Quebec chronicles – landscapes and signs of humanity: part 2

 

Continuing on from my previous blog about people and landscapes in Quebec: walking along the shorelines was a pleasant activity; the rocky beaches could be quite beautiful and revealed different kinds of plant life there.

 

 

 

 

There were many signs along the roads we traveled; as elsewhere, many indicated how to get from one place to another.

The public toilets were a nice amenity.

In one Native Canadian village, the signs were not only in French but also the indigenous language. And it was nice to see scientific symbols on signs indicating research centers.

Other signs (photographed while in the car so somewhat blurry) advised about reporting crime and safe driving, including one about “cleaning your teeth” (an inside joke about mispronunciation of the French for flashing lights).

 

 

We were asked to watch out for wildlife. We never did see a moose but I saw several white-tailed deer during our trip (just not on the road).

 

We passed houses during our outings, as well as an “old time” covered bridge, for which we made a detour so we could drive through it. One car game was counting the number of “two-toned” houses, i.e., painted in two colors.

 

Barns dotted the landscape as well.

 

I noticed that people in this area used exactly the same recycling and garbage containers as we do in my town; the school buses look like US buses as well.

 

To get to the Tadoussac dunes, we had to cross a waterway on a ferry, which was really quite nice with a viewing deck and clean, spacious restrooms. They did have some signs that made us scratch our heads in a bit of wonderment, however.

 

The dunes where we saw the thousands of birds flying over in migration were lovely, albeit quite windy at times.

 

In the towns we saw some interesting people. I don’t know if the gentleman on the left was doing something in an official capacity, but the puppeteer on the right had apparently just entertained people. At Pointe-au-Pic, a woman was getting in her daily (?) exercise.

The birds continued getting their exercise by looking for insects, buds and seeds in the various deciduous evergreens and other trees.

 

The combination of forests, dunes, beautiful shorelines and waterways, charming villages and friendly people made our stay in Quebec a real pleasure. We were also greeted every morning and evening by a couple white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) who sang loudly to one another. One was singing when we left, too, and it was a very nice goodbye song.

 

 

My memories of the Quebec spring migration journey will be wonderful, too, and the beautifully blooming forget-me-nots (Myosotis) we saw were an apt symbol of remembrance!

 

 

 

Quebec chronicles – landscapes and signs of humanity: part 1

   

To conclude the series on my springtime bird migration trip to Quebec, I’d like to share some of the scenery we saw during our daily outings to and from nature reserves and birding sites in two blogs.

Our rental house in the municipality of Saint Irénée was located on a quiet street, lined with houses that seemed to be mainly rentals. It was a good birding street, lined with lots of vegetation as the houses were mostly set back from the road.

The variety of plants and trees there and in the forests that we visited was lovely.

 

 

 

A number of home-owners had taken time to make nice signs for their houses, presumably so they would be easy to find by renters.

 

 

 

One house caught everyone’s eye as they walked the road; it sat high on a hill and was a striking construction that seemed to be mostly glass. The views from there must have been wonderful.

 

 

Other houses’ yards were brightened with art work and nice gardening features.

 

 

When we left to reach each day’s destination, our route invariably passed along the St. Lawrence Seaway, which we could see in the distance as we also passed by permanent residents’ homes and churches.

 

The paper birches and quaking aspens were really beautiful trees that we saw almost everywhere.

 

 

 

The piers at Pointe au Pic and Saint-Irénée were charming and we returned there several times.

One day, a couple had brought a picnic to enjoy, even though it was a bit cool.

The piers were interesting. Fellow traveler Chloe posed near an “object of interest”!

To my delight, one pier had a little neighborhood lending library there.

Numerous signs advised visitors on behavior during their walks on the piers.

 

 

At Saint-Irénée, signs with photos related the history of the town and its pier.

We did not only stay around Saint-Irénée and Pointe-au-Pic, however; see the next blog for other sights we saw while driving around.

Quebec chronicles – Domaine Forget & birds of black and white

One afternoon during our recent stay in Quebec, we took time to visit a lovely park and academic center called Domaine Forget de Charlevoix, located in the village where we stayed, St. Irénée. The Domaine is a music and dance academy on grounds featuring flower gardens, open-air sculptures, studios, dormitories and a concert hall where an international music festival takes place from June to September.

The grounds also contain small practice cubicles of very basic and inexpensive construction, though each also has a small solar panel (but it was not clear what it powered).

   

It wasn’t clear at first what these little sheds were but when I pushed open a door, I saw they were furnished with a table, chair and walls covered in messages left by students who practiced there. Many of their comments focused on the music that they loved.

 

  • There are people out there who would give anything to play as well as you. Don’t forget to be grateful for what you have.
  • Perfect practice makes perfect
  • Chill! (Responding comment: There is no chill in Paganini ☹)
  • To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable – L.v. Beethoven (responding comment: If you can have both, it’s still a bit better)
  • Love your instrument, but love music more! (Responding comment: Unless it’s a viola)

More of the messages left behind are interspersed below throughout the blog as I show you a first batch of birds we saw in the Canadian province. The focus here will be birds that are mainly black or black and white, their colors nicely complementing the paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera) that we saw everywhere.

The Domaine grounds proved to be a wonderful birding spot and our group was excited to see a blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata) there. I had never seen one before so spotting this black-striped forager was a treat. Their song is so high-pitched that it is almost inaudible even to people with good hearing.

  • You’re sounding great ♥
  • We do not project our voices, we resonate our souls. RH
  • Play as if no one is listening

These amazing little songbirds – they weigh less than 0.42 oz (12 grams) – make one of the longest non-stop migratory journeys over the Atlantic Ocean of any avians, flying non-stop for over three days!

  • I count myself a king of infinite space
  • If you take time, you will go nowhere/anywhere
  • Endless rivers, boundless time, love flows free

Another small bird present at many of the sites we visited was the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), which looks just like the Carolina chickadee to me. Apparently, the black-capped has more white edging on its feathers but it is a subtle difference.

This pair was busy at the Tadoussac dunes where they were foraging while also collecting some nesting material.

These birds rely on tree cavities for their nesting sites (although they will also use nest boxes if available), so when trees are cut down, they are losing vital habitat features for their survival.

These are one of the animal species that hides food in order to retrieve it later; the chickadees can remember thousands of hiding places – a useful memory feature for lean times!

 

Whereas chickadees are only 4.7-5.9 inches in length (12–15 cm) and weigh only 0.32–0.49 oz (9-14 g), the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos brachyrhynchos) measures 16–21 inches long (40-53 cm) with a weight of about 11.1 to 21.9 oz (316-620 g).

 

 

We saw several crows at different sites, in some cases chasing ravens. The group watched a crow that apparently had a nest nearby as well. An interesting and sad fact about them is that they are unfortunately susceptible to West Nile virus.

  • There is nothing more difficult and therefore more precious than to be able to decide
  • Profit du temps présent le plus possible
  • Through iron and blood we solve our problems, attack them head first!
  • Take a risk! You never know what might happen

An interesting fact about the lovely black-throated blue warbler (Setophaga caerulescens) is that the monogamous males all sing at the start and peak of the spring breeding season, but those who do not find a mate stop singing as the season draws to a close. The males who manage to entice a female into mating continue to sing! Their vocal virtuosity therefore indicates reproductive success!

 

  • Let the music speak through you
  • Everybody wins, just some sooner than others!!
  • Smile. Maybe someone loves you 😊
  • Love yourself more than anything else in the entire world

When species identification first took place, the male and female black-throated blues were classified as different species. The females (not shown here) are more muted in color than the males, without any blue feathers but a white line through the eye. Both sexes sport the “pocket handkerchief”, however, i.e., the white patch on their wings.

 

 

A warbler that we see often in North Carolina is the black and white warbler (Mniotilta varia), a bird that seems to always be in a hurry and in motion as it scurries along tree trunks seeking insects.

 

 

 

While birders usually see these attractive individuals in trees, they actually place their nests in leaf litter on the ground. The females can be distinguished from the males by their white throats.

 

 

 

 

The final bird in this black and white line-up is one that we can see often in the US South – the gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). I have to admit that this is one of my favorite species – I find them to be really sweet.

 

In my yard, they do not chase other birds away, do not fight for a place at feeders, sing sweetly and are alert and caring parents.

  • Shoot for the moon, even if you miss it, you’ll land amongst the stars (Responding comment: I don’t think you understand astronomy)
  • Be happy 😊
  • You can always be better – everybody that came here believes that
  • Dieu ne choisit pas les gens qui sont déjà capables, il rend capables ceux qu’il choisit.
  • No matter how well or badly you play, always remember you are human and therefore deserve love and support

I do have to acknowledge that not all the Domaine students were into encouraging one another.

  • Don’t be a diva. Listen to Diva by Beyoncé
  • You’re wasting so mutch time [sic]
  • Who just wasted a lot of time reading through these walls? (Responding comment: Me! Me!)
  • I don’t like inspirational bullshit

But they also reminded us about the importance of what is beautiful in our lives. And their thoughts can apply to any activities in which we choose to engage, be they jobs or avocations like wildlife watching and nature appreciation.

  • One day your life will flash before your eyes – make sure it’s worth watching
  • Most confuse wealth with success. Wealth means different things to different people. It doesn’t mean someone is happy or content. Ultimately your career is a concept that exists in your mind. What you really have is a series of jobs, strung together, that forms a story you are in charge of writing. Sarah Hill, performance artist
  • If you suppress the arts [or people’s ability to enjoy nature], then you’re suppressing the deepest dreams of a people

Next up – some of the “flashy” birds we saw on a top birding day!

Quebec chronicles: walking through Quebec City

We visited Quebec City at the end of our recent round-trip migration, but I’ll start off here with some urban scenes before going on to the rural and wildlife parts of the trip in the next blogs. A shocker for me as we drove into the City was the billowing air pollution along the entry highway. The previous 8 days had been in pretty pristine environments; even the little villages looked very clean and litter-free.

Four of us took two walks in the provincial capital, whose name stems from an Algonquin word meaning “where the river narrows”. Quebec City is built on the north shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Our first walk was during a very rainy afternoon. After taking a bus partway, we walked through the Porte St.-Jean to enter Old Quebec.

The streets and buildings looked quite European to me, including the many gift and tourist shops that one sees nowadays in old neighborhoods that attract tourists. Gas-flame heaters were burning outside some shops. And in one drugstore, we were helped by a young woman who had one of the most beautiful tattoos I have seen. She was surprised I recognized it right away as a fox because she said people had asked if it was a wolf or a bear!!! (Click on it to enlarge, then left arrow click back to blog.)

     

The rain intensified as we walked on; many people were purchasing rain ponchos at a local tourist information shop.

And the stores started beckoning to us as we strolled along, also admiring architecture.

Earlier in the week, we had stopped at a rural village to visit a well-reviewed chocolate shop. The owners had taken a course in Belgium and learned to make Belgian bon bons (very similar to Dutch ones). Since chocolate appeared to be a comfort food for most of our group members, a fair amount of time was spent in that shop!

When we saw a sign for chocolate in Old Quebec, we ducked in out of the rain to examine the wares there. The chocolate on a stick for hot chocolate looked good to me; the chocolate sausages were a surprise.

 

Canned chocolate fondue in various flavors was for sale in the regular grocery stores as well. What really tempted me were the different flavors of chocolate toppings for Dairy Queen-style cones; I resisted, however.

 

The chocolate shops sold maple syrup products, too, and some stores in Old Quebec made references to moose – with antlers above the door, in their names or in the products they sold.

 

When we saw the sign for Les Trois Corbeaux (the three crows), the birders in us had to pop in to see this artisan-run glassblowing shop. A very nice young woman was forming tiny pieces of glass into ducks at the front of the store.

 

At the back, another young woman was rolling blobs of glass in different colored glass pieces, firing them and then stretching the bulbs into brightly-colored starfish. These small pieces were obviously for the tourist trade; larger, more abstract and more expensive elegant pieces were for the art collectors.

 

We walked on and got to the promenade overlooking the river. Along the way, I noted that renters in the city are protesting something (likely high rents). The funiculaire was providing respite to people who didn’t want to climb the multiple flights of stairs (which I did the next day – about 15 in total and not great for my leg which I had re-injured earlier in the week).

We gazed out over the river where I saw my second Dutch boat (the first was from Delfzijl at the Pointe-au-Pic quai).

   

And then we walked home in the rain, stopping so that my friends could pose with a statue honoring women leaders (but I couldn’t keep my point-and-shoot camera dry long enough to get a raindrop-free photo).

The next morning, we again strolled through the local neighborhood, saw the colorful street sign covers, and took the bus to the old city.

Another chocolate shop (!!) didn’t advertise heavily but had lovely painted chairs with potted plants on its lawn. We also noted another branch of a chain restaurant, which had given us a really nice meal the day before (even for vegetarians).

We saw another statue honoring women – in this case, those who dedicated their lives to educating the youth of Quebec after 1639. I found a statue of a jester quite appealing.

As we wandered, we looked at more shop displays – many were colorful, either in hues or their messages.

 

 

 

 

A last exciting sighting of yellow warblers along the stairs (the only birds I recognized there besides song sparrows) stopped us so some photos could be taken. I didn’t have my good camera along, so this reminder of photographers should suffice here.

We then hurried through a park to get to our hotel, which was unusual with a “split horse” in front. And then off to the airport we went, just as it began raining again! (I hope you noticed that I managed to get some animals in this blog, just not live ones. 😊)

 

Goodbye from Quebec City!

           

 

Quebec chronicles: Ste Anne-de-Beaupré

At the end of May/start of June, it was my good fortune to travel to Quebec province with six friends to observe wildlife there, especially the migration of warblers who arrive in their beautiful breeding plumage. There were thousands of birds and I also enjoyed documenting other wildlife – it will take me some time to go through all the photos to select some for sharing. In the meantime, I’m breaking from my usual postings about natural areas and animals to show something of urban and rural Quebec to start off this multi-part series.

On our way to Quebec City, we stopped to see the Shrine of Sainte Anne-de-Beaupré, a church complex devoted to Jesus of Nazareth’s grandmother. The shrine’s brochure claims it is the oldest pilgrimage site in North America, while the website says it is the second oldest. The pilgrims include various Native American groups according to their tourist information. One stained-glass window featured a Byzantine cleric and a female Italian pilgrim.

The bits of info that I read mentioned various Native American groups who visit, but I don’t recall the Inuit being among them. In Quebec shops, we could admire some of the beautiful Inuit and other Native American art for sale (apologies for the reflections in the window that made photographing it difficult).

        

The basilica includes mosaics in the ceiling showing Ste Anne learning to read in a temple; the church houses three relics of the Saint – a forearm, finger bone and other pieces of bones.

In 1658, a man names Louis Guimont was healed at the chapel; now the basilica houses two columns displaying crutches, immobilization masks used during radiation therapy and other symbols of ill health that was said to be cured through divine intervention.

           

A side chapel houses what appears to be a baptismal font; a statue of St. Anthony of Padua is at the back of the basilica.

 

 

As in Catholic churches I have visited, there were stations of the cross.

The shrine appears to be a money-maker as so many church ventures seem to be. A special office with large windows featured a priest wearing a nice straw hat to complement his robes as he blessed people who presumably had paid a fee for this. This was the first time I had seen a facility like this at a church; I would have thought that blessings would be freely given.

 

A large, well-stocked gift shop featured shelves of holy water, religious items and a series of stone and wood scenes created by Normand Simard, ‘a man of nature who uses Charlevoix region stones to create men of stone, ducks and bird houses.’ The ends of the pews in the basilica also featured carvings including animals and birds so even in a man-made structure dedicated to thinking about an afterlife instead of our world, nature managed to have its presence acknowledged.

 

 

Next up: a visit to Quebec City