Canada | Travel

Perce and Île Bonaventure: Birds, Boats, and Beyond

July 10, 2015

Some places you just know you’re going to love even before you’ve ever been there. Per­cé is one of those places for me. Every time I saw a pic­ture of Per­cé Rock, I fell more and more in love with the idea of vis­it­ing it. Of course I had to add it into our Québec itin­er­ary. And when we final­ly made it to Per­cé and saw the big rock, it was love at first sight for me. Who knew you could fall in love with a big chunk of rock. ;-)

While we were hang­ing out at the mari­na, tak­ing pic­tures of the rock at sun­set after a long dri­ve from Prince Edward Island, we saw what would be my new favourite ani­mal: the north­ern gan­nets! We were simul­ta­ne­ous­ly impressed and amused by the way the sea birds dive into the water to catch fish. So con­fi­dent, with no reser­va­tion what­so­ev­er. They sure know what they’re doing! I just knew I want­ed to get to know them bet­ter. So, on the next day, we bought our tick­ets for a boat tour around the Per­cé Rock and a round trip to Île Bonaven­ture, where the world’s most acces­si­ble north­ern gan­net colony in the world is locat­ed.

It was a sun­ny but windy day, which I didn’t mind a bit even though the wind made the sea a lit­tle rough. I don’t get sea­sick. Grow­ing up in Indone­sia, we were taught from ear­ly age that our ances­tors were great sea­far­ers, and I believed it. Still do. I have sea legs to prove it. :-) And I’m always the hap­pi­est when I’m by the sea (the Great Lakes, which are more acces­si­ble to me here in South­west­ern Ontar­io, don’t quite have the same effect, unfor­tu­nate­ly.) Some of our fel­low trav­ellers weren’t too thrilled about the weath­er, but I think we all made it out okay.

Northern gannets surrounding a fishing boat.
North­ern gan­nets sur­round­ing a fish­ing boat.

The boat wasn’t at the mari­na yet when we got there. While we were wait­ing for the boat to arrive, we got to watch a group of north­ern gan­nets dive-bomb­ing a small fish­ing boat. It was a rather amus­ing sight, but I doubt the fish­er­men on the boat were hav­ing too much fun fend­ing off the bird attacks. When the boat final­ly arrived and all the pas­sen­gers return­ing from the island had dis­em­barked, one by one we board­ed the boat on cue to the rhythm of the sea, and soon we were off towards the Per­cé Rock! 

The Percé Rock's arch, up close.
The Per­cé Rock’s arch, up close.

Per­cé Rock is inter­est­ing and all from up close but I still prefer see­ing it in its entire­ty from a dis­tant. Île Bonaven­ture was def­i­nite­ly my favourite part of the tour. It was so cool to be able to see so many birds fly­ing and perch­ing on the cliffs, not only north­ern gan­nets, but also a good num­ber of guille­mots (which I could’ve had all cooked and served on a plate for din­ner in Ice­land a cou­ple of years ago, but I didn’t). The guille­mots look like lit­tle pen­guins but, unlike pen­guins, they can fly. Very cute. I love them. But the north­ern gan­nets total­ly dom­i­nat­ed the island. There were around 30,000 of them in the colony. 

Just a small part of the northern gannet colony.
Just a small part of the north­ern gan­net colony.

When we arrived on the island, the park rangers round­ed us up and briefed us on what to do and what not to do on the island, and all the trails we could hike to get to the bird colony, their lengths and lev­els of dif­fi­cul­ty. After pay­ing the small entrance fee, we decid­ed that it would be best for us to take the short­er but more chal­leng­ing route instead of the longer but less chal­leng­ing one due to the time con­straint. We didn’t real­ly want to miss the last boat and got stuck on the island overnight!

Looking back from the start of the trail.
Look­ing back from the start of the trail.

They didn’t lie about the route being chal­leng­ing, espe­cial­ly for wimpy hik­ers like me who spe­cial­ize in begin­ner-lev­el trails. It was over 2 kilo­me­ters worth of pure tor­ture climb­ing, up to over 100 meter ele­va­tion. I have to admit, I was _this_ close to giv­ing up. Some old­er peo­ple from our group did. But I knew I would real­ly regret it if I didn’t make it to the colony, so I per­se­vered and final­ly made it. Yay me! ;-) The view of the thou­sands of north­ern gan­nets in the colony was worth the gru­el­ing hike! It was stinky and loud, but amaz­ing nonethe­less.

The colony of northern gannets.
The colony of north­ern gan­nets.

When we were on the boat ear­lier, we noticed that a lot of the birds were fly­ing with a piece of sea­weed dan­gling from their beaks. When we got to the colony, we soon learned that it was nest­ing sea­son and that sea­weed was a prime nest-build­ing mate­ri­al. A friend­ly park ranger approached us and told us some inter­est­ing facts about the north­ern gan­nets and hap­pi­ly answered our ques­tions. He told us that they were able to see some of the eggs that morn­ing. We stuck around for a lit­tle while to take some pic­tures from the obser­va­tion decks until my cam­era ran out of bat­tery juice, which didn’t take long. Once again, I’d for­got­ten to pack my spare bat­tery. D’oh.

The northern gannets have a wingspan of up to 2 meters.
The north­ern gan­nets have a wingspan of up to 2 meters.

The hike back to the park entrance wasn’t quite as gru­el­ing but some­how still felt very long. We made enough time to rest and relax for a while before the boat came to pick us up. The park rangers were also on board with us on the boat ride back to the main­land as it was the end of the day. Although I was tired from the hike and my legs were throb­bing like nobody’s busi­ness, I was hap­py we did this excur­sion. I would do it again, even if it made my legs hurt for the next two weeks (true sto­ry!). I real­ly love the north­ern gan­nets. They are my new spir­it ani­mal! :-) More pho­tos below (click any pho­to to enlarge). Enjoy!

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