The culmination of our week in Newfoundland, and our entire reason for being there, was the Davis/Murphy family reunion. Warmed and sated from my piping hot bowl of moose stew from the Gannet’s Nest in St. Brides, we headed inland to spend the next three nights at The Wilds at Salmonier River. As an in-law to this extended family gathering, I felt especially fortunate to participate in such beautiful surroundings, and I am indebted to our organizers and hosts for such great accommodations.
The Wilds resort provided luxuries I’ve rarely experienced, but for me simply being in one place for a few nights was treat enough. The fact that our hotel was surrounded by an 18-hole golf course in the middle of a wild boreal forest was icing on the cake. The fog and rain had followed us inland, however, so my chance to get out and really see anything was pretty limited for the first couple of days. That was all right, because there was plenty of catching up to do and lots of kids to keep everyone busy. The kids, of course, were undaunted, and swam endlessly in the heated pool – in the pouring rain!
By the third day, the rain let up a bit, and I got the kids outside some. I still hadn’t noticed anything but the occasional Ring-billed Gull hanging around the hotel, and an owling jaunt the night before came up empty. I did some recon of a place up the road I planned to visit the next day: Salmonier Nature Park. On the way, my birding buddy and I found a pair of Common Loons on a roadside lake, with a youngster on his mama’s back. We took that, and our observation of a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, as signs that tomorrow would be a good day of birding. Then the sky opened up and it rained on us harder than ever.
It took me about 35 years of birding to find a loon with a youngster on its back. Such a spectacle is apparently a mundane roadside observation on the Avalon Peninsula.
The next morning, however, the sun was shining as we loaded up for the quick jaunt to Salmonier Nature Park. The Park has a modern nature center headquarters from which visitors walk a 3-km boardwalk through spruce-fir forests, meadows, and lakeshores. Along the way, spacious enclosures housed a variety of wildlife typical of Newfoundland, such as moose, pine marten, Bald Eagle, and river otter.
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a dwarf dogwood tree that dots the dappled forest floor with brilliant red in late summer.
Old man’s beard – the epiphytic Usnea lichen – was ubiquitous at Salmonier Nature Park. I always appreciate things that provide an opportunity for me to use the word “festooned”.
A short distance down the boardwalk we got into our first flock of migrants – really the first we’d found the entire week. I squeaked and pished and ended up with decent looks at Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white, Mourning, Blackpoll, and Yellow-rumped warblers. They were moving through the forest of spruce, fir, and old man’s beard lichen with the resident Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatch, both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a couple of raucous Gray Jays. It was magical! After all these years in the hot, dusty plains of Oklahoma, it was a refreshing joy to be amongst these feathered jewels in a boreal forest once again!
Farther down the trail we picked up some additional species, such as Fox and White-throated Sparrows, a croaking Common Raven overhead, some American Robins, and a juvenile Hermit Thrush. Perhaps the best find was an accommodating Greater Yellowlegs along a lakeshore on the far side of the park, where the trees parted to reveal an herbaceous marsh and wet meadow. The Park staff might think that their Bald Eagle, Snowy Owl, and Peregrine Falcon were the main avian attractions, but we know better.
Black spruce, showing its more acorn-shaped cones that help to differentiate it from white spruce with its cigar-shaped cones.
For the “buggles” (non-birding folk), Salmonier Nature Park was also a good time. Depending on one’s luck to see them in their generously-sized enclosures, visitors encountered caribou, moose, snowshoe hare and other wildlife of the Avalon Peninsula. The crowd favorite was probably the otter who swam, rolled on mud, and generally excelled at being adorable just a few feet from his delighted onlookers.
Although I would have gladly made another round on the loop trail, we had other things to do and had to leave Salmonier Nature Park after a couple of hours. Back at The Wilds though, the sun still shone, and I took another hike, this time solo around the trails flanking the golf course. Here too was a gem of wildlife and landscape, from the peace and power of the Salmonier River, to the downed wood and carpet of sphagnum beneath my feet, to the evidence that I was tracking a moose (although he was in no danger of me catching up to him).
When a tree falls on a bed of sphagnum, it’s possible that it really doesn’t make a sound.
Cup lichens, including the red-topped “British soldiers” (Cladonia cristatella), and some moose scat.
On The Wilds’ nature trails, I found again multiple American Robins, Northern Waterthrushes, and Blackpoll Warblers. I also had brief encounters with some boreal seed-eaters, such as Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, and American Goldfinch. The highlights of this long walk, however, were probably the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher along the Salmonier River and the Olive-sided Flycatcher I found in a stand of spruce snags.
Bad angle on a great bird: Olive-sided Flycatcher. At home in the boreal forest where this bird hatched a few weeks earlier, it was soon to begin an epic journey to the forests of Peru. I wish it well!
The tiny bit of boreal forest I was finally able to explore on our trip was a real treat for me, and the memories (either real ones in my head or the ones I’ll keep archived on this blog) will stay with me for a very long time. Thank you, Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders, for the awe, the joy, the humor, the flavor, the majesty, and the mystique I so thoroughly enjoyed during my Wandering Week with you in August of 2013!