This is a Birding with a Camera® Tour. The goal of the tour is to see a lot of great birds but also, to take great photos of certain species.
Forget hockey and Tim Horton’s – wildlife and expansive wilderness is really what Canada is all about. With relatively few people, excellent infrastructure, and massive tracks of pristine habitat, Canada is an ecotourism dream. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are particularly inviting, and our 12-day tour will visit many beautiful locations across the two provinces. While we will seek loons, eagles, shorebirds, and waterfowl, we’ll devote special time to songbirds and seabirds. Warblers, flycatchers, and vireos drip from trees like overnight dew, and we’ll bear witness to tens of thousands of gannets, hundreds of thousands of puffins, and millions of murres at breathtaking breeding colonies. Several boat trips will offer us opportunities for pelagic birds, whales, and seals, and we could encounter moose or caribou back on land. The locations we visit offer excellent photographic opportunities, and we’ll keep the focus entirely on the resident birds without rarity chasing eating into our time. The tiny coastal towns are cute, the people are warm and friendly, the lighthouses are picturesque, and the entire region feels like something out of a fairy tale.
Day 1: Arrival in Halifax. Welcome to Nova Scotia! There are virtually no direct flights between the United States and Halifax, so this day is a dedicated arrival day to allow everyone to make connecting flights, mostly likely through Toronto or Montreal. Upon arrival, clients should take a taxi to the airport hotel. Dinner is not included this night, since some flights arrive in late evening.
Day 2: Halifax to Liscombe. We’ll depart the hotel after an early breakfast and head southeast to explore a number of coastal hotspots: Hartlet Point, Rainbow Haven Beach, Cole Harbor Heritage Park, and Lawrencetown Marsh. Nelson’s Sparrow and Alder Flycatcher will be our primary targets, but Ruffed Grouse and Ring-necked Pheasant are within the realm of possibilities as well. Osprey is often overhead, and we could intersect waterfowl like Common Eider, American Black Duck, Green-winged Teal, and Ring-necked Duck. After lunch, we’ll venture into a wooded area where we’ll look for Eastern Wood-Pewee, Winter Wren, Hermit Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, and Blackburnian Warbler. Our pace will be leisurely, and we’ll do our best to obtain photos of whatever birds we encounter. Once we’ve had our fill, we’ll pile into the van and head two hours east to Liscombe Lodge where we’ll dine and spend the first of two nights.
Day 3: Liscombe Lodge and Surrounds. Our second full day will be dedicated to tracking down whatever nesting songbirds we didn’t find yesterday. Exploring the lodge trails and a series of roads through nearby forest, we’ll look for Least Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Canada Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ovenbird, and Magnolia Warbler, all of which are either trickier to find or absent from the regions of Newfoundland which we’ll visit in the coming few days. American Goldfinch, Dark-eye Junco, and White-throated Sparrows frequent the lodge feeders, and we might get lucky with Pine Siskin or Evening Grosbeak. Beyond those, Belted Kingfisher, Ruffed Grouse, Brown Creeper, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird could be in the mix. With a minimum of driving and a second night at the same lodging, today should be both productive and relaxing.
Day 4: Liscombe to Pleasant Bay. This is primarily a driving day, but we’ll make stops at a number of good birding spots as we close the distance to Pleasant Bay on beautiful Cape Breton. The first of those will be at Glenelg where we’ll mop up missing flycatchers, vireos, and warblers. A bit farther down the road we’ll look for Piping Plover at Pomquet Beach. We’ll lunch in Auld’s Cove, cross the Strait of Canso, and continue along the shore of Bras d’Or Lake. The huge body is the nesting home to hundreds of Bald Eagles, and we might catch a glimpse of one from Whycocomagh or Nyanza Bay. Nearing our destination, Chéticamp Island will offer opportunity for Greater Black-backed Gull, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, waterfowl, and shorebirds. From there, we’ll finish the stunning coastal drive to Pleasant Bay where we’ll spend the first of two nights.
Day 5: Pleasant Bay and the Upland Barrens. We’ll do our best to bird on this day, but we’re likely to be distracted by the incredible scenery which Cape Breton presents. Alternating between high promontories, boggy boreal forest, and windswept barrens, we’ll take a series of walks looking for Mourning Warbler, Pine Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Black-capped Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, and maybe even a moose. If we’re really, really lucky we could even bump into Bicknell’s Thrush. As if that wasn’t enough, we’ll (weather premitting) head out in a zodiac in the afternoon to look for Minke Whale and Gray Seal. The view of the Cape from the water should be breathtaking as well! Returning to land after our two-hour cruise, we’ll track down any species we might have missed ahead of dinner.
Day 6: Cabot Trail and Port Morien marshes. Wrapping north around the top of Cape Breton on the Cabot Trail, we’ll make a series of roadside stops to look for birds. The drive should be spectacular as we cling to coastal cliffs and soak-in maritime views. Lunch will be enjoyed in or around Sydney, and we’ll continue east towards Port Morien in the early afternoon. Exploring a series of marshes in that area, we’ll look for shorebirds, waders, swallows, and eagles. We’ll need to keep an eye on the clock because we’ll need to double-back through Sydney and board the ferry to Newfoundland in the early-evening. The crossing takes about 16 hours, so this night will be spent on-board. The ferry is huge — it’s like a small cruise ship — so seasickness isn’t a problem for most people. The ferry also offers pelagic birding opportunities, and we could encounter Wilson’s and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, jaegers, Northern Fulmar, and Sooty, Great, and Manx Shearwaters during the journey.
Day 7: Newfoundland Arrival and Elliston Puffins. Upon disembarking — hopefully at 9:30am though exact timing is tide dependent — we’ll do a bit of birding around Argentia before starting north. En route, stops at Arnold’s Cove and Come by Chance might yield Common Loon, Common Tern, or Fox Sparrow, before continuing north towards Bonavista. Reaching that destination, we’ll visit Spiller’s Cove, Dungeons Provincial Park, and the beautiful Bonavista Lighthouse where you may feel like you’re on the edge of the Earth. Next stop will likely be a tour favorite: the Atlantic Puffin colony at Elliston. While we’ll see many more puffins on our Whitless Bay boat trip, Elliston’s cliffs offer excellent opportunities to photograph the adorable birds. Depending on lighting and enthusiasm, we could even return to the site after dinner. We spend the night in Bonavista.
Day 8: Cape Saint Mary’s Ecological Reserve. We’ll probably swing through the puffin colony once more before returning south to Placentia for lunch. From there, we’ll continue south to Cape Saint Mary’s Ecological Reserve, undoubtedly one of the most incredible natural spectacles in North America. Perched on the edge of plunging cliffs, we’ll absorb views of tens of thousands of nesting Northern Gannets. We’ll have knee-buckling views as the birds commute between their nests and the surrounding fishing grounds, and the incubating pairs provide endless entertainment as they squabble with each other for territorial space. The noise is deafening, and it’ll be non-stop action! As if you could ever tire of the gannets, there will also be hundreds of Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common Murres, and Razorbills. Thick-billed Murres and Black Guillemots are present in smaller numbers, and we might add Horned Lark or American Pipit as we scramble across the clifftops. This night will be spent in Saint Bride’s, right up the road from the reserve.
Day 9: Southern End of the Avalon Peninsula. The lighting angles vary across the day at Cape Saint Mary’s, so we’ll return first thing in the morning to capture some different shots than yesterday afternoon/evening. Afterwards, we’ll pile into the van and take a beautiful coastal drive towards Trepassey. Saint Vincents usually hosts nesting Arctic Terns, and Saint Shott’s might yield Willow Ptarmigan along the entrance road or Great, Sooty, and Manx Shearwater once we’ve reached the coastal promontories. The ptarmigan is a beautiful bird and a key target, so we’ll swing through Cape Pine if we miss it elsewhere. The night will be spent in Trepassey.
Day 10: Eastern side of Avalon Peninsula. If we’ve been unable to find Willow Ptarmigan yet, we can venture to Cape Race to extend our search for the chunky but photogenic ground dweller. Returning to the woodlands afterwards, we’ll look for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Canada Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, Pine Grosbeak, Swamp Sparrow, Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and Wilson’s Warbler. Moving towards St John’s through the remainder of the day, additional stops at Chance Cove, Renews, and La Manche Provincial Park will help us fill in whatever species we’ve missed. We’ll have two nights in St John’s.
Day 11: Witless Bay and Cape Spear. Expect today to be memorable! Boarding a zodiac to visit some near-shore islands, we’ll enjoy views of hundreds of thousands of Atlantic Puffins and over a million Common Murres as they commute to and from their nests on the overhead cliffs. Black-legged Kittiwakes swirl in every direction, and we’ll be on the lookout for the few pairs of Northern Fulmars which nest on the island. If we’re lucky, we’ll also pick out a few Leach’s Storm-Petrels. Over half a million nest in Whitless Bay, but most head out into the deep water during the daylight hours. Humpback Whales are a constant possibility, and we might bump into Great, Sooty, and Manx Shearwaters during our outing to this photographic buffet. Throw in a variety of gulls, Great Cormorant, Razorbill, and Black Guillemots, and it should be a mind-blowing morning. Returning to shore, we’ll explore Cape Spear before heading back towards St. John’s. Black-headed Gull is sometimes spotted in the city harbor, time permitting we’ll follow up on any reports of that or any other vagrant.
Day 12: Departure from St. John’s. There is no birding planned on this day, and a hotel shuttle is available to take you to the airport for homeward bound flights.
PACE: Moderate. Easy to Moderate. There will be frequent early starts of around 05:30-06:30am, and it is common to be out until late afternoon on this tour. We will eat lunch often between our birding stops but have dinner at our destination hotel or close by.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: There are some walks on this tour, although most of these will be under 2 miles in length, and for the most part on good trails, or gravel roads. There are a few short steeper sections, which are optional only. Three boat trips are taken on this trip, including an overnight ferry of 14-16 hours on the night of day 6. There are also some long drives on this trip between birding sites, but these are broken up by birding and scenery stops. Only low elevations are covered on this tour.
CLIMATE: The climate is highly variable at this time, and temperatures range from high 40s to 70s F, with a chance of cool damp days and rain, meaning that rain gear is essential.
ACCOMMODATION: Good throughout.
PHOTOGRAPHY: : This is a Birding With a Camera tour, and so while it goes after a number of local specialties, it also takes in some excellent sites for bird photography, particularly at the seabird breeding colonies, where gannets, murres, guillemots, and puffins are often easy to photograph.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required for all foreign visitors; this should be valid for 6 months beyond the departure date and have at least on full blank page. For many tourists on the visa waiver list, a visa is not required (e.g. citizens of the USA, UK, many European countries and Australia) – ). For citizens of these countries, an ELECTRONIC TRAVEL AUTHORITY (ETA) NEEDS TO OBTAINED BEFORE DEPARTURE. This is applied for online here. For other nationalities, you will need to apply for a visa well before departure. To check if you need a visa or ETA, and how to apply, click here.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodations from the night of day 1 through the night of day 11; meals from breakfast on day 2 through to breakfast on day 12 (if you do not leave too early for that); all park fees to sites stated in the itinerary; an airport shuttle is provided on day 1 and day 12 for arrivals and departures; Tropical Birding tour leader from the morning of day 2 through to the night of day 11; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from days 2 to 11 in a modern, rental vehicle with the Tropical Birding tour leader as the driver. Overnight ferry trip on night of day 6.
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Any extra nights you wish to stay in the area; any flights; optional tips to the tour leader; tips to any baggage handlers if used anywhere; any passport or visa fees; excess baggage fees; snacks; any drinks other than drinkable water; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees, including any Covid tests required; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.