Quebec and Ontario
If you are not interested in the trip itself but only in my list
of birds, please click here.
11 July 2005.
We left Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport on an Air Transat Company aircraft and, right from the start, we felt we were already in Canada because we were flying with Robert Charlebois, the famous Québécois singer. It was a pleasant flight even if we were a little disappointed by the service provided by the company we had chosen. Six hours later, we took a taxi to the hôtel Saint-André. It is not a luxury hotel but it is comfortable and beautifully located for someone who wants to visit the city.
The underground shopping mall in Montreal
We went as far as the border with the USA, stopping here and there, always in the hope of finding a new species for me. The temperature reached 30°C, the atmosphere was moist and there were also a few midges or mosquitoes which kept pestering us but this was not really important. It turned out better than expected. It is a pleasure to remember the Short-billed Dowitchers, the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs side by side to make comparisons easier but I was especially happy with the beautiful American Redstart, Rufous-sided Towhee and Indigo Bunting. There were all kinds of Buntings which I found difficult to separate at that time and various wrens that kept hiding away. We finally managed to see them thanks to Michel's persistence and we were also lucky enough to see Bobolinks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. We ended this birdwatching outing in the Beauharnois natural park, where we took a look at a huge colony of Great blue Herons.
The Beauharnois Marsh
An underground shopping mall in Toronto
The site attracting the greatest number of tourists in Toronto must be the CN Tower. It is a concrete arrow towering at 553 m and even 625 if you include its antenna. We decided going to the gondola hanging 346 m above the ground was high enough for us. The view to the city is beautiful up there and you can also walk on a glass floor if you feel like it. Don't do it if you suffer from vertigo. After that, we took a stroll in the streets and noted that Toronto is quite different from Montreal. There are huge buildings here, some of them quite beautiful and hardly anybody speaks French.
The CN Tower
If we came to Toronto, it was above all to go to the Niagara Falls. We had booked seats in a coach and travelled with other tourists. On our way there, a heavy shower cooled us off a bit but it was still very hot when we reached the city of Niagara Falls. I had expected some form of disappointment because these falls are so famous you may feel you have already seen them in some previous life. I admit it was not the case and travelling on the "Maid of the Mist" to the very foot of the falls was a lifetime experience. This place is famous as a honeymoon resort but there are many more ordinary tourists too. Looking around, I noted 4 Peregrine Falcons flying over the river for a prey or perhaps just for fun as there were at least two young ones. We drove farther down to the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake which has kept a typically British atmosphere. We had just time enough to buy an ice-dream and we were off on our way back to Toronto.
The Maid of the Mist
We took the train to return to Montreal where we arrived late in the afternoon. In the evening, we visited the Old Town.
One of the many churches you can find in the Province of Quebec
I picked up the car I had rented from France. I was given a fully automatic 4-wheel drive Explorer and as usual, it took me a few miles to get used to it. The landscape between Toronto and Quebec is very ordinary except for the Saint-Lawrence becoming wider and wider. In the town of Deschambault, I met 2 local birdwatchers who told me there were 12 Bald Eagles on the spot. I managed to find four of them in their telescopes and we made friends very quickly as birdwatching knows no borders. They gave me some information on the Léon Provencher marshes in Neuville where we decided to go. This is where I twitched the Wood Ducks and the American Black Duck. I would have liked to spend some more time there but we had booked a room at the Hôtel du Gouverneur in Sainte-Foy, in the suburbs of Quebec City. This is where we ate delicious mussels that the chef cooked with mustard while we were chatting with him. We spent a wonderful time in this hotel which offers an excellent buffet. As the bus connections to Quebec City were excellent, I returned the car I had rented.
The Parliament in Quebec City
We had a great time walking in the small streets of the Old Town and took a guided tour of Château Frontenac which is actually a luxury hotel accommodating a lot of worldwide celebrities. The actual building is superb and the reception hall is nice but I wasn't otherwise impressed by the inside decoration.
We spent yet another day strolling in the city, watched the changing of the guard and visited the Governor's residence. The outside of the building is rather plain but the inside is worth a visit. The furniture has a real touch of class and the rooms are decorated with many works of art. Outside, I tasted a local pastry called a "Queue de castor" (Beaver tail) on the Dufferin Terrace. The view on the Saint-Lawrence is magnificent and the weather was still gorgeous.
I collected a rented car and was once more given a medium-sized 4-wheel drive instead of the smaller car I had ordered. We made a stop at Cape Tourmente in Saint-Joachim which is famous the world over because thousands of Snow Geese stop while migrating. Few birds were present on the site but we had been told there was a Black Bear in the vicinity. We wanted to see it and we were given a lot of advice on what not to do to catch it unawares and risk being attacked. The problem is you need a good stroke of luck just to see it. Walking on the paths of the park, we were all eyes and all ears but could never catch the slightest glimpse of this beautiful animal. I was however pleased to see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird coming to feed at the information centre, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, a few Bobolinks and even a Bald Eagle. In the evening, we reached Saint-Siméon, at the entrance to the Saguenay Saint-Lawrence maritime park, the best place to spot whales. Walking on a wharf in the evening, we saw a few Minke Whales and Grey Seals.
From then on, we no longer booked hotel rooms in advance but we never had any trouble because we always tried to find one early enough in the afternoon.
We left Saint-Siméon to drive round the Saguenay fjord via Chicoutimi. The vegetation there is typical of northern countries and forests stretch on either side of the road. I expected to see a few birds of prey but saw none. Porcupines were much easier to see ... as roadkill. On the way, I spotted about 20 Buffleheads and even an Atlantic Salmon which dodged all the efforts made by a local angler. The road twisted up and down in the middle of coniferous forests dotted with peat bogs. In the evening, we slept in the Motel de l'Anse à l'Eau in Tadoussac after we had visited a maritime fauna museum. If you want to eat something really Canadian and have a good view on the Saint-Lawrence, go to the Bateau restaurant where the all-you-can-eat buffet is offered at a reasonable price.
In the Saguenay natural park
Tadoussac is a pleasant and very touristic little town. You can't miss the very beautiful red hotel bearing the name of the town. Not far from there, tourists take boats to go and see whales. Of course, prices are much higher there than elsewhere. Stopping by the side of the Saint-Lawrence we clearly saw about a dozen Belugas but we decided to look for them later on as we were keen to see the Gaspesie Peninsula and therefore took the boat to Rivière-au-Loup, on the southern bank of the river. After a few miles on a rather boring road we reached the Bic natural park which is a very famous place there and where it was more difficult to find accommodation. We were a little disappointed with the scenery as we had expected something much more spectacular and we already missed Manicouagan on the other side of the river. The scenic places were probably for later on.
Belugas in the Saint-Lawrence (you've got to trust me!)
The weather was much cooler then and it even rained a little. We drove on along the river to go round the peninsula, stopping here and there. I noted a few Least Sandpipers, Great Northern Divers, one Semipalmated Sandpiper and a lot of Common Eiders and Black Guillemots. In the evening, coming back from the restaurant in Sainte-Anne des Monts, I heard a regular noise coming from one of my wheels so I pulled up. Checking my tyres I found a large screw already half way down in one of them. Thanks to the thick rubber there was not damage. I must admit it was the first time I was really happy to have hired a large 4-wheel drive.
One of the numerous lakes in the Province of Quebec
We left the coast for a few hours and decided to drive through the national park of Gaspesie and especially in the fauna reserve of Mounts Chic-Choc. We wanted to see Black Bear, Caribou or Moose but after driving for over 30 km on a dusty and stony road, hardly ever coming across another car, we decided to return to a more densely populated area. Because of what had happened the day before and knowing we wouldn't have been able to call anyone, we had become more prudent. Still, we saw a few Eastern Chipmunks, a Woodchuck, a Wood Duck and a Ruffed Grouse waiting impatiently for her 11 chicks to cross the road in front of us. In the evening, after we had driven up 15% steep slopes, we reached Rivière-au-Renard where we spent the night at the "Caribou", a nice motel with a view on the Saint-Lawrence whose northern coast was hardly visible. In the evening, hundreds of Northern Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes were following the river in the direction of their nesting sites.
Mounts Chic-Choc fauna reserve
A beaver dam
The weather was not very nice and much cooler. We had reached the outermost point of Gaspesie and visited Forillon natural park. With its breathtaking cliffs towering above the Atlantic Ocean, the scenery was at long last up to our expectations. From the top of one of them I saw my first Bonaparte's Gulls and a Harbour Seal. A little farther, a Porcupine slowly came out of a meadow and awkwardly crossed he road in front of me, only 2 metres away. We drove on as far as Percé where we watched the famous split rock. I was lucky enough to spot several Razorbills and an Atlantic Puffin. We would have liked to take the boat to Bonaventure Island but we still had a long way to drive, all the more so as we had decided to come back to Manicouagan to try to see a Black Bear and have a better look at whales. In the evening, hardly had we sat down in a restaurant in Port Daniel that, from the window overlooking the sea I saw three Surf Scoters, a Red-necked Grebe and two Great Northern Divers.
We had a hearty brunch and were off on the road again, on our way back. We would not go any further east. From the top of Mount Joseph in Carleton, we had a nice view on the Baie des Chaleurs and New-Brunswick. We also went round the Miguasha peninsula, famous the world over for its cliff full of fossils but did not spend much time there. On a sandbar, I found a Grey Plover and 4 Semipalmated Plovers together with other waders. That day was the anniversary of what is called the "Grand Dérangement" in Quebec. This day commemorates the time when thousands of French people were forced to move away and many Acadian flags had been hoisted on public buildings. We noted that they were similar to the French flag, except for an additional star in the blue part.
We drove along the Matapedia river to come back to the southern bank of the Saint-Lawrence, stopping here and there to have a look at a few covered bridges before taking the boat from Matane to Baie Comeau. I had booked a room by telephone but once at the motel, I noted nobody was expecting us. The people there were not very professional but quite friendly and we finally managed to find a room to sleep in.
A covered bridge
The weather was beautiful but it was chilly. In spite of this, I did a little birdwatching before breakfast. From the top of a rocky slope, I saw a Nashville Warbler and two White-throated Sparrows. Apparently, this bird was a pretty common one in the area because I could hear its melodious whistle quite often. In order to make the most of this pleasant area, we went to the "Parc aux Outardes", the local name for Canada Geese. We saw a Red Squirrel, much smaller than our Common Squirrel. Although I had been told there were no bears in the park, I found a tree whose bark had been completely scraped off one metre from the bottom upwards. Another guide I met on the way admitted a bear had actually been seen there 3 days before. Apparently, they didn't want to scare tourists away. We then drove up road 389 leading to Labrador and Newfoundland, some 500 km away, to reach Manic 2, a hydro-electric barrage. We had made an appointment with a guide who pledged he could show bears, without taking any risks. I was sure they were baited to some place in the forest but I was too keen to this animal so we followed him onto the spot. We finally saw them and learnt they avoid contacts with humans but are extremely quick and strong and can be dangerous if caught unawares.
Early in the morning, a Merlin attacked me. It stooped on me even if I clearly was not near its nesting place. I had been exactly in the same spot the day before and never triggered off any hostile reaction. A few minutes later, another Merlin came and hunted this bird away. After breakfast, we left Baie Comeau for Tadoussac. While driving, a Pileated Woodpecker flew past my car but I could only see it for one or two seconds. Too bad! Stopping on the way, I had the opportunity to watch Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. I had a good view of them with my binoculars but I still regretted I had had to leave my spotting scope at home.
Just our luck! On the very day we went to look for whales, it started raining. The weather was much colder and there were even thick patches of fog on the Saint-Lawrence. The zodiac rushed on the river and the rain lashed against our faces but fortunately enough, we had been told to dress warmly. The fog lifted little by little and we finally could see the whales a little better than from the river bank. We saw a few Minke Whales, two or three much bigger Fin Whales, Harbour Porpoise but the Belugas never approached us. Unless you insist on seeing Fin Whales, paying for such a trip is useless because you can see them together with Belugas from the strand if you have a good pair of binoculars. We also tried to find a Blue Whale, which had been observed during the previous days but to no avail. We were shivering with cold but nonetheless happy and we then drove off to Quebec City where we found a motel in the suburbs.
A Fin Whale blowing
We didn't stay too long in Quebec City and, following the southern bank of the river, drove back to Montreal where we returned our car. We were accommodated in the same hotel as before and we had a few hours to spend in the historical parts of the city. A violent thunderstorm broke out while we were visiting the Town Hall. In the evening, we learnt that another thunderstorm had struck Toronto at the same time, just when a plane coming from Paris landed. It left the runway and burst in flames. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. We thought plane crashes don't happen too frequently and crossed our fingers in view of the following day, when we had to return to France.
We still had half-a-day to wait so we decided to go to Mont-Royal again. The Grey Squirrels were still as cheeky and were hoping to get some food whenever someone sat down on a bench. In a small shortcut in the middle of the woods, I twitched the Eastern Wood-Pewee. It perched itself on a small branch to catch insects, right in front of me. Not far away, a Hairy Woodpecker was climbing along the same tree-trunk as 2 Pileated Woodpeckers which I observed for quite a long time. They were hammering at the branches, chipping off large pieces of wood. The numerous holes in the rotten trunks were a clear indication I was in their usual feeding place.
The heat was oppressive when we were downtown again, in the middle of the huge concrete and glass skyscrapers. We cooled of a little in Marie Reine du Monde Cathedral before going back to the hotel and away to the airport. There, people were reading newspapers but nobody said a word about the plane which had burnt the day before.
After a 6 and a half hour's flight, we were back in the hustle and bustle of Paris and noted there were still as many grumbling people as before.
To identify birds, I used the "Field Guide to the Birds of North America" published by the National Geographic Society and the "Guide d'Identification des Oiseaux du Québec et des Maritimes" by Jean Paquin and Ghislain Caron published by Michel Quintin. This book comes with a CD of bird songs and is very convenient in the field because it only deals with the birds you can see in this area. Its plastic cover is very useful when you're out.
List of bird species:
|001||Great Northern Diver||Gavia immer||Commoner than expected.|
|002||Double-crested Cormorant||Phalacrocorax auritus||Common.|
|003||Red-necked Grebe||Podiceps griseigena||One bird in Newport, seen from the dining-room in a restaurant.|
|004||Pied-billed Grebe||Podilymbus podiceps||Rather common.|
|005||Razorbill||Alca torda||A few birds at Percé.|
|006||Black Guillemot||Cepphus grylle||Common in the estuary.|
|007||Atlantic Puffin||Fratercula artica||One immature at Percé.|
|008||Surf Scoter||Melanitta perspicillata||3 birds only.|
|009||Common Eider||Somateria mollissima||Very common in the estuary.|
|010||Common Merganser||Mergus merganser||Rather common.|
|011||Common Goldeneye||Bucephala clangula||A female in the harbour at Rivière-au-Renard.|
|012||Bufflehead||Bucephala albeola||Rare. A small group at La Baie, Saguenay Park.|
|013||Canada Goose||Branta canadensis||Seen mainly in the Parc aux Outardes.|
|014||American Black Duck||Anas rubripes||A few. It is definitely not black!|
|015||Gadwall||Anas strepera||A few.|
|016||Mallard||Anas platyrhynchos||Very common.|
|017||Wood Duck||Aix sponsa||Rather common.|
|018||Common Moorhen||Gallinula chloropus||A few birds.|
|019||American Coot||Fulica americana||Don't expect to see as many of them as you might see Common Coot (Fulica atra) in Europe. Seen once from the train.|
|020||Great Blue Heron||Ardea herodias||Rather common.|
|021||Great White Egret||Casmerodius albus||One bird at Saint-Pierrey.|
|022||Green Heron||Butorides virescens||Rather common.|
|023||Black-crowned Night-Heron||Nycticorax nycticorax||Seen a few times.|
|024||Grey Plover||Pluvialis squatarola||One bird only.|
|025||Semipalmated Plover||Charadrius semipalmatus||A few birds. Looks a lot like the Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula).|
|026||Killdeer||Charadrius vociferus||Rather common.|
|027||Whimbrel||Numenius phaeopus||One migrating bird seen on a mud bank along the Saint-Lawrence.|
|028||Greater Yellowlegs||Tringa melanoleuca||Rather common.|
|029||Lesser Yellowlegs||Tringa flavipes||Rather common.|
|030||Spotted Sandpiper||Actitis macularia||Rather common.|
|031||Upland Sandpiper||Bartramia longicauda||4 birds seen in a field.|
|032||Short-billed Dowitcher||Limnodromus griseus||2 birds in a river near Montreal.|
|033||Ruddy Turnstone||Arenaria interpres||Seen once only.|
|034||Least Sandpiper||Calidris minutilla||A few birds seen several times on mud banks.|
|035||Semipalmated Sandpiper||Calidris pusilla||A few birds. Looks a lot like the previous species.|
|036||Northern Gannet||Morus bassanus||Very common in the estuary.|
|037||Black-legged Kittiwake||Rissa tridactyla||Rather common near the cliffs of Gaspesie.|
|038||Bonaparte's Gull||Larus philadelphia||Seen mainly in Forillon Park and around Tadoussac.|
|039||Ring-billed Gull||Larus delawarensis||Very common and tame everywhere.|
|040||American Herring Gull||Larus smithsonianus||Common around the estuary.|
|041||Great Black-backed Gull||Larus marinus||Rather common in the estuary.|
|042||Common Tern||Sterna hirundo||A few birds.|
|043||Caspian Tern||Hydroprogne caspia||One bird on the Saint-Lawrence.|
|044||Black Tern||Chlidonias niger||A nesting colony near Montreal.|
|045||Turkey Vulture||Cathartes aura||Commoner and commoner. The way it hovers with its wings raised in a shallow V is typical.|
|046||Bald Eagle||Haliaeetus leucocephalus||Seen a few times. Up to 12 birds at Deschambault.|
|047||Osprey||Pandion haliaetus||One in a marsh and another flying over the Saint-Lawrence.|
|048||Broad-winged Hawk||Buteo platypterus||A few birds only.|
|049||Red-tailed Hawk||Buteo jamaicensis||A few. I expected to see many more.|
|050||Hen Harrier||Circus cyaenus||Seen once only.|
|051||American Kestrel||Falco sparverius||Probably the commonest raptor.|
|052||Merlin||Falco columbarius||A few birds.|
|053||Peregrine Falcon||Falco peregrinus||2 immatures in Montreal and a family at Niagara Falls.|
|054||Grey Partridge||Perdix perdix||A family seen in a field.|
|055||Ruffed Grouse||Bonasa umbellus||Seen twice. A bird with 11 chicks in Mounts Chic-Choc.|
|056||Rock Dove||Columba livia||Very common.|
|057||Mourning Dove||Zenaida macroura||Common. Easy to determine with its long tail when perched on electric lines.|
|058||Eastern Phoebe||Sayornis phoebe||One bird only.|
|059||Great Crested Flycatcher||Myiarchus crinitus||One bird seen for a few seconds.|
|060||Eastern Kingbird||Tyrannus tyrannus||Rather common in certain places.|
|061||Eastern Wood-Pewee||Contopus virens||One bird in Mont Royal Park, Montreal.|
|062||Least Flycatcher||Empidonax minimus||One bird in Forillon Park.|
|063||Yellow-bellied Flycatcher||Empidonax flaviventris||One bird at Cape Tourmente.|
|064||Alder Flycatcher||Empidonax alnorum||Heard quite frequently.|
|065||Willow Flycatcher||Empidonax traillii||Pretty rare. Its cry helps make it out from the previous species.|
|066||Chimney Swift||Chaetura pelagica||Common in large cities.|
|067||Tree Swallow||Tachycineta bicolor||A few birds.|
|068||Northern Rough-winged Swallow||Stelgidopteryx serripennis||Seen a few times, very often near water.|
|069||Sand Martin||Riparia riparia||A few birds.|
|070||Cliff Swallow||Petrochelidon pyrrhonata||Rather common.|
|071||Barn Swallow||Hirundo rustica||Rather common.|
|072||Ruby-throated Hummingbird||Archilocus colibris||Visits bird feeders at Cape Tourmente. Rather aggressive with birds of the same species.|
|073||Belted Kingfisher||Megaceryle alcyon||Seen several times.|
|074||Blue Jay||Cyanocitta cristata||One bird flying over a wood.|
|075||Common Raven||Corvus corax||Seen several times in mountainous areas.|
|076||American Crow||Corvus brachyrhynchos||Rather common.|
|077||Common Grackle||Quiscalus quiscula||Common.|
|078||Red-winged Blackbird||Agelaius phoeniceus||Common.|
|079||Brown-headed Cowbird||Molothrus ater||A few birds.|
|080||Common Starling||Sturnus vulgaris||Common.|
|081||Bobolink||Dolichonyx oryzivorus||A few groups.|
|082||Downy Woodpecker||Picoides pubescens||One bird only.|
|083||Hairy Woodpecker||Picoides villosus||Seen in Mont Royal Park, Montreal.|
|084||Pileated Woodpecker||Dryocopus pileatus||A memorable observation of 2 immature birds in Mont Royal Park, Montreal.|
|085||Northern Flicker||Colaptes auratus||Rather common.|
|086||Black-capped Chickadee||Poecile atricapillus||A few birds.|
|087||Red-breasted Nuthatch||Sitta canadensis||One bird in a wood of Bic Park.|
|088||House Wren||Troglodytes aedon||One bird only.|
|089||Sedge Wren||Cistothorus platensis||Difficult to see.|
|090||Veery||Catharus fuscenscens||One bird only.|
|091||American Robin||Turdus migratorius||A few birds.|
|092||Red-eyed Vireo||Vireo olivaceus||More easily heard than seen.|
|093||Yellow Warbler||Dendroica petechia||Seen once only.|
|094||Common Yellowthroat||Geothlypis trichas||Seen once only.|
|095||Nashville Warbler||Vermivora ruficapilla||Seen at the edge of a forest in Manicouagan.|
|096||American Redstart||Setophaga ruticilla||A beautiful bird, seen twice.|
|097||Black-and-white Warbler||Mniotilta varia||One bird flying over a small river.|
|098||White-throated Sparrow||Zonotrichia albicollis||Seen and heard, especially in Manicouagan. A marvellous singer.|
|099||Dark-eyed Junco||Junco hyemalis||3 birds in a wood of Bic Park.|
|100||Rufous-sided Towhee||Pipilo erythrophtalmus||A beautiful bird, spotted by Michel Bertrand.|
|101||Song Sparrow||Melospiza melodia||Rather common.|
|102||Savannah Sparrow||Passerculus sandwichensis||Rather common. Looks a lot like the Song Sparrow but its shorter tail helps make the difference.|
|103||Chipping Sparrow||Spizella passerina||Rather common.|
|104||FieldSparrow||Spizella pusilla||Rare in Quebec but Michel Bertrand took us to the best spots.|
|105||Swamp Sparrow||Melospiza georgiana||Seen several times in marshes.|
|106||Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||Seen in meadows.|
|107||House Sparrow||Passer domesticus||Very common.|
|108||Cedar Waxwing||Bombycilla cedrorum||Rather common and easy to spot at the top of large trees.|
|109||Rose-breasted Grosbeak||Pheuctitus ludovicianus||4 birds seen with Michel Bertrand.|
|110||Baltimore Oriole||Icterus galbula||4 birds seen together.|
|111||Indigo Bunting||Passerina cyanea||A beautiful bird seen thanks to Michel Bertrand.|
|112||Purple Finch||Carpodacus purpureus||One individual seen at a bird feeder in the forest.|
|113||American Goldfinch||Carduelis tristis||Rather common. Once you know its cry, you can find it rather easily.|
Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)
Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus): Smaller than our Common Squirrel.
Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum): Often found dead on the roads.
Woodchuck (Marmota monax)
Virginia Deer (Odocoileus virginianus): 4 seen from a train.
Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina)
Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)
Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)
Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)
Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)