Birding on the Avalon

Some of the most accessible seabird colonies in the world can be found in Newfoundland and Labrador's Avalon region. On this short three-day break, we visit two ecological reserves, an archaeological dig and a nature park, and do a day's birding in the capital city, St. John's.

Day 1 – Trails and tales

Arrive at St. John's and pick up the pre-booked rental car for a birder's tour of the easternmost place in North America.

Spend the first day in the city, getting your bearings and exploring this old seaport town. First, visit Signal Hill for its terrific view of the city. A path from Signal Hill goes to Quidi Vidi (pronounced kiddy viddy) where there's a reconstructed fort from colonial times and guides in period costume. Then drive to Long Pond where there's a marsh that attracts all kinds of birds, including strays from Europe like the Giant Egret.

Explore downtown, pick up the book Rare Birds by Newfoundland and Labrador author Ed Riche for your nighttime reading, have a delicious seafood meal and spend the night in a bed and breakfast with a great view.

Day 2 – Whales, birds and archeology

After breakfast we head south on Route 10, the Irish Loop, to Bay Bulls or Witless Bay, about half an hour from St. John's, where a tour boat will take you on a two-hour cruise into the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. The reserve is an ideal place to see whales because the coast here teems with small fish that feed both the whales and birds. And birds are everywhere. The small, plump Atlantic puffins, which can dive to great depths, are comical in their efforts to get airborne. Often you'll see them with tiny fish called capelin in their beaks, which they bring to nests on islands in the reserve to feed their young. They run and flap and run and flap along the tops of the waves and finally, with a mighty struggle, get into the air for a short flight. Look for – and find – kittiwakes and murres, and even a razorbill. What you won't see are the leach's storm petrels because they come out of their burrows to feed only at night.

After a meal at the local seafood restaurant we head further south to Ferryland to visit the Colony of Avalon archaeology dig. Lord Baltimore, whose family founded Maryland, first established a colony here before selling it and moving to New England. Ferryland was one of the first attempts to colonize Newfoundland. Today it's the centre of Irish Newfoundland and most of the people here trace their families to places like Cork and Waterford. Stay the night at a local bed and breakfast along the Irish Loop and take in the dinner theatre, a funny performance based on a local legend.

Day 3 – Natural wonder

Today, retrace your path north on the Irish Loop to Route 13, which is a shortcut to Route 1 which we follow to The Cape Shore Drive, Route 90, and head south to Salmonier Nature Park. Here, animals native to Newfoundland and Labrador are held in natural enclosures. It's a good place to see caribou, beavers, foxes and other wildlife that usually avoid human contact.

It's south again on the Cape Shore Drive Route 90, 91, 92 and 100 to Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve, one of the most amazing birding sites anywhere in the world: a huge sea stack 50 feet from the clifftop, completely covered with thousands of northern gannets and their hungry chicks. Enjoy the sweeping ocean views and look out for more humpback whales offshore as they gather close by to enjoy the fish the birds feed on.

At the end of a full day, head back to St. John's.