Labrador as “country so wild and grand… in its wonderful dreariness”. After hearing Shari explain our plans for tomorrow and a social that includes Ron dishing out pieces of his fresh rhubarb cake and ice cream, I go back to my photos and books. Two issues concern me. Firstly, Kumlien’s Gull could be expected here in winter but would be unlikely in late June. Also, its overall size, head shape and bill size seem too big when I examine one photo of the gull standing next to a Herring Gull, leading me to consider hybrids. After more study I deduce the strange gull we were watching is a hybrid between Herring Gull and Glaucous Gull, in its second year.
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