Did you ever wake up with this urge to see 11,000 gannets? Well, that’s apparently how many there are at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve here in Newfoundland.
At the tip of a peninsula that juts out into the frigid Atlantic, this ecological reserve just happens to be home to one of the largest and most accessible seabird colonies in North America.
As we pulled into the parking lot at the interpretation centre, after about an hour of driving along the Cape Shore, the license plates around us gave away how quickly word about this place is spreading—Florida, North Dakota, Texas, and Ontario (along with Newfoundland and Labrador, of course) were all represented in the half-empty parking lot.
Passing through, or going around, the interpretation centre will lead you to a path through the grassy, cliffside terrain. The walk is gentle, though side stepping sheep droppings can require some finesse.
These guys graze on the grassy hillsides, creating their own paths along the cliff edges. I suppose that fear of heights is a non-issue in the world of sheep.
The walk you take gently meanders for about 1.5 km. With the ocean always to your right, you’ll get some decent views of the waves crashing against the jagged cliffs ahead.
Eventually, you’ll see the birds. At first, a few kittiwakes, and then northern gannets as you approach their main hub—Bird Rock.
Here are a few of the birds you can expect to see:
- Northern Gannets
- Common Murres
- Black-legged Kittiwakes
- Black Guillemots
- Thick-billed Murres
According to information from the interpretation centre at Cape St. Mary’s, there are around 70,000 seabirds in the area. They nest on the rocky cliffs, each species occupying its own niche.
How to get there
If you want to get here, you’ll need a car.
From St. John’s, you take the Trans Canada Highway West (the signs may say “TCH West”) for around 45-50 minutes, until you reach Route 90 on your left, heading towards Argentia and Placentia. Turn here and continue to the town of Placentia, about 25 minutes.
Once you reach Placentia, you just follow the main road across the bridge and through the town. You’ll head up a hill and see a sign for Route 100, heading to the Cape. The turn is on your right. Drive for another 45-50 minutes, passing through various towns along the way. You will pass through St. Bride’s. From here, you’re only a couple of minutes from the access road to the reserve, keep an eye out for the turn on your right. There are signs, but they aren’t always the most obvious.