Day 14 |
Sep 21, 2013

Havre St. Pierre

By Chris Harbard, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 50°14' N; 63°36' W
Weather: Blue sky with clouds
Air Temperature: 57 °F, 14 °C
Pressure: 1010 hpa
Wind: 16kph

I awoke to a grey morning as the ship came alongside Havre St. Pierre, which is situated on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the province of Quebec, Canada. We had a chance to go ashore for a short while after breakfast, before boarding our boats for the day's excursion. The building immediately opposite the ship was once used by the Hudson Bay Company and other buildings around reflected the fishing port we had arrived at.

The first group boarded 'Le Perroquet de Mer' or 'Sea Parrot', which is a local name for the Puffin, while I joined the second group on a boat called 'Le Relève' and soon we were heading out towards the many islands offshore, known as the Mingan Archipelago. As we sailed out, the guide told us about the history of the area. The town had been settled by people from the Magdalen Islands in the 19th century and consequently they are most closely linked to the Acadian French, rather than the Quebec French. Almost immediately we started to see Gannets, feeding out between the islands, and there were also sightings of Harbour Porpoises and Minke Whales.

Our first destination was the Île de Quarry, a wooded island with a secret – it hides within the trees, many limestone monoliths, and boggy pools. After we arrived there was time for a short explore before having our tasty boxed lunch which I was quite ready for. Then we joined a guided walk across the island in a loop which eventually brought us back to the pier where we landed.

The dark forest we walked through was almost entirely coniferous and the trees were festooned with lichens. In these damp, boggy conditions there were many berry-bearing plants, some poisonous, and other recognisable as being similar to cranberries. I saw one strange white 'flower' which I was told was called an Indian Pipe, a saprophytic plant without any chlorophyll, which gets its energy from decaying matter on the forest floor. From various vantage points we looked out across the forest and eventually sighted some limestone rocks in the sea at the far side of the island which were largely submerged as it was high tide.

Back at the pier we now boarded the other boat and headed for the Île de Niapiskau, arriving just as the first group was about to leave. Here a short looped trail took us past some extraordinary stone features. These limestone monoliths were truly amazing and all had been given some kind of name depending on what an imaginative mind had likened them to. Hidden in the trees was a towering layered rock called 'The Wedding Cake' another was shaped like a female form as is known as the 'Dame de Niapiskau'. Others look like faces, some with hats. On the beach I found a group of about 100 roosting shorebirds, including Dunlin and Semipalmated Plovers, and was able to show them to several people through my powerful spotting scope.

All too soon it was time to get back onto our first boat and head back to town, passing the Île de Fantôme on the way, with even more rock formations on show. Back at Havre St Pierre a real treat awaited us. In the cruise terminal building there were local beers, some wine, and a selection of local food to try. The smoked fish and cheese were fabulous, and to accompany all of this were some local musicians who got many guests up and dancing – a fabulous way to spend our last hour in the town before it was time to board the ship and head out. As we cast off from the quayside we were given a wonderful send-off by the locals which had gathered in their dozens to wave, sound their car horn and flash lights in the gathering gloom.

At recap Stefan told us a little of the geology before explaining the meaning of a strange local sign which had even puzzled our guides, before being explained by the local fire department. I talked about the ill-fated Great Auk, once common in the area but now extinct, and Colleen revealed the Acadian background of the town. Then it was time for dinner and the end of another fantastic day on Silver Explorer.