Monday, June 14, 2010

Gaspe: Parc National de l'ile-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Perce

This far east the sun begins to rise by 3:15 am. Gaspe is close to the western edge of the Atlantic time zone, so what we gain in the morning we lose in the evening. But we are also a few degrees farther north than home, so both daybreak and twilight last longer here during the weeks leading up to and following solstice.

Today we cross to Ile Bonaventure in parc national de l'ile-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Perce, to see gannets (38" wing span, "huge aerial waterbirds" in Kaufman's Birds), black guillemots, common murres and razorbills ( all auks, "aukkk", as are puffins, which are not here) and black-legged kittiwakes (gulls). 

Cliffs on the windy coasts and islands of the north Atlantic and major waterways leading into it are home during nesting season to a large number of pelagics, birds who live primarily on open water.  Some of them migrate south in winter, following food.

For this reason, I am deeply concerned that some of these very birds and many other species will be in danger as they arrive at the coasts of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. I haven't yet heard anyone spell this out to the national media. As we enjoyed the constant presence of these mostly healthy populations of sea birds I could not stop thinking about what may happen to them this winter and in the years ahead. They are closely watched here from year to year and by a census every five to ten years.

I say mostly healthy populations because environmental changes big and small affect species numbers. Many cycles are naturally occurring. But when the cod fishery collapsed from overfishing, that event set off a chain of events that is good for some species and not good for others.   

Even small-seeming things have an effect: on Sundays, their only day off, fishermen on Ile Bonaventure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries hiked to the cliffs and gathered gannet eggs in season, hunted the birds for food, sent boatloads of feathers back to Europe to be made into matresses. Only relatively recently has the population returned to its strength and more. 

At Perce there are bouys of several different lobstermen who check their traps every morning early. Gulls are always scavenging nearby.

As we are taken to Ile Bonaventure, we first went close by Rocher Perce. The first picture of nesting birds is of black guillemots on narrow ledges on the pierced rock.

Our boat then takes us around Bonaventure. As we approach, we see many gray seals hauled up on rocks resting and warming up. Then we begin to see birds in earnest, swooping and diving, refurbishing nests. sitting on nests, feeding their mates and resting. Among the multitude of birds atop and along the cliffs are 65,000 pairs of gannets. 

We land and hike up across the island to the cliffs, a mile or so, where we can see, very closely, gannets sitting in very close quarters to one another on nests on precisely surveyed (by them) plots of land, with life-long pairs returning to the same nests year after year. Living so densely, gannets have elaborate behaviors that sooth one another and reinforce their commitments to their partners and their nests.
In the final picture of an individual gannet, it just landed with a typical bellyflop. Gannets like windy days because taking off and landing can be done with some finesse. Landings always cause lots of stress for those in the neighborhood and require lots of soothing. Fascinating.

The final photo illustrates the proximity and regularity of nests.

Double click to blow these photos up for interesting details.

Birders, start your engines!


  1. Merry, Your posts from the Gaspe are wonderful. The photos and descriptions of the Gannets were my favorites. Jim

  2. Fabulous photographs and interesting facts! I'm forwarding links to your blog posts about Gaspe to my sisters, including this one!