Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Newfoundland: The Avalon Peninsula in Summer

When one thinks of the worlds great birding destinations Newfoundland doesn't always come to mind, however, I'd argue that it should. Situated literally on the edge of the earth, Newfoundland is deemed one of the four corners of the world by The Flat Earth Society and it's easy to see why. The rugged coastline is made of up ancient fjords and jagged, precipitous cliffs.It is those cliffs that attract millions of seabirds to Newfoundland each Spring.
Gannets nesting on Bird Rock at Cape St.Mary's, Newfounldand
A very small portion of the seabirds nesting on the rugged coast surrounding Cape St.Mary's

Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula is home to North America's largest colony of Atlantic Puffins (260,000 pairs) and the world's second largest colony of Leache's Storm Petrels (620,000 pairs). Aside from that there are 10's of thousands of Common and Thick-billed Murres and sizable populations of Razorbills and Black Guillemots and that's just the Alcids! The numbers of seabirds are literally mesmerizing. On more than one occasion I have been guiding people only to look see them staring agasp, at the spectacle before them. On one trip in particular I found myself in this state as I watched over 300,000 Alcids running on the water and taking to flight ahead of our approaching boat. The ocean was churned to white water by feet and the wings of the Murres and Puffins. It was one of the most stunning things I have ever witnessed. The sheer magnitude of life that was mind-blowing. It is something that I will never forget. In fact,I was so awestruck that I never even lifted my camera, I just took it all in. In fact, there is often so much going on, it's hard to know where to focus your attention. Do you look at the Humpback whale breaching or the swarms of Alcids flying by?Our Alcid breeding colonies are a photographers dream and here are a selection of photos taken by Jason Dain.
Common Murresm nesting in Witless Bay, Newfoundland
Common Murres on their nesting islands, Witless Bay, Newfoundland
Common Murre in flight
Common Murre
Razorbills nesting in Newfoundland
Razorbills, Witless Bay, Newfoundland
Atlantic Puffin in Newfoundland
1 of 500,000 Atlantic Puffins nesting in Witless Bay, Newfoundland
Atlantic Puffins Newfoundland
Fantastic photo ops abound!
After you are finished your jaw dropping experience with Alcids in Witless Bay, you are ready for a different, yet equally awe-inspiring visit to the Cape St.Mary's, Gannet colony. Both Witless Bay and Cape St.Mary's are well within driving distance of St.John's (Newfoundlands, capital city). 

At Cape St.Mary's you will visit the famed 'Bird Rock'. Bird rock is a 100 m sea stack, separated from the headland by just a few meters. There is no need for a 'big' lens to get great photos of the Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes. There are thousands of both species nesting meters away and this is a magical opportunity to observe the complex mating rituals performed by the Northern Gannets and they reinforce their life-long pair bonds.
Northern gannet pair with chick
Gannets preening each other as a hungry chick awaits a meal. Note Gannet chicks often lie with their heads down motionless to rest, the chick in the upper right is fine!

Northern gannet flying over colony
Prime nesting spots on Gannet rock are much sought after and hotly contested!
Northern Gannet with nesting material in mouth
Northern Gannet delivering nesting material

Moose in Newfoundland
The worlds largest member of the Deer family.
le="clear: both; text-align: center;"> While in the area it's always worth having a look for exciting mammals as well, since both Moose and the worlds southern most here of Woodland Caribou can also be seen here on occasion.

Caribou on Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland
Woodland Caribou. Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula hosts the southernmost herd in North America
If you feel like taking a break from seabirds, Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula has a nice selection of the more sought after breeding boreal species. High on everyone's want list is Boreal Chickadee. Boreal Chickadee is truly a bird of the Canadian Boreal Forest. Breeding throughout Canada, but being particularly common in Eastern Newfoundland.
Boreak Chickadee in Newfoundland
Boreal Chickadee
There are many other Boreal specialties breeding in the somewhat stunted, Spruce and Fir dominated forests of the Avalon Peninsula. Among them are the fan favourite Pine Grosbeak.

Pine Grosbeak Newfoundland
Pine Grosbeak
This large member of the finch family is known locally by several names, two of the most colourful are 'Mope' and 'Foolish Looper'. The names are derived from their somewhat lethargic movements and their tendency to be exceedingly tame, often allowing very close approach. Other Northern Finches that are likely to be found include White-winged Crossbill and Common Redpoll, not to mention, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin and Purple Finch.

Also among our more sought-after songbirds you will find a nice selection of Warblers. While the Avalon Peninsula is not the most warbler-rich part of the province. However, it does have good populations of the northern Boreal species and in combination with the remarkable sea birding, makes for some of the best bird in June, anywhere in North America. Some of the more likely species you are to encounter include, Blackpoll Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black and White and Wilsons Warbler. A short drive off of the Avalon Peninsula will net you a number of other species as well. Included below are just a small sample of the Boreal warbler specialties.

Black and White Warbler in Newfoundland
Black and White Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler in Newfoundland on ground
Blackpoll Warbler

Wilson's warbler in fir, Newfoundland
Wilson's Warbler
Northern Waterthrush while birding in Newfoundland
Northern Waterthrush

No article on the Avalon's specialty birds would be complete without include two of my all time favourites, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Black-backed Woodpecker. Both of these are at the top of the lists of visiting birders, since they are northern species, which can be difficult to find in the more southern climes of the US and southern Canada.
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is often much easier to find than the much more elusive Black-backed, but with patience and a keen ear, one should be able to track down a Black-back. Of course, the assistance of a top quality bird guide doesn't hurt either ;)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, while birding in Newfoundland
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Black-backed Woodpecker while birding in Newfoundland
Black-backed Woodpecker

This has been a very brief introduction to birding Newfoundland's, Avalon Peninsula in June.The area has so much to offer the travelling birder, not the least of which is a a rich cultural experience, fantastic food, great music and an overall fantastic time with some of the nicest, most genuine and sharing people, you will find anywhere in the world. If you would like assistance in planning your Newfoundland adventure, Birding Newfoundland is here to guide you every step of the way from itinerary planning, custom guiding and all inclusive tours. You can find us at

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  1. Thanks Dave for the an amazing pictures. The one bird that caught our eye the most was the Atlantic puffin. Just has beautiful coloring of the beak that really stands out in the photos. Thanks for the share. Have a great day.
    World of Animals

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it! If you ever plan on coming to Newfoundland, let me know!

    1. Hey Dave. Thank you for the reply. I really would like to one day make a trip to Newfoundland. It really looks like a beautiful place. Have a great day and thank you again for the wonderful photos.

  3. Hope to meet you in Newfoundland one day! Cheers.

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