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By John Geary All photos supplied by Tourism Quebec
Attributions added below
For Travel Writers' Tales

I expected to hear honking. But these greater snow geese are too busy searching for food in the low-tide mud along the banks of the St. Lawrence to honk much. The drizzling rain mutes sound further, so what noise there was did not travel far. We stood in the rain for several minutes, watching some slip-slide their way along the slippery mud, others swimming about, close to shore.

Snow geese, up close (Michelle Bedard photo)

The best time to see snow geese in any numbers in Canada is during the spring and fall migrations, as they fly north to their nesting grounds or south, to winter away from the Arctic cold.

They travel up and down eastern and western flyways. This group was in the east, in Quebec's Cape Tourmente National Wildlife Area, during the spring migration north, to mate, nest and raise new goslings.

Snow geese on the wing (Guy Lelievre photo)

We'd actually seen larger numbers of them in fields, driving into the park. They landed and took off in droves, waddling across fields like a moving rug of white, searching for grain and insects to augment their diet of aquatic plants found closer to the river.

The park, 50 km east of Quebec City, was established in 1978 to protect the American bull-rush marshes, the primary snow geese habitat during migration. The 24 square-kilometre area contains several different and distinct habitats, sitting as it does at the juncture of the Canadian Shield, the St. Lawrence lowlands and the Appalachians, and also at the confluence of the St. Lawrence Upper and Fluvial estuaries.

We started our tour in the Visitor Interpretive Centre, looking at dioramas and taxonomic displays of geese and other wildlife while hearing a talk by a park interpreter. Then we headed outside to watch the geese search for food.

Geese are not the only birds found in there; 20 different duck and goose species, 10 or more raptor species, and numerous songbirds call it home. Bear, deer, red fox, muskrats and porcupines also reside there. All told, there are 325 bird species, 30 mammal species, 22 types of forest stands and 700 plant species.

Having seen enough geese, we headed into the interior to tramp along some of the park's 20 km of trails, through marshes and woodlands.

Great grey owls can be found in Cape Tourmente, sometimes in open fields. (Guy Lelievre photo)

As we wound along the trail, the guide halted us suddenly for a chance to spot a pileated woodpecker flitting about in the trees, up ahead. We all catch glances at the bird, but unfortunately, it's never out of the thick tree cover long enough to get a good photograph.

Toward the end of our hike, we hear the drumming of ruffed grouse echo through the trees, but can't catch a glimpse of it.

* * * * *

Day Two: We head off along a different trail, and are rewarded early on with a rare sighting: an American bittern. Rare for two reasons: they can be difficult to spot in the wild, due to their camouflage - they freeze, standing in shallow ponds along shores, often looking like just another log or branch in the water. This was even rarer because the bird was standing in the middle of the trail. It's unusual to find them on land like that.

Great grey owls can also be found in the woods of Cape Tourmente. (Jocelyn Breton photo)

Further on, passing series of small ponds, we're lucky enough to spy a few wood ducks. Luckier still, I'm able to snap some photos. As we watch them, that old saying pops into my head: "Calm and unruffled above, (probably) paddling like the dickens underneath!"

Part of the itinerary includes a stop in the woods at the "Sugar Shack," where we rest and enjoy some refreshment before heading on. As I plod along the path, I look around at the budding May growth and try to visualize how beautiful this area would be in the autumn, when the deciduous trees burst forth in their traditional fall reds and yellows, mixing with the conifers' greens. Another time, I promise myself.

White-tailed deer roam throughout the wildlife reserve. (Guy Lelievre photo)

Breaking out of the heavily wooded forest into more open grassy areas near the Interpretive Centre, several white-tailed deer stop to watch us. Their tails twitch and their ears wiggle as they try to determine if we're a threat or not. While there is limited hunting of some waterfowl here in the fall, these deer have nothing to fear, as they are not hunted in Cape Tourmente.

As we exit from the trail onto the walkway to the parking lot area, a flock of snow geese wings past us overhead, honking, as if to say, "Come back soon - we'll see you in fall!"


" You can visit the wildlife area as an individual. Group services (schools, tour operators, etc.) are also offered.
" For more information, call 418-827-3776 or email
" There is also a toll-free number (Canada only): 1-800-668-6767.
" To get there from Quebec City: follow Route 138 toward Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. At Beaupré, follow the signs for the national wildlife area.
" There are entry fees: $6 for adults, $5 for students, free for children under 12 with an adult. The fee is $4 in winter.
" There is no camping in the park. Check with the park for hours and dates open.

PHOTOS SUPPLIED BY TOURISM QUEBEC: See photo attributions below.
1. Snow geese, up close (Michelle Bedard photo)
2. Snow geese on the wing (Guy Lelievre photo)
3. Great grey owls can be found in Cape Tourmente, sometimes in open fields. (Guy Lelievre photo)
4. Great grey owls can also be found in the woods of Cape Tourmente. (Jocelyn Breton photo)
5. White-tailed deer roam throughout the wildlife reserve. (Guy Lelievre photo)

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