Kittiwakes and Eagles
On the long trek east to St. John’s from the Strait of Belle Isle (835 km), I detoured over to Old Bonaventure, a tiny harbour town at the end of a winding coast road. There, I caught up with an old friend — David Vivian — who has lived in Ottawa for years, but is a Newfoundlander through and through, has maintained both a house and a boat at the harbour and returns to his roots every year.
Within less than 10 minutes of my arrival, we were in the boat , life jackets secured, and heading out to sea. This was going to be the real deal: an ‘authentic’ Newfoundland experience — voyaging up the coast in an open boat with a native Newfoundlander, thoroughly knowledgable of the area and eager to share that knowledge. And for me — finally — the chance to photograph coastal birds (so far on this trip, I’ve photographed just about everything but).
Talking over the authoritative hum of the Yamaha 60 horsepower motor, David points to some outcroppings of rock just beyond the mouth of the harbour. Here, hundreds of kittiwakes (a type of gull) have commandeered the rocks as a rookery. I had never had the chance to photograph these birds before, and the timing was such that, if lucky, we may see some of their newly–hatched fledglings. Kittiwakes form raucous breeding colonies in the crevices of cliffs.
Further up the coast of sheer rock, we spotted an eagle, then three, then a dozen or so, some in the air, some perched on crags.
Terns and guillemots were also darting and diving in their constant search for food. The guillemots were far too fast to capture, but one or two terns cooperated.
As we moved further up the coast, David told me about capelin, a smelt-like fish that has a bizarre spawning practice. Males and females ride the waves right up onto the beach, out of the water, where spawning takes place. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: “Whales, seals and cod, squid, mackerel, beluga whales and seabirds all prey on capelin, in particular during the spawning season of the capelin while it migrates southwards. Capelin spawn on sandy beaches and sandy bottom at the age of 2–6 years, and have an extremely high mortality rate on the beaches after spawning, for males close to 100% mortality”. Perhaps they need to rethink their survival strategy.
Scarcely had he finished telling me about these strange fish than, as if on cue, a whole slew of them began riding waves onto the beach about 30 meters off the port bow.
Despite the mortality rate, there were hundreds — thousands — swimming under the boat. I tried, not totally successfully, to photograph them.
Arriving in St. John’s, I made a beeline for Signal Hill, which dominates the harbour and is a National Historic site. Since it is Signal Hill, I thought I would try to capture, in images, how signalling has changed over the past three centuries.
Signalling in the 1800s
Before the advent of electricity, signalling was mainly done through guns, signal flags and the frantic waving of arms. A gun could be heard for a few kilometers at most.
Signalling in the 1900s:
Guglielmo Marconi receives the world’s first trans-atlantic radio transmission from England in 1901
JD standing in front of the Cabot Tower at Signal Hill uses a common 21st century device to signal.
Off on a puffin tour tomorrow with some other good friends.
To be continued . . .