Below is an except from the forthcoming and very much anticipated (by my Mum) book ‘Just a Birder’. I will get it finished eventually I just have to stop re-writing it everytime I dip in to do some editing!
It was about my fifth visit to my new and temporary local patch and I was exploring ‘off-trail’ so to speak. Morgan Arboretum was very handy for now, my wife worked less than a kilometer away and so I could drop her off at the door and be in the woods five minutes later. I’d covered all of the trails, had my crutch sniffed by what seemed like a thousand dogs and found Mosquito central for West Island Montreal. I’d also found birds.
It was our third week as immigrants to Canada and I had a window of opportunity before starting a new job, a window that I intended to fill with as much local knowledge about our new avifauna as possible. It helped that it was the end of May and that migration was still underway. Morgan had been the ideal learning center with mixed habitat offering a steady grounding in species, most looking very different from the almost monochrome Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers I’d left behind in England.
I’d found the trails to be tough going at times. Not just because of the hordes of dogs and their owners out for walkies but because I’d not got my ears working yet. Ears on full alert are a prerequisite for a birder in a Canadian broad leafed woodland. As fortune would have it I’d found an open, scrubby area of the Arboretum which pulled in migrants and had a nice stock of breeding birds like Mourning Warbler, Alder Flycatcher and House Wren. It was there that I’d headed on my previous visist but today I’d fancied following my nose a bit.
I walked down the little slope of a track running off right from the Arboretum entrance road, the area ahead looked promising. Woodland edge always has something interesting and here, where the Arboretum ended and farmland began caught the warming sun perfectly. It was a sun trap if ever I saw one.
When walking new routes progress is inevitably slow. Each movement detected has to be thoroughly examined, a snatch of call sought out and tracked down and rustling leaves on the forest floor investigated. There was enough activity to keep me busy and so it took the best part of twenty minutes to cover 100m or less. Still wondering where exactly the track led to I looked up and found myself face to face with a Bear. OK, so the Bear was about 70m away but it was still a Bear.
Where I come from the most dangerous animal, apart from the locals that is, is a Hedgehog and they are only dangerous if you step on one with bare feet – this was something different. Ancient instincts kicked in, no I didn’t want to slaughter it and make a coat, I just froze. Then the brain started to ask reasonable questions like, did you get Bears in West Island Montreal? Surely not.
The Bear seemed unaware of me, partly due to my having a greater degree of muscle control in my younger days but also because I was down wind, thank you Grey Owl. I knew enough about Bears to know that they don’t have the greatest of eyesight but everything else is pretty sharp including their claws and so I slowly backed up, not taking my eyes of what seemed like a rather large animal. After twenty or so steps, which may have taken between three and four hours to execute, my curiosity told me to have a good look at the Bear through the bins.
The Bear had been on an elevated bank and the portion of it visible was from just below the shoulder and up. By walking backwards uphill my perspective had changed somewhat and now more of this magnificent creature was in view. At ankle level (the Bears) I could just see the top of a fence, good news, if it saw me at least there was some sort of obstacle that might delay my demise and, who knows, my Goat like agility and fleet of foot just might get me back to civilization in time. At this point I noticed people behind the Bear, brilliant, a distraction and it would surely go for them rather than me, a selfish perspective I know but we didn’t survive the nightly attacks of Sabre-toothed Tigers without a bit of a sense of self-preservation! By now I had a clear view of the Bear and realised that it was in some sort of Zoo, the Eco-Museum to be exact. I suspect my slightly hysterical laughter could be heard as far away as Mont Royal, idiot!
My reaction to the Bear was perhaps pretty typical of someone with no experience of them. Bears, real Bears, might be big and handy with their paws but they don’t like humans. In the years since this encounter we have found them very difficult to find in the wild. Footprints yes, steaming piles of recently processed apples in a friends Arundel orchard yes, but so far no solo encounters despite walking hundreds of kilometers of trails. We did once see seven genuinely wild Bears near Tadoussac, but they were being attracted by baiting with Doughnuts and I’m told that they don’t count; the jury is still out on that one.
One day we will be out on a trail and there will be a Bear. We will stand still and watch it or, if it pops its teeth and gets agitated we will slowly back away, preferably without making any involuntary sounds. The Bear will remember that we taste awful and wander off to find some of those nice berries it likes but for now this is my Bear story.
Below is one of the Tadoussac Bears having a face-off with with a Red Squirrel – my money is on the squirrel!