Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Witless Bay Islands / Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (IBA)

The Witless Bay Islands, also known as the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (locally known as Green, Great, Gull, and Pee Pee Islands) are located only a few kilometers off the east coast of the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland.

The four islands protected as the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are important seabird breeding areas given that they serve as the largest Atlantic puffin colony in North America and one of the largest colonies of Leach’s Storm-Petrels. In addition to which large groups of Common Murre, Razorbill Auk, Black-Legged Kittiwakes, Leach’s Storm Petrels and Herring Gulls nest and can be found on these islands.  Other birds that also frequent the area and Atlantic waters around these islands include Great Black-backed Gulls, Black Guillemots, and White-winged Surf Scoters, Oldsquaws, and Common Eiders.

Given the distance from the shore and the region’s protected status as an Ecological Reserve we chose to visit via one of the local tour companies – the popular O’Brien’s.


At 11 we boarded the boat which was to take us out to the Witless Bay islands and IBA, full of excitement at the prospect of seeing several new seabirds to add to our life lists.

As the boat left the harbour, with loud speakers playing traditional songs, we got a view of the coastline we had just walked along over the past few days. Traversing it by boat seemed so effortless, and the geological formations were actually very beautiful from the water.

As we chugged along the crew gave very detailed and informative descriptions of the geology of the area, and the bird species we might (and did!) see, including Atlantic Puffins, Common Murre, Razorbill Auks, Black-legged Kittiwake, Black or Common Guillemots, Northern Fulmars, Herring Gulls, Thick-billed Murres, Great Black-backed Gulls, Northern Gannets, and Bald Eagles.

As the boat made its way toward Gull Island, a Minke whale was spotted nearby. We spent a few minutes circling the whale, and were lucky enough to see it surface just off the side of the boat several times. This was very exciting, although the increasing number of puffins in the water around us were equally fascinating.

As we approached the island we could see a swarm of birds above it – literally thousands of birds in the air! Even if birds are not your thing, seeing that many puffins in one place is still a sight to behold, and well worth taking the time to experience.

As the boat reached the reserve it pulled up to within a few meters of the rocky shores of the island, giving everyone a close-up view of the puffins, in the entrances to their dens, on ledges, and in the air. There were also thousands of Common Murre on the ledges and over the island, and two pairs of nesting Northern Fulmar.

Although the air was thick with birds, incredibly we were not coated in bird droppings, and there was only a very faint smell near the island. As we circled the island we also saw a research station and a bird blind used by ornithology researchers from MUN. Seeing so many birds at once was a little overwhelming, and truly amazing! It is definitely one of my very favourite birding experiences to date!!

After the amazing boat tour we enjoyed a piece of partridge-berry cake and a coffee at the O'Brien's restaurant.

It has been a wonderful and memorable day and a great birding spot to visit!

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