I decided to go to Newfoundland when I read a birding magazine that listed pelagic birding trips, and noticed that I had never seen a lot of the seabirds that are common in that area: Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Greater Shearwaters, etc. In addition to guided tours, the article also mentioned that taking from ferry between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland or between Newfoundland and Quebec was a reliable way of seeing these birds. I was curious, so I decided to use an extra week of vacation time to arrange a trip over there.
Since there were a few birds in Nova Scotia that I hadn't yet seen, I decided to fly into Halifax, take a rented car across to Newfoundland, check out Gros Morne National Park, possibly take the St. Barbe ferry as insurance, and return to Halifax a week later. That was the plan, anyway.
As I flew over Nova Scotia, I noticed a lot of unbroken forest, and imagined it full of warblers and other neat things. (Amusingly, there was also a party of students around me on the plane, and their comment was, "Wow! This is so much better than Edmonton!")
After arrival, I picked up my rental car and headed north. Right away, I noticed a female Northern Cardinal on a wire near the airport, and an Osprey nesting on a utility post near the highway. At a rest area, I could hear lots of birds, mostly warblers, but I had a hard time finding them. The forest was just too dense.
By the time I got to Cape Breton, I was marvelling at the scenery, but a little frustrated by the difficulty of identifying birds here. I stopped to walk on a trail, initially hearing at least six birds singing from their hiding places, yet the moment I emerged from the car, they all stopped. Dead silence. I waited. I backed up, and waited. No, they wanted me back in the car. That was literally the moment when they resumed singing.
Later on, I discovered a possible reason for their paranoia. There were predatory animals everywhere! Driving back toward North Sidney, I found two Red Foxes by the road, and both a Fisher and a Bobcat ran out in front of the car! Where I come from, seeing just one of those animals makes for a pretty rare day.
It was slow, but I did see a few birds that day, including a Scarlet Tanager, two Bicknell's Thrushes, a Blue Jay. I also enjoyed a concert of frogs in a small, shallow lake. I don't know what kind of frogs they were (green with a yellow belly), but they were all singing a slightly different pitch, just like the beer commercial.
The next day, I was very excited to be heading up to what for me was uncharted territory. I arrived at the ferry terminal, and saw a very large ship sitting there. I fully expected the trip to take seven hours, all of which I would spend looking for pelagic birds. I was a little surprised when they started loading the cars onto a very small catamaran. They packed us on to this little thing, and I imagined the trip might be a little less than seven hours. (More like two and a half!)
That was still OK, though, because it was a clear, sunny day. As we began to pull out, I saw seals, dolphins and pod of Pilot Whales in the harbor, and the lighthouse flashed elegantly in the distance. The only bird following the ship was a Rock Dove, but I was elated with anticipation of seeing puffins and gannets and who-knows-what-else.
And then, at the same moment that we arrived at the mouth of the harbor, not only did the catamaran turn on its high speed engines, but we were suddenly enveloped in the thickest, darkest fog I have ever seen. Yeah, I saw a Northern Gannet - or at least a white blob with black wingtips, appearing and disappearing in the fog as we sped by it!
I thought the fog would lift, but it didn't. All I could see was the vague outline of the vertical wake from the catamaran. One guy even filmed it with his camcorder, since that's all we were seeing! I finally gave up and went inside to watch a movie.
When we arrived at Port-aux-Basques, I looked out and saw that it was still foggy. Then when I drove off the boat, I found myself in clear sunshine! It was incredible. I turned back to look at the ocean - it was nothing but a giant blanket of fog. Maybe there were puffins under there, maybe not. They had left that part out of the magazine article!