I’ve visited Quebec several times and I think it is fair to say I have mixed feelings. The scenery is hard to fault and there ought to be some good mammals to see. But it’s a hard place for a mammal watcher to be successful in – or has been for me. Moreover, there can be strangeness about the people there that is quite discomfiting: there’s a fine line between trying to keep one’s cultural identity intact when surrounded by an English world and turning into North Korea. And Quebec is in danger of falling the wrong way. The absence of people who can speak a word of English, or the absence of people who know – or admit to know – anything about the local wildlife, is positively odd. So while not yet North Korea it might well be North America’s answer to Albania. Check out this brochure from a whale watching company. You’d think someone knew someone who could speak English?
I visited for a long weekend in the middle of October which coincided with Canadian Thanksgiving. The very end of summer for some Canadians, though it felt more like the beginning of winter when I was on the Gaspe and the temperature at night was -4C.
I’d organised the trip at short notice and had two goals: Atlantic White-sided Dolphins and Fishers. I didn’t see either.
Most whale watching along the St Lawrence had shut up shop by mid-October but when I spoke to whale watching operators in Perce they said they’d still be running trips over thanksgiving and that White-sided Dolphins were common. Neither was true. Trouble was I only found this out after making the 10 hour drive from Montreal to Perce. Boat trips were still happening, but only hour long circumnavigations of Bonaventure Island. And no one had seen White-sided Dolphins for several weeks (apparently they are around only from mid to end August in this area). It was also clear that the operators didn’t really know what they were talking about – one telling me that the dolphins were all in south Florida by now. I did see a lot of Minkes as I was driving along the St Lawrence shoreline as well as some larger whales, which were Fins I suppose though I didn’t look at them well because I was rushing to catch the boat.
I gave up on the dolphins and returned to Parc Du Bic near Rimouski, which I’d been told was a hotspot for Fishers. I visited here in the late winter of 2013 and hadn’t come close to a Fisher but wanted to check this out in warmer weather and without my complaining kids. But I was stopped by the police after just 20 minutes spotlighting in the park. Although there were no signs to the contrary, people are not allowed to visit the park after dark unless they are camping, they told me. There “had been problems with vandalism” they said.
But after checking my identity the police were, at least, quite friendly albeit clueless on the wildlife, telling me they’d never seen a Fisher during their night patrols. So I gave up on this park as a Fisher hotspot. It may have been in 2009: but, I suspect, is not now.
I finished the trip with a whale watching cruise out of Tadoussac along the St Lawrence. I took the trip thinking White-sided Dolphins might be an outside chance, based on various websites of whale watching operators, though I gave up trying to talk to someone knowledgeable on the phone. When I got on board the ship’s naturalist told me the dolphins are extremely rare around Tadoussac. It took her 10 years to see them. But, remarkably, they’d seen a pod the day before on (13 October) – the first of the season. And I then heard they were still around on the 14th as another boat had seen them (but we didn’t, not helped by fog). I stayed on the boat for a second cruise (no need to pay if you stay on board) but we weren’t lucky. The naturalist also told me that Harp Seals are also common in the river, but only in the spring.
A disappointing trip. Which coupled with a cancelled flight out, a speeding ticket and a delayed flight home means I am not in a hurry to return.
I did see Beluga, Humpback and Minke Whales, Harbour Porpoise, Grey Seals, and White-tailed Deer. And I ate too much poutine.