Nova Scotia & Newfoundland: Birding with a Camera® (BwC)
What’s the best thing about Canada? Ice hockey? Tim Horton’s? No - the wildlife and the wonderful sense of wilderness! 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 11-day departure will visit many beautiful locations across the two regions. 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. 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 fairy tale. Simply put, the birding experience is unparalleled outside of Alaska. Throw in copious amounts of seafood and poutine and you might never want to go home!
25 June - 5 July ($5950; single supplement: $700)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 11 Days
Starting City: Halifax
Ending City: St. John's
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Focus: Birding, Photography
Group size: 8 + 1 leader
Day 1: Arrivals 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 any non-Canadian clients to make connecting flights, mostly likely through Toronto or Montreal. Upon arrival, clients should take the free shuttle to the hotel. There are no birding activities scheduled on this day, but we’ll have a group dinner to kick off our adventure.
Day 2: Halifax Hotspots in Morning, afternoon drive to Liscombe Lodge
We’ll depart the hotel after eating an early breakfast and head towards coastal hotspots like 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, Hermit Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, 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
This day will be dedicated to nesting songbirds. The lodge has an extensive network of trails, and we’ll scour them for Gray Catbird, Least Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Winter Wren, Blue-headed Vireo, and a variety of warblers including Palm, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, and Black-throated Green. Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets might be in the mix, and we could encounter American Goldfinch, Dark-eye Junco, White-throated Sparrow, or Purple Finch on the lodge feeders. If we’re really lucky, a Pine Siskin or an Evening Grosbeak might appear. Beyond those, Belted Kingfisher, Brown Creeper, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird should also be on our radar. With a minimum of driving and a second night at the same lodging, today should be productive and relaxing!
Day 4: Liscombe to Cheticamp
We’ll do some early-morning birding around the lodge before eating breakfast and departing. Today is primarily a travel day, but we’ll make a number of en route stops as we make miles towards Cheticamp on Cape Breton. The most important of those will be at Glenelg, a mixed woodland which where we’ll mop up missing flycatchers, vireos, and warblers. After lunch in Antigonish, we’ll cross the Strait of Canso and continue along the shore of Bras d’Or Lake. The body is the nesting home to hundreds of Bald Eagles, and we might catch a glimpse of one from Whycocomagh or Nyanza Bay. Arriving in Cheticamp, we can explore Cheticamp Island or the Salmon Pools Trail in Cape Breton National Park with whatever daylight and participant energy remains.
Day 5: 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, Swamp Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Magnolia Warbler, and — wait for it — Moose! And if we’re really, really lucky we could even bump into Bicknell’s Thrush. We’ll return to Cheticamp for lunch and head towards Sydney in the afternoon. Point Aconi often holds Common Eiders, Great Cormorants, and other coastal species, so we’ll be sure to check that area as we approach our destination.
Day 6: Port Morien, Schooner Pond, Big Glace Bay, and Newfoundland Ferry
We’ll use this morning to visit a number of coastal spots east of Sydney. The first of those will be the Port Morien marshes, where we might find American Black Duck, Common Merganser, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit, and other shorebirds. Moving north to Schooner Pond, we might intersect Ring-necked Duck, White-winged Scoter, Black Guillemot, or Black-legged Kittiwake. Big Glace Bay has hosted nesting Piping Plovers in recent years, and we might connect with Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Willet, Least Sandpiper, or Nelson’s Sparrow as we explore the area.
We’ll return to Sydney for a late lunch and move towards the overnight ferry to Newfoundland afterwards. The boat usually leaves at 5:30pm, and we need to be at the ferry terminal in North Sydney by 3pm for the 5:30pm departure. 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 much of a worry. The ferry does, however, offer pelagic birding opportunities, so 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 arrival 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, and we’ll continue north towards Bonavista after eating lunch in Clarenville. Reaching that destination, we’ll visit Spiller’s Cove, Dungeons Provincial Park, and the beautifully Bonavista Lighthouse where clients will feel like they’re on the edge of the world! From there it will be over to the featured attraction: 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. Night in Bonavista.
Day 8: Cape Saint Mary’s Ecological Reserve
We’ll 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 thousands 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 weather and lighting at Cape Saint Mary’s are notoriously variable, so we’ll make a a morning return to experience some different conditions and lighting. Afterwards, we’ll pile into the van and take a beautiful coastal drive towards Trepassey, several stops made en route (St Vincent’s, etc). Our hotel has a fantastic restaurant, so we’ll check-in, eat lunch, and return to the field for the remainder of the afternoon. We’ll first head to Saint Schott’s to look for Willow Ptarmigan along the entrance road. Find or miss that sneaky species, we should have chances at Great, Sooty, and Manx Shearwater once we’ve reached the lighthouse at road’s end. If we fail to find ptarmigan at Saint Schott’s, we’ll also swing through Cape Pine. Backtracking to Trepassy, we’ll bird a local trail for the likes of Wilson’s Snipe, Boreal Chickadee, Blackpoll Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Pine Grosbeak, and Fox Sparrow. And if you thought lunch at the Edge of the Avalon Inn was good, wait until dinner is served!
Day 10: Eastern side of Avalon Peninsula including Whitless Bay
This will be a busy day! We’ll do a bit of pre-breakfast birding before eating and rounding the southern end of the Avalon. If we missed Willow Ptarmigan yesterday, then we’ll have another crack at it as we bird the road to and from Cape Race. If we’ve already scored it, then we’ll make stops at Renews and La Manche Provincial Park as we close the distance towards Whitless Bay. Boarding a zodiac at that departure point, 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 overhead while Razorbills and Black Guillemots fish in the waters below. If we’re really lucky, we might glimpse one of the few Northern Fulmars which nest on the island. Humpback Whales are always possible, and we might bump into Great, Sooty, and Manx Shearwaters during our outing. Returning to shore, we’ll explore Cape Spear before doing a bit of mop-up around St John’s. Black-headed Gull is sometimes hanging around the city, so we’ll be sure to follow up on any reports of that Eurasian vagrant. Our final night will be spent in a hotel very near the St. John’s airport.
Day 11: Departures from St. John’s
Wow - what a trip! Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are ahhh-mazing, right? Safe travels home! And who knows - maybe you’ll come back again in the future!
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 10; meals from breakfast on day 2 through to breakfast on day 11 (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 11 for arrivals and departures; Tropical Birding tour leader from the morning of day 2 through to the night of day 10; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from days 2 to 10 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.
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