Love, Hate Relationship

Written by Mark Koneff
Saturday, May 30, 2015

Photo of Mark Koneff.I love Newfoundland. The people are some of the friendliest and most welcoming I’ve encountered during my travels across North America, the landscape stark and rugged but incredibly beautiful, the geology and geological history really interesting and diverse, and the flora and fauna fascinating and heavily influenced by recent glaciation. We arrived six days ago at Stephenville and have managed to survey all lines across the central portion of the island. Every east-west, coast-to-coast survey flight is an accomplishment given the time of year we are here and the almost ubiquitous presence of low clouds and fog somewhere on the island. The topography of Newfoundland is characterized by the Long Range Mountains in the west, an extension of the Appalachian chain, and a high central plateau that gradually slopes off to the coastal plain in the east. The Long Range Mountains are an uplifted part of the earth’s crust known to geologists as horst. In the central part of the island, and just to the east of the Long Range is a large depressional basin (a graben to geologists) that contains two impressive lakes, Deer and Grand, Grand being the more massive. To the east of this, central Newfoundland is an elevated plateau that is actually part of an ancient sea bed that has been thrust up and over the North American plate. Glacial scouring and erosion of that plateau has left large rock knobs known locally as “tolts” jutting sometimes hundreds of feet above the eroded plateau surface. To me, the central plateau has a remote, other-worldly feel to it that’s really appealing and I always feel privileged to experience it in a way that few others are able to. The lower elevation, but still rocky, terrain on the eastern side of the island is home to many quaint coastal/fishing communities which are quintessential Newfoundland.

Yes, I love Newfoundland, except when I hate it. About this time of the survey we’ve been on the road around a month and I’m starting to think about enjoying a few weeks of summer back home in Maine with family prior to shoving off for waterfowl banding in August. So waiting out the poor weather I almost always encounter here at some point can be a bit frustrating. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia…I’ve not checked sources and can’t vouch for its accuracy, but given my experiences, I don’t doubt a word. In describing the weather of St. John’s (the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador on the southeast of Newfoundland) the author summarizes, “Of all the major Canadian cities, St. John's is the foggiest (124 days, next to Halifax's 122), snowiest (359 centimeters (141 in), next to Quebec City's 343 centimeters (135 in)), wettest (1514 millimeters (59.6 in), next to Halifax's 1491 millimeters (58.7 in)), windiest (24.3 km/h (15.1 mph) average speed, next to Regina's 20.7 km/h (12.9 mph)), and cloudiest (1,497 hours of sunshine, next to Charlottetown's 1,818 hours).” Nuff said. The past few days we’ve been stuck sitting in fog. At times visibility looked to be no more than 150-200 meters. The fog is so tenacious that even the presence of fairly strong winds does nothing to dissipate it. As I write this I’m hoping that today’s forecast pans out and the ceilings lift enough for us to survey a couple of lines remaining on the south coast between Stephenville and St. John’s, though the clearing trend does not appear to be occurring as rapidly as forecast.

After years of surveying in the northeast, I’m used to it. It’s expected. Patience is certainly a virtue (as is a large pile of office work to keep you busy while grounded) and there’s no sense getting frustrated. With age and experience, that patience seems to be easier to come by. Maybe it’ll be a week or two later than we would have liked, but we’ll get home eventually and quickly settle back into the routine of home life and family.

As far as habitat conditions on the island go, things look good in general. After the long, cold, and protracted winter, it’s no surprise that we are still seeing snow and ice-covered ponds at the highest elevations with the delayed phenology resulting in fair conditions there. Here’s hoping for flying weather soon. We’ll check in again from Labrador.

Even with good weather at the coastal airports, higher elevations in central Newfoundland can be difficult to survey and require diversion.  Credit: M. Koneff

Even with good weather at the coastal airports, higher elevations in central Newfoundland can be difficult to survey and require diversion. Credit: M. Koneff

Snow and ice persists at the highests elevations in Newfoundland. Credit: M. Koneff

Snow and ice persists at the highests elevations in Newfoundland. Credit: M. Koneff

Icebergs are prevalent on the Newfoundland east coast this time of year.  Most here are calved from Greenland glaciers. Credit: M. Koneff

Icebergs are prevalent on the Newfoundland east coast this time of year. Most here are calved from Greenland glaciers. Credit: M. Koneff

Coastal community on the Newfoundland east coast.  Credit: M. Koneff

Coastal community on the Newfoundland east coast. Credit: M. Koneff

Wetlands of the east coast of Newfoundland near Gander. Credit:  M. Koneff

Wetlands of the east coast of Newfoundland near Gander. Credit: M. Koneff

A 'tolt' of the central Newfoundland plateau is an area of rock that has resisted the glacial and subsequent erosion of the surrounding terrain.  Credit:  M. Koneff

A 'tolt' of the central Newfoundland plateau is an area of rock that has resisted the glacial and subsequent erosion of the surrounding terrain. Credit: M. Koneff

Dense fog at Stephenville, NL makes for  an easy NOGO decision.  Credit: M.Koneff

Dense fog at Stephenville, NL makes for an easy NOGO decision. Credit: M.Koneff

The fjord of Western Brook Pond north of Gros Morne National Park. The cliff walls are 2000ft and the lake reaches a depth of around 540 ft.  Glaciers carved it from the surrounding plateau.  Credit: M. Koneff

The fjord of Western Brook Pond north of Gros Morne National Park. The cliff walls are 2000ft and the lake reaches a depth of around 540 ft. Glaciers carved it from the surrounding plateau. Credit: M. Koneff