Scoters Part Three
by: Mike Lushington  

        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.


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