Sandra and I usually restrict our travel on long weekends. Not because we don’t want to do stuff but because everyone else does too and at the same time and often offensive stuff that is diametrically opposed to our interests, so we usually stay at home. This time we didn’t, we decided it was time to visit the St-Lawrence. Our plan was to drive to Matane on the south shore, take the 05:30 ferry to Godbout on the north shore and then explore.
It was something of a surprise that we actually found accommodation. It seemed that we might be in danger of having to dig out the tent and then have to find the instructions for putting it up, it has more guy ropes than a circus big top and if you get the wrong rod in the wrong place it is a disaster. In the end it was not necessary and we found a room in Matane, Baie Comeau and Baie Ste-Catherine. Now all we needed was for the birds to play along.
It took 12 hours to get to Matane but we did fit in a bit of birding on the way. Most stops were short but we had a nice walk around a small part of the Cacouna reserve, fortunately it was the part containing a Yellow Rail. The weather was gloriously nice and it stayed that way for the duration, great for those on the beaches, but a bit benign when it came to mixing up the bird population. We had gambled that the jaegers and stuff of that ilk would start to penetrate the St-Lawrence, we were also on the trail of the alcids. The gamble failed and we didn’t see anything we didn’t expect aside from a Black-headed Gull later. It looks like we’ll be heading back again later in the year.
The crossing from Matane to Godbout takes a couple of hours and is done on a large ferry. The car storage is interesting, as is trying to find your way to the decks, a prehensile tail would have been most useful to assist with the navigation of the gantry we’d had to park on. The deck is stable, we could probably have used the scope, but it could do with some side-on seats, preferably dry ones. If we were to do this run again (audible groan from Sandra) then we’d take collapsible seats and do a foot passenger return trip. The birding was hardly spectacular except for a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes that the boat flushed, 15 in all, a hoped for but not really expected species and quite early. There is a theory that a ‘warm’ arctic will see northern birds moving early this year.
The better part of the crossing was the last third when we started to encounter all three scoters, an eBird alerting six Long-tailed Ducks and close views of Razorbill and Common Murre. We also saw a couple of Black Guillemots, a species absent from the rest of the sites we visited on the trip. They have been pretty common on previous autumn visits but, as we’d not been mid-summer, perhaps it was just the norm.
There were a few Minke and a single Fin Whale on the crossing but it wasn’t one of our better ones. On the plus side we had lots of Black-legged Kittiwakes, a bird that has a facial expression suggesting that it has a bad smell under its nose, well beak. After landing at Godbout and extricating the car, we found a nice, empty bit by the river with a few birds and had breakfast. The plan was to visit Pointe-des-Monts looking for migrants and shorebirds. Then we might go to Sept-Isles just because we’d never been but also to see what was around. There was a Black Skimmer being seen in the previous few days but we’d be there at low tide thereby minimising our chances of seeing it.
Pointe-des-Monts was a good spot for a couple of hours, we found a few Sedge Darners, a North America ode tick but something we have in the UK, we call it Common Hawker and I’ve seen many. There were also two Ruddy Turnstones (the only ones we saw) but, better still, 13 Whimbrel. They were a bit nervous but I caught a few on pixel. All the while we were there small shapes hurried past and disappearing into the dense tress, mostly Tennessee Warblers on their way, the migration is underway.