Bonaventure Island National Park

Following a 24-hour delay due to rain and high winds, we climbed onto a crowded tour boat to Bonaventure Island National Park, off Perce, Quebec.  The island is renowned for its spectacular colony of northern gannets (the largest in North America and the second largest on Earth), which attracts serious birders and curious tourists alike.

Before docking at the island, the boat approached Perce Rock, a massive sea stack (an erosional remnant) just offshore, and then circled Bonaventure Island, providing close views of grey seals, the gannet colony and other seabirds; a few distant whales were also observed.  Once ashore, we joined parades of visitors along the trails before arriving on the east coast of the island where overlooks offered breathtaking views of the gannet flocks, backed by the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Such close access forces the visitor to accept the true nature of massive seabird congregations, including the incessant noise and the intense odor of dead fish, guano and decaying chicks.  One also encounters swarms of flies that descend on these colonies and the scavengers (ravens, bald eagles, gulls, red fox) that take advantage of weak, injured or dying gannets.  Though we understand that their behavior is instinctual, we can easily imagine that the adult gannets are relieved to escape this mayhem as they set out to fish over the clear blue waters of the Gulf.

Northern gannets arrive on Bonaventure Island in April and the chicks all hatch within a one month period, from late spring into early summer; by late September, these summer residents will begin to leave and all are gone by mid November, off to winter on the open ocean, from the North Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico.