Newfoundland Adventure

by Fabiola Forns | January 4, 2011

© Fabiola FornsNewfoundland, the land of fog and icebergs, is just a few hours north of the U.S.-Canadian border by plane. I first visited a few years ago with my husband, and decided to make it a regular destination. Newfoundland is a lovely place to visit. Wherever you look, there are lakes and pines along the road, and the pristine environment captivates the visitor as much as the friendliness and hospitality of the people.

We took two fights from Florida to St. John’s, a beautiful city, small enough to keep the charm and big enough to allow you for excellent hotels and fine dining, as well as very interesting sightseeing. The locals are very hospitable and will even go as far as “Screech you in.”

The “Screech In” Ceremony

Every Newfoundlander knows what a “Screech In” Ceremony is all about. It is the only way that those not lucky enough to be born a Newfoundlander can become as close as possible to being a Newfoundlander, without having to die and be reincarnated as a Newfoundlander. Those who survive the ceremony will be forever known as HONORARY NEWFOUNDLANDERS.

Requirements for the ceremony:

  1. The “Screech In” ceremony can only be preformed by a natural-born Newfoundlander;
  2. A real fish (traditionally a cod, but, since these are hard to find, any whole fish will do);
  3. A Sou’Wester;
  4. A bottle of Screech.

The Ceremony:

The ceremony host (the natural-born Newfoundlander), will have the victim stand in front of a group of witnesses while wearing the Sou’Wester. The host will then hold up the fish to the victim so that the victim can kiss the fish (on the lips). The host and witnesses have final say on whether the kiss is sufficient to continue. In rare cases, two or more kisses have to be administered. Next, the host will gingerly pour a full shot of Screech. This is handed to the victim and he or she has to repeat the following, before drinking, and while holding the glass high: “Long may your big jib draw.” After this, present the victim with the “Screech In” Certificate as proof of their adventure. Welcome them into the Royal Order of Screechers.1 We politely declined the honor, although seriously considering doing it the next time around. After enjoying St. John.s and the Quidi Vidi fishing Village, our adventure took is to Witless Bay.


Puffin © Fabiola Forns

Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Our first trip included an adventure for us. We had been granted a permit to land on one of the islands forming the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. The reserve is formed by four islands, Gull, Green, Great and Pee Pee. The Division of Parks and Natural Areas, in an effort to protect nesting birds, only grants a few landing permits each year and in order to get one, you must go in the company of a biologist. This was a blessing because we learned a lot from our knowledgeable guide, Tony Power.

Puffin with fish © Fabiola Forns Puffin in flight © Fabiola Forns

Puffin portrait © Fabiola Forns

The permit allowed us one landing during a three day period, making allowances for bad weather, since the conditions for landing, no dock and big rocks, call for fair conditions in the ocean.

We arranged for the Zodiac to take us there on a good day, and a few minutes later we landed on a cove that granted reasonable access. I am not a good climber, so it took me a while with the help of my husband and the biologist to finally make it up the first climb of rocks.

Cliffside © Fabiola Forns © Fabiola Forns

Our next climb was to reach the Herring Gull colony, where some nesting pairs had chicks. In order to make it to the colony, the routine is to hold the tripod or a walking stick over your head, to discourage attacks if the birds feel you may be a threat. Luckily we did that part without any incidents.

What joy it was to climb through untouched terrain, ferns at your side and the sounds of birds all around you. Puffins were at the top of the island. They nest in burrows in the grass and the island trees sustain damage from this practice. When we visited mid-July, there were chicks in the burrows, so it was relatively easy to spot parents carrying fish. We set up in separate places, in areas designated by our host, and tried not to disturb the birds, paying attention to the ground and the presence of burrows.

Terrain © Fabiola Forns Bird colony © Fabiola Forns

Puffin © Fabiola Forns

Pretty soon we had a bunch of Puffins in front of us, very relaxed and totally unconcerned by our presence. It was easy to get images of one, two or even a bunch, with or without fish. The backgrounds could be as diverse as black rocks, white sea foam or yellowish lichen. Since I was using Aperture value as a camera mode, I compensated accordingly, minus for dark backgrounds, plus for lights and mostly even for the lichen. Since the day was overcast, we didn’t have problems with exposure of the whites even around noontime.

Puffin in grass © Fabiola Forns

Puffin profile © Fabiola Forns

After a while, we changed locations to avoid disturbing the birds there, and the new place, a little higher and a little more in the open, gave us a better chance for flight images. Since we had overcast conditions, all the images were high key, with white skies, which is not too bad for my taste. I could always use Nik Viveza, the Photoshop plug-in, to make the sky blue.

Puffin © Fabiola Forns

Puffin © Fabiola Forns

A couple of hours later, happy and with many images as a result, we headed down, thankful that we had visited this incredible place. We made it to the Zodiac without incident and the trip back was great, since the wind had not picked up yet, as it did later in the day and for the reminder of our stay in Witless Bay.

Our next adventure was another Zodiac trip for whale watching. We had rough seas that day, and we had to get the cameras inside the floating suit to avoid getting them wet, but again, the experience was thrilling. We were rewarded with a Humpback breaching a few times, something we had never seen, so we decided to give it a try once more the next day. Second time around, the sea was not as rough, but we had some fog, which added to the mood of the pictures. We saw tails, heads and fins from a mother and calf, who took a liking to the boat and kept following us. The calf was especially playful, coming very close and even going under the boat. Humpback whales are beautiful animals and to be able to see them free and wild is something we will always treasure.

Humpback whale © Fabiola Forns

Thanks to the Parks and Natural Areas Division, Environment and Conservation of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for granting us the permit.

Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve

Collage © Fabiola Forns

Next, we headed for Cape St. Mary’s Ecological reserve, home to one of Newfoundland major nesting seabirds colonies. Northern gannets, Kittiwake gulls, Common murres, Razorbills and others choose the Cape as their home, from approximately May to August. The birds nest on a very impressive rocky cliff that drops steeply to the ocean. It is almost totally covered by birds, with hundreds of them flying about.

Bird in flight © Fabiola Forns

The month of July is by far the foggiest here, with fewer clear days than May and August. Luckily, our Floridian sunshine followed us and we had two clear days in a row. After a one kilometer path from the Visitor Center, you arrive at “the rock,” where real estate is very scarce. The Rock represents the ultimate nesting location for gannets. It is amazing to see them flying over it even if they nest somewhere else, probably thinking, “Geez, I’d love to have the little parcel to the left on the 7th tier.”

When the time came to go home, we were filled with the desire to one day return. It’s not easy to get tired of this place. Newfoundland is an enchanting land and one that visitors will always remember.

Birds on rocks © Fabiola Forns

Flowers in field © Fabiola Forns

For more information on the reserves, please visit their website.

All images were created using Nikon D3, D300, 200-400/4 VR, 70-200/2.8, 24-120 VR

About the Author

Love for nature has always inspired this artistically inclined woman, who, after dabbling in other fields as creative writing, music and oil painting, has found her true call in photography. Fabiola holds a degree in Human Resources from St. Thomas University in Miami and teaches photography at Miami-Dade College. As a 2007 winner of the Birds category in the prestigious Windland Smith Rice International Awards, she constantly strives for creativity in her work. She and her husband, Alfred Forns, are a team that complement each other - you can see their work at

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