Birding the Avalon Peninsula : Twitching The Great Trail!

As we walked north out of Arnold's Cove to Goobies on the Great Trail, at some point we left Newfoundland's beautiful Avalon Peninsula behind. It took us nine days to hike the 194 km from Cape Spear to Goobies, and we felt like nature presented one amazing moment after the other. From icebergs in the Atlantic, to Northern Gannet colonies in Cape St. Mary's, nearly half a million nesting Atlantic Puffins in Witless Bay, pods of Humpback whales, red foxes, moose, and the stunning beauty of the Boreal forest, the Avalon Peninsula has it all. It has been a true privilege to see so much beauty from the Great Trail!

Cape St. Mary's Newfoundland.
Puffin Newfoundland Trans Canada Trail.

For those who don’t know the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland includes the eastern most point of North America which serves as an essential migratory flyway for birds over wintering grounds and the Boreal forest. This landscape is hope to more than 120 bird species including the Harlequin Duck, Short-eared Owl, Olive-sided Flycatcher, American Tree Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird.   The proximity of the ocean, and the landscape as well as the Boreal forest all birds access to both habitat and the rich marine life nearby for feeding.  In addition, throughout winter, many of the lakes and shoreline waters around Avalon remain ice free allowing birds access to the waters.  Avalon’s location attached to North America, as well as its proximity to the Arctic and Europe also means that it garners its own share of unique and rare species throughout the year.  

Some of the most important birding sites throughout Avalon include locations such as:
o   Cape St. Francis
o   Quidi Vidi Lake
o   WitlessBay Ecological Reserve – largest Atlantic puffin colony
o   Mistaken Point
o   Cape Pine and St. Shotts Barren
o   Placentia Bay
o   Grates Point
o   Baccalieu Island Seabird Sanctuary – world’s largest Leach’s Storm-Petrel colony

However, these sites and Important Bird Areas do not include the essential role that regional harbours and the Boreal forest play in aiding birds or note locations such as Renews and Arnold’s Cove as key to the survival for migratory species.

Our first day of hiking the East Coast Trail (now part of the Great Trail) from Cape Spear back to St. John's showed us the rugged beauty of Avalon's coast. We saw three icebergs, watched a Bald Eagle soaring below us along the cliffs, got a sneak peak at a raucous colony of Black-legged Kitiwakes on an off-shore sea stack, and enjoyed the familiar warbling trill of the White-throated Sparrow.

As we headed out of St. John's on the Grand Concourse we saw many bird species that can be seen in backyards and urban parks across much of eastern North America, including the ubiquitous American Robin, gregarious Black-capped Chickadee, and familiar Mallard. By the end of the day we returned to the coast again and began to see more gulls, including Greater Black-backed and Herring Gulls. We paused to watch Common Terns diving for fish in Conception Bay, were pleased to see quite a few Spotted Sandpipers foraging on the water's edge, and were amazed by an aerial battle between a Bald Eagle and a pair of gulls.

Once we left the greater St. John's area behind and started down the T'Railway Trail we found ourselves in a Boreal landscape. The wide gravel track of the Great Trail, which is the bed of the old Newfoundland railway line, was bordered with balsam fir, white and black spruce, and tamarack. Forested stretches were broken by colourful wetlands, small lakes and streams, and open grassy stretches of rolling hills. Although civilization is never too far away, bird song became a dominant feature of the landscape here, which is a rare treat in our increasingly populated and mechanized world.

During our first ten days on the trail we've managed to see and identify 63 bird species, and we've heard quite a few we don't recognize. Among our favourite moments was discovering a pair of Common Loons on Big Gull Lake, where we camped one night. Their eerie haunting calls sounded across the water under a clear sky with incredibly bright stars and a sickle moon. When their calls woke us the next morning, we emerged from the tent to find a lake that was smooth as glass, perfectly reflecting the sunlit hills of the opposite shore.

Another highlight of the past few days has been the friendly and curious Canada Jays that hang out in the conifers at the edge of the trail. These cheeky birds can sometimes be enticed to feed out of your hand if you offer them unsalted nuts or bird seed, and we've greatly enjoyed our encounters with them over the last few days.

Perhaps the best part of hiking and wild camping in the Boreal forest in spring is the huge number of colourful, fast-moving warblers and other songbirds you get to see and hear all day. Among the highlights for us has been an abundance of active and noisy Yellow-rumped Warblers, who often criss-cross the trail, or hang out in the small shrubs a few inches above water. Wilson's Warblers have also been a constant companion, and we've gotten to watch Black-and-white and Black-throated Green Warblers up close. The loud clear song of the White-throated Sparrow, which can be heard even above the sound of the wind, has become part of this hike as well.


Experiencing the birds and natural wonders of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula from the Great Trail has been a joy. For anyone interested in birding this area, we would highly recommend visiting the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and Important Bird Area to see the hundreds of thousands of Atlantic Puffins and Common Murres that nest there, and the Northern Gannet colony located at Cape St. Mary's as well.

For a complete list of the bird species we've seen on the Avalon Peninsula from the Great Trail in 2019 to date, please see below.

Mallard (26 May 2019)
Domestic Mallard (26 May 2019)
Osprey (26 May 2019)
European Starling (26 May 2019)
Red-winged Blackbird (26 May 2016)
Common Tern (27 May 2019)
Canada Goose (28 May 2019)
Wilson's Snipe (28 May 2019)
Herring Gull (28 May 2019)
American Black Duck (28 May 2019)
Boreal Chickadee (28 May 2019)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (28 May 2019)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (28 May 2019)
Black-capped Chickadee (28 May 2019)
Dark-eyed Junco (28 May 2019)
American Robin (28 May 2019)
Common Raven (28 May 2019)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (28 May 2019)
White-throated Sparrow (28 May 2019)
Northern Flicker (28 May 2019)
Northern Waterthrush (28 May 2019)
Canada Jay (28 May 2019)
Greater Yellowlegs (28 May 2019)
Barn Swallow (28 May 2019)
Bald Eagle (28 May 2019)
Common Loon (28 May 2019)
Ring-billed Gull (28 May 2019)
Savannah Sparrow (28 May 2019)
American Pipit (28 May 2019)
Short-eared Owl (28 May 2019)
Horned Lark (28 May 2019)
Great Cormorant (28 May 2019)
Double-crested Cormorant (28 May 2019)
Thick-billed Murre (28 May 2019)
Common Murre (28 May 2019)
Northern Gannet (28 May 2019)
Black-legged Kitiwake (28 May 2019)
Black Guillemot (28 May 2019)
Razorbill Auk (28 May 2019)
Greater Black-backed Gull (28 May 2019)
Atlantic Puffin (29 May 2019)
Yellow Warbler (30 May 2019)
American Crow (2 Jun 2019)
Tree Swallow (2 Jun 2019)
American Goldfinch (2 Jun 2019)
Ruffed Grouse (2 Jun 2019)
Black-and-white Warbler (2 Jun 2019)
Spotted Sandpiper (3 Jun 2019)
Wood Thrush (4 Jun 2019)
American Tree Sparrow (4 Jun 2019)
Blue Jay (4 Jun 2019)
Wilson's Warbler (4 Jun 2019)
Mourning Warbler (4 Jun 2019)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (4 Jun 2019)
Blackpoll Warbler (7 Jun 2019)
Ring-billed Duck (7 Jun 2019)
Pine Grosbeak (7 Jun 2019)
Fox Sparrow (8 Jun 2019)
Swamp Sparrow (8 Jun 2019)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (8 Jun 2019)
Black-throated Green Warbler (8 Jun 2019)
Palm Warbler (8 Jun 2019)
Belted Kingfisher (9 Jun 2019)

Hike4Birds Great Trail Canada.
Sonya Richmond birding Trans Canada Trail.

See you on the trail!

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