Wednesday, July 30, 2008

East Coast Trip June 2008: Cheticamp, Cape Breton Island

After a scenic coastal drive from Yarmouth, to Digby, it was time to enter what we were excited to see, Cape Breton Island!! Here was one of the most scenic drives in Canada, the Cabot Trail that wound its way through Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

After crossing the Canso Causeway that linked mainland Nova Scotia to Cape Breton, we stopped in Cheticamp. We checked into our motal and drove to the coastal side of the island to scan the cliffs for seabirds. The first birds we noticed were Black Guillemots on the water, easily identified by their white patches on their all black bodies. Lifer number 3! After taking a wrong turn down a "road" through a communal pasture of cattle, we found the coastal ledges we seeked. Here we had Herring Gulls sitting on their nests below us while Double-crested Cormorants sat on their clutch panting in the sun. Scanning a little further I picked off a couple of Great Cormorants (aonther lifer) standing next to the now the midgit sized Double-crests. While I kept scanning, Aaron picked out the only Razorbill we saw amongst the noisy colony. The whinning call of "Kiiiittiii--WAAAKKEEEEe, Kiiiitti--WAAKKKEEE" lead me to the section of the cliff that had Black-legged Kittiwakes. This was another lifer for me, and it was about due!! I have had terrible luck trying to get this during fall migration at Pelee.

Adult Great Cormorant. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

The warm sea breeze, the sun beginning to fall to the horizon, a colony of seabirds below our feet as we leaned to watch over the edge. This whole scene left me.....not believing I forgot my camera in the car!!! I was ready to run back to the car that was 300 metres away when I heard a "PPPSSHHHHISSSSHHHhhhh!!"

"Did you hear that?" I said to Aaron

"I'm hearing a lot of things right now" was his reply.

I looked out over the ocean and then back to the commotion of the colony below. I easily could've just stayed watching the sun dip into the ocean but I knew that it would soon be time to return to our motel, and we still didn't have supper yet, but this was just all too exciting to just walk away from and....


"A whale!!!"


"There!! Oh my gosh I saw a whale!!"


"Another one!!!"

"Oh yeah!! I see it!!"


Those were the first whales both Aaron and I saw, and they were the only three whales we saw for the whole trip. In the end we figured that they were probably Minke Whale, a species that is quite common, hangs out closer to shore, and has a small slightly curved dorsal fin.

Black Guillemot, Great Cormorant, Black-legged Kittiwake and a whale. Not a bad start to Cape Breton. Tomorrow we would venture into the highlands of the national park in search of Boreal Chickadees, Black-backed Woodpeckers, Spruce Grouse and of course the elusive Bicknel's Thrush!


  1. Wow! Lots of blog posts to read! I must get out to the east coast one of these years.

  2. Great lifers to start the trip. Razorbill is by far one of my favourite North American species. I still have not seen a whale in my lifetime but I think a tear will come to my eye when I finally do.