Breaks Bird Photography
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Ontario and Quebec, CANADA
22nd July – 12th August 2009
It was time to move on again as we travelled northeast along the St Lawrence River past Quebec City making an initial stop at Cap de Tormente. Here the woodland trail was quiet disappointing mainly with the failed success of finding a black bear. However a juvenile did show briefly along with many Chipmunks. Out of the woods a rough field held a flock of 30 Bobolinks along with Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles. Down the track a little was a dead tree that seemed home to a family of American Kestrels as did the car park for a family of Eastern Bluebirds. As we started to leave the park a large bird was spotted gliding along the hillside just inland, close scanning exposed 3 immature Bald Eagles moving along slowly being harassed by a Northern Harrier.
A couple of hours later and we were nearing our destination as we pulled up on the shore opposite Tadoussac. Looking out over the water I soon spotted a dorsal fin break the flat water surface, this small grey whale could only be one thing, a Minke Whale. And this is the main reason for our visit, the chance of seeing many cetaceans as we hope to do over the next few days. Catching the ferry across the fjord we arrived at our cabin. After settling in we had an evening stroll around the harbour and out to Point de I’Îslet and whilst frequently looking out to sea we were pleased with the number of whales seen. Even though they were all distant we could pick out two Humpback and 3+ Minke Whales with one even breaching! Birds noted over the water included Black-legged Kittiwakes, Double Crested Cormorants, Ring-billed and American Herring Gulls.
We wasted no time in getting out on the water with a Zodiac leaving the harbour at 9am. Straight away we were passing several Minke Whales as we headed out to the deep water, next we came across a large group of Grey Seals, estimate of 200-300 animals. As we travelled further we were astonished by how many Minke Whales we were seeing along with a few Harbour Porpoise. Then straight ahead a large blow was seen, moving closer it surfaced again with a large blow and it was a gigantic mammal, then on its final surface before diving it arched its back showing a small strongly curved dorsal fin. It was a Fin Whale, the 2nd largest whale in the world! As we bobbed about playing the waiting game, Minke Whales and a few Bonaparte’s Gulls surrounded us. After roughly15min he resurfaced coming up for air atleast six times before diving once again, after a while we were sure that there were in fact two Fin Whales as one gave amazingly close views making photography difficult (for me atleast!).
Fin Whale Minke Whale
After spending a hour plus following those incredible mammals we headed back towards the coast seeing 3 immature Gannets flying by followed by 6 White-winged Scoters. Just out from the harbour we investigated what two boats were up to, arriving in their vicinity we found a rather sleepy Humpback Whale that just bobbed about at the surface doing very little. We spent some time waiting for him to wake up but sadly we had to call it a day and headed for the harbour.
Afternoon arrived and we headed back to Point de I’Îslet in the hope of those white whales. The water seemed shockingly quiet in the heat of the day with the only thing worth looking at being a roosting flock of Herring, Kittiwake, Ring-billed and Bonaparte’s Gulls. Our stay was cut short as a thunderstorm rolled over the river resulting in us getting rather damp. Wanting to boost our mammal list even more we booked onto an evening tour to see some bears. Meeting up at 6.30pm on a rather dull drizzling evening we were shown a video before heading out to an observation hut where on arrival we had already been beaten. Looking across a shrub filled valley to a clearing we could see two Black Bears feeding away quietly at the feeding station. Moments later a third came and joined the feast with a much larger mammal making a brief visit later. All the mammals present were in fact males. All the Bears were happy with our presence as we enjoyed views through to darkness.
A glorious sunny day as we arrived at Baie Sainte-Marguerite car park. Walking the 3.2km hike out to the lookout point we saw 3 young Swainson’s Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows and a warbler flock holding Canada, Magnolia, Black and White, Nashville, Tennessee and Red-eyed Vireos. We also found a raptor nest halfway along the hike in a large spruce that had a young Merlin in the nest with 3 more on the surrounding branches. Arriving at the lookout we could see out over the Saguenay fjord as the tide was rising, birds viewable were a Common Loon, 8 Common Mergansers and a few Double Crested Cormorants. We had been sat for just three quarters of an hour when from our left appeared white objects. Beluga Whale!!!!!!!! Just minutes later and more appeared as they moved across the fjord towards us passing within 200m as the group of 30+ headed across to the opposite side of the bay. As they travelled a few animals raised their heads out of the water with the odd tail also being lifted but even more exciting were the little grey young whales that popped up every now and again. We stayed and watched these beautiful creatures for several hours as they moved back and forth across the opposite side of the bay. Eventually we decided to move on leaving the whales behind.
Merlin Black and White Warbler
Driving back to the St. Lawrence River we headed a little further up the coast past Les Bergeronnes to Cap de Bon-Désir a famous whale watching point. On arrival we were informed that our main target had been sighted. Walking down the short trail and out onto the rocks we settled down with the many other tourists. Within a few minutes Margaret spotted a large blow far out across the river, training our scopes on the spot we saw another blow through the haze, and another, and another, finally on the 9th blow we managed to see a very long whale as it arched its back into view showing a very small dorsal fin and it even looked ‘blue’ in colour. Wow we had just seen the largest mammal on earth, a magnificent Blue Whale! We knew it would be back and just over ten minutes later large blows could been seen again. For the remainder of our stay we watched it as it moved slowly further away and more into the haze and rougher water. Other cetaceans also seen were just Harbour Porpoise except for a second large whale the could be seen to our right giving off big blows also, sadly this one was to far off to identify but it was either a fin or even maybe another blue!
Birds were also on the move past the point with Black Guillemot, several Common Eiders, Surf Scoter, Common Goldeneye, Gannets, Black-legged Kittiwakes and an endless stream of Double Crested Cormorants as well as a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron. A great end to a marvellous day.
A cloudy day and we were back out on the water on a small zodiac this time from Les Bergeronnes were there were roughly 100 Common Eider out from the harbour and in the bay sat an immature Bald Eagle harassing a cormorant. The cruise started off with an actively feeding Minke Whale showing well close to shore. We headed further on and around a point to where 3 Humpback Whales had been located. Thankfully these were a bit more active than the one the other day. They were actively feeding and were moving to an amazing 100m from the shore. These mammals were diving in water of depth 50-100m for 7 minutes at a time. When at then surface they would come for air roughly 7 times before arching their backs for diving and the fantastic news was that two of the whales were also lifting their flukes (tail) on diving making the observation even more magical.
After finally dragging ourselves away from the Humpbacks we went in search of a Fin Whale but sadly ran out of time and we had to head back to the harbour. For lunch we headed back to Cap de Bon-Désir where we found a Razorbill sitting on the water offshore with a Black Guillemot, 6 White-winged Scoter, 3 Surf Scoter and several Gannets also recorded. Cetaceans seen were many Harbour Porpoise, a couple Minke Whales and two very distant large whales with big blows.
For the afternoon we headed further north to Longue-Rive where we were in search of shorebirds. The tide was high so birds were pushed up against the marshes along the roadside. First stop noted Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Black Duck, Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canada Goose and lots of Ring-billed Gulls. Further up the road we came to an open marsh with a platform for viewing, here we found 3 white morph Snow Geese in the flock of Canada Geese as a male Northern Harrier flew Overhead. Unable to find any more waders we headed back to our starting point where the water had started to drop uncovering mud as evening drew in. We now found a larger group of Semipalmated Plovers that had been joined by many Semipalmated Sandpipers and with careful checking we found 2 White-rumped Sandpipers.
Again Nicola and myself found ourselves back on the water but this time we were trying out a bit of sea-kayaking! For the morning whilst Margaret and Brian headed back out to Point de I’Îslet. Our kayak adventure started on the beach in Tadoussac where we headed out into the bay immediately seeing the Humpback Whales from yesterday back in the same spot, we rowed over and enjoyed more views of their flukes but there only seemed to be two whales today. After a short while we headed around past Point de I’Îslet seeing a distant Minke Whale and up to six very distant Beluga Whales working the shore across the fjord. From here we headed a little further up the fjord before time was called and we had to head back. A rather enjoyable experience and a very lucky one getting that close to whales.
After lunch we spent a little time in town being tourists before heading east out to the sand dunes where we had a flyby Sharp-shinned Hawk as the sun continued to shine. After an early dinner we decided to return to Point de I’Îslet for one last time. As the sun started to set there was no whale activity at all, a sharp contrast from the morning so we had to make do with the ever present Ring-billed Gulls as a rain shower crossed the river producing two splendid rainbows.
Finally having to leave Tadoussac we boarded the ferry across the fjord on a calm cloudy morning with the hope of a final whale or two. But it wasn’t until the last 200m of the crossing when Margaret shouted BELUGA! There in front of the boat were two whales just metres from the dock, once off the ferry we staked out the dock wall and as the ferry departed the Beluga’s reappeared close in giving excellent views as they surfaced for air. After a while a third animal appeared before promptly vanishing. After watching these whales for some time we managed to drag our eyes off them to see a Minke Whale surfacing just higher up the coast, this whale was actively feeding but by the time we wandered over it had had its fill and was halfway across the fjord. There was now no sign of the Beluga’s so we continued our journey south.
For lunch we made a revisit to Cap de Tourmente that was very productive for birds around the car park. We were able to find a warbler flock containing Black and White, Canada, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, American Redstart and a couple Blackpoll. Also spotted were Willow and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher whilst a walk out to the platform viewing over the marsh added 3 distant Bald Eagles and over a hundred Black Ducks. The day ended halfway between Quebec City and Montreal.
Canada Warbler Groundhog
Beaver Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory
The day started with a hive of activity in the yard as a juvenile Orchard Oriole was with a flock of 3 Baltimores. Also heard singing was a Black-billed Cuckoo but Nicola was to busy chasing around the numerous Garter Snakes and Chipmunks. A Walk up to Point Traverse was very quiet with just a juvenile Eastern Towhee of note.
Chipmunk Garter Snake
After lunch we drove into the centre of the county to Beaver Meadows where we checked out a small pool that was filled with lots of Painted Turtles but meanwhile in the trees overhead there was a stunning male Scarlet Tanager along with a female. Carrying on through the wood we came to a viewing platform that viewed out over a drained pond. Here the mud was absolutely covered with Killdeer, scanning with the telescope found 2 White-rumped Sandpipers with a group of 30+ Semipalmated Sandpipers. Also there were 3 Spotted Sandpipers, 4 Semipalmated Plovers and finally a Pectoral Sandpiper was spotted over on the far side.
Scarlet Tanager Painted Turtle
On route home we passed by a flooded marsh that held 6 Green Herons and a Hooded merganser as well as a Water Snake and the ever present dragonflies.
Started the morning trying to catch a few birds with some of the ground traps set and a single mist net next to the house for 3 hours. We ended up with a reasonable tally of 21 new birds and 8 retraps:
Mourning Dove (1)
Cedar Waxwing 1
Gray Catbird (2)
House Wren 1
Yellow Warbler 4
Song Sparrow 2
Chipping Sparrow 3 (3)
Purple Finch 10 (1)
American Goldfinch (1)
Gray Catbird Mourning Dove
For lunch we headed to the north of the county to a lunch invite seeing Mute Swans on route. After waiting for a thunderstorm to pass through we headed west past Big Island where viewing over the marsh was impossible due to extensive reeds and heat haze. Luckily just up the road we found a pool on the opposite side of the road full of Geese and 5 obvious Great Egrets. Looking more carefully the muddy shore was covered with Killdeers as well as 3 Greater Yellowlegs, a Wilson’s Snipe and a Long-billed Dowitcher. Other birds included a few Blue-winged Teals, juvenile and adult Black Tern. For the evening we went back to the obs and enjoyed watching two Hummingbirds along with a Least Flycatcher and male Eastern Towhee as the weather went very humid with the threat of thunderstorms all around!
A day trip to Presqu’ile Provincial Park whilst dropping Nicola off with some mates for her last two days. We arrived at the park mid-morning and headed straight to the beach (as everyone does!), thankfully it was a cloudy but very humid day so the beach was quiet. First we saw some roosting gulls that were mainly Ring-billed with a few Herring and a couple of Bonaparte’s. A little further up the beach was a wet muddy section that was covered with little shorebirds, mostly Semipalmated Plovers with some very approachable sandpipers, 9 Least, 1 Baird’s and 2 Semipalmated. Higher up the beach was a fenced off section with roosting gulls, Caspian Terns and Canada Geese.
Semipalmated Sandpiper Baird's Sandpiper
After having our fill of Sandpipers but thankfully not the Merlin that whizzed through the flock we moved onto the marsh boardwalk trail and then around to see the lighthouse. Seeing very few birds we moved to Calf Pasture Point where we found many dragonflies, frogs and a Eastern Milk Snake. Deciding to end our visit we returned to the beach for a final look. The wet area was now very quiet with only a couple Semipalmated Plovers and Killdeers so we went to the fenced of area where the gulls and terns were still roosting. Scanning along the waters edge we found 2 Black-bellied Plovers and 7 Sanderling running back and forth. A look out over the lake at Owen Point revealed thousand’s of Cormorants on the islands as well as a pair of swans. Moving to a better location along with telescopes we found the swans had moved even further away but could still make them out to be Trumpeters. Even further away we managed to pick out a single Horned Grebe on the lake before heading on our way back to the point.
Final stop of the day as temperatures reached 27 degrees Celsius was at Constructed Marsh which was home to many Wood Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Osprey, 1 Green Heron and a Hooded Merganser.
The day started calm and warm once again so a couple mist nets were opened for a couple hours. Best bird caught by far was a Black-billed Cuckoo that was drawn in after being heard singing. Also caught were 2 Bobolinks, 2 Purple Finch, 3 Yellow Warbler, 3 Chipping and 2 Song Sparrows. Wanting a walk around the harbour we closed the nets and wandered round as the sun started to heat up. Looking around the harbour we found sat on low tree branches a Blanding’s and a few Painted Turtles meanwhile the local swallows started to alarm as the mobbed a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk that was passing through. Next we saw a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, shortly before flushing a Ruffed Grouse from a trackside bush. The Lighthouse was very quiet saw we walked back to the car for a drive around the county, first stop was Kaiser Crossroads that confirmed our thoughts that there would be no water as maize was trying to grow.
Black-billed Cuckoo Song Sparrow
A stop at Waupoos marina was productive with 6 Least Sandpipers, 8+ Spotted Sandpipers and several Killdeer along with Caspian Terns all present on the breakwater made of tyres. Later after a refreshing ice cream we had just 2 Green Herons at the swamp along Old Milford Road. Further down the road and the two drinking pool 21 Killdeer present as well as a single Solitary Sandpiper. Down in Milford the two young Ospreys were testing out their wings plus their vocals.
Osprey Caspian Tern
Back at the point an evening visit to the harbour found two noisy Belted Kingfishers, one Beaver, 4 Water Snakes and a stag White-tailed Deer. As the sun hit the horizon we jumped in the car and headed to Babylon Road where after a short wait we could hear 4 Whip-poor-wills and had at least two fly over American Woodcocks to end the day.
Today was the final day of the family holiday, starting off once again with the mist nets open and the tape worked wonders attracting in a hit of 21 Bobolinks. 09:30hrs arrived and Margaret and Brian departed heading west along the 401 back to Toronto airport meeting up with Nicola before the long flight back to Manchester leaving me at the point ready for Autumn migration. In the three weeks we managed a very respectable species total of 177 but by far the highlight of the holiday has to be the amazing show of whales at Tadoussac.
All Images taken by Nicola, Margaret and Mark Breaks, Copyright - © Breaks Bird Photography