Summertime and the birding is easy

Bruce Mactavish
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Summer vacation time is here. It’s not cheap to get off the island of Newfoundland, no matter by sea or air. Nor is it cheap to get on the island, yet each year many mainland-based tourists pay the extra dollar to visit Newfoundland in the summertime.

We are one step ahead of those tourists. We don’t have that extra expense to pay because we are already here. For less than the price it costs to just get off the island, you can have a decent holiday right here in Newfoundland. Why not use the advantage of our location and take a summer vacation at home? There are plenty of beautiful places to explore on the island.

Everywhere you go in summer  there are birdwatching possibilities. Here’s a summary of the highlights of birding and touring Newfoundland.

Avalon Peninsula

The obvious birdwatching highlights here are the seabird nesting colonies at the Seabird Ecological Reserves at Witless Bay and Cape St. Mary’s. There are several tour boat operators for the Witless Bay Islands that take people out daily for close views of nesting seabirds, including puffins, murres and kittiwakes.

Whales are often present. Cape St. Mary’s does not require a boat. A 10-minute walk gets you to a close view of hundreds of gannets on nests and countless kittiwakes and murres nesting on the spectacular cliffs. If the caplin are about and it is not too foggy, the seabird and whale-feeding action very near shore in places like Portugal Cove South, St. Vincent’s and Point La Haye can be exciting. A few caribou are possible in the Cape Pine and St. Shotts area.

Central Newfoundland

This is a large area of forest and coast and often the destination for campers in provincial and privately run campgrounds.

Camping offers many possibilities for bird-people interactions. This is where kids’ memories are formed and possibly their first full-on encounters with nature. It could be feeding grey jays by hand around the campsite or the discovery of a family of grouse on the trail. Maybe they’ll spot a woodpecker nest hole in a tree with the parents feeding noisy young, or an osprey nest on a pole, or hear owls at night.

Camping exposes people — adults and children — to real nature. Terra Nova National Park has a large campground and many well-marked self-guiding trails. Camping is a highly recommended summer activity if you have the means.

On the coast, many people have  summer cabins. Tossing bread to the gulls or watching terns dive for fish by the wharf can make happy summertime memories. You want long sandy beaches? Have you ever been to the Cape Freels area?

Western Newfoundland

There are plenty of camping options in the campgrounds of western Newfoundland. The Codroy Valley is a favourite of birdwatchers because of the richness of the warblers and other songbirds that nest there.

It is the only part of the province where great blue herons and ruby-throated hummingbirds are fairly common nesting birds. The valley is lush and pleasing to the eye. There are campgrounds and a number of well-maintained cabins for rent. There are more sandy beaches in the area, but beware of areas staked off for the protection of nesting piping plovers. An important stop for birdwatching is Stephenville Crossing with a huge tidal estuary that is home for many terns, black-headed gulls, ospreys and shorebirds.

Northern Peninsula

The Northern Peninsula is a different world. Gros Morne Park has excellent camping facilities and networks of hiking trails.

Gros Morne Mountain is the best place on the island to see rock ptarmigan if you are up for the steep hike.

The scene changes from Flower’s Cove north to L’Anse aux Meadows. It has a real Labrador feel and the nesting white-crowned sparrows and grey-cheeked thrushes down at sea level show this. The coastal barrens are good places to see short-eared owl and rough-legged hawk in the summer. A jaunt on the ferry across the Strait of Belle out of St. Barbe is an excellent one-hour pelagic trip to see shearwaters and other seabirds.

This is barely the tip of the iceberg for vacationing ideas on enjoying the outdoors and seeing the birds of summer on the island of Newfoundland.

Summer is here. Grab the moment. Go see Newfoundland.

Bruce Mactavish is an environmental consultant and avid birdwatcher. He can be reached at, or by phone at 722-0088.

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Witless Bay, Portugal Cove South Cape Pine Shotts Terra Nova National Park Cape Freels Codroy Valley Gros Morne Park

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Recent comments

  • Lori Thorne
    July 13, 2013 - 10:07

    Bruce, how common is the Common Grackle on the North east Avalon? I've had a family of them in my yard everyday now for about a month. There is usually a small flock of adults and this morning there was a female and 4 of her chicks. We have lived here for 15 years in Torbay, Bauline Line area and we have never seen the here before.