Enjoy a bird and whale watching extravaganza in eastern Canada to see shorebirds and warblers on migration, and exceptional numbers of whale species in the North Atlantic.
New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy is one of the marine wonders of the world, an amazing eco-system powered by the highest tides in the world. Charging through submarine canyons, Fundy’s mighty currents create cold-water upwellings resulting in an abundance of food for marine life and producing one of the greatest - and most accessible - concentrations of whales and seabirds in the North Atlantic. Fin, minke, humpback and the extremely rare North Atlantic right whale congregate here in August to feed their young, play and mate.
Grand Manan has also become well-known as one of the best whale-watching sites in North America, and it is also a welcome resting and feeding spot for those birds migrating south. During this small group trip, led by experienced leader and wildlife photographer Mike Read, we will enjoy boat trips from different locations in search of whales and seabirds.
Fly to Halifax, Nova Scotia
Fly from London to Halifax, arriving in the evening. A three-hour drive through the Canadian forests takes us to Bouctouche on New Brunswick's eastern shore. The English flavour experienced just a few kilometres before gives way to French joie de vivre: the contrast is fascinating.
On the way we stop by the shores of Johnston Mills where sand and mud create a home for billions of mud shrimps. From mid-July to the end of August, as many as two million semipalmated sandpipers (95% of the world’s population) pass through the Bay of Fundy on their autumn migration. They feed on the tiny shrimps, doubling their weight in ten to fourteen days, before continuing on their southward journey. Flocks also include semipalmated plovers, least, western and white-rumped sandpipers.
Accommodation: Auberge in Bouctouche, New Brunswick, 2-nights
Dunes of Bouctouche and Rotary Park
The eastern shore of New Brunswick is lined with beaches, barrier sand dunes and shallow lagoons, boasting the warmest water north of the Carolinas. Today we will explore the Dunes of Bouctouche, an ecosystem of international significance, and home to rare plants and fragile marshes. Songbirds – especially North American warblers and vireos – abound in the late growth forest, with yellow-rumped warbler the commonest of the former, and the latter including blue-headed, red-eyed and Philadelphia vireos. Downy woodpecker, northern flicker and yellow-bellied sapsucker can be found along with the splendid pileated woodpecker. Boardwalks provide access to the open dunes where we look for rare piping plovers among the shorebirds.
Hopewell Rocks and ferry to Grand Manan
In the morning we drive south to Hopewell Rocks, where the world’s highest tides rise and fall the height of a four-storey building, twice a day, every day. At Hopewell Rocks, we walk on the ocean floor at low tide among the giant rock formations carved by the power of the tides. At high tide, we kayak the very same spot in and around the rock formations. A truly incredible testament to the power of the tides of the Bay of Fundy!
We drive to Black’s Harbour, where the ferry leaves for Grand Manan. On the way we’ll watch for raptors with red-tailed hawk, turkey vulture and American kestrels possible. Eastern bluebirds can also be seen along the roadside and we could see our first groundhogs.
John James Audubon frequented Grand Manan Island. These days birdwatchers from all over North America come here and for good reason: the seabird possibilities are some of the best on the east coast. But perhaps the most spectacular visitors are the whales. Grand Manan has become well-known as one of the best whale-watching sites in North America.
This is a welcome resting and feeding spot for those birds migrating south. We may get our first glimpse of pelagic birds from the ferry to the island on the 90-minute crossing. Great, sooty and manx shearwaters, together with Wilson's storm-petrels, are possible along with gannets, Arctic terns and kittiwakes. It is not unusual to spot harbour porpoise, minke, fin and humpback whales from the ferry, accompanied by huge flocks of wheeling gulls.
Accommodation: Grand Manan Island, 4-nights
Whale watching in Grand Manan and birdwatching in Southwest Head
We take a boat trip out for our first whale-watch. Cetacean species common in the bay include harbour porpoises and the rare North Atlantic right whale – arguably the most endangered large animal on earth. These wonderful mammals come to feed their young in this part of the bay and this is probably the best time of year for a sighting. Huge 10-metre basking sharks are also sometimes seen.
Where there are whales we often watch seabirds since they are attracted by the same food. Flocks of great and sooty shearwaters, Wilson’s and leach’s petrels can be impressive. Other seabirds include Arctic and pomarine skuas, great northern divers, black guillemots, puffins and razorbills.
We spend the morning on the boat, in the afternoon driving to Southwest Head with its attractive cliffs of columnar basalt and a good range of flowers and butterflies. With sharp-shinned hawk and merlin on the move, the possibility of migrant raptors is good. We will also visit a salt-marsh on which we’ve seen American golden plover, Hudsonian godwit, buff-breasted sandpiper, Baird’s and least sandpipers.
Whale watching and nature walks
We take a second morning boat trip in search of whales and seabirds. In addition to the pelagic birds mentioned above we could see leach’s petrels, grey and red-necked phalaropes and, occasionally, Sabine’s gull. Sea-duck can include both white-winged and surf scoters, eider and red-breasted mergansers.
In the afternoon we will investigate other wildlife sites on the island – perhaps a bog with its pitcher plants and sundews, dragonflies and Garter snakes, and surrounding scrub which can attract flycatchers and blue-grey gnatcatcher.
Anchorage Provincial Park birding walk
We’ll spend the day exploring the island. Anchorage Provincial Park offers lovely trails beside the ocean. Migrants here can be abundant, and on previous trips we have seen ten species of warbler, including pine and prairie warblers together with American redstarts in just one flock.
Sunsets can be spectacular from The Whistle, on the west side of the island. The road here cuts through thick red spruce forests which are ideal for migrating warblers and hawks. One can often see whales playing in the ocean from this headland which also offers a view overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay to mainland USA. A clear sky at night should offer a spot of star-gazing.
Drive to Fundy National Park
We take an early ferry off the island and drive to Fundy National Park via Black’s Harbour. After checking in our hotel and having lunch, we head to Fundy National Park for a nature walk looking for birds.
Fundy National Park covers 120 kilometres of walking and hiking trails in mountains, valleys, past sparkling waterfalls and crystal-clear streams. There are hundreds of different plant species, including the rare bird’s-eye primrose, found only in Fundy National Park. The park is located on a key position on the Atlantic migration route, and over 260 bird species have been identified in the park or on the adjacent bay. Of those, approximately 95 species have nested in the park.
Accommodation: Fundy, 1-night
Drive to Mary’s Point Bird Sanctuary & Fort Beauséjour, depart
In the morning we head to Mary’s Point Bird Sanctuary, where we find a variety of habitats including salt marsh, tidal mudflats, and Acadian and red spruce forest.
During the fall migration (mid July to end August), Mary’s Point becomes a stop over site for over 300,000 semipalmated sandpipers (75% of the world's population), as well as large numbers of other shorebirds species.
We continue through the waterfowl park in Sackville. Despite being in the middle of town this reed-fringed lake is a haven for waterfowl and waders – often ‘spooked’ by patrolling northern harriers. The lake is frequented by muskrats, and is also an excellent location for dragon and damselflies.
We will visit the National Historic Site of Fort Beauséjour, strategically situated on a hill with great views all round, and explore its underground rooms. The French were defeated by the British here and the fort then became Fort Cumberland. Given fine weather we may get our first views of migrating raptors from here.
We then drive back to Halifax for our return flight to London.