WALRUS, Bay Bulls!

I’ve always wanted to see a Walrus. Then again, doesn’t everyone? The Eastern Arctic population of these big, foreboding critters breed on the Labrador coast, but rarely wander further south. Walrus was once a regular sight in Newfoundland (as well as Nova Scotia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence), but that Northwest population was hunted to extinction by the late 1700’s. Since then, any sighting of a walrus in Newfoundland waters has been few and far between. I know of only a handful in my lifetime. Earlier this summer, one was spotted sunning on a rock in Conception Bay, followed by another (or very possibly the same) spotted by a tour boat swimming around at the entrance the St. John’s harbour. These were one-day wonders and not exactly “chaseable”.

So, when I got home from Grates Cove last night (after a long weekend with no internet or cell phone service) and saw a report that one had been spotted in Bay Bulls harbour throughout the day, my mental engines starting revving. I asked my friends at O’Brien’s Boat Tours to keep me updated on any sightings the next morning and went to bed scheming about how I might see it myself. This could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a walrus in Newfoundland!

My first glimpse of the Walrus as we approached its perch. (Note the photographer on the rocks above.)

My first glimpse of the Walrus as we approached its perch. (Note the photographer on the rocks above.)

I woke the next morning and decided to take my chances, joining the first boat tour of the day at 11:30am. Shortly after arriving I got word that the walrus, thought to be a young bull (which we later confirmed), was still lazing around on the rocks … and we were off. Along with a small group of tourists (most of whom may not have realized how unusual the sighting was!), I enjoyed great looks and some decent photo opportunities as “Captain Joe” brought the boat in for a closer look. The walrus wasn’t too perturbed, neither by our boat nor a photographer perched on the rocks above it. After a couple passes, I was high on finally having seen one of these amazing beasts and sat back to enjoy the rest of the boat ride on a beautiful, calm ocean. We even glimpsed an Ocean Sunfish on the steam back to port.

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At times, the walrus looked like the majestic beast I expected it to be.

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This walrus happens to be a young bull (male), which we were able to confirm only by getting a look at the underside 😉 Both sexes have tusks and are not so easily sexed at this age on that feature alone.

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Now THAT’S a toothy smile!

Walrus_Sept22014_7809 Walrus_Sept22014_7866 Walrus_Sept22014_7875 Walrus_Sept22014_8007Once the boat was docked, I met my sister Marsha in the parking lot and we decided to head off on foot to enjoy the walrus from land. For a short while we were the only people there, sitting quietly on the rocks above the walrus and enjoying the moment (and the weather!). For its part, the walrus wasn’t bothered at all by our presence, nor that of several other onlookers who eventually arrived. It lazed about, feigning sleep and occasionally rolling over or cocking its massive head to look up at us. All that being said, I left feeling a bit concerned about its health, since it appeared a little “too” lethargic and tolerant of us … sometimes appearing laboured by the very act of lifting its head and shoulders. Although that concern about its well-being (and the growing number of onlookers and boats that will undoubtedly disturb its stay) made the experience a tad bittersweet, I am still left with a warm glow after sharing some time with it. I hope it does well and makes its merry way when the time comes 😉

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After spending much of the afternoon watching the walrus from our perch above, I got the feeling it was very lethargic … maybe a little too much so. I hope it is healthier than it often appeared to be.

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Awwww .. THIS is the life. Don’t get sun like this back home …

Walrus_Sept22014_8172Thanks to Con O’Brien and the rest of the crew at O’Brien’s Boat Tours for helping me find this awesome critter – and for all the other great trips I’ve taken with them this summer. Fine crowd, them!

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“Newfoundland Adventure”, June 29 – July 5

Newfoundland is an amazing place at any time of year, but early summer just might take the cake. It certainly did this year! Starting at the end of June, I was fortunate to join another great group of visitors from all over the world for their “Newfoundland Adventure” with Wildland Tours. Here are just a few photo highlights of the many, many things we enjoyed!

Here is our Wildland Tours group at Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay. What a great bunch!!

Here is our Wildland Tours group at Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay. What a great bunch!!

Our tour began & ended in North America' oldest city. There's never a lack of things to do in St. John's.

Our tour began & ended in North America’ oldest city. There’s never a lack of things to do in St. John’s.

The whales had arrived en masse in the days before our tour, and they entertained us from day one when we visited Witless Bay Ecological Reserve with O'Brien's Tours.

The whales had arrived en masse in the days before our tour, and they entertained us from day one when we visited Witless Bay Ecological Reserve with O’Brien’s Tours.

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Berry season was still weeks away, but the blossoms were a good sign. These blueberry flowers were at Blackhead.

Berry season was still weeks away, but the blossoms were a good sign. These blueberry flowers were at Blackhead.

This nealy iconic photo of St. John's narrows, an iceberg and a humpback whale was taken from Cape Spear, North America's easternmost point.

This nealy iconic photo of St. John’s narrows, an iceberg and a humpback whale was taken from Cape Spear, North America’s easternmost point.

A pair of Willow Ptarmigan graced us by crossing the road near Newfoundland's southernmost lighthouse, Cape Pine.

A pair of Willow Ptarmigan graced us by crossing the road near Newfoundland’s southernmost lighthouse, Cape Pine.

Cape Pine also produced our first Short-tailed Swallowtails of the trip ... they were plentiful at most headlands during the week.

Cape Pine also produced our first Short-tailed Swallowtails of the trip … they were plentiful at most headlands during the week.

Whales were part of the action every day - like this one at St. Vincent's which was breaching and waving.

Whales were part of the action every day – like this one at St. Vincent’s which was breaching and waving.

No visit to Newfoundland is complete without a visit to Cape St. Mary's. Despite some heavy fog (which, to be honest, is part of the experience there!) we enjoyed amazing views of the Northern Gannet colony.

No visit to Newfoundland is complete without a visit to Cape St. Mary’s. Despite some heavy fog (which, to be honest, is part of the experience there!) we enjoyed amazing views of the Northern Gannet colony.

Our group also enjoyed a zodiac tour of Bonavista Bay with Sea of Whale Adventures ...

Our group also enjoyed a zodiac tour of Bonavista Bay with Sea of Whale Adventures …

... and, of course, icebergs were one of the main attractions.

… and, of course, icebergs were one of the main attractions.

The tour ended in the scenic community of King's Cove.

The tour ended in the scenic community of King’s Cove.

A short hike around King's Cove (while the rest of the group enjoyed the zodiac ride!) included a very confiding Spotted Sandpiper

A short hike around King’s Cove (while the rest of the group enjoyed the zodiac ride!) included a very confiding Spotted Sandpiper.

As well as some confiding dragonflies like this Forcipate Emerald (a new one for me) ...

As well as some confiding dragonflies like this Forcipate Emerald (a new one for me) …

and this Four-spotted Skimmer.

and this Four-spotted Skimmer.

We took advantage of the sunny afternoon to hike the Skerwink Trail. Incredible scenery ...

We took advantage of the sunny afternoon to hike the Skerwink Trail.

Incredible scenery ...

Incredible scenery …

whales ...

whales …

and another stunning iceberg.

and another stunning iceberg.

We also encountered our first caplin of the trip -- masses of them spawning and rolling on a beach as we watched from a cliff high above.

We also encountered our first capelin of the trip — masses of them spawning and rolling on a beach as we watched from a cliff high above.

We also enjoyed a visit to Elliston, where the Atlantic Puffins can be enjoyed comfortably from land.

We also enjoyed a visit to Elliston, where the Atlantic Puffins can be enjoyed comfortably from land.

This Mustard White was at Elliston was a bit of a surprise for me ... I see them so rarely in eastern Newfoundland, though they may be more common than I realize in other areas.

This Mustard White was at Elliston was a bit of a surprise for me … I see them so rarely in eastern Newfoundland, though they may be more common than I realize in other areas.

These Beach-head Irises were blooming in many locations. Here, the town of Elliston lingers in the background.

These Beach-head Irises were blooming in many locations. Here, the town of Elliston lingers in the background.

Northern Blue butterflies were abundant at the tip of the Bonavista Peninsula ... I spent a fair bit of time chasing them around the barrens trying to catch a decent photo!

Northern Blue butterflies were abundant at the tip of the Bonavista Peninsula … I spent a fair bit of time chasing them around the barrens trying in vain to catch a decent photo!

Food is a big part of any tour, and this one didn't disappoint. This delicious mooseburger (complete with partridgeberry ketchup and homemade chips) was a popular choice at the Bonavista Social Club.

Food is a big part of any tour, and this one didn’t disappoint. This delicious mooseburger (complete with partridgeberry ketchup and homemade chips) was a popular choice at the Bonavista Social Club.

Another brilliant iceberg was grounded just off the scenic little outport of Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay.

Another brilliant iceberg was grounded just off the scenic little outport of Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay.

The sea arch at nearby Tickle Cove is always a beautiful sight, but especially when you can spot a massive iceberg through it!

The sea arch at nearby Tickle Cove is always a beautiful sight, but especially so when you can spot a massive iceberg through it!

A shot of Tickle Cove with an iris in the foreground.

A shot of Tickle Cove with an iris in the foreground.

Beach Pea is another lovely but often overlooked flower that blossoms on our beaches.

Beach Pea is another lovely but often overlooked flower that blossoms on our beaches.

We ended the week with a wonderful day back in St. John's.

We ended the week with a wonderful day back in St. John’s.

Our final day of the tour began with a boat tour out of St. John's harbour ... passing the iconic Battery along the way.

Our final day of the tour began with a boat tour … passing the iconic Battery along the way.

Not surprisingly, the highlight was getting up close and personal with more icebergs. Here we could see St. John's in the distance between two bergs.

Not surprisingly, the highlight was getting up close and personal with more icebergs. Here we could see St. John’s in the distance between two bergs.

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A view of St. John's harbour as we entered the narrows.

A view of St. John’s harbour as we entered the narrows.

We also hiked from Signal Hill to the qualit Quidi Vidi village, stopping to enjoy some Bald Eagle chicks along the way.

We also hiked from Signal Hill to the quaint Quidi Vidi village, stopping to enjoy some Bald Eagle chicks along the way.

Our last stop was Middle Cove Beach, just north of the city ...

Our last stop was Middle Cove Beach, just north of the city …

...where we found a small run of capelin "rolling" on the beach.

…where we found a small run of capelin “rolling” on the beach.

Capelin require coarse sandy beaches in order to spawn ... huge schools "roll" in with the tide, with the females depositing as many as 50,000 eggs each!

Capelin require coarse sandy beaches in order to spawn … huge schools “roll” in with the tide, with the females depositing as many as 50,000 eggs each!

Caplin_MCVJuly5_4141It was another awesome week, filled with lots of fun, beautiful weather, and all the trimmings of a real Newfoundland adventure! Icebergs, whales, seabirds, moose, excellent food … and a great group of people to share it with. Thanks to everyone for joining me on this Wildland Tours excursion. I’m looking forward to leading another one in August!