Guiding a Bird Tour to NFLD and visiting NS

Atlantic Puffin carrying dandelions for its nest at the colony at Elliston, NFLD - Photo

guided a sold out bird tour of a group of 10 people to Newfoundland this June with Avocet Tours. The tour began on June 11th and I left a few days early to scout. I have always wanted to go to this beautiful province. My mom really wanted to go there to see the puffins and landscape and we were planning to make a trip but she got too sick to go. We had hoped we would go after she recovered but sadly that didn't happen. I definitely carried her with me during the trip.

When we landed it was cold only 1C! The next morning it warmed up and was sunny and in the teens. We went straight to see the Pink-footed Goose! I had seen 2 before in Victoria but they had been distant scope views. Seeing one like this up close and so tame was a real treat. They are quite subtly beautiful.

Pink-footed Goose in St. John's Newfoundland - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After that we went to Mun Botanical Gardens to see the boreal birds. Here we saw a lovely Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Waterthrushes, Black-and-white Warblers and Blue Jays as highlights. On Oxen Lake we had American Black Ducks, Great Black-backed Gulls, Fox, Swamp and White-throated Sparrows and Common Terns. There was also nesting Tree Swallows. At the park I loved watching Boreal Chickadees and a large flock of White-winged Crossbills feeding on the ground. This is rare for us Vancouverites! 

White-winged Crossbill in St. John's - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Boreal Chickadee in Newfoundland - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in St. John's - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Great Black-backed Gull at Oxen Lake - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we drove to Cape Pine and found 3 Willow Ptarmigan.  The Willows were a bit hard to spot in the arctic tundra and the fog that quickly rolled in didn't help. Their cool and hilarious calls alerted me to them however! En route near the little town of St. Vincent's at Peter's River I watched a Humpback Whale feeding close to shore. There was also a flock of Northern Gannets plunge diving into the ocean which was so cool to watch.  We also got to look around the cool town of St. Shott's in the fog.

St. Vincent's-St. Stephen's-St. Peter's a great whaling and seabirding spot!

Willow Ptarmigan at Cape Pine - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next morning we went to Bidgood Park. This is a lovely park where many boreal warblers breed and normally Common Grackles frequent. We did not find a Common Grackle but spotted a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Blue Jay, Boreal Chickadees, Hermit Thrush, many spiffy Swamp Sparrows in their breeding plumage, Black-and-white Warblers, Blackpoll Warblers, Wilson's, Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers. We were lucky to spot a rare Gray Catbird here too and was just fast enough to snap a blurry photo of it.

Record photos of a Gray Catbird in Goulds, NFLD - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Next we stopped in at Arnold's Cove bird sanctuary. It is a cute quaint fishing village so I stopped in to buy sandwiches and then watch birds by the shore. Here we spotted 2 rare for this time of year Black-bellied Plovers. There was also many Common Terns, Great Black-backed Gulls, Eagles, Spotted Sandpiper and a Greater Yellowlegs. After lunch we were off to Terra Nova National Park. Here we had Wilson's Snipe and many Boreal Warblers.  The view from atop Ochre Hill was gorgeous too! 

View from the top of Ochre Hill at Terra Nova National Park - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The boreal warblers we saw here were Black-throated Green, American Redstarts, Northern Waterthrush, Magnolia, Palm, Black-and-white Warblers, Blackpoll, Yellow-rumped and Wilson's. There were also Blue Jays. I loved seeing so many Swamp Sparrows with their rusty caps and White-throated and Lincoln's Sparrows. The walk along Sandy Pond was beautiful and the Palm Warblers they get out here in the East are so much more vibrant yellow! Greater Yellowlegs nest in the park and we saw 3 along with some Spotties. The song of Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets filled the forest. The trees here in the boreal are stunted compared to our tall BC forests but the marshy swamp and rock sure is beautiful in its own right.

Sandy Pond was so beautiful I loved the 4km walk - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Magnolia Warbler at Terra Nova National Park in Newfoundland - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next morning we went to Cape Spear to scope off the headlands. Cape Spear is the most easternmost point in all of North America. Here we saw a Double-crested Cormorant, several Black Guillemots, Northern Gannets, Common Murres. Herring, Ring-billed and Great Black-backed Gulls, Common Terns and hundreds of nesting Black-legged Kittiwakes that were nesting on the cliffs.

Day 1 of Tour

At 2pm we picked up all the participants at the airport. Our full tour included guests from North Carolina, the Fraser Valley, Calgary and Kelowna. After a 2 hour rest at the hotel (The Best Western Plus) we went to see the Pink-footed Goose at Burton's Pond.  There we got to see their namesake feet!
Pink-footed Goose showing off those pink legs! - Photo: Justin Flint

After this, we went to Signal Hill where we enjoyed spectacular views of gorgeous sunny St. John's. We watched a Osprey flyby and Northern Gannets, Black-legged Kittiwakes and several Great Black-backed Gulls. We also saw a Black Guillemot. We also got to see a Red Fox. Sadly many people have fed the foxes there so signs had to be erected to help ensure these foxes don't get hit by cars as they beg for food. We also spotted a rare Black-headed Gull as it flew past which was so exciting for the group! We went to celebrate having dinner at Saltwater Restaurant where we had a delicious Lobster dinner! A great end to our first day!

Red Foxes are far too tame for their own good at Signal Hill - Photos: Justin Flint

Red Foxes are unfortunately illegally fed at this site - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Views from Signal Hill are spectacular - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Black-headed Gull off Signal Hill, St. John's - Photo: Justin Flint

Lobster Dinner at the delicious Saltwater Restaurant in St. John's

Day 2 of Tour

On Day 2 we got up early and went to a 24 hour restaurant called Charlie Hearth. They served a delicious huge breakfast! The waitress was cracking us up because she couldn't fathom why were up so early and not in bed haha! We drove out to Cape Race to look for Willow Ptarmigan and Common Eider. On the way out we decided to stop at a home in the town of Renews that had a fairly reliable Ruby-throated Hummingbird. They also had a female Indigo Bunting and Northern Mockingbird the day prior. We got there and were greeted by the owner. He was truly the friendliest man (like most Newfies). He had a camera set up and several seed and hummer feeders. Sadly the Ruby-throated never came in but we were left entertained by several White-winged and Red Crossbills. The Red Crossbills here are Type 8 or the Percna Subspecies. They are near endemic to Newfoundland and threatened. We also saw Blue Jays, Purple Finch, Siskins, Barn Swallow, White-throated Sparrows (both morphs), Cedar Waxwings, a Mourning Dove and the like. We even had a Common Loon fly above us in circles! One thing we all noticed in NFLD was their atypical garbage cans. They are wooden and mostly octagon shaped. They make them fixed to the ground and drop in bags of garbage due to the heavy snow and strong winds they get. Some are super colourful and decorated too! 

1 of 15 Percna Red Crossbills in Renews - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Blue Jay in Renews, NFLD - Photo: Justin Flint

White-winged Crossbill in Renews, NFLD - Photo: Melissa Hafting

A typical Garbage Can in Newfoundland - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we were off to Cape Race. Cape Race is well known for receiving the last mayday call from the Titanic. We drove the road between Long Beach and Cripple Cove. Before we could reach the lighthouse eagle-eyed Casey Girard spotted a male Willow Ptarmigan hunkered down in the ridge. The bird was distant so we got the scope on it. A lifer for quite a few on the tour. On the road I spotted a Taiga Merlin sitting down on the tundra. At Cape Race Lighthouse, we saw a female Common Eider! This was a lifer for many in the group. It was a Canada bird for me having seen them only in Nome. At the Cape there was also Black Guillemots, Black-legged Kittiwakes and Northern Gannets. We also found 3 uncommon Surf Scoters and 20 White-winged Scoters. 

After leaving Cape Race we drove through Biscay Bay. Here Casey yet again spotted a male Willow Ptarmigan! This time it was much closer and allowed for photos. 

Male Willow Ptarmigan between Cape Race and Cape Pine - Photo: Justin Flint

As we drove along the road that was littered with small ponds we noticed most were devoid of birds. However, some had Spotted Sandpipers and a Greater Yellowlegs or a pair of Canada Geese. On one lake we did spot a Common Loon. The landscape was beautiful but quite bleak. We were now en route for Cape Pine and St. Shott's. We were hoping to find more Willow Ptarmigan and Caribou.

While driving the road to St. Shott's we spotted a Short-eared Owl. This was the highlight of many today despite not being a lifer. The bird was close and gave great views and allowed for pics as it hunkered down from the wind.

Short-eared Owl in St. Shott's - Photo: Melissa Hafting

On the road down to Cape Pine we sadly did not replicate my scouting days and did not find a single Willow Ptarmigan but we did see many Horned Larks and Pipits and a Canada Goose family. At St. Shott's itself we did end up finding 4 Horned Larks, 2 American Pipits, a small Black-legged Kittiwake colony and lucky for us 7 Common Eiders, that were mostly immature males!

Common Eiders in St. Shott’s, NFLD - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The view from St. Shott's - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We drove back to St. John's and had a delicious seafood dinner in a private dining room at St. John's Fish Exchange. I had snow crab legs with butter while others had lobster and fresh fish.

Day 3 of Tour

This was the day most of the people came for. It was the reason they booked this tour. It was the day of our boat trip out to Gull Island in Witless Bay. Before I get there I should say that after a quick breakfast at Tim Horton's we headed to Bidgood Park in Gould's. This was the place I had found a Catbird and several Boreal warblers while scouting. This time there was no catbird but the group got sensational views of a Black-and-white Warbler, Boreal Chickadee and Swamp Sparrow just to name a few. We also heard several Blackpolls, Northern Waterthrushes, Yellow, Yellow-rumped and a couple Yellow-bellied Flycatchers. I am neglecting to mention that as soon as I got out of the car Casey had spotted a female Pine Grosbeak (new for the tour) singing from a bear snag! Then they looked up and spotted a hawk for the group that turned out to be a Sharp-shinned!
Bigwood Park in Gould's, NFLD - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Swamp Sparrow in Gould's - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Black-and-white Warbler in Gould's - Photo: Justin Flint

Pine Grosbeak in Gould's, NFLD - Photo: Casey Girard

After this, we were anxiously off to Bay Bulls to board on O'Brien's boat tour! The crew sang traditional Newfie songs and were so friendly and entertaining. The boat was large and allowed great views from any angle. We went straight to the open top deck after boarding. En route we had 5 Humpback Whales including a mom and calf who were constantly breaching and clapping their fins on the water. I made a video of this amazing moment. You can watch below:

Humpback Calf and Mom - Witless Bay, NFLD 
Humpback Whales putting on a show for us at Witless Bay - Photos: Casey Girard

Female Humpback whale clapping fins at Witless Bay - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After watching the whales we went on to Gull Island in Witless Bay. Here we saw something none of us could ever have dreamed of. The sky suddenly appeared as if it were filled with insects. In actuality it was seabirds (mostly Puffins and Common Murres) flying to and from the colony! 

Witless Bay where the birds fill the skies like insects! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We estimated 20, 000 Common Murres and 25, 000 Atlantic Puffins. We also spotted 2 Thick-billed Murres in the colony! This and the Puffins were a lifer for many on board. We also had about 10,000 Black-legged Kittiwakes who were nesting there and 100 Razorbills! The Razorbills were a lifer for almost everyone on the trip!

Thick-billed Murre (note the white on the gape) at Witless Bay - Photo: Casey Girard

The seabird spectacle at Witless Bay (Razorbills, Puffins, Murres and Kittiwakes!) - Photos: Justin Flint

Bridled Common Murre (Atlantic subspecies) at Witless Bay - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Atlantic Puffin at its burrow at Witless Bay - Photo: Melissa Hafting

When a Bald Eagle or a Great Black-backed Gull would fly over, huge numbers of Puffins and Murres would fly off the cliff towards the boat. It looked like something out of a National Geographic film. We watched a Great Black-backed Gull eating a Puffin too. 

Great Black-backed Gull eating a Puffin at Witless Bay - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I made a few small videos showing a bit of the spectacle! You need to go and experience and see it to believe it! I have to admit that when I saw the whale and seabird spectacle at Witless Bay at one point tears began to stream down behind my sunglasses. It was because I wished my mother could of been there with me. She always wanted to go to NFLD and I so desperately wish she could of been there with me. My heart is still broken and in pain every day without her. When I called my dad with updates I always was sad she didn’t pick up to talk to me. Anyways I believe she was with me during the whole trip which gives me some small comfort.

We were all in awe and couldn't stop talking about how amazing the birds and whales were on the 2 hour boat ride. We talked about it on our way to lunch! We went to a restaurant called “The Jigger” in Bay Bulls. Many of us ordered Fish and Chips and the portions were gigantic!! Portions in NFLD are akin to ones down in the Southern US. The food was delicious and service amazing. Waiters were calling us "My Love" and "My Darling"... stuff you never get back home.

Happy and full we headed off to Arnold's Cove to see if the Black-bellied Plovers we had found during  scouting were still there. Sadly they were not but Greater Yellowlegs, Great Black-backed Gulls, Belted Kingfishers, Spotted Sandpipers and American Black Ducks were. We next headed towards our hotel in Clarenville and went to a place called "Come-by-Chance.” Wouldn’t you know it, before we got there a Ruffed Grouse strutted out into the road giving us all great views. At the beautiful cove and beach at Come-by-Chance we watched a Common Raven chasing an eagle and listened to a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher singing. We got back to our hotel at The Quality Hotel in Clarenville and had a delicious dinner at Bella's before hitting the hay.

Ruffed Grouse crossing the road in Come-by-Chance - Photo: Justin Flint

Day 4 of Tour

In the morning, we got up early before breakfast and drove to Elliston. Here we hoped to see thousands of Atlantic Puffins at the breeding colony viewing site. This spot is unique because you can sit beside the puffins if the puffins so choose. The colony is directly across from the puffins and they regularly fly across to sit beside calm and respectful humans. The birds fly over to gather nesting material and we got to watch this incredible feat! It was magical to have them so close to us. We also enjoyed watching the puffins dig out burrows and watching them fling the mud high into the sky. There were 2600 Puffins there plus a few Razorbills, Gannets, Common Murres and Black Guillemots as well. 

Atlantic Puffin collecting nesting material at Elliston - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Atlantic Puffins up close beside us at Elliston, NFLD - Photos: Justin Flint

cell phone video of the Puffins up close

Atlantic Puffins at the colony at Elliston - Photos: Melissa Hafing

Elliston's incredible Puffin Colony (Bird Island) - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Black Guillemots and a quaint house in Elliston, NFLD - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After a cold, foggy but thrilling morning we went to Bonavista to eat at Mifflin's Tea Room. It was so quaint and we had a delicious breakfast here with Patridgeberry Jam that we all loved. Partridgeberry is a berry harvested in the tundra here. The staff were so friendly too, like everywhere in NFLD.

Puffin chairs at Miflin's Tea Room in Bonavista - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we went to Cape Bonavista Lighthouse to see the other nearby Puffin colony. Here it was a beautiful and impressive sight. Even though the puffins do not come to sit beside you here, they fly right by your head. We also saw extremely large colonies of Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common Murres and about 500 Puffins, Northern Gannets, nesting Double-crested Cormorants, Great Black-backed Gulls, Black Guillemots and my favourite Razorbills. The rock the puffins nested on was visually spectacular too. I just adore NFLD and this rugged majestic coast. After leaving the lighthouse we stopped to scope a grassy island with nesting Double-crested Cormorants hoping for a Great Cormorant. We did not see a Great but got lucky with a nice rare for this time of year Eurasian Wigeon.

Puffins at Bonavista Colony - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Puffins fly close to your head at the colony at Bonavista - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Bonavista's Puffin and Kittiwake colony is so picturesque - Photos: Melissa Hafting

After this, we drove to a place I dubbed Bonavista Woods. Here we had great views of Blackpoll Warbler. We also had our first Mourning Warbler of the trip. We also had Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Blue Jay, singing Red Fox Sparrows, Swamp and White-throated Sparrows, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-whites, Redstart, Wilson's and Yellow Warblers.

Blackpoll Warbler (above) and Red Fox Sparrow (below) in Bonavista, NFLD - Photos: Casey Girard

Looking at Boreal Warblers in Bonavista, NFLD - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After lunch we drove to a small town called Open Hall. We did this because we wanted to see an Iceberg. We used the website Iceberg tracker to find one and bingo it was there waiting for us! It was such a cool treat to see. On the way to the iceberg we were blessed with a Ruffed Grouse hen crossing the road with her 10 tiny chicks behind her!!

Ruffed Grouse Hen with 10 chicks in Bonavista - Photo: Justin Flint

Looking at Open-Hall's Iceberg - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Day 5 of the Tour

This was the day we explored Terra Nova National Park. Here we started off with a nice 4km walk around Sandy Pond. We nabbed a couple uncommon Olive-sided Flycatchers, Spotted Sandpipers, several Canada Jays, Black-and-white Warblers, Swamp Sparrow, Northern Waterthrush, Hermit Thrushes, Magnolia Warbler, Common Yellowthroats and Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated, Lincoln's Sparrows, Kinglets. The highlight was 2 beautiful Palm Warblers. Palm Warblers in the east are much brighter yellow than the duller ones we get in the west!

Canada Jays at Sandy Pond TN National Park - Photos: Melissa Hafting
Walking around Sandy Pond at Terra Nova National Park - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Palm Warbler carrying food at Sandy Pond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we went to have our packed lunches at the visitor centre on the water. After that we went on Goodwiddy Trail. Here we saw a stunning Magnolia Warbler, Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Hermit Thrush and the like. One of the participants even spotted a Rusty Blackbird!

After this we went to Louil Hill Trail. Here we obtained Great views of a Black-throated Green Warbler and Yellow-belled Flycatcher! The whole group saw both which was fabulous. We also had a Sharp-shinned Hawk and heard several warblers like Magnolia, Redstart, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white and Black-throated Green. 

Louil Hill Trail at TN Park - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we went to Ochre Hill to see the view from atop the whole park. It is truly stunning!

Views from the top of Ochre Hill are stunning - Photos: Melissa Hafting

We finished off the day at Dunphy's Pond Trail. Here we hoped for Spruce Grouse. We heard Hairy Woodpeckers calling and tapping and on this very buggy trail I spotted a Blue-headed Vireo! We were quite surprised to see this shining beauty! With that lovely end, we headed back to Clarenville to have a nice dinner at Stellar Kitchen at the Clarenville Inn.

Blue-headed Vireo in Terra Nova National Park - Photos: Justin Flint

Day 6 of the Tour

After a delicious breakfast at the hotel we went to White Hills Resource Rd. This forest service road produced a Ruffed Grouse nest with chicks, a singing Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warblers, several American Redstarts, Wilson's, Black-and-white Warblers, Waterthrushes and finally good views of Mourning Warblers for all on the tour! We also found a rare Tennessee Warbler! This birding road was awesome as it also had Wilson's Snipe, Purple Finches, American goldfinches, boreal sparrows and several Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.

Rare Tennessee Warbler in Clarenville - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we were off to Dunphy's Pond Trail. We wanted to go back to Terra Nova National Park to clean up some targets we had missed. We walked the trail all the way up near to Juice's Pond and there we found a male Black-backed Woodpecker. He flew in front of us calling his distinctive "chick" call. We also saw several Pine Grosbeaks which was so nice to see. Their sweet trills along with singing Magnolia Warblers and Redstarts filled the air and helped distract from the biting boreal black flies. A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher perched on top of a conifer allowing for great views and photos.  On our way out 2 of us bumped into a male Spruce Grouse in the trail. Unfortunately he took off into the woods and we could not relocate him for the rest of the group. I sure miss all the Boreal Chickadees and White-throated Sparrows down those wooded trails.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on Dunphy's Pond in Terra Nova - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We had a lovely lunch at Philip's Cafe in the town of Placentia. We got to eat some local Toutons and partridge scones and watch Common Terns flying by on the water in front of us. We kept driving towards our hotel in St. Bride's. Here we stayed in the lovely Capeway Inn. They only have one restaurant there called "Da Bird's Eye" and it was delicious with fresh caught cod and friendly people with thick beautiful Newfie accents.

We drove the road from St. Bride's to Branch and we saw a male Northern Harrier and to our delight an endangered Woodland Caribou!! This was a highlight and mammal lifer for many in the group! We drove to Branch in search of a reported Snowy Egret but could not find one. We took Common Grackles as a nice consolation prize.

Beautiful Branch, NFLD is full of friendly people - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Endangered Woodland Caribou near Saint Bride's - Photo: Justin Flint

In the evening we went to scout the trail out and got to experience the colony at sunset which was so incredible. We picked out 8 Thick-billed Murres in the Murre Colony. There are at least 2000 nesting there. I was in a state of shock as over 15000 Northern Gannets flew around us. It was magical as the setting sun went down on this famous seabird colony. This is the one of the largest Northern Gannet Colonies in all of North America and the most accessible. The smell was quite pungent from all the guano. I knew when the tour participants came back with me in the morning they would be in complete awe over this incredible sight.

Sunset at Cape St. Mary's was a spectacle in itself - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Day 7 of the Tour

After breakfast we went to Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve and seabird colony. It is home to 24,000 Northern Gannets, 20,000 Black-legged Kittiwakes, 20,000 Common Murre, and 2,000 Thick-billed Murre. In addition, more than 100 pairs of Razorbills, more than 60 pairs of Black Guillemots, plus Double-crested and Great Cormorant, and Northern Fulmar nest there. The fog was thick as pea soup but quickly burned off allowing us to have great views of the colony of Northern Gannets, Common and Thick-billed Murres, Black-legged Kittiwakes and Razorbills. We got to see a small Black-legged Kittiwake chick. It was so cute! We estimated at least 4000 Kittiwakes, 10, 000 Common Murres and 15, 000 Gannets. Sadly many of the Northern Gannets were using green fishing rope and plastic in their nests. Luckily these birds at the colony have not been impacted by Avian Flu as the other Gannet colonies in Nova Scotia and Quebec have. The cliffs are not fenced and you are very high up on the sheer cliffs. I was actually surprised it wasn't fenced off and that no one has slipped and fallen to their death. There was a man visiting the site who was really afraid of heights. This is not the place to go if you are afraid of heights!

Northern Gannets do not fail to impress at Cape St. Mary's colony - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Northern Gannets courtship display at Cape St. Mary's - Photo: Justin Flint

Black-legged Kittiwake with chick at Cape St. Mary's - Photo: Justin Flint

Black-legged Kittiwakes nesting with chick at Cape St. Mary's - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Bridled Common Murre (subsp. only found in Atlantic) at Cape St. Mary's - Photos: Melissa Hafting

 I took a video of the colony spectacle.

We also saw a Razorbill that perched up close in front of us 10m away allowing for sensational photos and video. Here is an awesome video Justin Flint got. Justin is a graduate of my young birder program so it was so nice to have him with us! 

I also took my own video of Justin with the Razorbill!

Razorbill up close at Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Photo of myself with tour participant Casey Girard a the gannet colony - Photo: Casey Girard

At the colony we also saw 5 Atlantic Puffins but the biggest thrill for us was spotting 3 Great Cormorants. We had looked all over NFLD for this species and were thrilled when we finally spotted them on a rock beneath us when the fog had cleared. The adult had white hip patches and a white chin band and the juveniles were sunning themselves on a rock with their wings outstretched revealing their big white bellies. This was a lifer I and others on the tour had wanted for so long. They are not always easy this time of the year in NFLD either! This is one of the largest Northern Gannet colonies in North America and the most accessible seabird colony. To me it is the most spectacular one I have ever been to with Witless Bay a close second. It was a spectacular end to a great tour.

Adult Great Cormorant at Cape St. Mary's - Photos: Melissa Hafting

We ended the tour with a total of 92 species! Avocet Tours is offering this trip again in 2023 we have 6 people signed up and 2 spots open! So sign up quick HERE if you want to join us! All tours by Avocet are BIPOC and LGBTQ+ welcoming!

Nimali Seneviratne scoping for Great Cormorants at Cape St. Mary's - Photo: Melissa Hafting

My fantastic group in Branch, NFLD (we were say to say goodbye!) - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After our lunch and hitting up the gift shop we drove back to St. John's, where we dropped everyone off (who said they had an awesome time) at the airport and boarded our flight to Nova Scotia. 

A toque I bought at the gift shop to support the reserve - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After getting off the plane in Halifax we spent the night at Coastal Inn. After a nice breakfast there we drove to Cape Sable Island. Our main target here was American Oystercatcher. We nabbed 4 of them by scoping from the Hawk at the end of Fish Plant Rd. We serendipitously met my friend Alix D'Entremont there who just came back from working on Cape Sable. He told us he had six Piping Plovers over there. We walked around the Hawk and saw a hissing Nelson's Sparrow, Alder Flycatcher, many Common Grackles, Willets and more!

Sign at Cape Sable IBA - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Nelson's Sparrow on Cape Sable Island - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After this we had delicious hot lobster rolls at West Head Takeout and then drove to Dennis Point Wharf in Pubnico. There we found among the Common and Arctic,  3 Roseate Terns! This was a lifer for us! While we were trying to photograph the Roseate Terns a beautiful adult Laughing Gull flew by! I was able to nab some shots of this rarity. Next we went to the end of Pond Rd where the Roseate Terns breed and saw dozens of Common Eiders with their chicks up close! They are so cute. This region in Pubnico is Acadian and all the signs and businesses are bilingual. Even the stop signs are bilingual! If you look at the photos below you can see the pale upperparts, whitish underparts, and mostly dark bill with reddish at the base. Also the bird has three retained outer primaries whereas Common Terns typically have 4 or more creating a more extensive dark wedge.

Bilingual Stop sign in Pubnico - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Roseate Tern catching fish in Pubnico, NS - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Adult Laughing Gull in Pubnico, NS - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Common Eiders with chicks in Pubnico, NS - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After checking into the Argyle By The Sea B&B we went driving along Great Pubnico Lake Rd to look for Woodcocks. We ended up finding 2! One was sitting on the dirt road and the other was doing their funny display flight over us! The road was super birdy and we had a stunning male Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula, Ovenbirds, American Redstarts, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, Gray Catbirds, Red-eyed Vireos and more!

The lake at the end was beautiful. We sat on the dock eating Coconut Cream Pie we bought from the Red Cap restaurant while I took a photo of the dreamy scene. It was a really nice way to end a beautiful day.

Great Pubnico Lake at Twilight - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next morning we went scoping off Barricado Lighthouse for Great Shearwater. We did not see one but saw several Northern Gannets, Sooty Shearwaters, Common Murres, Atlantic Puffins and Arctic and Common Tern. I also saw a lone Pilot Whale and a Parasitic Jaeger!!

Next we drove to New Harbour a 7 hour drive to see the Wood Stork that had been seen for 4 days. There was no reports of it on Father’s Day but we decided to go anyways despite the 2 hour detour. En route to the Stork we came across a small black dog running down the highway. It was narrowly missed by cars. I decided to pull over and call the dog over to me. It came and was friendly and I picked it up. I knew there was a major tick outbreak in NS and figured I’d have ticks all over me but didn’t want the dog to get killed. I checked its collar and its name was Daisy. I phoned the owner and the dog was about 12 km from home. I told the owner I would drive the dog to her. When I got to her house she didn’t even say thanks and said the dog ran off chasing deer. Hopefully that little dog stays safe… 

When we arrived no stork was there but a couple hours later I saw it fly in and screamed for my partner to join me. We connected and saw the huge impressive stork. It was tame and allowed for great photos. It was a lifer! There was also baby Willets around near my feet. It was one of those moments you just don’t ever forget. With that we left for our 3 hour drive to Cape Breton happy as two larks. On the drive in we had a Broad-winged Hawk dive down in front of us and successfully catch a mouse on the side of the road! 

Wood Stork in New Harbour, NS - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Willet in New Harbour, NS - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We stayed in the very cute Archie & Isadore Hotel in the Acadian town of Cheticamp. The next morning we got up at 4:45am and headed out on a drive through the beautiful Cape Breton Highlands National Park to Money Point. We took the dirt road there and then did a easy 3 km hike on the Kauzmann Trail. We were so excited when we heard the beautiful song of a Bicknell’s Thrush. These birds are endangered and range-restricted. In Canada you can only get them in NS, NB or Quebec. As we continued walking we heard one calling loud beside the trail. We turned the bend and saw one singing sitting up high! We couldn’t believe our eyes. We nabbed some photos of this much sought after bird and got some recordings. Since Bicknell’s Thrushes are declining so much and are so skulky we felt so fortunate to have one perched up on a tree like that for us. It was special indeed to see this threatened bird. They look very much like Grey-cheeked Thrushes but have a different song and have more yellow on the lower mandible. The trail was full of beautiful birds including stunning Bay-breasted Warblers, Nashville, Mourning, Magnolias and Blackpolls. There was also Evening Grosbeaks, White-winged Crossbills and Boreal Chickadees. We also had a Winter Wren, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Red-eyed Vireo. Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes were also on the trail allowing for nice comparisons.

Bicknell's Thrush at Money Point, Cape Breton, NS - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Mourning Warbler in Cape Breton - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Bay-breasted Warbler in Cape Breton, NS - Photo: Melissa Hafting

On the drive through the park to our hotel we saw 2 moose on the side of the road. We also saw an idiot who walked right up to it with a cell phone. Luckily the Moose didn’t charge him. I wish people would respect wildlife.

Moose in Cape Breton Highlands National Park - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After a delicious breakfast in Ingonish at the Bean Barn cafe (where a Northern Parula and Red-breasted Nuthatch was singing) we went sea watching along the Cabot Trail in the beautiful Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We saw Gannets, Razorbills, Common Eiders, Black-legged Kittiwakes and even a few Bank Swallows but no Great Shearwater.  We saw fresh partridgeberries at the point in my photo below and it reminded us of wonderful NFLD.

The views from the Cabot Trail are amazing - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We stopped by a roadside marsh and saw a muskrat, Ring-necked Duck, Red-winged Blackbird and Veery which made for a 4 Catharus thrush day!

At South Harbour beach we found 5 Piping Plovers (adults with tiny chicks too!). These birds are endangered so a respectful distance was kept to ensure the adults did not separate from their chicks. On the trail down to the beach we had several Eastern warblers including Cape May, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Mourning and Blackburnian. There was also a Least Flycatcher plus Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers. A Red Fox also was a welcome sight!

Sign about nesting Piping Plovers at South Harbour - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Cape May Warbler in Cape Breton, NS - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Piping Plover adult and chick in Sandy Harbour, NS - Photos: Melissa Hafting

After this we resumed sea watching from Neil’s Harbour. Here we found a Red-throated Loon and Parasitic Jaeger both are rare at this time.  We saw many Common Eiders, Gannets, Black Guillemots and Razorbills. At the end of 2 hours we decided to have a delicious seafood dinner at the Chowder House. After dinner we decided to try one last spot Green Cove which is located in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It’s a gorgeous location and here we found 3 Great Shearwaters!! We viewed them by scope as they flew fairly close to the tip of the point. We could clearly see the black cap, white collar, white rump and white underwings with black marks on it. It was a really good looking shearwater and a lifer! I hope one day to get it on a pelagic out of BC! It was a great end to a fabulous trip with beautiful weather (yes some Junes they have snow!) to the maritimes. I cleaned up all the targets I wanted and ended up with 9 lifers and lots of good memories with great people! 

Green Cove in Cape Breton, NS a beautiful place to see Great Shearwaters! - Photo: Melissa Hafting


  1. Sounds like a great trip, beautiful photos!

  2. fantastic pics Mel. can't believe you got the Bicknell's Thrush so beautifully like that well done! makes me want to head out to NFLD and NS !

    1. Thanks Mike ya seeing the Bicknell's like that was so lucky for sure!

  3. wow Cape St. Mary's looks amazing all those Gannets and the witless bay boat captain makes me laugh

    1. thanks it was amazing and ya that captain was hilarious

  4. Sounds like it was an awesome trip!

  5. Great trip, enjoyable read

  6. What an exciting trip and a great report! So many exciting birds and experiences! Looking forward to getting caught up properly when I next see you. =)
    Astonishing photos, as always!

    1. Thanks Jim!! Yes we definitely have to catch up. You really will love NFLD on your visit next year!


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