Gannets Galore

Gannets Galore
Cape St. Mary's Seabird Ecological Reserve, Canada

Cape St. Mary’s Seabird Ecological Reserve, Canada

September 9, 2009

We awoke to fog, the rain had stopped but a thick fog had settled in and I remember one woman’s statement of how fogs could settle in for days at a time. My enthusiasm for exploring Newfoundland was beginning to fade but remembering the 15-hour ferry ride decided to give it another day.

St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, our destination for this morning, lies at the southwestern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, a short distance down the road and by the time we had finished breakfast the fog had lifted and joy o joy sunshine! Everything looks better in the sunshine.

We drove through more of the same barren landscape arriving at a lone building and lighthouse at Cape St. Mary. Inside the Interpretive Center we were directed to a large window at the end of the building for our first glimpse of the seabird colony in the distance – AWESOME! A trail led from the interpretive center across the tundra and along the cliffs to a point within 60 feet of the colony. Approximately 50,000 gannets nest in the cliffs and a large rock, Bird Rock, just offshore. It was an amazing sight, chicks still wrapped in down, being fed by their mothers, the birds flying offshore and the constant chatter. At the height of the migration there are upwards of 100,000 birds along this stretch of shoreline, the common and thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwake, razorbill, black guillemot, and cormorants, all use bird rock and the adjacent cliffs like avian high-rise apartment towers. The ledges, outcrops, overhangs and plateaus offer a variety of accommodation for the different seabird species. Each has found a niche that meets its particular nesting requirements. Summer brings the humpback whales. It is a drop-dead gorgeous seascape . . . this is why we came to Newfoundland.

George has put this on his list of top ten nature sites that he has ever visited and can only imagine what it would be like at the height of the migration – AWESOME. They are applying for UNESCO World Heritage Site status and believe that within a year or two will achieve that richly deserved recognition.

We drive on toward St John’s, stopping in the settlement of Branch for gas having been warned not to get too low on fuel because availability is not dependable. George goes into the little store to pay before pumping and the woman tells him to just go ahead and pump what you need then come in and tell me how much you owe, the honor system, how refreshing.

The next stop is Cataracts Provincial Park, that we have been told contains trails and waterfalls and is just a short distance from the main road. The only sign we find is a load limit on the Cataract Bridge so we assume that is the road and take it. The road turns to gravel almost immediately but we follow it for about 2 miles until we cross an old crumbling bridge after seeing a car parked on the other side figuring this must be the place, it is not well signed. Indeed a trail leads us down steep stairs clinging to a rock face to view a series of waterfalls. It is difficult to photograph and the boardwalk over the crevice is missing a few boards as it leads to the other side of the river and disappears into the woods. We make our visit short and continue to the next campground.


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