Quinn Fuehrer, what the elk

Canada : Talking to the moose

By Lars von Törne In the beginning it just seems to be a reflection of light on the surface of the water, a ray of sun bouncing off the dark waves. Then the water breaks up and a huge, shiny black ridge appears. You can hear a deep puffing noise, a meter-high fountain rises at the other end of the bay. The still expectant silence on the small excursion boat gives way to great excitement. "Hold everyone tight!" Shouts the captain, then his manoeuvrable 720 hp boat flies over the water at 20 knots until just before the point where another fountain rises. The boat comes to an abrupt stop a few meters from the animal. A humpback whale. You can hear him breathing hard, the fist-sized nostrils on his scarred back puff out. Then the whale writhes, plows through the water with its back about ten meters long, dives and shows its broad, serrated tail fin in parting. For a moment she seems to wave like a gigantic hand out of the water. Then the animal disappears towards the sea floor.

Encounters like this are commonplace on the Gaspésie. On the Atlantic coast of the French-speaking Canadian province of Québec, visitors can experience wildlife as close, numerous and accessible as in few other places. The peninsula, which protrudes hundreds of kilometers into the Gulf of St. Lorenz, offers an excellent habitat for animals thanks to its climatic and scenic conditions. Whales and seals feel particularly at home in the waters, and the forests are ideal for bears, moose and porcupines. There are also hundreds of thousands of sea birds. The most exciting time is probably the summer months when countless humpback whales, blue whales and other marine mammals gather here to forage off the coast of Forillon National Park, before they set off for breeding in southern climes towards Florida. With a little patience and good binoculars, you can spot dozens of whales even from the shore during a hike along the rocky coast.

Anyone who embarks on a round trip through the Gaspésie from the major cities of Quebéc City or Montréal will be rewarded after a few hours with their first encounters with rare wild animals. The Isle de Lièvre, the rabbit island in the middle of the wide St. Lawrence River, is particularly popular with animal watchers. During the crossing with the small cutter, which sails over groups of visitors every day, you pass splashing seals, in the distance a dozen beluga whales do their rounds. On the 13-kilometer-long, but only a few hundred meters wide island, which was bought by nature lovers and declared a protected area, hikers can watch thousands of eider ducks on long day trips, whose fluff is collected by nature conservationists in spring and sold to pillow manufacturers to take with them to maintain the nature reserve with the profit made. If you want to stay longer, you can camp on the coast or rent a room in the small hostel and indulge yourself with French-influenced delicacies after the day's hikes.

In the Bic National Park, a few hours' drive to the east, visitors can get closer to the wilderness and its inhabitants by sea kayaking. Kayak guide René Marquis guides visitors between rugged cliffs and uninhabited rock islands that jut out of the cold water like sharp-edged sculptures. While the visitor maneuvers in his boat between meter-high waves, the guide points out seals and seabirds, tells of bloody battles between warring Indian tribes who lived here before the colonization by European immigrants in the 18th century and one of the islands "Massacre" after their deeds Iceland "is called.

Anyone who goes on a mountain tour with game guide Francis Paradis quickly understands why they call him "The one who talks to the elk" in the small village of Cap-Chat on the St. Lorenz bank. During the day the curly haired earns his living as a math teacher, in the evening, however, Paradis gives visitors an impression of his true passion: moose. "There is a big female there," cries Paradis when, after a round tour through the foggy heights of the Chic Choc Mountains, a shadowy outline can be made out in the distance. He quietly gets out of his off-road vehicle, forms his hands into a funnel and lets out a call through the fog that sounds as wild as it is archaic. It begins with a high-pitched nasal whine that slowly turns into a deep, throaty groan. With shouts like these, Francis Paradis could lure elks to within a few meters, they had previously praised him in the town. The female moose at the edge of the forest, however, is little or not at all impressed. It only lifts its massive head briefly and looks over at the visitors, then it slowly trots on and disappears between the trees. Two more times that day, Paradis and its guests meet a moose, but both times the animals disappear into the dense forest. The haunting sound of the human moose call haunts visitors in their memories for hours after the mountain tour.

The mountains of the Gaspésie National Park, which rise over a thousand meters in the center of the peninsula on an area of ​​800 square kilometers, beckon to an excursion to subarctic-looking rock plateaus. Park boss Francis Boulanger recommends his favorite hike on the Jacques-Cartier-Berg to get closer to the most popular - and shy - residents of the largely undeveloped area: reindeer, of which there are three herds with a total of around 230 animals. The hike to one of your preferred areas - after driving over 40 kilometers of gravel road - takes two hours and leads through three climate zones.

The path leads from a green, fertile valley through increasingly barren pine forests and ends on a plateau on which the lichens on the sharp-edged granite stones are the only visible plants. Stone mounds piled up by rangers point the way to an observation tower on the summit, blown by cold winds. From here the view with the binoculars sweeps over barren peaks and green valleys that fill the landscape up to the horizon. Suddenly something moves on a mountain ridge: five reindeer graze in the sun, three females and two cubs. A gamekeeper, who is on the observation tower every day, explains to the visitors how it is that the animals protected here are on the menu in the hotel in the middle of the national park: The reindeer in the saucepan come from the far north of Canada, where it is in contrast to Gaspésie National Park is more than enough. The population there even has to be regulated by shooting.

The greatest biodiversity in the region can be seen a few hours by car to the east, in the Forillon National Park. When hiking on Mont Saint-Alban, not only whales and seals are constant companions off the coast. The rocks are full of breeding birds, especially seagulls, cormorants and guillemots that are vaguely reminiscent of penguins. At dusk, it's no surprise when a black bear crosses the hiking trail and quickly retreats into the forest after a curious look at the human visitors. A porcupine sits on a tree and feeds itself fresh twigs with its paw as a small meal, its brown and white spines swaying in the wind.

Suddenly there is a crack in the underbrush, a dark shadow breaks out: a partridge flutters excitedly across the path, followed by a dozen squeaking chicks. Shortly thereafter, another porcupine crosses the route; as soon as the wanderer becomes aware of it, it puts up its pointed spikes belligerently.

On the other hand, human traces are rarely seen here. Only a few other hikers are on the way. Every now and then there are relics from earlier centuries on the roadside, reminiscent of the cod catch, which secured the livelihood of most people here until the embargo due to overfishing 25 years ago: half-dilapidated wooden winches, racks for drying the fish. Apart from these few human testimonies, one has the feeling that the flora and fauna have recaptured this region, which was declared a protected national park in 1970.

On Bonaventura Island, a good hour south of the national park, you can hear and smell from afar who the rulers of this red rock in the St. Lawrence Gulf are. The throaty croaking of the northern gannet and the deafening smell of bird droppings greet the hiker, who walks from the deserted fishing village to the rocks inhabited by the birds. The view of the bird colony is breathtaking for other reasons as well: More than 100,000 northern gannets live here in a very small space, each of them the size of a well-fed goose and equipped with wings that span almost two meters. Visitors can step within a few centimeters of the colony, separated from the birds only by a small fence and a few vigilant rangers. With attentive, almost eerily shining light blue eyes, the birds follow every step of the human visitor. In addition to the harsh calls coming from thousands of birds' throats, you can hear popping noises again and again: the birds beat their pointed beaks against each other, sometimes to recognize their partners, sometimes to defend their small territory against intruders.

In almost every nest there is a chick, hatched between June and July, which the parents take turns to look after with choked fish after a flight of prey. While one parent protects and warms the young, the partner plunges like a feathered spear into the water below the rocks to catch fish for themselves and their offspring. Every now and then the croak swells to a collective outcry: When a bird misses its course on landing and lands on other birds instead of next to its own nest. You can see this every few minutes with the clumsy-looking animals. On the way back towards civilization, along the whale watching route on the northern bank of the St. Lorenz, a final encounter with the natural inhabitants of the Gaspésie and their waters. On the car ferry from Rimouski to Fredericstown, an unexpected announcement from the captain sounds: "Belugas to starboard!" And indeed: in the distance, the white giants cross the path of the boat. Like a final greeting from the wilderness before the road leads back to Québec City and Montréal.

To home page