Below the Cape Spear light

Light atop the cliffs - Cape Spear

Light atop the cliffs – Cape Spear

This isn’t your usual view of the Cape Spear light tower, and that’s exactly why I like it.

In the bottom right corner you can just see the narrow side trail that led me to this cliffside vantage point, and no, unfortunately the trail doesn’t go much further than this.

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Ocean sunfish in Newfoundland

The ocean sunfish is a very large and very strange creature. In Newfoundland your best chances of seeing one are at the very end of summer when the water is warm enough to accommodate them (that’s right now!).

Think of the sunfish as a big marine alien: it’s got a peculiar face with puffy cheeks and pouty lips, an enormous bony body shaped like a disc, and believe it or not it can grow up to an impressive 4 metres from fin to fin:

Large sunfish, long ago - Wikimedia Commons

Large sunfish, long ago – Wikimedia Commons

Ocean sunfish - Wikimedia Commons

Ocean sunfish – Wikimedia Commons

Add to that the fact that it likes to bask at the surface in the warm sunlight, and you’ll understand that a sunfish encounter is something very special indeed.

For the longest time the sunfish occupied the top spot of my ‘wildlife wish list’, I had already seen most kinds of whales and seabirds, so every time I was out on the East Coast Trail or on the water I was looking for something new.

Thankfully, Molly Bawn had a proven track record of finding sunfish, and in late August 2013 they helped me find what I was looking for:

Ocean Sunfish - Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Ocean Sunfish – Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Ocean sunfish - Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Ocean sunfish – Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

If you want an encounter with a sunfish too, I suggest you give them a call to find out when their next tour is, they’ve had several good sunfish encounters already just this last week!

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White Horse Path & Piccos Ridge Path

Good news, two new trails have just been introduced by ECTA:

  • White Horse Path, leading from Cape St. Francis to Bauline
  • Piccos Ridge Path, leading from Bauline to Portugal Cove

In their announcement, ECTA explains that these brand new trails have been cleared for hikers but they haven’t been upgraded to East Coast Trail standards just yet, meaning you can hike them as long as you don’t mind the lack of stairs and such.

Obviously I’m quite curious about hiking the full 30.5 km length of these new trails, as I only explored the northernmost 6 km when I still lived in Newfoundland:

Back Cove, Cape St. Francis - White Horse Path

Back Cove, Cape St. Francis – White Horse Path

Rope-assisted climbs - White Horse Path

Rope-assisted climbs – White Horse Path

Hello from Cripple Cove - White Horse Path

Hello from Cripple Cove – White Horse Path

It looks an awful lot like Cripple Cove Path doesn’t it? That’s because the trail to Cripple Cove is now the start of this brand new White Horse Path. I hiked the trail to Cripple Cove many times, and on a few occasions I continued onto ‘The Scrape’, the hills that have now become part of this newly announced trail:

Views from the hills south of Cripple Cove - White Horse Path

Winter views from the hills south of Cripple Cove – White Horse Path

Views from the hills south of Cripple Cove - White Horse Path

Winter views from the hills south of Cripple Cove – White Horse Path

From the Bauline side of the trail you can see that the hills rise out of the bay quite steeply:

Bauline, the southern end of White Horse Path

Bauline, the southern end of White Horse Path

Further south still is Piccos Ridge Path, running through hills I’ve only ever seen from the ferry to Bell Island:

Brocks Head Falls - Piccos Ridge Path

Brocks Head Falls – Piccos Ridge Path

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Piccos Ridge Path – seen from Portugal Cove

Bing Maps has some aerial views of Piccos Ridge Path, so at least I can click and explore it that way:

Brocks Head Falls - Piccos Ridge Path on Bing Maps

Brocks Head Falls – Piccos Ridge Path on Bing Maps

Have you hiked these new trails yet?

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Newfoundland sunsets

Everybody loves a good sunset, especially in Newfoundland where they don’t show up that often because of the weather.

I’ve enjoyed sunsets all around the island, both from close to home and while on vacation. Here are a few Newfoundland sunsets, you may have seen one or two here before:

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Sunset – Joe Batt’s Arm, Fogo Island

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Sunset – Sleepy Cove Trail, Crow Head

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Sunset – Topsail

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Sunset – Stiles Cove Path, East Coast Trail

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Sunset – Henry Goodrich, St. Philip’s

Sunset - Lobster Cove, Gros Morne NP

Sunset – Lobster Cove, Gros Morne NP

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Puffin Patrol to the rescue

‘Cute’ may be the puffin’s defining feature, but don’t let it fool you, this little bird knows how to take care of itself, even in the cold waters around Newfoundland.

However, when the end of summer approaches, even the plucky puffin can use a little help.

A look inside a puffin box - Witless Bay

A look inside a puffin box – Witless Bay

In the coming weeks, thousands of young puffins will leave their nests on the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve in order to start their life on the open water. While most fledglings manage to find the ocean, some birds get disoriented by the lights on shore and end up in backyards and parking lots. Unable to take off from land, these young puffins are now stranded.

Thankfully, the Puffin Patrol comes to the rescue. Every night, their volunteers patrol the streets to find lost birds, which are captured with nets and then released the following morning.

If you want to get involved, or see a young puffin released on the beach, the Puffin Patrol’s Facebook page announces if and when any puffins will be released the following morning:

Puffins in boxes, lined up for release - Witless Bay

Puffins in boxes, lined up for release – Witless Bay

One last check before release - Witless Bay

One last check before release – Witless Bay

Puffin release - Witless Bay

Puffin release – Witless Bay

If you’re looking for something to do after the release, there’s a beautiful hiking trail that starts just up the road from the release site:

Release site in Witless Bay - map snippet from the East Coast Trail Guide

Release site in Witless Bay – map snippet from the East Coast Trail Guide

Mickeleens Path, as this 7 km stretch of the East Coast Trail is called, runs from Witless Bay to Bay Bulls and back again over an easy inland road (+3.2 km). If you’re interested, the East Coast Trail Guide describes this hike in great detail.

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Get ready for the 2015 Perseids!

Want to catch a shooting star? This week’s your chance, as the annual Perseid meteor shower is upon us once again!

What’s more, the St. John’s weather forecast looks very promising: clear and dark skies from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning. For those of you going outside, your best bet is to find a dark location far away from the city lights and take in the show from midnight until dawn (or until moonrise, at about 4AM).

Here’s a nice shooting star I caught during the 2013 Perseids, on a beautiful night hike on Biscan Cove Path:

Meteor over Cape St. Francis - Biscan Cove Path

Meteor over Cape St. Francis – Biscan Cove Path

Cape St. Francis is located at the northern end of Biscan Cove Path, and it’s one of the darkest locations on the entire East Coast Trail that’s still relatively close to St. John’s. I’ve enjoyed many fine night hikes there during my time in Newfoundland, it was a bit scary at first but when you do it often enough it becomes as enjoyable as any daytime hike. The key to a succesful night hike is to know the trail by heart so you don’t get lost, even in the black of night.

Looking at the picture above you may be curious about the green glow on the horizon: it almost looks like a gun went off and shot the meteoric bolt up into the sky! The truth is not nearly as fantastic though, it is simply a ship lighting up the distant fog.

The green glow in the sky looks a little bit like the Northern Lights, but actually it is a good example of ‘airglow‘, a pleasant phenomenon that can be seen on most clear nights.

I hope the forecast keeps its promise, and that everybody will be able to enjoy this year’s Perseid meteor shower, good luck!

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