Posts Tagged ‘Quebec


Flying Humbug

Just over a month ago we were clicking our heals in Montreal, Quebec.

Walking beneath the dark canopy of the trees in Mount Royal Park we could hear birds moving above in a loose flock. As we looked up we watched a large group of warblers pass by. Among them was a flying humbug; a Black and White Warbler. I have seen these pied jewels previously several on this side of the Atlantic. I wonder if I will get the chance to see another this week on The Isles of Scilly.



Do we care about anything but ourselves?

Getting back from Canada was anything but straightforward. From mechanical failure of the aircraft to inappropriate behaviour of staff the airline did not do much to relieve customers from the 13 hour delay. Mental note to self ‘Do not fly Air Canada again’.

It’s quite strange how people centre in on themselves when faced with a little adversity. Jumping queues, arguing points and centring the world on their own little bubble, basically just getting damn right ‘arsy’. What I saw and heard led me to ask, ‘Do we care about anything but ourselves?’

On the end of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec is the small pretty town of Perce. Behind it lies the high ground of Mont St Anne; tall, forested and imposing. This is the habitat of such birds as Fox Sparrows, Boreal Chickadee, Bicknell’s Thrush and other delights. I was also hoping for a few American Warblers. They had been sparse, few and far between, so far on the trip and I was looking forward to seeing a good selection. Look through any American bird book and you’ll see why. They are the pinnacle of avian evolution; the colours are breath taking. We had been talking to a park ranger the day before and he had mentioned numbers were down this year and there had been progressively fewer each year of the last twenty he had held the post. He, like others, put this down to deforestation on their wintering grounds, pesticides affecting their food source and changing weather patterns. Not encouraging.

We set off on the trail to the summit of Mont St Anne. It was steep but manageable. After around 30 minutes of climbing we had seen several species. A couple of Bicknell’s Thrushes had shown really well and the trees were full of Chickadees. Just as the warblers began to show it started to rain. It fell quite gently at first and then gradually increased to a point where even the rain gear we had on was just not enough. The trail turned into a torrent of gullies and waterfalls drenching our feet. This was the spin off from Storm Isaac that wrecked the coast further south and it was still angry. We retired gracefully from the mountain in a thunderstorm of biblical intensity.

I guess while we all make use of air travel and use cars that contribute to global warming we will continue to encounter these extreme weather events. The demise of the warbler population is not unconnected.

We would need to take action, at best to prevent it from getting any worse. A whole change of lifestyle for us all would need to take place. We would need to be completely unselfish. We would need to care about things like the Cape May Warbler I photographed below. Can you see that happening?


The Haunt of the Castor

One evening, during our time in Quebec, we had been shown a small pool in the forest close to where we were staying. Although the pool was not too far from a major road I found it a quite magical place and wanted to return the next afternoon when there was more light.

The pool had been formed by Beavers damming a small stream. The lodge and dam were wonderful constructions of sticks and mud. A whole eco-system had evolved around the formation of the lake behind the dam. Dragonflies of weird and wonderful colours danced around the water’s edge. A Merlin above us clutched the larger dragonflies from the air and returned each time to his perch where he nipped off the wings before eating the body. Cedar Waxwings were fly catching; sallowing out from the top of the dead pines in upward sweeping arcs to catch insects then returning to their favoured perch. A young Bald Eagle sat on a floating log that sank a little dipping his tail into the water. The loud cackling call of a Belted Kingfisher rang out as he flew by an arm’s length away.

Amid all this the engineer himself arrived; moving through the water like a living submarine he formed a wake that rippled the reflection of the lakeside trees. I followed him as quietly as I could until he disappeared into rushes where I couldn’t follow. Quite a magical place.


Moose Hunting (Part 2)

I’d not been truly confident of seeing Moose. Of all the things we had pegged out to see Moose was the most incidental; a ‘perhaps’ species during our visit to Quebec. Sat here in the forest of the Matane Refuge half dozing in the heat I consoled myself that I was at least catching up on a little rest. A six hour time adjustment flying from Heathrow was taking its toll.

A crack of a branch alerted me. I nudged Sharon. Nothing! Then as I refocused my gaze through the trees I could see a shape. It was like one of those hidden pictures where you can’t initially see what you’re looking at. A dark shape materialised. Where it came from I don’t know but there it was, some 30 metres away. Right there, still and alert. Two things struck me; How dark it was and how big it was. I had hope for a female at best maybe with a calf if we were lucky. No, this was a big male sporting full headgear. I don’t know if I whispered it to Sharon or myself but I remember quietly saying ‘It’s a dinosaur’

I fired off a shot or two; hardly daring to move. This may be my only chance. Then it moved. Not away from us but closer to the pool. Closer to us. He walked slowly hardly making a sound. A few paces at a time then froze as he held his head alert listening for any telltale sounds of danger. He slowly came to the edge of the pool and began to drink … and drink … and drink. I expected him to leave but no he moved closer to us wading out into the water and into the late afternoon sun drenching the pool from the canopy above. He was now just 10 metres away and we held our breath for what seemed like an age. Each time I took a series of shots he could obviously hear the shutter but perhaps tolerated our intrusion so desperate was he to quench his thirst. All told we had watched him for around 20 minutes before he urinated (at length) and then slowly moved away back into the forest.

What a magnificent animal. Those 20 minutes are, and will remain, an imprinted memory that will never leave me.


Moose Hunting

Finding a Moose in Canada is not as easy as you may think. Talk to anyone who has tried. For a large animal they can be surprisingly elusive, not least because their survival depends upon it; Canada is still a shootin’ huntin’ and fishin’ territory and Moose are high on the menu. Reserves here often have a different slant on conservation. Wildlife is ‘Preserved’ for the marksman. However, we were determined to see the world’s largest member of the deer family and that’s how we found ourselves in the Matane Preserve. This isolated area apparently holds the largest number of Moose per square kilometre in the whole of Canada.

Having driven 60 some Kilometres into the Preserve up rough tracks, that was at times like diving up a scree slope, we had walked into the pine forest and made ourselves comfortable at the side of a small pool. The mud around the water had Moose prints everywhere and there was a big swathe of weed missing from the surface, as though something big had waded through; it looked a good place to sit.

We waited. Minutes turned to hours and the hot sun beat down through the pines and lit the pool in an envelope of light that gradually moved across the water throughout the afternoon. Very little sound broke the silence. This was a silence like I’ve never experienced before; the sheer density of trees absorbing all noises. Every tiny movement we made emitted sounds that were magnified. So intense was the quietness surrounding us we became aware of one another breathing. If we were to see this King of the forest we would need to be quiet.

The silence was broken by the odd bird call. One of which was strangely familiar. As the call was repeated I was taken back some 20 odd years and transported to my home in Norfolk, UK. The tiny ‘toy trumpet’ call was that of a Red breasted Nuthatch. One had turned up at Holkham in October 1989. I had seen (and heard) the species for the first time on that occasion and that occurrence remains the only British record of Red breasted Nuthatch.

Sat here in the forest the small flock of Nuthatches soon found our hiding place and came to investigate. I fired off a few shots, the shutter sounding like a cannon salute through the forest. The birds soon went and once again we returned to our watch… (to be continued)


A mouthful worth waiting for

We watched the water in silence. The only sound was the water rhythmically lapping the side of the Zodiac. The sun was hot even out at sea and it cast diamonds of light on any imperfection on the oily surface.

It’s always like this Whale watching. 50% of your time is travelling and 45% waiting. The remaining 5% is the best; when cetaceans show themselves. We were waiting to see a Humpback in the St Lawrence, Quebec. It had dived somewhere in this area 10 minutes earlier.

Sometimes they can come up from the deep far from where they went down. But sometimes, just sometimes …. they can come up real close.


Smarter than average

As we spread on insect repellent we surveyed the forest in front of us; an endless canopy of green stretching and undulating into the distance pierced by rocky outcrops like grey icebergs in a sea of green. Canada is a wilderness and you don’t have to travel far to be alone.

This is not like a stroll in the local woods this is serious stuff; you need to be prepared, not only for the terrain, but also for the wildlife. The Wildlife here is truly wild. Large mammals occur in close proximity to humans in Canada and one of those mammals is the Black Bear and they have to be treated with respect. We saw five bears that evening; the last of the light giving the chance of a few shots.

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Jun 2023


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