Snow Geese of Quebec
October 10-12, 2009
38,000 Snow Geese and ten
Maine Audubon adventurers descended on Quebec City over Columbus Day Weekend.
The fact that the annual spectacle coincides with peak foliage along the
St. Lawrence River just goes to show that nature doesn't always play
fair. The event can be visually overwhelming. So many geese! Not
to mention that this is also the flyway for raptors, waterfowl, and an
abundance of songbirds.
Cap Tourmente is a Canadian National
Wildlife Refuge that lies about 40 minutes east of Quebec City. Here, a
large ridgeline intersects with the St. Lawrence, enabling an abundance
of bulrushes to grow in its lee. This is the favorite food of Snow Geese
and they have been congregating at this spot during their southward
migration for millennia.
Both in and around the park, wetlands have been
restored for waterfowl. Here, too, the abundance can be astonishing. An
uncountable number of Green-winged Teal were present, joined by
Mallards, Black Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeons, Hooded
Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, and Pied-billed Grebes.
On our journey to Quebec, we stopped for a picnic
lunch at the site of the longest wooden bridge in the province (left).
Later, we spent the afternoon sampling the culture of Old Quebec and the
history of the Plains of Abraham that still dominates the high ground.
Old Quebec is a very walkable city, with navigation made easy by the
towering presence of the Chateau Frontenac hotel (right) - an
original Canadian Pacific hotel that is still one of the finest in the
country. Continuing our pursuit of superlatives, the group then feasted
at the oldest continually operating restaurant in downtown Old Quebec.
We woke to showers the next day, but clearing had
already begun by the time we finished breakfast, and the overnight
weather appeared to have ushered in a few migrants. White-crowned
Sparrows (left) were abundant, as were White-throated Sparrows and
Dark-eyed Juncos. We enjoyed a smattering of Yellow-rumped Warblers and
Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and one easy look at a Vesper Sparrow. Our first
significant bird of the morning was a Rough-legged Hawk that kited near
the car and then swooped right past us!
Because the ridgeline runs behind the wetlands and
fields, Cap Tourmente is an excellent place to observe raptors.
Favorable winds early on our second day sent a few migrating hawks down
the ridge, but when the wind shifted to the south, the hawks shifted
from migrating to feeding. We had multiple close encounters with
American Kestrels and Northern Harriers, and a few fleeting glimpses of
Sharp-shinned Hawks and Merlins. As favorable winds returned on Monday
morning, a variety of hawks again began to stream down the ridge,
particularly Red-tailed Hawks. The morning continued with more geese,
more ducks, and more raptors, until at long last it was time to depart.
As we skirted the farm fields on
the way out of town, we found ourselves lured to a field by
a flock of realistic Snow Goose decoys. Humorously, we then noticed a
sign on the side of the barn that showed the owner of the decoys has
much in common with the trip guide and chapter president: Robert Duchesne.
The return home was broken up by stops at several
waterfalls, including those on the Chaudiere River (top right) just
outside the city. Per usual, the trip featured the
hallmarks of a typical Penobscot Valley Chapter tour: good food, good
company, and great birding!