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Life in Newfoundland

September on the trail

Labour Day has come and gone, and whichever way you look at it, fall is on its way. Before we get there though, we still have a few weeks of September ahead of us, and September is a great time to go for a hike!

If you have one of those friends who for some reason needs convincing to join you on a hike, look no further than these stories here, all featuring beautiful September hiking on the East Coast Trail:

Ripple marks on the East Coast Trail

Anyone who has explored the cliffs below the East Coast Trail should be familiar with this cool geological feature: ripple marks.

Ripple marks – East Coast Trail, Spout Path

Ripple marks – East Coast Trail, Motion Path

Ripple marks – Outer Cove beach

I’ve seen these marks along most trails, as there’s nearly always a section close to the cliffs where you can see them. In many locations it’s easy to step down from a viewpoint to inspect the various geological features up close, there’s some real field-trip quality material in some of these places!

Ripple marks – Great Island, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Ripple marks – Great Island, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

These last 2 examples are from a sea cave in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, the ripples there are actually on the ceiling of the cave and covered in beautifully coloured algae. 🙂

Learn more about ripple marks on wikipedia.

Get ready for the 2018 Perseids!

For fans of shooting stars, tonight is likely the biggest night of the year: it is the peak-night of the annual Perseid meteor shower, and this time around viewing conditions are pretty much ideal!

There’s no bright moon interfering with visibility and tonight’s weather forecast calls for blissfully clear skies over much of Newfoundland: this kind of pitch black night is exactly what you need when watching shooting stars. 🙂

To make the absolute most of this opportunity, you’ll want to drive out of town to get as far away from artificial lights as possible, and then settle in somewhere dark. I used to watch all my meteor showers from the East Coast Trail, there’s nothing like taking in a celestial show out on the coast, with the soothing sounds of the waves below and maybe a whale or two surfacing in the background…

The best time to watch the Perseids show is after 10 PM tonight, and sightings will improve every hour after that until 4:30 AM tomorrow morning, when it starts getting lighter again.

Space weather forecasters are expecting up to 100 meteors per hour, and these meteors will be blazing across the sky all around you so there’s no need to face in one particular direction. The best way to see them is to just put down a warm blanket and lay back, perhaps in good company, stare up at the sky, and smile every time you see one. 🙂

Stay safe and have fun!

Fogo Island: Brimstone Head

If I could snap my fingers and be anywhere in the world right now, I would likely whisk myself off to Fogo Island, one of my favourite places in Newfoundland, one of my favourite places anywhere.

Six years ago Marije and I explored this rough little gem of an island together with her parents, it was the highlight of our 2012 summer vacation. We roamed along the forgotten communities of Lion’s Den Trail, fancied ourselves in paradise at Sandy Cove beach, and of course we also hiked up Brimstone Head, probably the most iconic sight on Fogo, famous for being 1 of the 4 corners of the flat earth.

From down below, the trail to the top looks slightly daunting with lots of steps and stairs, but really, once you get started there’s not much to it and you’ll find yourself enjoying the viewpoint at the end before you know it.

The view towards town, from halfway up – Brimstone Head, Fogo

View of Sargents Cove – Brimstone Head, Fogo

View from the top – Brimstone Head, Fogo

After taking in the view and the fresh air, we descended Brimstone Head and turned right onto a trail that led to a meadow at Simm’s Beach:

Fireweed at Simm’s Beach – Fogo

Simm’s Beach – Fogo

All in all, a pretty good start to our day on Fogo! 🙂

Puffin watching from the East Coast Trail

Every summer, the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are filled with seabirds, and the most famous among them is the Atlantic puffin.

The best way to see these funny little birds is from one of the whale watching vessels that visit the reserve islands – from these boats you’ll see puffins on the cliffs, on the water, and in the sky all around you:

Atlantic puffin – Gull Island, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Puffins take off – open water, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Puffins everywhere – Great Island, Witless Bay Ecological Reservewit

While it’s not as easy watching puffins right from the East Coast Trail itself, it’s certainly possible if you put in some effort. Hiking trails with the best puffin encounters are those closest to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve where puffins have their summer homes. From north to south, these trails are Mickeleens Path, Beaches Path, Tinkers Point Path and La Manche Village Path.

The trick to getting close to puffins is to to sit down on the cliffs at a time when capelin are in the bay, like they are right now. Puffins and other seabirds that are present when you arrive will see you coming and swim away, but if you stay put, and remain motionless, new arrivals will take you for part of the scenery and get closer and closer until you have a real beak-to-face meeting with a puffin:

Atlantic puffin near the trail – Beaches Path

I had to be pretty patient to take this puffin’s portrait, but it was well worth the wait!

If patience and careful planning aren’t for you, that’s fine, there’s always blind luck: I’ve walked some trails where puffins were too preoccupied with fishing to care about hikers on the trail above, have a look at these guys hanging out below the cliffs of Cape Spear Path:

Puffin Party – Cape Spear

Whale watching from the East Coast Trail

On the East Coast Trail, summer is a fantastic time to go for a hike.

Yes, warm days do bring out the blackflies, but when the scenery includes whales swimming below the trail, you’ll soon forget all about those puny little insects.

To illustrate my point, here’s a photo of a minke whale surfacing below the Beamer in Flatrock:

Minke whale below the East Coast Trail – Father Troy’s Trail

Beautiful creature isn’t it? I was actually watching whales much farther out in Tor Bay when this gentle giant announced himself directly below me with a hissing ‘whoosh’, I was delighted to say the least!

Whales come this close to shore here because they’re following capelin, and early summer is prime capelin time. When you’re out on the trail this long weekend be sure to keep your eyes on the water, you never know what comes up next, maybe even right below you.

This next shot shows a humpback whale, a schoolbus-sized cetacean easily identified by its massive pectoral fins. Humpbacks are the most numerous whales along the East Coast Trail and I find it’s almost impossible to miss them when you go for a hike in peak season:

Humpback whale below the East Coast Trail – Cobbler Path

That brightly coloured thing next to the whale is its big white pectoral fin, it looks this way when it’s below the surface. I photographed this guy from the tip of Torbay Point and I swear I could have given him a high five had I jumped in!

For information about other whales you can see here, including recent sightings, check out my Whales in Newfoundland page.

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