Thursday, 27 September 2012

Of Whales and Wheatear

Sunday September 23 – Into New Brunswick

Ray passed the blog responsibilities to Phil onboard the ferry across the Bay of Fundy, as we crossed the border (wherever it is!) into New Brunswick. At about that moment the ship ran into a fog bank, and we took a short break from our lonely vigil on the foredeck. The sun then shone for a brief period, during which time we saw a lone Manx Shearwater as a break from all the Great Shearwaters. Soon afterwards the ship re-entered the fog and remained there till we landed in Saint John. As we faced a long journey to the Saint Lawrence River the next day, we elected to drive as far as Fredericton, New Brunswick’s Provincial Capital, for the night.

Monday September 24 – To the Saint Lawrence River

A crisp fall morning greeted us, with sunny skies and a brisk 6 degrees. Despite the first real sunshine we’d seen since arriving down east, a short walk in the Fredericton Botanical Gardens yielded only a few birds – perhaps they too were waiting for things to warm up – so we soon headed out. The Trans-Canada Highway winds its way through beautiful countryside, hugging the border with Maine. New Brunswick is 90% forested, and we noted the beginnings of the fall colours for which this part of the world is famous.  We made our way steadily north, stopping for short forays from time to time. The camping area at Woolastock was quite productive, and north of Edmunston we stopped outside the New Brunswick Botanical Gardens. It was quiet, but a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker put in an appearance.

Eventually we reached Riviere-du-Loup, on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence. With a few hours to spare before catching the ferry across the river, we explored the vicinity of the town. On the waterfront we saw a flock of about 20 Snow Geese. But the highlight of our brief time in this quaint town was a stroll in the Parc de la Chute, one of the most beautiful city parks we’ve been in. Not too birdy in the early afternoon and windy conditions, but a very pleasant walk. Brian got his first good picture of a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a ubiquitous but retiring species.
Riviere-du-Loup on the Saint Lawrence
Golden-crowned Kinglet
The ferry from Riviere-du-Loup to the north shore at Saint-Simeon takes just over an hour. We stayed on deck in the hope of seeing Beluga Whales, and as we rounded Ile Verte, which lies in the middle of the river, we saw two groups of them. They were hard to count, but we thought there were about six of the shiny white adults and one or two slate-coloured juveniles. After a lean day yesterday, we were very happy to notch up species #492.
Beluga Whales
It was then a half-hour drive from Saint-Simeon to the Saguenay River, where we drove onto the ferry for a ten-minute ride taking us to Tadoussac: Brian spotted a Minke Whale on the river. Thirteen whale species have been recorded in the Saint Lawrence, and we hoped to add a new species or two on a whale watching cruise tomorrow.
Tuesday September 25 – Whale Watching on the Saint Lawrence

Our hopes were high as we boarded the 225-seat catamaran Katmar operated by Croisieres 2001 for a 3-hour morning cruise. There are three cruise operators at work at this tail end of the whale watching season. We chose the catamaran over a zodiac as it is good to be able to move around and also much better for taking photographs. Watching two zodiacs plying their way through the choppy waters, we definitely had made a more comfortable choice. 
On Board the Katmar
Tadoussac, Quebec
After leaving the dock at Tadoussac the Katmar went across the Saguenay to pick up additional passengers at Baie-de-Sainte-Catherine before heading out into the Saint Lawrence. There were about 50 passengers on board. We soon ran into a pod of about 4 Beluga Whales, and then a Minke Whale. All around us hundreds of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes were diving for fish. An even more impressive sight was a flock of many thousands of White-winged Scoters. Further out into the river we hove to, beside a pod of about six Minke Whales, to allow everyone to take pictures.
Minke Whale
Going inside to get a coffee, Ray talked to the woman who was making the announcements over the loudspeaker. “Not good news”, he reported. “She says that they never bother to chase Fin Whales because they dive for 25 minutes, and they haven’t seen a Blue Whale for a week.” And indeed we did not see any of our hoped-for whale species. In fact this last of six whale watching cruises for the year was the only one not to add any new species of birds or mammals for us.

A highlight of the journey back to Tadoussac, with a short diversion up the impressive Saguenay Fjord, was watching a juvenile Parasitic Jaeger harassing a Bonaparte’s Gull. In the afternoon we took the ferry back across the Saint Lawrence to Riviere-du-Loup, then drove to Grand Falls, NB for our overnight stop.

 Wednesday September 26 – Happy Ending

We set off early on the 600 km drive to Halifax. Ray skillfully skirted three skunks crossing the road in the pre-dawn hours and our first stop was at Kouchibouguac National Park where we hoped to see some shorebirds. There weren’t too many, but a Whimbrel posed nicely on a log for us.
Three Spruce Grouse were encountered next to the road – a catch-up bird for Ray, who was delighted he won’t have to spend days looking for one in Alberta. They soon headed for the cover of the forest.
On the road in New Brunswick
We had a quick lunch in Sackville, NB and took a stroll in the Waterfowl Park where we saw several species of ducks and some shorebirds before heading for Brule, Nova Scotia. Our target was a Northern Wheatear which has been around for a few days in the yard of John and Trish Rubin, beautifully located right on the north shore. They kindly invited us to come and have a look and Trish was waiting for us when we arrived around 3 PM. She was pleased to tell us that the bird had stayed around and we were very happy to see it within a minute or two of our arrival, perched on a pile of dried kelp.  After the disappointment of the whale watching in Quebec, it was good to notch up species #493, a new bird for Canada for all of us. Thanks, John and Trish!
Northern Wheatear
We had a pleasant dinner in Truro with Ray’s son Rob and wife Caroline, and Ray drove the last lap of a long day to end our trip back in Halifax.  Back home to Calgary in the morning.



No comments:

Post a Comment