I am sitting in my little office, in the attic of the old house in Pt.
La Nim. Whenever I get stuck for an idea, I have only to swivel my chair a
few degrees to be able to look out over the Restigouche Estuary and
contemplate the scene until something comes and I can return to writing.
On this occasion, though, the scene in front of me has played a far more
important role. It was, in fact, a principal player.
Yesterday, I downloaded a very special map from a website that I have
been following with interest all summer. It is called "Migration of Black
Scoters from the Restigouche River, New Brunswick", and was generated by
the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. It reflects, of course, the work
that was done here this spring by Dr. Matt Perry of the United States
Department of the Interior (If I recall correctly) and by people from the
Canadian Wildlife Service. In that work, thirteen black scoters were
live-trapped, fitted with telemeters and then released. Since then the
birds have been transmitting data about their travels and other
activities. What is emerging is a fascinating picture of the lives of
these birds; at the same time it is beginning to fill in hitherto huge
blanks in our knowledge of those lives.
I have been fascinated with this sea ducks ever since I realized that
we are sitting on the doorstep of one of the grand spring migration
stories in the entire continent. We now know that nearly all the Western
North Atlantic population of Black Scoters spends some time in the estuary
each late April and May. feeding, resting, and courting until they were
ready to depart for their northern nesting grounds. until very recently,
we had no firm idea of where those grounds were, or what exactly the birds
did once they left here. Now we are beginning to find out.
One of the thirteen birds has traveled only as far as Baie Comeau on
the Saint Lawrence; one moved more or less directly to the Atlantic off
the coast of Labrador; and one bird travelled all the way into northern
Manitoba, west of Churchill. The other ten established themselves for the
summer in remote northern Quebec or in James Bay. Those that chose inland
sites for their nesting purposes have since moved into James Bay for the
moulting period, presumably with their young. It is now beginning to
emerge that the area around Akimiski Island, near the west coast of James
Bay, is a major late summer and fall staging area for the birds. This
would explain, at least to me, why so many of them show up in the Great
Lakes in early winter. Where the others, the majority, go, is still a
puzzle, although that may well be answered within the next few weeks, if
the telemeters hold up for long enough.
In all, it has been a fascinating summer for me in this regard. I feel
honoured to have been able to play a small part in this project and I find
myself anticipating their return next spring (without wishing away my
time from now until then, mind you). In the meantime, I wish the little
critters well; they have a long, hard fall migration ahead of them, and a
winter somewhere on the ocean before they find their way back to the
friendly confines of the Restigouche.