The water is calm with the clouds reaching down so low over the water it’s hard to distinguish between the sea and sky. The boat’s skipper has turned off the engine and we wait – hoping the humpback whale we saw moments ago will come closer to the boat. The soft “pisssh” sound of the whale exhaling reaches us just before we spot him swimming towards the bow of the boat.
He rolls and his big eye looks up at us with the same curiosity we feel for him. I feel in awe and somewhat humbled such a majestic animal wants to share a moment of his time with us.
This whale watching experience was in Newfoundland, home to the highest concentration of humpback whales in the world during the summer months. But that’s not all you’ll find in Newfoundland. For nature lovers, our most easterly province has an embarrassment of riches.
A good place to start is just a half hour drive from St. John’s – Bay Bulls and the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. The four islands here are home to North America’s largest concentration of Atlantic puffins – over 250,000 pairs of them. And there are many other bird species, including black-legged kittiwakes, common murres and the second largest colony of Leach’s storm petrel. With more than four million birds, the air is filled with flying birds and the islands with nests.
The most popular bird is the Atlantic puffin. My first reaction when I saw puffins was, “They’re so small.” At only 18 centimetres (six to eight inches) in height, it’s a common reaction, according to Kate Jewer of O’Brien’s Whale and Bird Tours. “And puffins aren’t very good at flying” said Jewer, “so it’s quite comical to watch them try and take off from the water.”
The birds return around May to breed and raise their young. Puffins nest in burrows and you can see many of them standing guard at the mouth of the burrow. And there are plenty of puffins flying and in the water, where they are much more graceful, as they dive up to 200 feet for food.
O’Brien’s has been operating boat tours in the Bay Bulls area for 32 years. On the tours, birds are the one guaranteed sighting. The rest is up to Mother Nature. Depending on when you visit Newfoundland, you may be lucky enough to see what some call the “triple treat” – whales, ’bergs and birds.
July, I’m told, is the best month to see the whales. Most of my visits to Newfoundland have been in the spring and I’ve only occasionally seen a whale during my visits. The whales are very intent on feeding in the spring, after months away from their food source. By July they are more playful and more plentiful. Besides Humpbacks, there is the possibility of seeing minke, fin or orca whales. Dolphins and porpoises are also spotted from time to time.
Witless Bay doesn’t have icebergs every year, but there is always the chance. Icebergs will often ground themselves on the ocean floor and stay put for a while – perfect for a boat tour. To find out if and where there are icebergs, check out icebergfinder.com. Because icebergs are often on the move and they melt, the site is updated regularly by “berg-spotters” as well as satellite data. The icebergs’ locations are shown on a map, giving you some direction on where to go to see these unique and very cool (pun intended) attractions.
Icebergs and whales can be seen in many places along the eastern coast of Newfoundland, from St. Anthony down to the Avalon Peninsula. Cape Bonavista and Twillingate also offer boat tours with the possibility of seeing whales and bergs. And some of the best bird-watching sites include Cape St. Mary’s, Baccalieu Island Ecological Reserve and Cape Bonavista.
Like icebergs themselves, seeing the “triple treat” of Newfoundland is just the tip of the iceberg. Attractions here go well beyond the natural. History, culture, culinary delights and even golf. This corner of Canada is a safe, friendly and colourful travel destination. And no money exchange needed. Check it out at newfoundlandandlabrador.com and start planning.
O’Brien’s Whale and Bird tours operates from May through September and are located in Bay Bulls. They also operate a shuttle between St. John’s and Bay Bulls for anyone without a car. Contact them at: 709-753-4850 or visit their website: www.obriensboattours.com.
Visit the Parry Sound website to view Jennie’s full: parrysound.com