These observations were made during a weeklong fishing trip in the Caniapiscau region of east-central Quebec. I am tempted to say I was in northern Quebec, but in truth, the region is located approximately half way between Ungava Bay in the north and Quebec City in the south. Also included are bird sightings made along the route traveled from northern Maine.
Birds were generally sparse in this area but certain habitats supported good diversity and numbers. Though this excursion was not primarily a birding trip, I was able to spend several hours a day observing the birds of the area. I kept my binoculars with me at most times and when I was not distracted by large salmonids, I focused on the birds. I was able to get hours-long exposure to the life-bird Gray-cheeked Thrush while it sang, fed and interacted with other individuals. I also encountered several species at their breeding grounds and observed some interesting behaviors.
We left northern Maine on the morning of June 28 and traveled across northern New Brunswick from St. Leonard to Tide Head along Route 17. We entered the province of Quebec at Matapedia near the mouth of the Restigouche River and followed the roads along the Matapedia and Matane Rivers north to the town of Matane. At Matane, we boarded the ferry across the St. Lawrence River to Baie Comeau on the north shore.
The following day June 29 we traveled north on Quebec Route 189 from Baie Comeau to Manicougan Lake and then on the gravel road, Route 389 to Fermont. About ½ way between the Manic 5 dam and Fermont we passed through the abandoned mining town of Gagnon. From Quebec we crossed into Labrador and spent the second night in Labrador City near the 53rd parallel.
On June 30, we flew approximately 70 miles WNW back into Quebec to the camp at Facoli Falls on the Caniapiscau River. The Falls are located on a short (1/2 mile) stretch of river between Lac (lake) Raimbault (upper) and Lac Vignal (lower). The Caniapiscau River flows north to Ungava Bay. The location coordinates are: 53° 16.331n 68° 19.249w . There are no roads in the region and the nearest other manmade structure was another fishing camp over 25 miles away.
The Matapedia River Valley in the Restigouche watershed is mostly mixed and coniferous woods on steep hillsides. The Matane River valley was wider and characterized by more farmland and development. The St. Lawrence crossing was 39 miles of brackish salt water. Baie Comeau had some mudflat areas along the Pioneer Park waterfront but the north shore otherwise appeared to be steep rocky coastline. The woods along the road north to Fermont were dominated by Black Spruce with birch and poplar in some locations. Some Jack Pine was encountered just north of Baie Comeau. The area between Gagnon and Fermont was less rolling than the areas south and had more bogs, fens and kettle-hole ponds. Labrador City was surrounded by several lakes and had the expected cleared and open areas usually associated with a town. The iron mines on the north and south east sides of the city were dominant landscape features.
The Facoli Falls area, where the camp was located, was sparsely wooded with Black Spruce as the dominant species. Other trees species included Tamarack, White Spruce the occasional Balsam Fir. The understory was Speckled Alder, Amelanchier sp. Bog Laurel and ground cover was lichen and sphagnum. Cranberry, Crowberry and Blueberry as well as Bunchberry were growing at ground level. The topography was rolling. Higher hilltops were barren except for occasional stunted trees and lichens.
The lake shores were generally wooded and rocky though a few sandy coves were found. Alder was most commonly found immediately adjacent to the water. Smaller ponds and well protected coves often had boggy margins. Lake depth varied with a deep hole of 60 feet found in Lac Vignal. Water temperatures varied between 49 and 58° F. Current was discernible in the narrow areas of the lakes. The Falls drop 10 meters between the two lakes over about 1/2 a mile. The river cut through a large esker about ¼ mile below the outlet to Lac Vignal. The gravelly soils in this area appeared to support more Alder and Tamarack than most other spots.
The birds (75 species):
Canada Goose- uncommon. Seen in a couple of the shallow ponds along the road between Fermont and Gagnon and on the mudflats at Baie Comeau
Mallard- uncommon. Several pairs were seen in Labrador City. Also seen flying along the Matane River on the south shore.
American Black Duck- uncommon. Several drakes were encountered on Lac Vignal and quiet areas on the Canispicau River. About a dozen were seen on the mudflats at Baie Comeau.
Common Eider- common. Several dozen were seen from the ferry and along the shore in Baie Comeau. Not encountered inland.
Surf Scoter- rare. Saw one drake on Lac Vignal.
Harlequin Duck- uncommon. Three were seen a couple of times flying over the falls and rapids.
Common Goldeneye-uncommon. A drake was seen flying over the outlet of Lac Vignal and a female was seen along the road between Fermont and Gagnon.
Red-breasted Merganser- common. A dozen or more were seen in Lac Raimbault, Lac Vignal and Lac Opiscoteo. Several drakes were in eclipse plumage. A couple of pairs (male/female) were seen.
Common Mergansers-common. Seen mostly in the fast water areas but several were found on the lakes. Mostly drakes/some immatures were seen.
Common Loon- common. 20+ seen. At least four pairs on Lac Vignal, at least three pairs on Lac Raimbault and two pairs seen on Lac Opiscoteo. Seen on several of the small lakes along the road between Gagnon and Fermont. More than eight were seen from the ferry.
Double-crested Cormorant-common. Many seen in Matane and Baie Comeau. Several seen from the ferry. Not encountered inland.
Osprey-rare. One seen over outlet of Lac Vignal. Carrying a fish.
Bald Eagle-rare. One adult seen flying over Caniapiscau River below Lac Vignal. Another was seen over the Matapedia River on the south shore.
Sharp-shinned Hawk-uncommon. One or two individuals seen near camp several times during the week. Gray Jays and Rusty Blackbirds sounded alarm most times. North of published range.
Merlin- uncommon. Seen along road just south of Labrador City. Another was seen flying across the parking lot of a shopping center in Matane.
Red-tailed Hawk-common. Seen multiple times along the road between Manic 5 dam and Labrador City. Saw a flying bird from the float plane. One was being chased by a Rusty Blackbird on the south end of Lac Opiscoteo.
Rough-legged Hawk-rare. Two seen. Both along the road between Manicougan Lake and Fermont. A light phase individual was soaring above a small hill and an apparent dark phase (heavily backlit in late afternoon) was seen perched on the top of a small black spruce.
Ruffed Grouse- uncommon. Several seen along the road near Manicougan Lake. None seen near camp.
Spruce Grouse- uncommon. One seen near camp. None seen along roads.
Killdeer-uncommon. One seen at Labrador City.
Wilson’s Snipe- rare. One heard winnowing over boggy area near Lac Vignal.
Short-billed Dowitcher-rare. Flushed one from boggy area near Lac Vignal. Flew short distance and landed. No distraction display but appeared unwilling to leave immediate area. Possible breeder.
Greater Yellowlegs- uncommon. Flushed pair in boggy cove of Lac Vignal. Birds flew away and dropped into boggy spot away from water. Saw another along road south of Fermont. May be breeders or migrants.
Solitary Sandpiper-common. Seen at several locations south of Labrador City. One seen in Labrador City. One seen along Caniapiscau River below outlet of Lac Vignal. Often seen perched in dead trees.
Spotted Sandpiper- uncommon. One seen at Labrador City. Another was heard in Gagnon.
Least Sandpiper-common. Seen along rivers. Numbers of Leasts appeared during insect hatches (caddisfly and mayfly) and birds would catch emerging insects on rocks and vegetation. Approached to within 3 feet easily. Likely breeders but no behavior or other evidence seen to support this.
Great Black-backed Gull-common. Seen from ferry
Herring Gull- common. Seen from ferry, in Baie Comeau and at Gagnon. As many as 7 adults loafed at the outlet of Lac Raimbault and the species was seen regularly throughout the area. Enjoyed fish offal.
Ring-billed Gull- common. Seen from ferry and intown Matane. Not encountered north of the St. Lawrence.
Bonaparte’s Gull- uncommon. 5-10 were seen from the ferry. Not seen inland.
Black-legged Kittiwake- common. Seen from ferry. Not seen inland.
Common Tern- common. Not seen from ferry. Small groups of (2-3) terns were seen flying over Lac Vignal, Lac Raimbault and Lac Opiscoteo. One appeared to be fly-catching caddisflies during a particularly heavy hatch of this species in the Caniapiscau River below Lac Vignal. Checked numerous small islets for signs of nesting with no luck.
Caspian Tern- rare. One seen briefly at the outlet of Lac Raimbault at Facoli Falls on July 5. Apparently unexpected in this location. Wind was blowing from south all day.
Very large adult tern. The wingspan appeared nearly the size of the nearby Herring Gulls. Dark capped with a red bill. Dark tipped white wings. Bird hunted at outlet for a minute or less then proceeded down the shoreline and out of sight.
Non-guillemot Alcid. One seen in distance flying behind ferry. Suspect Razorbill.
Common Nighthawk- rare. One heard on night of July 4th over Lac Raimbault. At northern edge of range.
American Three-toed Woodpecker/Black-backed Woodpecker-uncommon. Dark woodpeckers were seen in flight several times but species wasn’t determined. Found several cavities and flaked-off bark on black spruce. Flaking was common near the camp.
Northern Flicker- uncommon. A few were seen along Route 369 south of Manicougan Lake. Two were seen in old burns.
Olive-sided Flycatcher-uncommon. Seen at Gagnon and heard along road south of there.
Alder Flycatcher- common. Heard once at camp. Heard regularly from Baie Comeau to Gagnon. Also heard in Labrador City at float plane base.
Tree Swallow- common. Seen throughout the trip except on the ferry. Nesting in boxes at the Labrador City floatplane base and at the camp. 10+ were regular around the falls and numbers were seen over lakes during insect hatches.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet- common. Encountered singing males from Baie Comeau north. Feeding young around camp.
Golden-crowned Kinglet- uncommon. Heard along road from Labrador City to Baie Comeau. Not found at camp.
Bohemian Waxwing-uncommon. Seen at Lac Vignal in several locations. Two adults feeding fledged young were seen on the 3rd along the Caniapiscau River.
Cedar Waxwing- common. Several small flocks (5+) seen flying over camp and river. Heard along road south of Manicougan Lake.
Gray-cheeked Thrush- uncommon. 4+ singing males heard and seen at location below outlet of Lac Vignal. Heard in two other locations.
Swainson’s Thrush- abundant. This thrush was heard and seen, in numbers, throughout the trip. A good portion of all birdsong heard at any given location near camp was Swainson’s Thrush song.
Hermit Thrush-Uncommon. Heard once each at Lac Vignal and Lac Raimbault. Also heard and seen at Gagnon.
American Robin- Abundant. Dark subspecies, T. m. nigrideus found at camp and Labrador City and Gagnon.
Boreal Chickadee-common. Family groups encountered daily at camp. Heard behind hotel in Baie Comeau.
Gray Jay-common. Family groups encountered daily. 5+ adults plus several juveniles frequented camp. Seen along regularly along Route 389 north of Manicougan Lake.
American Crow- uncommon. Found in Baie Comeau and along route south of Matane.
Common Raven- common. Seen daily but not in large numbers.
European Starling- uncommon. Only seen as far north as Baie Comeau.
Tennessee Warbler- common. Heard often in shrubby habitat. One male on territory at camp. 5+ at Manic 5 dam.
Yellow Warbler- uncommon. Heard at camp and in older burns. 4+ at Manic 5 dam.
Yellow-rumped Warbler- common. Males were heard singing at most locations with black spruce from Baie Comeau northward
Blackpoll Warbler-common. Males were heard singing at most locations with black spruce from Baie Comeau northward.
Northern Waterthrush-uncommon. Several were heard around camp and along river. Encountered more frequently along the roads south of Fermont.
Common Yellowthroat-uncommon. Heard along road from Manic 5 southward in small numbers. Not encountered around the camp.
Wilson’s Warbler- uncommon. Seen and heard at Gagnon. Heard at Labrador City and around camp.
Chipping Sparrow-rare. At northern edge of range in east. Heard at Pioneer Park in Baie Comeau. Not found away from the St. Lawrence.
American Tree Sparrow- rare. One heard singing near camp on one occasion.
Savannah Sparrow- rare. Not found on the north side of the St. Lawrence but did not travel through appropriate grassland habitat. Heard in Amqui.
Fox Sparrow-common. Males were heard singing at most locations with black spruce from Baie Comeau northward.
White-throated Sparrow- common. Seen and heard throughout Quebec route and at camp. Uncommon at camp. Feeding young.
White-crowned Sparrow- abundant. Males were heard singing at most locations with black spruce from Baie Comeau northward. 20+ seen daily. Located nest near treeline of hill near camp. Three hatchlings 7+ days old.
Dark-eyed Junco- common. Males were heard singing at most locations with black spruce from Baie Comeau northward. Seen feeding young at Lac Raimbault.
Rusty Blackbird-common. Only icterid encountered at the camp. Seen regularly around lakes. One chased a Red-tailed Hawk at Lake Opiscoteo. Feeding young at Lac Vignal.
Common Grackle- rare. Not encountered at camp or north of Baie Comeau. Regular south of the St. Lawrence.
Pine Grosbeak-uncommon. Males seen at Facoli Falls and near the outlet of Lac Vignal. Pair seemed agitated at site on Vignal.
Purple Finch- uncommon. Heard daily at camp but in small numbers. Mostly flyovers.
House Finch-rare. Two singing males seen and heard at Pioneer Park at Baie Comeau.
White-winged Crossbill- uncommon. Seen regularly in small numbers around camp. Heard along road south to Baie Comeau.
Pine Siskin- uncommon. Small flock of 4+ seen once at camp. Heard along road from Manicougan to Labrador City. At northern edge of range in East.
American Goldfinch- uncommon. Seen and heard as far north as Baie Comeau. Not found at the camp.
Evening Grosbeak-rare. Flock of four at a feeder in Matane were the only individuals seen.