Canada - Grand Manan 2012

...with Chris Bradshaw

September 8th - 15th

Although Birdwatching Breaks have been running trips to Canada for many years, this was our first visit to the charming island of Grand Manan, located in the Bay of Fundy in the province of New Brunswick

Although the frequently fine and sunny weather was not quite what we would have hoped for in order to induce arrivals of migrants we still managed to notch up a fine selection of migrant warblers, along with three species of vireo and several sparrows. Raptors included good numbers of Merlin, a few Broad-winged Hawks and numerous Bald Eagles. The sea birding was superb, with amazing encounters with many hundreds of Great Shearwaters frequently at point blank range, along with many Wilson's and smaller numbers of Leach's Petrels, some cracking Pomarine Skuas performed very well and at least one South Polar Skua was very welcome. The cetaceans were great too, with double-figure counts of Fin Whales, a couple of Humpback Whales and good numbers Harbour Porpoise. To be based in a single location for almost the whole trip made for a nice change and the staff at the Marathon Inn made us very welcome and catered to all our needs very well. All in all this was very memorable trip which we plan to run again in 2014.

A gallery of images taken on this tour can be found on our Facebook page at!/media/set/?set=a.407618685960213.105518.153611588027592&type=1.

September 8th-9th: London to Saint John. Redhead Marsh, Blacks Harbour, Grand Manan (North Head).

Weather: Overcast for most of the day, with overnight rain clearing to leave mist and fog until mid morning. Mild, with temperatures around 19C.

Most of our small group gathered at Heathrow in good time for our flight to Saint John, via Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although Air Canada's check-in process was not the most efficient I have encountered the flight arrived in Halifax on time and we had a few hours to kill in a quiet airport terminal before our onward flight to Saint John. Halifax airport was fairly birdless, although our first American Crows at least got the trip list off the mark. Our flight to Saint John was fairly painless and we quickly picked up our vehicle and headed into our comfortable town centre hotel.

The 9th September dawned grey and misty after heavy overnight rain and strong winds, so things did not look too promising. From the restaurant over breakfast we could see American Herring Gulls wheeling about. Leaving the hotel we headed to Redhead Marsh where fog hampered our birding considerably. A Black Duck and two Greater Yellowlegs were by a creek near the roadside, whilst an Eider bobbed about on the choppy seas. A Belted Kingfisher called noisily and the first of many Merlins to be seen during the trip whizzed through. The marsh hosted some ducks, but it wasn't until later in the morning that we could confirm that the grey-looking shapes in the murk were actually American Wigeon, a few Mallard and a female Ring-necked Duck! The marsh-side vegetation hosted Nelson's, Song and Savannah Sparrow, our first American Goldfinch and some Common Yellowthroats. A Yellow Warbler zipped in and quickly out again. Other birds in this area included Great Blue Heron and Pied-billed Grebe.

Electing to begin the journey to Black's Harbour earlier than planned we eventually found some better weather and a roadside stop proved productive when a very pleased Marilyn found our first Bald Eagle of the trip. The bay here held a few waders - Semipalmated Plover and Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers. A couple of Ring-billed Gulls were also noted. At Black's Harbour we had a little time to wait for the ferry and a productive session produced Black-throated Green and Magnolia Warbler, a Philadelphia Vireo, our first Blue Jays and Black-capped Chickadees, Great Northern Divers (Common Loons) and Black Guillemots.

Fairly smooth seas gave us some good seabirds on the crossing to Grand Manan, with some nice views of Great Shearwaters, several Sooty and a couple of Manx Shearwaters along with a surprise in the form of a Cory's Shearwater (apparently only the third record for New Brunswick). A smart adult Pomarine Skua flew over and more familiar species from back home included Atlantic Puffin, Gannet and Black-legged Kittiwake. Once on Grand Manan, we checked into our hotel for the week, and in the immediate surroundings of the hotel we enjoyed seeing two Common Nighthawks, American Robin, Black-and-white Warbler, Magnolia Warbler and an American Redstart. All in all a pretty good start to the trip!

September 10th: Grand Manan - Whistle Road, Castalia Marsh, Dark Harbour, Swallowtail Lighthouse.

Weather: Sunny with an increasing northerly breeze. 20 C

We began the day along the Whistle Road, situated at the northern tip of the island. Here we spent a wonderful few hours sifting through the birds foraging among the bushes and trees along the roadside. Black-and-white Warbler proved to be the most numerous migrant, but we also enjoyed more Magnolia, Black-throated Green and Yellow Warblers. New for the list were Wilson's and some obliging Chestnut-sided Warblers (which proved to be the only encounter with this species during the trip) and Northern Parula. A Red-eyed Vireo was seen well, whilst two Blue-headed Vireos slipped away and needed further work for some. A Hairy Woodpecker performed well as it hammered away at a dead tree trunk, whilst Grey Catbird, White-throated and Savannah Sparrows skulked in the undergrowth. A lookout to sea was worthwhile with two Red-necked Grebes drifting by and more impressively two Fin Whales fairly close offshore. Overhead raptors included Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk and Merlin.

Heading back to North Head we stopped to enjoy nice views of a flock of Cedar Waxwings. After grabbing some supplies for lunch we visited Castalia Marsh, where we were surprised to discover a Western Kingbird, a fairly rare visitor to this part of Canada (and apparently a new bird for one long-standing resident of the island). Grey Plover and four Greater Yellowlegs were somewhat surprisingly the only waders present, although the tide was rather low. The mid-afternoon was fairly slow going, but new trip birds included our only Palm Warbler of the trip, Turkey Vulture and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. Our final stop was to the area near Swallowtail Lighthouse, where a couple of Blackpoll Warbler sightings were the main highlights, before we decided to finish for the day.

September 11th: Grand Manan - Swallowtail Lighthouse, Castalia Marsh, Pelagic trip.

Weather: Sunny with a blustery northerly wind slowly diminishing during the afternoon. 20 C

We began the day with a walk at Swallowtail Lighthouse. The strong and blustery wind made it difficult to find what few birds were about, with Blackpoll Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, our first American Kestrels and Purple Finches our only successes. A call to check whether our booked pelagic was going to operate settled the afternoon plans and we headed down the island to Seal Cove in order to board our boat just before midday.

The boat trip was excellent and we were treated to large numbers of Great Shearwaters alongside (and sometimes almost in!) the boat. Flocks of Wilson's Petrels numbered in the hundreds and a fair number of Leach's Petrels were with them. Pomarine Skua was the most numerous skua, but a South Polar Skua was very welcome surprise. Grey and Red-necked Phalaropes were tricky to get to grips with in the swell, whilst other species seen included 26 smart drake Surf Scoters, a few Atlantic Puffins plus Black Guillemots, Manx and Sooty Shearwaters. The whales performed superbly, frequently at close range, with Fin Whales making it into double figures and a Humpback also noted. Returning to the island just after 5.15pm we arrived back at the hotel a tired but very contented group.

September 12th: Grand Manan - Whistle Road, Castalia Marsh, Miller Pond, Anchorage (including Great and Long Pond), The Thoroughfare.

Weather: Warm and sunny with light south-westerly winds. 22 C

We began the day along the Whistle Road, but apart from an increase in Cedar Waxwings, things were generally much quieter than on our previous visit. We did however locate a nice American Redstart, had good views of Northern Flicker, noted a flyover Peregrine and watched an Arctic Skua harrying Kittiwakes offshore. Returning towards North Head we found an Eastern Wood-pewee on a side track. At Castalia Marsh the high tide had resulted in a small number of waders being present involving both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plover and Grey Plover. A flock of ca20 Buff-bellied Pipits was present and a juvenile Northern Harrier quartered the marsh. A visit to Miller Pond was fairly quiet, although a juvenile Hermit Thrush was new.

We had our lunch at Great Pond, where a nice selection of wildfowl included Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal. A few Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted about the conifers, whilst the adjacent beach hosted a flock of Sanderling. The afternoon session was fairly productive with a walk along a woodland trail producing Yellow Warbler, Winter Wren, and Brown Creeper, whilst nearby we saw a nice selection of warblers including Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Magnolia and a smart Blackburnian. A Philadelphia Vireo was seen at close range and at least three Red-eyed Vireos were also present. Returning to the vehicle we saw an obliging Eastern Kingbird. A couple of stops en-route back to base produced little of note, although the portion size of one clients evening meal certainly was very notable!

September 13th: Grand Manan - Great Pond, White Head Island, Anchorage, Whistle Road.

Weather: Warm and sunny with an increasing south-westerly wind. 21 C

We began the day at Great Pond where we were in search of sparrows. They proved typically elusive, but in addition to the usual Song and Savannah Sparrows, a Swamp Sparrow showed to some. Evidence of new migrants was limited but Yellow-rumped Warbler was noted. A Greater Yellowlegs was in the creek and a selection of ducks included American Wigeon, Black Duck and Ring-necked Duck. We planned to spend a good chunk of the day on White Head Island, so we headed for the ferry. Whilst waiting for the boat, a check of nearby alders produced Nashville, Yellow, and Black-and-white Warblers. The boat trip yielded a few Black Guillemots and Great Northern Divers. Once on White Head Island the general lack of migrants meant that we found the birding fairly slow, but with perseverance we were able to enjoy several smart Red Crossbills, some very obliging Red-breasted Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Junco, Boreal Chickadees, our first Great Cormorants and had some wonderfully close views of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers which allowed us to appreciate the finer points of their plumage features. A Prairie Warbler was a nice find, but with a definite mid afternoon lull and the winds increasing we headed back to the main island of Grand Manan where we returned to The Anchorage. Things were slow here too and our only real success was the discovery of a Blue-winged Teal. The Eastern Kingbird was still present, but migrants were thin on the ground, so we decided to try the Whistle Road, which proved to be just as quiet as everywhere else! As one might expect, clear skies and SW winds are not a great weather combination for migrant birds on Grand Manan.

September 14th: Grand Manan - Anchorage, Red Point Road, Southern Head, Grand Harbour, Castalia Marsh.

Weather: Overcast with light SW winds. 20 C

The day began slowly along the access road at Anchorage. There was little activity and migrants were clearly very thin on the ground, with just a Black-and-white Warbler to reward our efforts. Two Solitary Sandpipers were new for the list, but frustratingly they flew over and did not stop. A walk to check Great Pond also produced little, although two Bald Eagles were well received. At Red Point we located an Alder Flycatcher, with a couple of Black-throated Green Warblers also present. Three Red-necked Grebes offshore were performing well. At South Head we had good views of Osprey and an obliging Merlin. After our lunch we paused along the road for Blackpoll, Wilson’s and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

A thorough check of the Grand Harbour area gave us some close encounters with a variety of the now familiar shorebirds, but a superb juvenile Northern Harrier showed well at close range and Red-breasted Merganser was new for the list. At Castalia we walked along the marsh edge, seeing little of note, but out on the mudflats we located our only Short-billed Dowitcher of the trip feeding with a flock of Grey Plovers.

September 15th: Grand Manan - Whistle Road. Ferry to Blacks Harbour. Black Beach. Saint John.

Weather: Sunny with moderate SW winds. 19 C

Our final day began along the Whistle Road where evidence of warbler migration was provided by Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Magnolia and Nashville Warblers, and a showy American Redstart. A Northern Flicker posed nicely in a tree and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird zipped past. We caught the 11.30 ferry to Blacks Harbour and noted significantly reduced numbers of Great Shearwaters (although Sooties were in slightly larger numbers), a few Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins, plus a presumed South Polar Skua (although the views precluded the firm elimination of Great - much the rarer of the two species in these parts). On arrival at Blacks Harbour we drove to Saint John where we visited Black Beach in hope of migrants. With blustery conditions and a mid afternoon arrival it was not too surprising that things were quiet, and I bet the Magnolia Warbler and Blackpoll Warbler we did see got into trouble with their mates for showing themselves! However, a fitting finale to the trip came in the form of a splendid Ruffed Grouse that was stood by the side of the track and afforded excellent, extended views. Wonderful.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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