Nature: Wildlife to the north

The past two weeks I have been traveling in the beautiful province of Newfoundland in Canada. The mountains make our Cadillac Mountain look like a mere bump in the landscape and the distances between places are very great.

Our first adventure after landing in Argentia on the east side of Newfoundland was a whale watching trip out from the small village of Bay Bull. The people in this area had all been whalers but when the laws changed they shifted from killing the whales to taking people out to see whales. It was a very successful move for them! It was a true story of the old saying “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade!”

On our trip with them this year we had a wonderful sighting of a mola mola, (ocean sunfish) tight near the boat. Everyone on board was excited about this, including the captain and tour guide. This huge creature is amazing to see and to watch in the sea. It had come to the surface to catch the sun’s warmth. Only a few weeks ago one was seen on a whale watching trip out of Bar Harbor.

This unusual creature of the sea is huge and usually is seen in warmer water! They are big fish weighing 600 pounds or more. They come close to the surface frequently to get warm and that is how we saw this one in Newfoundland. It caused great excitement on the boat that day.

Since it is a big creature you would not expect that it feeds on tiny zoo plankton, small fish and parts of jellyfish.

Not far from where the mola mola was seen the boat’s captain spotted a school of tuna near the surface so we went a little closer and were treated to the amazing sight of these huge tuna fish leaping high out of the water. They must have been coming up out of the water at a high speed to leap so high in the air that the entire fish could be seen. In my binoculars I could very well and clearly see the whole body of this giant fish curved high in the air. I’ll never forget it! The water beneath it was bubbling with capelin feeding below and the larger fish were in an eating frenzy. Gannets flew overhead and it was a wild scene. Even the tour guide and the boat captain were impressed and excited!

On our boat trip that day we saw thousands of puffins in the air even though many of these birds had left this area where they had been hatched this year. In other trips to these islands earlier in the summer we have had a chance to see the puffin nesting colonies and watch that interesting scene. It is hard to put into words what it is like to see thousands of these seabirds along with gannets, guillemots, auks and murres nesting on the cliffs and meadows along the edge of the sea.

At another part of our trip we visited Fogo Island off the east coast of Newfoundland. There are several small villages on Fogo Island and each is charming and unique. At one point we could look out and see the last breeding island of the Great Auk, now an extinct bird. The last bird was seen alive in 1852. People through the years killed every last one for food, eggs and feathers. The giant auk was a big bird that stood much like a penguin but measured 30 inches tall. It was flightless, but a powerful swimmer.

A giant bronze sculpture of this magnificent bird stands on the edge of the sea facing the island where it was so numerous. The statue was made by Todd McGrain and is placed there near its former home in its honor. You need to walk about an hour on a rough trail out to the statue standing on the rocks near the sea but it is worth it and can be thought of as a pilgrimage in honor of this special bird. Now the bird island is inhabited by other sea birds. There is a similar sculpture in honor of this amazing bird in Iceland.

It is our habit when we travel to keep a list of the wildlife we see. I think wild turkeys were the most numerous. Eagles took the highest count in birds seen in the air except for the puffins seen near their nesting island. I also spotted a Boreal or brown-capped chickadee feeding in an evergreen. These chickadees are on MDI but it is the Black capped-chickadee that is most commonly seen. The brown capped chickadee is an inhabitant of the spruce woods and the borders of sphagnum bogs, particularly on the west half of this island.

Dragonflies and damselflies are commonly seen now on MDI around ponds and even along the seashore. These colorful fliers are fun to watch as they patrol their territories or are just seen flying about.

The calls of coyotes “singing” recently has pleased me, for these mammals are our best control for the over-abundant deer roaming about MDI now. Don’t begrudge them their food and thank them for preventing the deer from dying of starvation this winter. I have witnessed hundreds of deer dying of starvation in overpopulated areas in New York State where we used to live and it is not a nice death. We have no other large predator living here that regularly feeds on deer in order to live. All wildlife lives life trying to find food to survive while also trying to avoid being eaten. That’s life.

Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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