I didn't know until recently that there is a trick to the fog on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. It blows in a certain direction. If St. John's is heavy with lazy fog that sweeps the streets in a serpentine fashion, it is weary from its travel eastward. In other words, if you want to see the western part of the peninsula, you should go when St. John's is covered in fog because it has already been in the west, and for our purposes today, over Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve.
My confession is that I thought to travel to the reserve on a day when St. John's was sunny and cloudless. Meaning that the morning fog was still churning over the west, preparing to vacate that finger of the peninsula and tumble over the spruce forest toward the capital city. My photographs of the famous "Bird Rock" and the 1-km path to the absolute spectacle of the Northern Gannet chick-rearing grounds are beneath a filter of smeared grey fog. My apologies. I hope you can still appreciate the sheer size of this colony which comes in at just around a colossal 24,000 Northern Gannets per year.
I took these photographs in early August, a time when chicks have hatched and are roughly half the size of their parents. One may begin to see gannets as early as April though when the breeding season begins.
Bird Rock is inaccessible to the public because it is an 100-metre tall sea stack separated from the path by a giant chasm that goes straight down to the ocean. This provides protection for adults and chicks. Have a look at that chasm.
Can you see the waves crashing down below?
I watched the adults fly over the colony and feed their chicks for a couple of hours. Of course, 30 minutes after I left the fog cleared and I was already too far gone to turn around. Murphy's Law. But check out these beautiful seabirds. Northern Gannets are the largest members of the family Sulidae which includes the adorable Blue-footed Booby and company. The white feathers that taper into an apricot tinge on the head and neck make the bird look like it has been given a coat of matte paint. Much the same clean-looking effect one would see on a waxwing.
If you're wondering what kind of meal these chicks are enjoying, it is mostly herring, mackerel, sprat and sandeel. But not in a lovely whole-fish presentation, no. Chicks feed on partially digested fish regurgitated by parents (caught on video below).
Gannets are noisy. Their calls are voluminous and as frequent as two calls per second. So imagine my glee sitting amongst the cacophony of the colony. Also--and I think you may have seen this coming--24,000 gannets are quite fragrant. Between the smell of the sea, the birds and their loud interactions, I was entranced.
The rock and the cliffs are mostly sandstone, a surface that provides many natural crevices. And the gannets aren't the only ones who nest here. 20,000 Black-legged Kittiwake also raise their chicks on the cliffs of the reserve.
Also found in huge numbers on the reserve: Common and Thick-billed Murres. Honourable mentions (large numbers yet not in the thousands): Razorbill and Black Guillemot.
And before I sign off, please have a look at a couple of the other inhabitants of the reserve. Not pictured below: the huge clusters of wild irises growing every few feet along the footpath and the incredibly cool visitor's center with the kindest, most knowledgeable staff.