Newfoundland–a colony of gannets and a primer


The barren heath at Cape St. Mary's

The barren heath at Cape St. Mary’s

First, pronunciation.

I used to think that”Newfoundland” was pronounced without vowels.


And NOW I realize that I have no idea how it is pronounced. Wikipedia says it’s NewFUNDland. But I’ve also heard NewFOUNDland or NewfoundLAND. (Canucks, please enlighten me.) Either way, all the syllables are painstakingly pronounced.

Except if you’re from Quebec. Then it’s Terre-Nueve, which is almost all vowels.

Second, this province really isn’t called Newfoundland. It’s  Newfoundland and Labrador.

Labrador is the almost uninhabited swath of wilderness north of Quebec and directly across the Strait of Belle Isle from Newfoundland. For a long time, Quebec laid claim to the territory, but in the early 1900s, Great Britain decreed that Labrador belonged to Newfoundland.  Since Canada was a British protectorate and Newfoundland was a British Dominion (the niceties of that distinction escapes me), and since there was no love lost between the British and the French, the fat lady sang, and the territory went to Newfoundland.

Newfoundland and Labrador in relation to the rest of the continent. Quebec is the province surrounding Labrador.

Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t become part of Canada, however, until 1947. The self-governing island wasn’t doing so well economically, and Great Britain wasn’t in any shape to help out, so the Newfoundlanders put it to a vote. Initially, one option was even to join the USA, but that was dropped early in the process.

The vote was close and passionate, and Canada won out by a hair. Thus, Newfoundland and Labrador became the tenth Canadian province.

If you haven’t noticed, the province lays claim to two dog breeds, a status enshrined in bronze in downtown St. John’s. So maybe the provinces belong together after all.

The Newfoundland and the Lab--also called the "lesser Newfounland" or "St. John"s dog."

The Newfoundland and the Lab–also called the “lesser Newfoundland” or “St. John”s dog.”

Newfoundland is a rocky, ragged scrap of foam blown from the Canadian mainland. On a map the island is so pocked with water that it looks like Swiss cheese. It’s a soggy, boggy land lying yards deep in peat moss with a frosting of sphagnum moss on top.

This place can absorb water, folks. In one campground, after days of drenching rain during which my trailer roof eventually began spurting water onto my head at night, the marshy ground simply sucked it up. No apocalyptic floods. No overflowing lakes. No rushing rivulets through the campground.

A lot of root vegetables grow in Newfoundland. Also a lot of berries! Partridgeberry (called lingonberry in northern Europe), blueberry, bakeapple (called cloudberry elsewhere), crowberry, squashberry. You don’t have to bring snacks on your hikes. You can always munch on berries.

And there are moose. More moose than people, as tourists are frequently warned.

Roadside moose

Roadside moose. You don’t want to hit this baby.

Moose love to wander along the roads, and since they are the heavyweights of the forest, you really don’t want to play chicken with them. I saw several, but fortunately not on my bumper.

People speak English in Newfoundland. I think. But just as Newfoundland has a time zone all its own (Newfoundland time is ½ hour behind Atlantic time), so it has a language of its own. Newfoundland English (I’m not kidding!). The island is a veritable Babble of accents and dialects. Which are often very colorful.

Newfies will speak the King’s English slowly and carefully when a tourist is around, but when old Paddy from down the street comes in, the conversation slips into an unintelligible patois. Each region seems to have its own special dialect.

*     *     *

Meanwhile…back at the Gannett’s Nest…

A night of driving wind had blown away the fog, and the morning was clear and even partly sunny. Perfect for birdwatching.

So Julia and I drove to the end of Cape St. Mary’s to see Birdrock, where  thousands of  northern gannets, murres, and kittiwakes nest.

trekking out to Birdrock

trekking out to Birdrock

The trail to Bird Rock straggled across empty heath along the cliff. At various points  white-coated rocks came into view–a bird condo with an internal pecking order–gannets on top; lesser species on ledges below.

Gannets are large birds with Egyptian-like eyeliner. They are ballerinas on wing, but clowns on land. I don’t know how they managed to squeeze onto these rocky cliff edges with their clumsy webbed feet. But I saw them do it.

Gannets on Birdrock. These birds have a six-foot wingspan.

Gannets on Bird Rock. They look small, but these birds have a six-foot wingspan. You can make out a few fuzzy chicks among the adults.

The grace of the soaring birds gave way to intense smell and noise as we neared the rock. This was the fishwives’ hood. This was the private life of birds up close and personal.  The nests were little more than bare rock ledges–no cunningly constructed and down-lined bassinet for these babies. After a while, I could make out the dead chicks that had fallen to the rocks below. Life is tough, says Ma Gannett, get used to it.

We watched the bird show for a long time. Then we walked back across the barren landscape.

More photos of Cape St. Marys here on my Facebook page. Check it out.

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4 Responses to Newfoundland–a colony of gannets and a primer

  1. Ewuosho oladipupo 14 March, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    it feels great knowing a creative lady as unique as ur self likes beautiful creates of d world I think u are great u really inspire d world love ya nd love d site too :'(;)

    • Kate Convissor 14 March, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

      The world is an amazing place. We are all blessed to be here.

  2. sharon w. 12 March, 2013 at 10:18 pm #


    • Kate Convissor 13 March, 2013 at 8:37 am #

      ’tis. What I love about traveling is to stumble over stuff like this.

      Thanks for following and sharing, Sharon.