Great Shearwater is common in the early fall waters off Grand Manan. Photo: Steve N.G. Howell
Rising from the sea at the entrance to the Bay of Fundy, the Canadian island of Grand Manan has its own rich sense of place, created by a backdrop of neatly painted houses, the sound of fishing boats on a foggy morning, and the ageless sight of lobster traps stacked on wooden piers. Early autumn here is marked by clear days and cool nights, and migrant birds can be abundant in the island’s spruce forests and on rocky headlands, marshes, and ponds. Wildflowers and butterflies are superb at this season, which is also when the great whales gather in the bay.
The island’s compact size and our easy-going schedule, with regular stops throughout the day back at our lodging, make it easy for anyone to take a morning or an entire day off to enjoy a setting where weather and the tides still dictate the pace of life.
Day 1: The tour begins at 1:00 pm at the airport in Saint John, New Brunswick (not St. John’s, Newfoundland!). Once we’ve assembled, we’ll drive an hour and a half to Blacks Harbour, where we’ll set out on the crossing to Grand Manan. Our ferry is large, stable, and comfortable, and the 90-minute voyage usually produces large numbers of seabirds, including Great and Sooty Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Harbor Porpoises are often seen, and we occasionally catch sight of one of the great whales, too. We’ll settle in to our accommodations, then have a quick look around before dinner, where we’ll discuss our plans and prospects for the next week. Night on Grand Manan.
Days 2-7: Our explorations will take us up and down the island of Grand Manan, from Long Eddy Point in the north to the wild and windswept scrub of Southwest Head. A typical morning will find us out at 7:00 am to see what new migrants have made landfall, with breakfast at our lodgings around 8:30. From 9:30 until lunch back at the hotel at 2:00 pm, we’ll bird spruce forests, rocky cliff tops, and marshes and coastal ponds, letting the tides and the birds determine our choice of localities.
We’ll visit Castalia Marsh and The Thoroughfare for shorebirds, possibly including American Golden-Plover or other locally scarce species. Swallowtail Light, The Whistle, and even the lanes through the island’s tiny fishing villages can host excellent numbers of land birds, from Philadelphia Vireo to Dickcissel. Nearby White Head Island, reached by a twenty-five-minute ferry trip from Grand Harbour, is a prime spot for shy Boreal Chickadees, which wheeze their way through the stunted spruce forest in the company of warblers and kinglets.
Grand Manan’s southern tip is a “jumping-off point” for migrant raptors, and it is not unusual to see four or five Merlins at once harassing the American Kestrels and Northern Harriers bunching up here for their departure over the water.
On one afternoon we’ll head offshore ourselves on a pelagic trip and whale watch. Recent rarities on our five-hour cruise have included Thick-billed Murre, South Polar Skua, and Lesser Black-backed Gull, and we’re likely to have great looks at Northern Gannet, Atlantic Puffin, and Great, Sooty, and Manx Shearwaters—if herring are schooling in the area, the numbers of birds can be staggering. Cetaceans are often numerous, and we can hope for particularly good performances from the Bay’s famous Humpback and Fin Whales; in most years we also get to see the very rare Northern Right Whale.
We’ll return to our rooms between 5:00 and 6:00 each evening, with a little time to relax, clean up, and tally the day’s sightings before dinner at 7:00. Nights on Grand Manan.
Day 8: Our early departure on the Blacks Harbour ferry will give us one last opportunity to admire the sunrise over the Bay of Fundy; seabirding is as good on the return journey as on the outward trip, and we’ll take the chance to bid farewell to Black-legged Kittiwakes, shearwaters, and Atlantic Puffins. We’ll land in Blacks Harbour, then drive on to the Saint John Airport, where the tour will conclude at about 11:00 am.
Updated: 18 October 2012
- 2014 Tour Price : $2,800
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $330
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
This tour is limited to eight participants with one leader.