Sunrise, Puffins and a Minke Whale

Monday was a great day to be alive. I welcomed the rising sun at Cape Spear, saw puffins and an unexpected Minke Whale in Witless Bay, and then saw some other Canadian wildlife at Salmonier Nature Park.

Sunrise at Cape Spear

To my great surprise, I woke up a little after 5am to head out to Cape Spear and watch the sunrise. The sky was already getting light by the time I arrived but the sun hadn’t yet peaked its head above the horizon. A chilly and strong wind was blowing, making my ears and hands cold, but I pushed through it and waited for the sun to come up. Luckily it was going to be a clear day.

Cape Spear is the most easterly point in North America and so it’s the first place on the continent to see the sun rise. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and no wonder we used to worship the sun. Seeing it come up is a divine experience, and the soft orange glow it cast over the cape and lighthouses was magical. I spent about an hour running around the cape taking pictures…and rolled my ankle going over a squishy bit. It hurt.

I sat in the car for a little while afterwards, thinking about how lucky I was to be there. Then, when tiredness threatened to claim me, I drove back into St John’s and went back to bed for a couple of hours. Waking up at 9:30 was hard but I was going on a boat tour in Witless Bay and so had to get a wriggle on.

Puffins and a Minke in Witless Bay

Having already been there the day before, I found O’Brien’s Boat Tours in Bay Bulls much easier than I did yesterday. I paid for my ticket, joined the queue to board the big boat, and then, at 11:30, we set off into the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. It was a beautiful clear sunny day and sitting up on the top deck with the sun shining down was wonderful (though I should have worn sunscreen as I think I got a little bit burnt).

The tour was mostly to go around Gull Island, one of four in Witless Bay, which is home to a large variety of seabirds including puffins. Way back before we came to Canada, I was making lists of things to see and when to see them. Puffins in Newfoundland was on that list but the information I had said July was the best time to see them. I was a little crestfallen thinking I might miss them but it turns out I came at the perfect time. About 300,000 Atlantic Puffins were nesting on Gull Island, but first we had to get there.

The boat tour is billed as a bird watching tour with the added possibility of spotting whales. When I asked the day before, the lady said that there hadn’t been any sightings for weeks so it’s likely we wouldn’t see anyway. Oh well. But then, about halfway to Gull Island someone shouted out they’d seen something. It was a lone Minke Whale breeching the waves. Unlike the humpback which also visits the area, the Minke doesn’t produce a spout so really it’s like looking for a large dolphin.

We all hurried to the side of the boat to catch another glimpse of this sea mammal. Sure enough, it reappeared, not just a second time but many more. I’d say it surfaced about ten or twelve times. How lucky were we! Then we had to hightail it to Gull Island.

There we saw puffins galore. Thousands of them, all perched on the sloping sides of the islands. Apparently they can’t take off from flat land so they pretty much take a flying leap off the edge of the island. Taking off from water isn’t a problem, however. We got a great view of the puffins and other sea birds (including a bald eagle) as we sailed around the island. I was so happy to be able to see these gorgeous little birds. The way they fly, the way they land, and the way they look…it just makes them so adorable.

We returned to the dock after two hours, and I was very happy with what I’d see. Plus, the added bonus of it being a bright clear day (the first since I arrived on Friday) made it all the better.

Salmonier Nature Park

Salmonier Nature Park was a bit of a drive away. I’m using the TomTom app on my phone but not everything is listed within it. Considering Salmonier is a Newfoundland government agency, I would have thought it would be in there. I had to resort to another map of the place, getting a bit anxious that I had gone down the wrong road. Thankfully, it turned out to be the correct one.

Salmonier is a rehabilitation-for-release animal centre. It’s a great reserve as it has forest and lakes and rivers in it, so what they’ve done is built a few enclosures to house the injured animals. There’s a 1.2 km boardwalk that goes around the park, passing by Snowy Owl, Caribou, Moose, Otter (!!!!), Lynx (didn’t see it), Arctic Fox and more (including some that had empty enclosures). Apart from the screaming children thundering along the boardwalk terrifying everything, it was a good visit, and well worth checking out.

A weird (and a little annoying) thing happened when I first rocked up. A woman from the public health authority was in the reception area asking about the new visitor centre they’re building and whether any food was going to be served there. She wanted to know because she hadn’t been informed. The poor guy behind the counter had to find someone to talk to her. Now, honestly, why drive all the way out there? Why not call ahead? Why not talk to the people in the Department of Environment and Conservation who run the place, as they probably share a building with you, or have one nearby? She came across as a little too pleased with her power. I was tempted to tell her she was being ridiculous.

Last night in St John’s

I got back into St John’s at about five pm, and soon went for a bit of a walk to find something to nibble on. I headed down towards the harbour front and the war memorial, stopping into a cafe and getting a takeaway green tea and a delicious scone. I then went and sat down at the harbour front precinct. It’s a really nice spot, has some seats, a pretty garden, and two giant statues of a Newfoundland dog and a Labrador dog. Quite fitting I think.

I had dinner at home with Krista and Andrew, and I decided against going to get screeched in as it wouldn’t happen until 11:15pm. I planned to be in bed before then. Looks like Glen and I will have to do it somewhere out west when he arrives. And for those who don’t know, screeching is something they do to non-Newfoundlanders to make them honorary Newfoundlanders (and make them look like fools). They drink a shot of ‘screech’ then kiss a codfish on the lips (or a puffin on the arse depending on whether cod is available. You’d think puffins would be harder to come by.) and then say something. Ta-dah, you’re a Newfie!

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