Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Posts from the ‘wildlife’ category

Bonavista and Puffins

Sunday, August 25, 2019

We drove the coast road north along Bonavista Bay. The coastline here is beautiful with crashing, blue-green waves. It was about an hour to Bonavista. 

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We walked along the Bonavista harbor on a beautiful day, and went into The Mathew Legacy, a building housing a reproduction ship, The Mathew, that John Cabot landed at Bonavista in 1497. He intended to sail to Cathay, but instead discovered New Found Land. It was the only place he landed his small ship (75’x20’) with a crew of 19. 

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He was Italian, raised in Genoa, moved to Venice, and his real name was Giovanni Caboto. He was commissioned by Henry VII to make an expedition across the Atlantic. He returned to England, reporting his discovery. He is thought to have perished on a return trip in 1498. https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/john-cabot

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The reproduction is very cool, and you can walk on and around the ship, which has actually made the voyage across the Atlantic. It is not a big boat, but then Diego’s father made a historic trip across the Atlantic on a raft. It would have been more fun to have seen the ship out of the building, but it had been so windy, they probably wanted to protect it inside, and it is a very cool building.

We walked around town, then drove to the lighthouse for lunch with a spectacular view.

Got the chips?

Don’t forget the chips!

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Driving east along the coast to find a puffin viewing area outside the cute village of Elliston. You can walk out a peninsula and view across 100 yards of sea to an island, or more likely a stack where puffins have a breeding ground. Little burrows dot the top of the stack where heavy grass grows. They stand guard over their burrow for a while, then jump up and glide down the side to get a fast start. They must be outstanding fishermen, because in short order they return with a small fish to feed the young. They land and are down the hold in a flash. Then they pop back up and stand around a while before they are off again. They fly with great speed. I tried tracking with the camera, but it was tough to follow. But then, it was great sport.

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On a beautiful Sunday, lots of people made their way out to watch. It was fun to listen to the comments and screams as these little birds put on quite a show. 

Driving out, we stopped at a beautiful, sandy beach, where people were swimming, and two guys were surfing with wetsuits on. As I walked up a rock hill, like a sand dune, I asked a man ahead of me if he was going for a swim. “Not me”, he said. He was from Come By Chance at the neck crossing over to the Avalon Peninsula. You have to love these names. He said, “How about Dildo? Didja go there?” Laughing, he said Jimmy Kimmel made it famous on Saturday Night Live. “There’s nothing there, but everyone goes for a visit because of it.” The town has made Kimmel honorary mayor. The man was with another couple, and their wives were collecting these smooth, oval rocks to paint. It’s a popular thing in gift shops, and they are cool.

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He asked where we had been, impressed that we had been here so long. He said it is getting more popular for travel now. I suggested they not advertise it. It might ruin it. He said, “It isn’t  always this pretty. This is a beautiful day.” I told him how much we loved it, but maybe we should stay to see what winter is like. He said, “Well, you might not want to do that”. 

We drove back down the coast toward camp, noting places to explore tomorrow. 

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Gatherall Puffin/Whale Tour

Monday, August 19, 2019

Many times we have heard people say they paid for a whale tour and never saw one, but we wanted to see the puffins at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Whales would be a bonus. The cost was $70 each for Gatherall’s, the one recommended at the visitor’s center. 

It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm with calm seas. The shoreline going out of the bay was beautiful, reminding me of the Pictured Rocks on Lake Michigan. As we made the turn out of the harbor, the captain advised us to hold onto a rail. The waves were bigger than I expected, hardly rough, but I get seasick. We came to the first island in the reserve, maybe Gull Island. An amazing amount of birds were nesting and breeding, gulls, murres by the thousands and puffins. Puffins only have their distinctive orange beaks during breeding season. They go out to sea for several years and return to the same island and the same burrow with the same mate.

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As we passed by the island, we could see a boat maybe a mile out, and the captain headed for it. Whales had been spotted. I had a good spot near the front of the boat, and it wasn’t long before we could see the splash of a big whale. It took 10-15 minutes to get out there. Several times we could see the whale breach, coming all the way out of the water. Then the captain said there were two, then three, then four, maybe five of them. I had two cameras, one with a 500mm zoom lens. As I put the 200mm down on the deck, I could feel the familiar dizzy feeling. Uh oh, I should stay up in the cool breeze and focus ahead. I checked the camera settings, shutter speed priority, sunlight, action mode, continuous focus and multiple shot fast. Then looking up again, we could see a lot of action from 4 or 5 Humpback whales. 

I was on the left side, behind a nice gentleman who moved aside as I stuck the big lens next to him. The big waves made the boat go up and down, so I leaned against the rail, spread my feet apart and tried to keep the lens on the action. When the whales went down, you didn’t know where they might come back up, so you can’t continue looking through the lens. I tried shooting without looking through the lens, but that didn’t work too well. But these whales just kept playing, jumping, splashing, blowing, waving and even growling. The captain said this was very unusual and we were very lucky. We were probably there 15-20 minutes before we had to head back. The other smaller boat stayed put. It was quite a show!

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As we got closer to the island, a couple of girls on the back of the boat released 22 baby puffins. We had seen several signs warning of baby puffins crossing the road. Apparently the young ones get confused by the lights at night and head for them. There is a baby puffin patrol that drives around and picks them up. These were the ones found just last night. They are so cute, you just want to take one home. On the way in one of the young Irish crew sang a song everyone must have known, as they all joined in.

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I was quite happy to put my feet on solid ground. We went up the road to hike the East Coast Trail from Bay Bulls to the Lighthouse going north. It was about an hour before I stopped feeling wobbly and nauseous. We have walked this trail a lot now, and it has been beautiful every time. We’ve been very lucky this week with perfect weather. It is so different when the sun is shining. The water is so blue, clear and then green when splashing against the rocks. The trees and grasses are so green. On a gray day, the water is gray and even the grass loses its color. This is why Newfies paint their houses bright colors, so they get color on gray days.

Moose inThe Campsite

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Martha and Diego were sitting by the fire chatting and heard something in the bushes, then saw something move. Hearing that, I joined them. Sure enough, there was a moose in the woods. It turned out to be a mother and a calf, and they seemed to be foraging the campsites for the purple flowers. First they went into the vacant campsite beside us. I went around to get some pictures in almost dark conditions. That seemed to scare them into the brush between the sites. It’s amazing how they an go through the thickest brush. They emerged right behind the trailer and worked around the edge of our campsite for their favorite flower. Totally unconcerned by us, I took about 45 pictures, backing up as they came around. It finally got so dark, I had to use the flash. After a few of those, Momma decided it was time to go, and they ambled down the hill. What a day we have had, and what an ending1 They put on a show for about 15 minutes.

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Southwest Brook Trail and Salvage Coast Trail

Friday, August 9, 2019

We said we would do a couple of easy hikes today and opted for Southwest Brook first. It’s an easy “Sauntier” along a perfect trout stream until it meets the Southwest Arm of the sea. It’s a nice, easy walk with boardwalks and bridges. Picnic tables and benches along the way to rest and have lunch. There are even a couple of covered ones. 

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We then drove to the little town of Salvage, stopping to fill up the gas tank. Salvage is outside Terra Nova National Park, but is gorgeous. Its name is derived from the French name, Salvaje, meaning savage. The Beothuk natives were not receptive to Europeans. 

As our friend, Jim Tulk on the ferry said, “Things are changing. We all used to be pretty much all the same, but now there are more rich people.” There is the still-alive fishing business, but it is highly regulated and a dying industry. The salmon don’t come the way they used to. Now there are newer houses with expensive boats. In 20 years, this will be a very different place. Who would come here, you might ask? It’s a 5-hour flight from London, 3.5 from Toronto or Montreal into Gander International Airport or St. John’s. Salvage is 200km from St. Johns. Richmond, VA to St. John’s in 9 hours for $475 on WestJet.

We hiked up to Net Point, about an hour out and back, easy to moderate. These trails are well-maintained with boardwalks and great signage. Stopping for pictures all along the way, Salvage photographs well from any angle. Newfoundland has the best cemeteries, and the Salvage cemetery is in such a pretty place. 

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Arriving at a platform overlook of the entrance to Salvage Harbor, we ate lunch and enjoyed the view. Martha took her sandwich and walked down the rocks to the point to watch for whales, then waved me down. Three islands form their own interesting cove. No doubt a great place for whales, but not seeing any, we headed back up to the platform. Just then I saw a big whale right in the harbor, then another and maybe a third. We watched and listened to them blow and round their backs, happily feeding along the other side. A pair swam in perfect harmony, side by side. 

As they left the harbor, we hurried down the rocks to the point to watch them right out front. It was a great show for about 30 minutes or so. Twice they came all the way out of the water. Of course I had a 70mm lens for the scenery. Too late, Martha said shoot a video to capture the sounds of the spouts and splashes. It would have been great in the harbor, but they were too far away now, and the wind too strong, so we just watched. Then there were two more to the left of the islands, but we never saw them again. The original 3 worked their way around the point to our right and were gone, but what a show they gave us!

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It was just as pretty walking down, as you notice things from a different perspective. It is just a beautiful, unspoiled place.

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Back at camp, Martha made her own version of Seafood Chowder, and it was delicious. With a little lobster and some muscles in addition to the cod she put in, she might win a prize in a local contest!

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Cape Onion/L’anse Au Meadows

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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The couple that stopped to talk at Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve yesterday, told us to go to Onion Cove, up past a cemetery. It’s a good place to spot whales. We drove up there to find one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. There were no whales, but we did see two moose, and the scenery is special. Green meadows cover mountains that meet the sea as hanging cliffs. Below is a protected cove where hundreds of ducks frolicked, and seagulls cried. Whales frequent this coast, and moose come to graze. Oh, and if you think you might be able to see or hear after death, what a place this would be to be buried.

Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park

August 7,8, 2018

Martha was having 12 ladies over for bridge. We have a small house, so I decided to retreat to the mountains in the Airstream. I am embarrassed to admit I have never been to Big Meadows, and why pack up all that stuff and only go for one night, so I signed up for two. It was 91 degrees, and I worked up a good sweat by the time I got everything packed up. It’s a beautiful drive from Stanardsville on 33, then north on the Skyline Drive. We have had great rains, and everything was so green and lush, with flowers blooming everywhere.

A very nice lady, Elizabeth, checked me into the campground. I chose a site that was a foot too short. They don’t like you to have a tire on the grass, so it took me a while to wiggle the truck into a reasonable spot. I was backed up to the forest with some tent sites, but no one was in them. This is a big campground and it was busy, especially for a Tuesday, but it was a good 10 degrees cooler at 3600 ft. I explored the campground and went to the Visitor’s Center. There is a good walk-through history of the making of Shenandoah National Park. On the other side is a huge picture window looking over the meadows across the parkway. I wandered out on the porch looking for what animals might be out there. I poked through the adjacent camp store, which was big and well-stocked.

I was tired by the time I got back to camp, so I built a fire in my new Solo Stove. It worked great, as advertised. All the holes around the top and bottom allow the fire to burn efficiently and hot. Sitting around a campfire is great on a perfect night. Looking into the fire is mesmerizing. However, the smoke is another thing altogether. It seems to chase me around the fire. Move my chair and it follows me. Often I have to close the Airstream windows so the smoke doesn’t go in.  Try to cook over or in it is a unique, smoke-filled challenge. The Solo Stove, as it is advertised, burns more efficiently, so there is less smoke, and it goes straight up. On this night, I am happy to report, it burned as advertised. By the time I finished dinner and the sun went down, the temperature dropped quickly. Somewhere in the night, I pulled the blanket up……in August……in Virginia!

By 6:00 in the morning, I was parking the truck next to the meadows and loaded my camera gear. I was late! There were already five people walking up the road, and two serious photographers setting out ahead of me. One was a lady with a nice Cannon camera and lens, the other a man with a tripod, big telephoto lens, long pants and rubber boots. I tried to follow him, but he was gone before I could get ready. A path led left into the field, and I followed it. There were deer everywhere. On the other side of the road, people were taking pictures of them. Soon there were 15 bucks grazing ahead of me. I approached slowly, but it was soon evident they were used to people, and hunting is not allowed in the park. I eased my way until I was within 50 feet of them and started shooting pictures. It seemed they were all 8-point bucks with fuzzy antlers, and they were all fat and healthy-looking. Trouble was they were so engrossed in eating, they rarely lifted their heads. I could see they were watching me out of the corner of their eye as they grazed along. Soon the two photographers joined me, then went ahead. The lady said she had been following them for an hour. She inched her way ahead of them until she was within 15 feet. They couldn’t care less.

In between shots, I looked down and around me. There was so much food, it was amazing – blackberries, blueberries, other berries, and a wide variety of flowers. Butterflies twitted around, sometimes zooming past for long distances. With all this food, I wondered why they were traveling so far. It was partly cloudy, which kept the light perfect for a long time. After several hundred deer shots, I continued up the trail until I saw the gentleman with his tripod set, obviously looking at something. As I approached, he pointed and whispered, “Bear.” I just caught a glimpse of his butt as he walked around a corner. The photographer and I talked for a while. He loves to come here. Living in DC, he got up at 4:00 to get here by 6:00. He said the young bear had walked around for a while, then stood up in front of him, probably checking him out. He spoke to the bear to let him know he was there, and the bear went on eating. As we were talking, the bear walked around a big bush and down the hill. The gentleman said he was going to look for birds along the trees. I followed the bear.

For about an hour and a half, I followed the bear. Same problem though – he was eating so much, he rarely lifted his head. Every couple of minutes, he would briefly check out the surroundings before resuming the buffet. He kept his eye on me, and I on him, but gaining courage, I crept closer. Then he went into some tall stuff, and I couldn’t see him. This made me a little nervous, but it must have made him nervous too because he soon stood up to look around. I clicked off 8 shots before he went back down. A doe walked down the hill before spotting the bear. She turned toward me, walking along the side of the hill, always checking the bear. I was standing still watching both. She walked within 5 feet of me as I clicked off shots. She had a big tag in her ear.

I picked up another trail heading toward the parking lot. Not concerned with wildlife now, I was amazed by the amount of berries and flowers. Then I was walking in water. The middle of the field was a wetland, obviously the headwaters of a stream, probably the Rose River. I went back to the trailer, fixed a cup of tea and downloaded pictures, too many pictures. Thinking I had downloaded all the pictures, I closed the program and reformatted the cards. An hour later I realized there was no standing bear! I had stopped the program too soon! Grrr!

That night while packing the truck, I saw a young bear right behind the trailer. I grabbed the camera and got off a few shots before a ranger came up with an air horn, quickly chasing him off. He said they had to cite two campsites for leaving food out. Brian was his name, and we chatted a bit. He told me the best places to look for bears.

I went to McLean, Virginia on Thursday to visit Sue and Jim Keith. I couldn’t help but stopping at the meadows for a brief walk. It was late in wildlife terms, 8:00. It was sunny, warm, and there were no deer, but butterflies were everywhere. I took a brief walk in the opposite direction of yesterday. I wanted to continue, but it was time to go. I hadn’t driven ½ mile before I saw a young bear cross the road. I stopped and put my emergency lights on. That little rascal scrambled right up a rock cliff and ate berries from a bush half way up. Three bears in two days! That’s pretty good, or were they all the same young bear?

Elizabeth, Brian and another nice gentleman make a great crew at the campground. They are so patient in a busy place with 200 campsites. Lots of Appalachian Trail hikers come to pitch their tents and get a good meal. I want to go back and explore those meadows a bunch more. Wonder when Martha is having bridge again.