We had a late start to the day waking up at 10am and driving 30 minutes south to Bay Bulls to board the Gatherall’s Puffin and Whale Watch excursion.
Once upon the water, the Captain and crew observed a swarm of northern gannets circling above the water at a relatively short distance way. Every so often, a bird would fold up their wings and plunge down like a torpedo into the water.
We learned that this was a good sign that there was a school of fish right underneath the waters, and whales followed the fish. Though we were still a bit early in the season for the mass migration of capelin, and thus of whales, coming up north for the summers, there was a spotting of a minke whale off the shores in the ares a few days prior…maybe it we got lucky.
And we did!
As our boat followed the path of the circling gannets, every few minutes or so, we’ld see a dorsel fin break above the water (minke whales do not breach). In the meantime, the Captain explained to us the difference between toothed whales (dolphins and orcas) and baleen whales (humpbacks and minkes). In place of teeth, baleen whales have hair-like fibers that grow that line their jaws, effectively filtering in the fish and trapping them inside.
As time was of the essence, we proceed on across the waters to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve.
Unusual for the time of year, aside from a loner having been spotted drifting south a couple weeks back, there wasn’t any icebergs floating around in the area. Normally, late May and early June would be prime iceberg season.
As we neared the islands of the Witless Bay reserve, hundreds of thousands of birds could be seen flying about, the cacophony of their cries heard above the boat’s engines.
At last, here were my main reason for coming on the boat tour – puffins.
The Witless Bay reserve is home to North America’s largest Atlantic puffin colony. After wintering south off the coast of Iceland, the puffins return back each year during late spring to mate and hatch their offspring. The reserve is also home to the world’s second-largest colony of Leach’s storm-petrel, in addition to black-legged kittiwakes and common murres.
I had only ever seen puffins in books and online before, and having never been good at envisioning actual size (I once accidentally bought a hand towel rack online thinking it was meant for full sized towels), I was greatly surprised at how small puffins are in real-life. And they flew so fast! If it’s weren’t for their distinctive orange beaks, I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish them at all from the black murres.
I also learned that the puffins’ beaks only become brightly colored during mating season to signal more experience and better health; fading away during the winter.
From Bay Bulls, we took the TransCanada 1 heading west across the entire expanse of Newfoundland towards Gros Morne National Park.
Though we had faintly heard about the warning that near a foot of snow had piled up the night before inland and north of St. John’s, it was still a shock to observe the snow covered ground as we traversed past Terra Nova National Park.
We made a midway stop at a restaurant in Gander, only to be told the special Jig’s Dinner was not available because they had opened late and there weren’t enough patrons. We opted instead for a healthy serving of beef liver, which came – surprise – with bacon and onions on top.
I knew immediately we had reached Gros Morne when mountains rose up in front of us, across the valleys and streams.
After quickly depositing our bags in the Airbnb at Norris Point, we took a short 15 minute walk to Bonne Bay Marine Station. The rays of the setting sun provided the perfect backdrop for our first close-up encounter with the majesty and serenity of the landscape as we stood on the sandy shores to contemplate on the flattops of the Tablelands – an exposed section of the Earth’s mantle – so close yet so far off across “The Tickle”.
The mountains of Gros Morne National Park is part of of the Long Range Mountains, the northeastern most outreaches of the Appalachians created by the colliding of tectonic plates and carved by retreating glaciers hundreds of millions of years past.
We concluded the day listening to the Celtic, English and French influenced traditional music of Newfoundland played by The Navigators at Cat Stop, performing as part of the annual Trails Tales Tunes Festival at Norris Point.