There is a small archipelago of beautiful islands a couple of hours flight north-east of Montreal in the middle of the Gulf of St-Lawrence where we have just passed a splendid week watching birds, discovering wild flowers and eating marvellously fresh seafood. This post is simply a brief record of the highlights – but don’t worry, it is not a tedious “first we did this, then we saw that account”.
I will divide the account into four segments with plenty of pictures and few words – Landscape, Birds, Insects and Mammals and, of course, Plants. There are links to photo galleries – as usual click on any thumbnail to open the images full screen and be able to read the captions, most of which are the names of species seen.
There are separate links to specific photograph albums with each brief section below or you can visit them all at once via the following link
Landscape and Island Life
Sea, sand, salt-marshes and a few low hills. Economy based primarily on fishing and the best lobsters we have ever tasted. Predominantly francophone (Acadians, despite this being in Quebec) but a couple of anglophone communities descended from Scottish and Irish fishers who arrived a couple of hundred years ago. An archipelago of small islands linked by roads built along lengthy sand dune spits linking them together. A week was not long enough and we plan to return next June to round things off.
A couple of hours flight north from Montreal so easy to get to – albeit the air fare is more expensive than flying across the Atlantic to the UK.
The photographs should speak for themselves, I think.
To enjoy the views, visit this album
Insects and Mammals
Insects were not the main focus of the trip, but always interesting. Mosquitoes apart, of course. We did, however, observe two of the more unusual species of Bumblebees (Tricoloured and Red-banded), some Odonata species and were intrigued by the often seen Swallowtail butterflies. We assumed that they were male Black Swallowtails but on examining the photographs it turned out that they were Short-tailed Swallowtails which are very similar to the Blacks with, guess what, short “tails” on the wings. To our eyes they seemed a bit deeper in colour than the Blacks we see here and apparently the population on Cape Breton – not that far south across the sea – is known for its orange markings so that all fits. They mostly occur in coastal regions where lovage grows near the seashore and are restricted entirely to this eastern end of the Gulf of St-Lawrence.
I have lumped mammals into this section with the insects so they don’t get lost. There are fewer than ten mammalian species on the islands altogether and five of those are mice. The photos I have to share are of a fox watching us from a hillside and a herd of hardy “Canadienne” cattle in the mist … the latter were not at all wild but supplied the milk to a splendid fromagerie (Au Pied des Vents).
There is a small album with these species at
Birds tend to be the main feature of these travel accounts, other than the many plants for which J gathers the information. In total we saw 64 species in the five days were on the islands. Plenty of seabirds and ducks of course, but also some very nice smaller songbirds.
I have placed a full list of the bird species on eBird which you can access via this link:
These islands are very much the “Kingdom of the Savannah Sparrow”. After we had dropped our bags off at the hotel we went for a walk and found them shouting to each other from the grass and low bushes all around. In fact, there were very few places we visited at all that did not have a healthy population. Not a bird we see commonly so this was quite a treat.
One day … we were told by a reliable source that a Short-eared Owl had twice been seen near or on a specific power pole along the highway and off we went in search of it. Quite a walk from the nearest parking to the numbered pole ensued but after a half hour and 14 pairs of binoculars scanning every tree or bush or shady nook in sight we concluded … the Owl was not there. Several members of the group were, however, introduced to the infamous birding words “Twitch” and “Dip”. It was fun though.
Bird flu is clearly a big problem. Every beach we visited had dead gannets and occasionally Guillemots that had died at sea and been washed up on the sand. Yes, there are pictures.
The bird photographs are in an album at
Plants were particularly enjoyable with so many seashore and sand-dune specialist species to admire – please do make a point of looking at the photo album. An especially rich source were the dunes in the East Point nature park which by themselves were enough to encourage us to return next summer.
We were struck by the richness of the forest-floor plant community. In particular that of the wooded area between the hotel and the Bassin-des-huitres. This is indicative of an undisturbed and long-existing habitat.
Some most unusual findings included Three-toothed Cinquefoil, Northern Starflower. Sea Sandwort and the Hygroscopic Earthstar fruiting bodies of a fungus in the nature park. There were a good number of flowering specimens of Northern Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor) plus, a slightly paler but otherwise visually similar species, the Beach-head Iris (Iris hookeri) which is endemic to sea coasts and beaches in Maine, in the Northeastern United States and eastern Canada in locations where it is exposed to salt spray.
(Note: some plant identifications are still under review but we are confident of most of them)
Photographs of the plants can be enjoyed at:
Leave A Comment