Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quebec City and Cap Tourmente

October 9-12, 2009
October 9, 2009

I had to work Friday morning and it was close to lunch time before we were able to get away from Toronto. The weather was dull, overcast, with periods of heavy rain at times. The drive along Highway 401 was fairly uneventful, but as soon as we arrived on the outskirts of Montreal we encountered stoppages and delays due to road construction and repairs, and progress was slow indeed. Realizing that we would not make it to Quebec at a reasonable hour we decided to spend the night in Montreal and leave early the next morning.
We were able to get a room at the P.-E. Trudeau Travelodge, but it turned out to be a sad choice. Our room was facing the highway and next to the vending machines. Sleep was an elusive commodity that night as the constant whine of traffic battled with the clank of cans hitting the bottom of the pop machines and the inebriated conversation of latecomers all night long.
Dinner was taken at a nearby Thai restaurant and was both excellent and reasonable.
Accomodation: Travelodge - Aeroport Montreal, 1010 Ch. Herron Dorval, QC H9S 1B3
Price: $89.90 plus taxes. Rating: 2 stars only; a room at the back might have rated higher.
October 10, 2009

Continental breakfast was included in the fee for the room and we ate at 06:30h. Mediocre would best describe the fare. No fruit, no yoghurt, mostly sickly pastries and donuts, with some cereal. I had a bagel and cream cheese, Miriam had hot oatmeal and we were on the road by 07:00h. We arrived at the Pont Mercier by 07:12h and despite it being reduced to one lane made good time across. A Great Blue Heron was the highlight from a birding perspective.
It was raining, sometimes with great intensity, and we were feeling a little gloomy given the awful weather. The closer we got to Quebec, however, the more the sky cleared and by the time we crossed the Pierre LaPorte Bridge from the south shore the sun was peeking through.
We called the B & B where we had reserved accommodation and were told that our room was ready and that we could park the car there and set off to explore Quebec City on foot. Since the B & B was centrally located we elected to do this.
The weather got progressively better and we had a marvellous time exploring old Quebec and had quite good birding in the parks in the old city and on the Plains of Abraham. There were many White-throated Sparrows, a Brown Creeper, Dark-eyed Juncos and a very confiding Hairy Woodpecker at arm’s length.
Our biggest disappointment was lunch. We ate at a bistro in the Vieux Quartier of Quebec and decided on those two most quintessential of Quebec dishes Soupe aux Pois and Poutine. The soup was awful, obviously from a can and heated in a microwave oven since it was scalding in places and cold in others. Poutine is an arterial nightmare, but not to be missed on a visit to Quebec. Sadly, this was everything that Poutine should not be. The fries, instead of being robust and crisp, able to withstand the onslaught of the gravy, becoming only coated and not absorbing the liquid, were instead drowned rather than fried and absorbed the gravy rendering everything a soggy mess. Furthermore, instead of traditional cheese curd they used cubes of cheese which promptly melted into the gravy forming a gelatinous goop. It was not vintage Poutine!
We returned to our B & B at around 17:00h and enjoyed a glass of Fuzion Shiraz before going out to dinner. The rue Cartier is an easy walk from the B & B and has no less than twenty-three restaurants. We selected an Indian restaurant called Garam Massala and enjoyed an excellent meal of Pappadum, Tandoori Chicken, Shrimp Korma, Aloo Peas, Rice Palao, Nan Bread and a fruit dessert. Service was good and we were well satisfied. It was delightful to walk back to the B & B where we retired to a good night’s sleep which was very welcome after the debacle the previous night at Dorval. Everything was quiet, we quickly fell asleep and didn’t waken until almost 06:00h the following morning.
Accommodation: Gite du Parc, 345, rue Fraser, Quebec, QC G1S1R2 Price: $115.00/night, all taxes included. Cash only. Rating: 4.5 stars.
October 11, 2009

Breakfast was a fine affair. Firstly (and most importantly) the coffee was very good! We were served orange juice, fruit and yoghurt, a three cheese omelette with ham, hot toast, and after we thought we had finished we were tempted by a little chocolate cake and pure, light, delicious Quebec maple syrup. How decadent is that?
Everything was prepared as each guest came in by Rene, the proprietor, and another convivial fellow who did most of the cooking. We were joined by a delightful young couple from Saskatchewan, Egan and Natasha, and two couples from France.
Right after breakfast we left for Ile d’Orleans in miserably cold, wet weather with the odd snowflake mixed in with the rain. We made a brief tour of the western part of the island, but the weather remained inclement and our birding opportunities were limited. There were only a few Ring-billed Gulls on the water, in an area where I have seen strays such as Black-legged Kittiwake in the past. We saw about a half dozen Great Blue Herons, all hunched over and looking dejected (anthropomorphism, I know) and a Golden-crowned Kinglet, as small highlights in a relatively birdless experience.
As we were leaving across the bridge we started to see a break in the dark sky and with the sun poking through, we drove to Cap Tourmente in high spirits. By the time we arrived there we had full sunshine and it was a pleasant day.
Cap Tourmente was the destination we had looked forward to the most. It is the first Ramsar Site in North America and is famed for the concentration of Snow Geese which stop there on their way farther south. Today we were in luck. We were advised at the gate that 38,000 Snow Geese were present. Many people had decided to visit, but most were non-birders without scopes or binoculars. We made our way to the viewing area and were enthralled with the activity taking place. Many geese were feeding but others were arriving and still others flushed and swirled in the sky, only to land again shortly afterwards. We never detected any falcon or other raptor that might have panicked them. We also saw only White morph geese; nary a Blue morph anywhere. What a marvellous spectacle it was and we enjoyed it for over an hour. Such spectacles of nature are truly heart-pounding events to be savoured and remembered. We were able to help others by explaining the reason for the geese being there, a little of their breeding biology etc. and everyone seemed appreciative, especially to look through our scope. If ever there was a time I was happy to speak fluent French that was it. Miriam panned the geese and locked onto a single Great Black-backed Gull and a flock of about twenty Buff-bellied (American) Pipits flew right over our heads.
We took our lunch by purchasing a steaming bowl of creamed carrot soup and eating it outside in front of a battery of bird feeders. How the weather had changed for the better from the morning! The feeders were very active and we saw Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee and White-breasted Nuthatch. It should have been a decent day for raptor migration but, other than numerous Turkey Vultures, only a single Rough-legged Buzzard passed overhead.
On the way back to Quebec we stopped at Sainte-Anne de Beaupre and toured parts of the basilica and a couple of the other chapels. What an impressive location, rivalling many similar sites in Europe, ancient testaments to faith. We noticed an elderly woman prostrate at a station of the cross, only to follow the same procedure at the next station. Faith indeed. I doubt that her exultation could have been any greater than our joy at the Snow Geese, but she no doubt felt that she was securing a place in another realm.
Miriam had a hankering for a French pastry and coffee so we found a place on rue Cartier where she enjoyed a Moulin de Fruit and I a Baileys Cheese pastry. Oh how good they were!
We returned to our B & B and settled in for a glass of Chilean Carmen Merlot. Suddenly the wind picked up and for about ten minutes or so it was quite violent and rain and snow were whipped around. We had doubts about walking over for dinner, but it subsided as quickly as it had arisen and we strolled over to Graffiti, an elegant restaurant. We had promised ourselves one night of fine dining in Quebec and this was to be it. We shared a dish of duck prepared three ways, Miriam had a veal shank and I had an Angus steak. All was prepared and presented perfectly and was very tasty indeed. It was a little expensive but we were well satisfied and were very happy as we meandered back to the Gite du Parc. We chatted for a while and went to bed before 22:00h.
October 12, 2009

Breakfast was again quite fabulous. It started with the same fruit and yoghurt, delicious cold orange juice and hot, steaming coffee. This was followed by French toast with maple syrup. Again after we thought we were finished we succumbed to Rene’s offer of blueberry cake with yoghurt!
We bade farewell to our Saskatoon friends and went to collect our belongings to hit the road. We encountered numerous delays and what should have been an eight hour drive turned into an eleven hour grind. Autumnal extravagance was flaunted at every turn, the colours being stunning in bright sunshine. Skeins of geese were often high overhead. We arrived home safe and sound, none the worse for wear, and felt that we had enjoyed a very pleasant weekend indeed. If we do this again we’ll be sure to add an extra day.

Total Species

Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Duck sp.
Great Blue Heron
Double-crested Cormorant
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Buzzard
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Crow
Northern Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Common Starling
House Sparrow
Buff-bellied Pipit
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.