Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Posts from the ‘Whales’ category

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.

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. 

_1GW2244We went from Parking to Net Point

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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