Chapter 9.  Newfoundland 3

Day 50 – July 18 – St. John’s – Signal Hill

(Shari) I am excited to have Bert to myself today. The caravan is over and we, along with good friends, Ginny and Bill, are going to Signal Hill to see the Tattoo, a reenactment of the changing of the guard performed by high school students in traditional uniforms and complete with canons. You can imagine my disappointment when I notice the rain clouds rolling in. We have just finished watching the movie of the signalman at St. John Straits when we learn the 11 AM Tattoo has been cancelled. It is pouring down rain. We drive up to Cabot Tower and try to see out into St. John’s Bay before more rain drives us into the gift shop and the museum on Marconi, the man who developed the transatlantic telegraph from this point. We intend to eat at a quaint fishing village called Quidi Vidi but it does not live up to its advertising. The only thing there is a brewery and it charges $10 for a tour with tasting and no food. We decline, but buy a variety 6-pack anyway. By the time we come out, the rain has stopped and we are hungry for Mexican food. May takes us to Zapatas but it is closed until 4:30 PM. However, we are near Water and George streets with lots of other restaurants to choose from. We choose the Yellow Belly Brewery and have a tasty lunch sitting and talking to a couple who coincidently are birders from Kansas that parked next to Judy the year she went to Belize with us. About half way into our meal, another coincidence occurs when Doug and Kay walk into the restaurant. They sit next to us and we chat some more. After lunch the rain has really gotten serious and Bert graciously braves the downpour to bring the car around. We then drive to the end of the peninsula so I can check out a campground. I am thinking of cute camping near the sea at a marina. Instead I find dumpy camping in the trees at a sorry looking waterslide park. Oh well, it’s time to go home and we arrive just in time for social hour under the shelter. We are joined by Pat, Jim, Bill, Ginny, Marlene, Larry and Ron. Those are the only ones still left in camp.

(Bert) My e-mail this morning includes one from Paul who attaches a photo he took of a similar looking tern at the same location, but a day earlier. It lacks the long tail we observed. Paul also forwards comments from Bruce who states the first summer tern is an Arctic Tern because of its short bill, rounded head and short legs. Bruce sees more in the photo than I do, as the head looks flat to me and the legs longer than the adult Arctic Terns the same day. While the bill is longer than the other terns that day, it is not as long as in the photo that Pat C. gave me of a Roseate Tern she photographed in Belize, so I am having doubts about my identification.

I send two more photos to Bruce. These show the extremely long tail on the first summer tern and I ask him if this is characteristic of Arctic Terns. I send the e-mail to a different address when Bruce tells me he is on a ship 500 km northeast of my location. The wonders of e-mail!

Meanwhile, Shari, Bill, Ginny and I go to Signal Hill to see the Tattoo. The band is in uniform and just coming out of the building to the performance field when the rains start, cancelling the Tattoo. Instead we go up Signal Hill to the old tower and I’m most interested in the history of Marconi’s transatlantic telegraph. Here in 1901 he received a signal, the letter “S”, from Cromwell, England. The experiment confounded scientists who knew radio waves travel in a straight line, the earth is curved and therefore it should be impossible to receive a signal at such great distance. What they didn’t know at the time was the signal was being bounced off the ionosphere, an ion-charged field surrounding the earth and not yet discovered.

When we eat at a restaurant in downtown St. John’s I notice the people sitting next to us are from Kansas and we soon find out they are birders too, traveling in an RV. To our surprise they tell us they camped at Mission, Texas, one year in January and met a single lady who was going on a birding caravan to Mexico. I ask if her name was Judy and they readily agree. I tell them Judy has been on this Maritimes caravan as well. Small world! Smaller world yet when in walk Doug and Kay! They had just shopped for replacement boots for Kay whose shoe had separated at the sole and no amount of gluing would hold together. With a surrounding population of nearly a quarter million, what are the odds we would all be at the same restaurant?

Back at R-Tent-III I check my e-mail. Apparently my tern photos emphasizing the extremely long tail streamers had an effect on Bruce. While he still believes the tern is an Arctic, the extreme tail lengths and the longer legs shown on the additional photos encouraged him to send the photos to tern expert Killian. An e-mail from Killian gives his opinion that it is an Arctic Tern. However, Killian adds, “I have to admit, even though I see a lot of 1st-summer type Arctic Terns, I can't recall ever seeing one with such well developed tail streamers as this bird, nor can I find anything comparable (in terms of tail-length) among my archive of shots.” Bruce also states that he hasn’t seen a first summer Arctic Tern with such long streamers. As for Roseate Tern, Bruce says there are only two records for Newfoundland.

I concede; the first-summer bird we found must be an Arctic Tern. I lose a lifer, but gain appreciable knowledge of the intricacies of first-year tern identification.

Day 51 – July 19 – St. John’s

(Shari) It is nice to see young families with children in church instead of only the gray headed. Nine years ago, we attended mostly Anglican churches in Canada and found most of them with only a handful of older people attending. This morning we attend a Presbyterian church that seems to be a vibrant growing congregation. The minister talks about a willingness to accept change. After church and obtaining a few groceries, we go back home and spend the day with paperwork and saying goodbye to Larry and Marlene. Bill and Ginny take off too but we will see them in another week.

(Bert) We attend St. David’s church this morning, a very old congregation founded in 1775 as “The Dissenting Church of Christ at St. John’s”. Although on occasion we visit Presbyterian churches–among many other denominations we visit in our extensive travels–this one has a new hymnal. I love the lyrics to one hymn called “In the bulb there is a flower”. Another was written by Tommy Dorsey, entitled “Precious Lord, take my hand”. I didn’t know he wrote hymns but I’m not surprised at the catchy melody.

Here’s the answer: “tickle, tinker, tuckamore, turrr”. Tomorrow I will give you the question.

Day 52 – July 20 – Brigus

(Bert) So, the answer is “Tickle, tinker, tuckamore, turr”. And, the question is “What are four words starting with the letter T in Newfoundlander English”. At a book store on Signal Hill I found a huge dictionary of Newfoundlander English and opened to the letter “T”, finding these four words. I used “tickle” on Day 39, referring to the village named Leading Tickles. There are other “tickles”, e.g., Black Tickle, Tickle Cove, Tickle Harbour, Tickle Inn and the word refers to a difficult or treacherous passage into a harbor or bay. “Tuckamore” I defined on Day 25 when we first viewed the stunted spruce. So what about “tinker” and “turr”. We have been hearing locals refer to turrs and how good they are to eat. It was obviously a seabird they were referring to and eventually Kay was able to find the species name. Now I see it here in the dictionary as well, defined as a murre. I remember that the Eskimos on St. Lawrence Island, off the coast of Siberia, liked murres as well and I saw them drying the meat in the sun at Gambell. That leaves us with “tinker”. Audubon used that word in his Labrador journals, a word used by the Newfoundlander cod fishermen for Razorbills. The eggers called them tinkers too, but they did not collect the Razorbill eggs since they didn’t like the taste.

Shari and I leave St. John’s this morning, the last of the caravan to depart and now we are all scattered around Newfoundland. Shari wants to visit a peninsula we did not see in 2000 and our first stop is Brigus. It looks familiar to me and when she reads about the Hawthorne House of Captain Robert A. “Bob” Bartlett I recall visiting the house as well as The Cave. Yet I enjoy revisiting the places and especially viewing a documentary film on the Arctic voyages of Captain Bob. He was the one that organized the ship travel to the North Pole for Admiral Perry in 1908-09 and followed up with almost yearly voyages to the Arctic, leading to discovery and documentation of life in this unknown part of the world in the 1920s and 30s. Key parts of his trips were recorded on film and we are able to see the original footage of native peoples, walruses, polar bears and icebergs, narrated by this famous navigator and explorer.

(Shari) After a haircut at Sobeys’s for Bert, we too take off. The last to leave of our group, we head north up the Baccalieu Trail. In today’s glorious sunshine, the yellow flowers on the hillsides are dazzling. Every turn has a thick covering of yellow dancing in the wind, making me in turn happy. We stop on the side of the road and unhook our car to drive to Brigus, a small town with narrow streets. Hawthorne House, a Canadian Historical site, is here. It is the hometown house of Captain Bob Barkley, a man famous for exploring the Arctic. According to Bert we were here 9 years ago, but I do not remember. We have no destination in mind and just intend to go until we find a place that interests us. After the museum, we travel less than 10 mi. when we see an RV park on the water. This is our stop for the night, at only $20 per night, including WI-FI, it is a bargain. We do a little paperwork and computer work, sit outside in the shade having our own tiny social and eat Trout Florentine for dinner that I prepared. I have to quit making such good meals if I want Bert to take me out more. It has been such a nice day and we end it watching the movie Mama Mia.

Day 53 – July 21 – Northern Avalon Peninsula

(Shari) Deciding to leave R-Tent-III at camp, we take the car on our route north with a first stop at Madrock Café for breakfast. Ernie, the campground owner, suggests we eat there and we are not disappointed. The owners of the small restaurant are interested in our lifestyle and as he cooks our meal, he talks about how he wishes he could travel like we do. His wife makes all the baked goods in the store and the bread is delicious. She also has local crafts displayed and we must make their day worthwhile as we buy many items at prices half of what I have seen and passed up other places. After our fill, we travel the shoreline north stopping whenever the mood strikes us. Bert reads about the tiny towns as I drive and we find many seaside gems. When Bert stops to bird, I read more. Both of us hike the 1 km coastal trail to a root cellar. Along the way we pick berries, that Bert says are Bake-apples but I disagree because the color is too red not orange. The sun shines all day and the sea sparkles. The tour book tells us of fantastic scenery and I agree. However on a rainy day, I suppose the drive would be boring. Not today. About half way along the peninsula we stop at another little inlet to see a marooned ship. It was one of the first ships to establish a connection from Newfoundland to Labrador before it was sold as a seal boat, then hit an iceberg, only to be towed to shore for repairs. During a storm it came away from its moorings, hit a sandbar and has rested there ever since. We travel all the way to the northern tip and learn that we are at one of the closest places to Europe, a mere 1600 mi. distant.

(Bert) It seems like a long time since just the two of us spent a day sightseeing. The campground owner suggested a good restaurant for breakfast and that is where we head first, the Madrock Café at Bay Roberts. A charmingly small place, we have a delicious and leisurely breakfast that ends up costing us nearly $100 because Shari finds so many other items to buy–jellies, table runner, towel, knit hat–and I buy a bright yellow rain hat like the cod fishermen wear. Emblazoned “Official Newfoundland Sou’wester”, the hat should be good for rain and wind on the ferry. We continue alongside Bay Roberts to a diving Common Loon at the Three Sisters rock formation and recognize this would be a great site for boondocking. Maybe we will return to park R-Tent-III.

We stop again at Spaniard’s Bay and I walk along the graveled beach, photographing half-size Ring-billed Gull chicks and Arctic Terns swooping over my head. I count 17 Greater Yellowlegs, a strong indicator that fall migration has begun. At Harbor Grace I see more yellowlegs as well as two Least Sandpipers. Even though I’ve photographed many Newfoundland flower species I keep finding more that I haven’t seen as yet on this trip: Oysterleaf (a type of Forget-me-not), Scotch Lovage, Biennial Blue Lettuce (a strange name for a yellow dandelion-like flower), Meadow Cranesbill, and many more.

Next stop is Perry’s Cove where we hike a trail along a cliff overlooking the sea. Hedges of Wrinkled Rose border the trail and we pick delicious red berries that my Newfoundland book calls Arctic Plumboy, but my Alaska berry book calls Nagoonberry or Wineberry. In and out of the Alder trees I photograph a Swamp Sparrow. The trail ends at a 175-year-old root cellar, the only obvious reminder of a family that once worked and lived on this remote coastal bay. We drive and stop frequently, seeing the longest swimming beach in Newfoundland at Northern Bay, the Mouse Hole–a natural tunnel through the seaside cliffs–at Burnt Point, and finally reach Grates Cove at the northern tip of the peninsula. The last miles are tundra-like, tree-barren, rock-strewn and harsh appearing. The fishing families that lived here in the late 18th century created vegetable gardens and hay fields after removing the rocks and piling them into borders and stonework walls. Quilting the barren hillsides, the short rock walls remind us of Ireland. At land’s end we look across a flat and deep blue sea toward Ireland, said to be a distance of 2575 km from here, one of the closest points in North America to Europe. Here also is a monument commemorating the legend of Cabot Rock. Local residents believe John Cabot landed here in 1497 and carved “IO CABOTO, SANCUS N SAMALIA” into a rock, but the rock face mysteriously disappeared in the mid 1960s. Yet there is other evidence that Cabot returned in 1498 and was shipwrecked off Grates Point.

Our final stops are at Bay de Verde and Red Head Cove from which we can see Baccalieu Island where there is an ecological reserve. Two miles from where I stand, I cannot make out many details of the island, but I can see Northern Gannets flying above its shores. Inaccessible to visitors, the island supports the largest known colony of Leach’s Storm-Petrels in the world, with 70% of the western Atlantic population and numbers estimated in the millions.

Day 54 – July 22 – Clarke’s Beach

(Bert) We stay inside R-Tent-III almost all day to catch up on e-mails, snail mail received for the first time in over two months, and caravan details. I also take some time to sort through my photos, especially my flower photos. In the past month I’ve photographed 80 flower species in Newfoundland and identified 78 of them.

I received an e-mail from one of our readers who corrected my misapprehension that the song writer I referred to on Sunday was the band leader. She writes that this Tommy Dorsey is “rather a black song writer that wrote many songs. We went to a museum of music in Macon, Ga. devoted to black Georgia musicians a few years ago and saw a film on Tommy Dorsey. As we left I said to the attendant that I had thought Tommy Dorsey was the band leader. Her reply, ‘Most white folks do’".

Day 55 – July 23 – Northern Avalon Peninsula

(Bert) We continue our sightseeing of the Avalon Peninsula, this time visiting Port de Grave on the Conception Bay side and then crossing the peninsula to visit towns along the Trinity Bay side, especially Whiteway where we have a great lunch (mine is fish & chips) at Brown’s Restaurant. At Port de Grave I find the first Lesser Yellowlegs of our Newfoundland trip and I am seeing more Greater Yellowlegs there and over 25 more at Spaniard’s Bay. Shari is tired and wants to take a nap, which works out great for me because I want to spend more time studying the gull and tern colony at Spaniard’s Bay. Finding the adults nearby makes it easier to identify chicks of Ring-billed Gulls as I might have thought they were Herring Gulls. The younger chicks are still fluffy, the older ones are mottled brown, black and gray, with black bill and legs. The young Arctic Terns show a wide range of development, from chicks so close to newborn that their bills and legs barely protrude from a dark ball of feathers to fledglings easily airborne. Again, it’s the presence of the adults that allows me to identify the young terns as Arctic and not Common. Juvenile bills are orange tipped black and they have orange legs, unlike the blood red bills and the deep red legs of the adult Arctics. Also, their backs and heads have much brown coloring as well as gray. Feathering around the eyes is black, the start of black heads I see in the adults. I see through my binoculars that Shari has awakened from her nap, so its time to continue touring.

Day 56 – July 24 – Bay Roberts

(Shari) “Are we going to move?” Bert asks when I get up and look outside at the dreary sky. We had wanted to move to this terrific boondocking site (not a campground but a free place to park without hookups) we found on Tuesday but the weather has been so drizzly and gray that we chose to stay with electricity to keep our batteries up for our computers and TV. Wednesday we never left the motor home and just finished paperwork and watched the rain from the warmth inside. The weather is expected to clear and as the morning progresses the sky does look better. We take the plunge and unhook, pull out and drive to the sea. Just as we arrive the sun peeks out. As soon as we are parked, the sky is all blue and sunny and I cannot stop taking pictures of our site from all angles. I don’t think we have ever had such a pretty view from our windows. We decide to take a walk on the trail around the peninsula but I never get very far. Bert shows me a patch of wild strawberries that I cannot resist. I walk back to R-Tent-III for a bag to put them in. For the next 45 min. I pick the berries but then my back just cannot take the bending anymore and I have to quit. Back at R-Tent-III, I wash and hull them and another 45 min. later I have about a cup. Remember, wild strawberries are about the size of small blueberries but much sweeter. They better be really really good because I doubt that I will pick more anytime soon. Toward dusk, we sit outside on our lawn chairs, neither one of us wanting to break the mood. This has got to be the best spot ever. We do not get tired of the ocean, watching the sunset, listening to the waves hit the shore and hearing the gulls overhead. However, I do get chilled and go inside. Bert sits alone for another 30 to 40 min. until he too comes inside. I wish we could stay another day or two here.

(Bert) After two days of dark clouds and occasional light rain the weather is now clear and we are ready to move R-Tent-III to the boondocking site on the Bay Roberts peninsula. By the time we park on the cliff overlooking Great Lower Cove and the Three Sisters, the sun is out in force and the day is sensuously pleasant. We are the only campers within eyesight and perhaps within miles. We start on a walk along the peninsula but only get a short distance when I find wild Wood Strawberries. Shari returns to R-Tent-III to retrieve a bag for picking, while I continue my hike. My pace is exceedingly slow as I study everything around me. Savannah Sparrows must still be feeding chicks as I see several carrying insects. Butterflies enjoy the flowers and I photograph male and female Northern Blue and a very colorful Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, both species I’ve also found in Alaska. The terrain is much like tundra and very difficult to traverse in the more marshy areas. Walking on the hillsides is easier and in many places stone steps have been constructed from the flat sheets of native slate. Besides the strawberries I find other berry plants, although not all are fruiting: Common Raspberry, Bunchberry, Black Crowberry, Blueberry and Partridgeberry. A very strange flower has me puzzled and I later identify it as Gall-of-the-earth. The prettiest flower today is a new one for me: Calopogon or Grass Pink, a small odd-shaped pink bloom with two grass-like leaves.

In the early evening we sit outside on lawn chairs and gaze on the sea as it laps against the Three Sisters and other partially submerged ragged rock formations at the edge of the peninsula. A Ring-billed Gull calls forlornly. Dark blue waves push round rocks uphill and the churning water becomes white with oxygen bubbles. Then the waves release their grasp and the rocks roll downhill, clinking like so many marbles. Atop one of the Sisters, a fat Herring Gull fluffs its feathers and then carefully preens. A dark cormorant wings gracefully just above the water’s surface. As I look up from the beach toward R-Tent-III, the rock formations are now darker, the sun below the horizon. I climb the wooden stairs back up the cliff and retire for the evening, marveling at the beauty of today.

Day 57 – July 25 – Argentia

(Bert) Early in the morning, before Shari is awake, I head once again to Spaniard’s Bay. I have become fascinated with the Arctic Terns and their growth. This time I photograph a very young chick attended by both adults. One of the adults holds a small fish in its mouth, perhaps a capelin, and the fish is as long as the chick is tall. The little ball of brown fluff shows no interest in the fish. Perhaps it dines instead on regurgitated food, although I don’t see the adults offer. Terns are numerous on the gravel beach and estuary. I count at least 40 in the air at one time and at least a dozen, probably more, must be in and around the short vegetation poking from the gravel. Every tern I see is an Arctic Tern, although only about 100 yards away an adult Common Tern feeds over shallow water. I can’t tell if my presence upsets the terns, as they were as active in the air when I was out of their sight as they are now when I stand on the beach. One particular Ring-billed Gull doesn’t like me though. I can get within about 75 ft. of its favorite spot, but back off when I approach closer because it immediately takes to the air, gains altitude and then dive bombs to within 6 ft. of my head, squawking loudly to make sure I am aware of its irritation. It repeats its threats until I back off about five paces and then it contently returns to its spot in the thin grass. All of the other birds ignore me, though keeping their distance.

Again, too soon it is time for me to leave. Shari is awake and ready for breakfast and I want to return to the small restaurant we enjoyed a few days ago. After omelets, hash browns and toast, a meal big enough to last until this evening, I back R-Tent-III out of its unique campsite and we are on our way to Argentia. We stop short at a Visitor’s Center and find out that the ferry is delayed and our departure will not be until 7 PM. Parked in the center’s lot, I catch up on journal writing. We move to the ferry dock and are processed through to parking lines where we wait and wait some more.

Sometime after 8 PM all are aboard and the old ferry churns into action. The ship looks familiar as does its name, the MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood. I remember that Joseph Smallwood was a premier of Newfoundland and on board I find a sign that says he was the first premier and the one that lead the drive for the independent country to become the tenth province of the Canadian confederation in 1949. This is the same ship we took in 2000 and its condition has worsened. I checked my 2000 journals and read that it can hold 370 automobiles and 77 tractor-trailers and is powered by four diesel engines of 7000 hp each. Now the rumor is that it runs on only three diesel engines since one is broken and they haven’t or can’t get a mechanic to fix it. We notice that the ride is a bit rough for a 600-ft. ship riding on a relatively smooth sea without whitecaps. By the time we leave Argentia the skies are too dark for bird watching from deck and in a few hours we are all asleep, or attempting to sleep on uncomfortable chairs.

(Shari) Too bad we have to leave! All sorts of excuses run through my head for reasons why we do not make the ferry today but my sense of obligation makes me move. Anyway, Bert would never go for the ideas I have. One more time, we treat ourselves to a good breakfast at the Madrock Café and then back R-Tent-III out of its berth. Everyone has beaten us to the ferry dock and Doug and Ron don’t bite on my remark about them getting a new Wagonmaster for the second half of the trip. They say “good”. Now how does that make me feel?

The ferry is late again–we heard it only ran on time once the whole summer so far–and finally we start boarding at 7:45 and full 3 hr. late already. We depart at 8. We were on this ship nine years ago and, as Bert says, it was old then. It is older now and is running on one less engine because they cannot find anyone to fix it. Oh well! All but Kay and Doug have chosen recliner seats for the crossing and we meet up in the reserved seat section to try out the seats. They are the craziest seats I have ever seen. The foot rest is segmented and too high in position one and slants too much if on position two. We all feel as if we are sliding down and it is so hard on my back that I choose not to use the foot rests. I don’t know how they can sell these seats as recliners. I have an awful night. Not only are the seats uncomfortable but the snoring is annoying. I get up and move numerous times trying to find a quieter section of the big room. No sooner do I fall asleep when someone else starts to saw wood and forces me to move again.

Day 58 – July 26 – Atlantic Ocean

(Bert) I awaken at 6 AM. Enough gray light is coming through the windows to spurn me into seeing if any seabirds are flying in the gloomy fog. I put on several layers of clothes and walk out on deck, trying first the bow. The wind blows so strongly I nearly loose my balance and, instead, move to the stern to a protected spot. The fog is thick with nothing flying until 6:20 when scanning through binoculars I pick up a Cory Shearwater and then a Sooty Shearwater. I quit for breakfast and try again later, but nothing is out until after 7:55 when the fog lifts and Pat C. and I can see to the horizon. It doesn’t take long before we get the best bird of the trip, a Pomarine Jaeger. Large, powerful and darkly plumaged except for lots of white in its wings, I get a look at the nearly tab-less squared tail before it disappears too quickly for me to reach for my camera. Pat and I bird on deck for three and a half hours until we reach the North Sydney harbor. We do not see large numbers of birds, yet manage to see a good variety of other species: Northern Fulmar (8), Greater Shearwater (9), Manx Shearwater (3), Northern Gannet (14), Double-crested Cormorant (39, near shore), Black-legged Kittiwake (5) and Herring Gull (4, near shore). We also photograph a Great Black-backed Gull quite far out to sea at 9:15 AM, still over two hours from shore and we see two Arctic Terns resting on a buoy about a half-hour before reaching North Sydney. No whales today, but we do see a pod of submerged dolphins rippling the surface, then three to four Short-beaked Common Dolphins showing dorsal fins and a Harbor Seal poking its nose above water.

Unloading the ship goes much faster than boarding and we are soon parked at the nearby campsite. Bill and Ginny as well as Bob and Pat are expected soon on the Port aux Basque ferry, but it is delayed and delayed some more.

(Shari) The long night finally ends and we arrive 4 hr. late. I quickly arrange for a pizza buffet tonight and do some grocery shopping before taking a well deserved nap. About 4:30 I start to worry about Bill and Ginny, Bob and Pat, who took the shorter ferry from Port aux Basques. They should have been here by now. I call the ferry office and am told they will dock at 5:30. Okay, still enough time. At 5:30 when they are not here, I call the office again and now their arrival has been moved up to 6:15. Figuring by the time they get set up and are ready to go, it will be 7, I call the restaurant and am told, the buffet stops at 7 PM. We decide to cancel orientation for tonight and have it in the morning instead. Just Doug and Kay go with us for pizza.

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