Birdwatching in Bay Bulls and Witless Bay
Here on the edge of the continent, we're ringed by islands that make for the perfect predator-free nests. Our waters swell daily with the mix of warm and cold currents, creating the perfect conditions for a flock’s food chain. This happy confluence of geographic factors provides outstanding breeding areas for millions of seabirds. And it makes Newfoundland and Labrador, and the eastern portion of the island in particular, a fascinating place to watch.
Here, in the aptly named Seabird Capital of North America, binoculars are optional but wide-brimmed hats are strongly recommended. You’ll quickly come to realize that the strange birds, and even the rare ones, easily outnumber the curious birders who come to get up close and personal at any of our six ecological reserves. And two great examples of some of the best spots for birdwatching would have to be Witless Bay and Bay Bulls.
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve
Our provincial bird is none other than the colourful Atlantic puffin. And the four islands encompassed by the Witless Bay Reserve boast the largest colony in North America with 260,000 pairs. Dubbed the parrots of the sea, the sight of them running and skipping along the top of the water while trying to get their puffy bodies airborne never gets old.
The reserve is also home to 620,000 pairs of Leach's storm petrels, the second-largest colony in the world. These shy guys are a little trickier to spot, as they spend their daylight hours at sea. A boat tour helps and there are several licenced operators in five communities from Bay Bulls to Bauline East.
Here are some species you can spot: Atlantic puffin, Leach’s storm petrel, common murre, razorbill, black guillemot, black-legged kittiwake, herring gull, great black-backed gull; and in smaller numbers: northern fulmar and thick-billed murre.
Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve
Cape St. Mary’s is truly one of the best places in the world to see nesting seabirds. With 24,000 pairs, it’s the most accessible and largest colony of gannets in Newfoundland and Labrador and the third-largest population in North America. A 1.3-kilometre path leads to the main clifftop viewing station, which faces a nest-covered sea stack known as Bird Rock. The Cape is also the only place where the thick-billed murre can be easily seen from land. The interpretive centre is happy to provide guided tours and spotting help for the novice and experienced birder alike. It's open from early May until early October.
Here are some species you can spot: Northern gannet, black-legged kittiwake, common and thick-billed murres, razorbill, black guillemot, double-crested and great cormorants, and a few pairs of northern fulmar, from April until late September.