In Search of Razorbills at Nesting Colonies in Newfoundland
Having never seen a Razorbill before I really looked forward with anticipation to visiting both Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve and Witless Bay Ecological Reserve in Newfoundland. Razorbills nest at both of these colonies and my first stop was Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve. Early on the morning of June 1 as I approached Cape St. Mary's along the southwest portion of the Avalon Peninsula a thick fog surrounded my SUV. I had doubts about seeing much of anything at the nesting colony through the dense fog, but I was told by a number of previous visitors not to get discouraged by foggy conditions because the fog will frequently lift at some point during the day. No sooner had I arrived when the fog began to clear. Although it remained cloudy throughout the remainder of the day I was able to make the 20-minute walk along the path to the cliffs where the main gannet nesting colony was located. Back at the Interpretive Center one of the guides told me they were aware of about six Razorbills present. Of course locating a Razorbill among 50,000 nesting birds can prove challenging, especially since Razorbills, at least those present here, often hide out in crevices along the rocky cliffs. For the first hour or so I concentrated primarily on photographing Northern Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes while keeping an eye out for any Razorbills in the area. I didn't see any Razorbills initially but fortunately, one of the guides, Wanda, from the Interpretive Center came out to the Bird Rock area where I was photographing and took the time to point out a couple of areas along the cliffs that I should focus on in my search for Razorbills. Sure enough several minutes later I spotted a small portion of a Razorbill's tail sticking out of one of the crevices. Another half hour passed before the Razorbill I was keeping an eye on provided a clean unobstructed look. At last I was thrilled to add Razorbill to my life list and the photo above as well as the photo immediately below are two images I photographed that day.
I only managed to see the one Razorbill at Cape St. Mary's; however, I achieved several more sightings and opportunities to photograph Razorbills at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve a few days later. Upon the recommendation of a couple of birders that had previously visited Witless Bay Ecological Reserve via a boat tour, I chose Captain Wayne's Marine Excursions in Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. I was glad I went with Captain Wayne for a couple of reasons. First he caters to photographers and adventure travellers. Second, his boat, which can hold 12 people and had seven passengers on my outing, is considerably smaller than other tour boats. This holds one significant advantage over the competition because it means that Captain Wayne can approach much closer to the nesting colonies as well as icebergs (one of which was present in Bay Bulls harbour at the time) than the other tour boat operators and, since I'm a photographer this held considerable appeal. The remaining photos that I've highlighted below are all from my boat tour that day. The skies cleared considerably during the early afternoon and conditions were very good for photography. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a good boat tour to check out Captain Wayne's. He is a little more expensive than some of the other tour operators but, in my opinion, his tour is enjoyable and provides excellent value.
Above a Razorbill spreads its wings while standing on one of the cliff rocks.
What catches my eye when I look at the photo above is the striking golden yellow inside the bill. The other two features of note shown well here are the deep bill with vertical white line and the white loral-line. The deep bill with verticle white line helps to differentiate Razorbills from Common Murres or Thick-billed Murres.
Razorbills were fairly abundant at Witless Bay. The groups of Razorbills (one shown above and the other below) were two of several observed during our boat tour.
In the photo below a number of Razorbills are seen floating on the water along with Common Murres while an Atlantic Puffin flies low overhead. On water Razorbill shows lots of white on the sides. Its pointy tail is often raised above the water, which you can see upon close inspection of the photo below.
As described by Pete Dunne (Dunne 2006) Razorbills fly single file. The picture below shows a few Razorbills flying low over the water in single file mixed in with a Common Murre and Atlantic Puffin.
New Gallery Photos Added Gallery
Razorbill Alcidae (Auks, Murres and Puffins)
Dunne, Pete, 2006. Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York