I love St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland & Labrador. It feels so…vibrant to me. There is activity in the harbour at any time of day or night. Boats coming or going. Coast guard vessels or boats supplying the oil rigs or cargo ships bringing goods to the island. And the city is built right around the harbour and directly up from its shores so there’s a synergy between the harbour and the rest of the city. There are lots of little bars and eateries and galleries and, expecially on the weekends, lots and lots of music.
I’m going out on a shop to do some seabird observations over the next 3 weeks or so. I’ll be leaving tomorrow for the ship but arrived yesterday as the logistics were somewhat up in the air. But I took advantage of the day and a half to walk a good part of the lower section of the city along the water and then, today, up to Signal Hill and then down along a wonderful foot trail by the edge of the entrance to the harbour back to the city.
There are quite a few little parks and monuments. The city is proud of its accomplishments and it has a lot to be proud of. The townsfolk and, for that matter, all the people of Newfoundland played a major role in the merchant marine convoys that supplied Great Britain and Europe durng the Second World War. What an hellacious experience it must have been to go out at this time of year, into the cold restless North Atlantic, with U-boats on the prowl looking to sink the slow, the solitary, and, sometimes, just the unlucky. Going into these waters at this time of year would be a virtual death sentence unless other boats were able to get to you quickly. There are a number of commemorative historical plaques that attest to the fact that many were not lucky enough to be rescued – thousands of boats were sunk and many thousands of men drowned. And yet, despite these losses, it was the determined efforts of these sailors that maintainted the supply lines that eventually turned the tide and won that terrible war. (I can remember my Father telling me how frightened he was when he was on a troop transport crossing the Atlantic. He never wanted to go below decks, night or day, just in case the boat was hit…..)
Terry Fox was/is one of my heros and epitomizes everything I think is great about being a Canadian – the selfless drive to do the right thing. It was truly humbling to stand at this site – the beginning of his awesome run. What guts. What determination. And it started right here.
One of the endearing sights of the city is the many-coloured houses. Almost every shade you can think of can be found somewhere in the city. And most colours can be covered in the course of walking just a few blocks. It’s a great city to walk in…usually. Most drivers are pretty courteous and give way to pedestrians. Of course there’s always a couple that need to squeeze out that extra second in their driving time – probably folks from Ontario.
But my main purpose here is to observe seabirds. In Hamilton Harbour it’s a BIG deal to see an Iceland Gull. Here they’re almost a “dirt bird” and, if you’re a “splitter” rather than a “lumper”, then you can find a variety of Kumlien’s Gulls (variants of the Iceland Gull). I also came across a rather large grouping of Black-headed Gulls, gathered in a gravel parking lot next to the harbour. They didn’t seem to be missing Europe at all (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if these birds bred here). Along the coastal walk today though, passerines were few and far between: a solitary American Goldfinch and a couple of groupings of Dark-eyed Juncos.
I haven’t spent all my time walking around. I spent a good deal of time in my hotel room studying up on the Winter plumages of the seabirds I’m likely to come across and then how to record them into a database for future retrieval. The intense observing and recording that is going to be required over the next 3+ weeks will be challenging – at a time of year that is renowned for tough sea conditions. Thank goodness I don’t get seasick (KNOCK ON WOOD!!!). I will try to keep you up to date on what I’m seeing – just not sure how I’m going to do that. But if there’s a will…..