Snow Geese

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Observing Snow Geese

Spring or fall, the Côte-du-Sud area in the Chaudière-Appalaches region is the gathering place of hundreds of thousands of wild geese that offer bird watchers a spectacular show that is both unique and amazing. The Greater Snow Geese that pass through the region travel along the Atlantic migration route, an aerial highway that brings them right up to the shores of the St. Lawrence River. This massive concentration of geese is found nowhere else in the world. The current Greater Snow Goose population is estimated at between 755,500 and 874,000 geese, based on a survey conducted by the Canadian Wildlife Service in the spring of 2005. The secret of this gathering lies deep in the region's mud flats, which provide the geese with an abundance of food during their spring and fall stopovers. A flat is the area of a shore that is regularly covered and uncovered by the rise and fall of the tide. The Côte-du-Sud region is particularly fortunate since it boasts the highest tides recorded along the St. Lawrence. In Montmagny, the highest tides can reach 6.5 metres.

Best sites to observe the geese

Saint-Vallier

  • City stop

Berthier-sur-Mer

  • Le Trou de Berthier ( marina )

Montmagny

  • Bassin de Montmagny
  • Pointe-aux-oies
  • Canards Illimités marsh
  • Sentier de l'Oie Blanche

Isle-aux-Grues (Acces to the island via the ferry or Air Montmagny)

  • Noth shore of the island

Cap-Saint-Ignace

  • Centre Art-terroir ( Old dock )
  • Sentier du Petit-cap
  • Fields confining Route 132

L'Islet

  • Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours church
  • Dock and Havre du Souvenir
  • Anse Trois-Saumons

Saint-Jean-Port-Joli

  • City stop
  • Water parc

In addition to watching the geese, you can visit the Centre des Migrations de Montmagny, an interpretation centre that showcases the Greater Snow Goose.

You can also enjoy watching the Greater Snow Goose in the company of an experienced guide from Ornitour.

Best time to observe the geese

The rise and fall of the tide along with the time of day affect the daily whereabouts of the geese and therefore your ability to see them. When the tide is low, the geese take the opportunity to feed on plants that are normally under water. As a result, it is harder to observe the birds since they are far away. When the tide is high, the geese have no choice but to return to the shore, making this the best time to see them up close. The geese can either rest on the water while waiting for the tide to rise or go to nearby farm fields to feed. Geese that are seen in fields during the day don't usually spend the night there unless the area is flooded. At the end of the day, when the sun sets, the geese return to the St. Lawrence for the night since the proximity of the water helps keep them safe from predators.

Information on the Greater Snow Goose

Migration

Snow Geese MigrationEach spring, the Greater Snow Goose leaves its wintering range along the United States eastern coast and heads up to the Canadian Arctic for the main purpose of nesting. The geese's stopover in the Côte-du-Sud region is part of the impressive route of almost 8,000 km that the birds undertake every year. Some 900 km separate the wintering sites in the United States from the Côte-du-Sud region. Geese travel this distance non-stop in just a few days, at speeds varying from 55 to 95 km/h. From mid-April to mid-May, the geese remain in the region to replenish their energy reserves. The second part of their journey is roughly 3,400 km and takes about a week and a half to complete. The geese reach their nesting sites in early June. In the fall, the geese embark on their return trip, but this time with offspring that are barely 6 to 8 weeks old. Although the female lays an average of four eggs, the size of her brood at the St. Lawrence migratory stopover is 2.5 young. You can watch the geese's fall migration in late September and throughout October, until the geese leave for the United States eastern coast.

Feeding

In the fall, as soon as they arrive in the St. Lawrence valley, the geese forage in the muddy soil to dig up rhizomes (underground roots) of the American bulrush. The American bulrush (Scirpus americanus) is the undisputed star of the shoreline and the favourite food of the exclusively herbivorous Greater Snow Goose. The geese gorge themselves on this vegetation due to its nutritional qualities. In the spring, they also feed on cereal grains left behind in the fields.
You can spot geese for example on farmland
close to Route 132 in Cap-Saint-Ignace.

The adult goose

The adult Greater Snow Goose is completely white except for its "remiges" (wing tip feathers) that are black. Its wingspan is about 1.5 metres and there is little outward differences between males and females. The average weight of an adult is 3 kg. Geese live about 8 years on average. The rusty colour of the goose's head and neck is due to the concentration of iron in the muddy soil along the shores of the St. Lawrence. When foraging for roots of aquatic vegetation, iron particles stick to the birds' feathers and oxidize upon contact with air.

The juvenile goose

In the spring, but even more so in the fall, you can easily distinguish the adults from the juvenile geese. The plumage of young geese born in the Arctic during the summer is grey. During their first year of life, young geese will moult and gradually turn white. Their beaks and legs, which were black at birth, will slowly turn dark pink. The juvenile birds weigh about 2 kg to 2.5 kg.

Geese with a collar

Some geese wear a yellow collar identified with two letters and two digits (e.g. JE57). This is a marking method used by biologists to identify birds at a distance without having to capture them. This method provides information on where the birds go, how long they stay, what their status is, etc. Geese can also be marked with a metal band on their right foot, but only the females get a collar. The bands are typically put on in the Canadian Arctic during moulting when the adults are unable to fly.

Family

Fall is also a wonderful time to observe the geese's family network. It is not uncommon to be able to distinguish, among a large group of wild geese, a couple mated for life followed by three or four offspring feeding under their parents' watchful eye. While the young geese eat, the parents act as a highly effective alarm system. You will probably notice the sentinel goose, with its outstretched neck, on the lookout for any approaching danger.

For more information:

Wikipedia on the Snow Goose