Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nova Scotia: Bird Islands

On our last day on Cape Breton, we decided to depart late and take a boat tour to the bird islands and their well know sea bird nesting colonies. The Bird Islands are two small rocky outcrops, Hertford and Ciboux, that jut out into the Atlantic Ocean between the eastern extent of the Cabot Trail and the Sydney peninsula. A tour of the islands takes about 2.5 hours.

Boarding the boat

Approaching the first bird island

Cormorants sun themselves as the boat gets nearer

We took the tour to see Puffins, but this late in the year most had departed. The rocks were still home to the Greater and Lesser Cormorants, however, as well as large numbers of Bald Eagles, a pair of Blue Herons, Gulls, and various other smaller birds. Large numbers of Gray Seals also inhabited the area.

Cormorant on a rock. They were everywhere.

Then the Bald Eagles came into view like fighter jets over a war zone.

No critter is safe from these marauding raptors.

Even with a telephoto lens, it was hard to view the birds in real time. Between the bouncing of the boat, the movement of the birds, and the shadows near the cliffs, many birds were just a blurr. It was not until I manipulated the photographs for this post that I could see what I actually captured. Still, I love being out on the water and any chance to feel salt encrusting my hair is worthwhile for me.

I love this shot. It was dark against the cliffs and I had no idea if anything was in focus. If you click on the image to view the larger version and look into the eyes of the eagle you won't see compassion for its fellow avian brethren.

Another great action shot. There were so many eagles, it was like sparrows around a bird feeder.

Here we have a juvenile. The punk of the rocks. It takes several years for an Bald Eagle to develop its trademark coloring.

The most interesting aspect of the tour was the lesson the boat captain gave us about man's effect on the birds and seals. The chain of events all begins with Lobster season. During the season, the fisherman have to replace the bait in their traps once a week. This is a bounty for the Gull species on the island which eat the scraps left by the boats. This ready food supply means the Gulls can stay close to their nests and their large numbers fend off Bald Eagles, which other wise swoop in to eat the Gull chicks. Lately though, there have been too many fishermen, and the area catches it quota in about 2 weeks. It used to take 6 to 10 weeks. Now the Eagles are arriving early, eating the Gull chicks and scaring the Puffins out to sea. This effects the tour groups who lose income because the Puffins are gone. While we did see a few, solitary Puffins floating on the waves, we also saw large numbers of Bald Eagles, so I am not sure which situation I would prefer.

Gray Seals

The Puffin's chick rearing habits are unique indeed. The Puffin digs a burrow into the rocky cliff face and lays its egg. When the chick hatches, the adults feed the chick to such an extent that it grows so large that it can't leave the nest. The parents then leave. Over time, the chick looses weight, matures and finally leaves the burrow. Puffins are pelagic birds, they spend 90% of their life out on the open sea.

It was easier to see the birds on the sunny side of the island. Can you pick out the Grand Cormorants in this picture?

A shot rounding the farthest point

The life of the Gray Seal in this area has also been effected by man. General overfishing has reduced fish stocks and many of the seals are starving. How to balance fish stocks for both humans and seals is a difficult task.

Two Great Blue Herons had taken up residence. Our guide said this is very unusual.

One last eagle shot

Whether or not I would recommend taking a boat tour depends upon the time of year you go. Be careful to ask the tour operators exactly what you will see and whether the mentioned species are on the rocks or out on the water. There are several tour companies in the area, so it does not hurt to shop around.

My only decent Puffin shot. They fly incredibly fast and would not let the boat come near them. I could barely see the bird with the naked eye, but despite the bouncing of the boat, I managed to get one in focus.


cynthia said...

Hi Sylvia,

Cynthia here, I work for Nova Scotia Tourism and just came across your post. Fantastic shot you got. I recently took a nature cruise around St. Margaret's Bay just outside of Halifax. You never know what you will see. You got some amazing shots of the eagles and I absolutely love the puffin. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

Valerie said...

I am so enjoying these posts! My whole live I have wanted to visit, Ireland or Scotland. When my husband and I married I said, why not honeymoon in Nova Scotia? Well we couldn't, and I have never been to any of the places, but looking at NS thru your camera makes me want to go even more.
I absolutely love the eagle shots. I am such a fan of birds of prey, Just amazing shots. Thank you so much for sharing!

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Cynthia,

Please let me know if you need me to freelance for NS Tourism :)~ . A free trip back to see more could be arranged!


Nina said...

Spectacular Bald Eagle shots! It looks like a great tour despite the lack of puffins. At least you got one.