When we came to the Gaspé Peninsula for the first time twenty years ago, we didn’t know quite what to expect, but what we found here was indelibly etched into our memories and confirmed again today. I already raved about the rock which looms off the trip of the town. A tip of it has broken off and an arch pierces it. Today we took a boat tour which began by circling the rock and giving us a glimpse back at the town through the arch. The views were first rate, but the most amazing sight here was yet to come on Bonadventure Island. The island became a migratory bird sanctuary in 1919 due to a 1916 treaty between Canada and the United States. Quebec acquired ownership of the entire island by act of expropriation in 1971, evicting the whole population. At this time approximately 35 families were forced to move elsewhere; all residents were evicted. Today it is a national park.
As we sailed around the island we began to see rows and rows of birds nesting in the crevasses of the cliffs looming over our heads. The birds were closely packed and noisy. The meueres and guillemots looked like smaller versions of penguins with black bodies and white chests. They were interspersed with gannets, large white birds with beige heads. After the boat dropped us off, we hiked up and over to a most amazing sight - the second largest gannet rookery in the world. Gannets are very sociable and like to live within a yard of each other. They have many distinctive behaviors that have been closely studied and this close proximity and social interaction helps them to be fruitful and multiply, even though they are monogamous. The huge population here is possible because the seas teem with fish. After wintering in the Gulf of Mexico, the gannets return to the spot where they were born, building their nests on the bare ground. Because the males and females look identical, a returning bird sometimes has trouble recognizing its mate. It grabs a likely looking bird by the neck and if it doesn’t fight back, it knows that it has found its true love once again. Necks intertwine in joy. The pair lays one egg and stay here for another month getting its offspring large enough to make the southern migration. The babies reach deep into their parents’ mouths to retrieve partially digested fish. Watching them made me gag. The babies that live in the nooks on the cliffs are not sure they know how to fly until they hurl themselves out into the air. If they are too well fed and weigh too much, they land in the water and diet for a few days until they are strong enough to take off from the waves.
Although the rookery was roped off from the area where we could stand, the gannets were so close by, we could see their every move. As birds fidgeted on the nests, we began to notice that while some had eggs beneath them, many were keeping their hatched babies warm beneath them. After taking many, many, too many photos of the gannets feeding their babies, sparring with each other, swooping in with mouthfuls of fish and trying to make more babies just in case, we hiked the perimeter of the island encountering even more gannet villages. All in all it was more hiking than we had done in quite a while and it felt good to sit on the sail back to land.
A wonderful day ended with a lobster dinner in the meeting room at the campground overlooking that dramatic looking rock. You can never have too much lobster.