Of the white geese and humans

Des oies blanches et des humains

What a wonderful book, that gives the taste of the country and nature through the history of the large white geese, called by the researchers the greater snow Geese and their migration. The author, Gerald Baril, ” mercenary of the communications “, tells the story of how he came to pay close attention to these migratory birds which inhabit, the seasons, spring and fall, the shores of the St. Lawrence river, Muskie, and Baie-du-Febvre in Cacouna, passing through the île d’orléans, Portneuf, Cap-Tourmente and Montmagny.

We can not claim to know the Quebec if one has not done, one day or another, the pilgrimage in the spring to closely observe the thousands of sailboats are white. What a wonderful show to see them landing on the tidal flats of the river, after a journey in formation V of almost a thousand miles and after having flown at an altitude sometimes exceeding ten thousand meters, with peak speeds of up to 95 kilometres per hour.

Why we fascinate them so much ? asks the amateur birdwatcher. Are their numbers growing rapidly, nearly a million people ? Their herd behaviour ? Their beauty in the sky when they fly “in battalions stowed highlighting their solidarity” ? Their “cacardage” feature at the top of our heads, similar to “barking, hoarse” ? Is it because the arrival of the snow goose “by the roads of the air,” coincides with the coming of spring and the melting snow ?

Well-deserved break

The author has explored in our literary heritage, Félix Leclerc Félix-Antoine Savard, passing by Gabrielle Roy, Jean Provencher, Hubert Reeves, Marcel Dubé, and Pierre Morency, poet from Quebec who has written extensively on the birds. It is precisely this reconciliation with Morency, which leads up to the remains of the latter, on a spike, secret of the island of Orleans, once passed the villages of Saint-Pierre and Sainte-Famille, where he was able to observe closely, in the spring, the behavior of these migratory birds came to carry out a well-deserved break to feed and rest before continuing their long journey to Baffin island to breed.

Historian Jean Provencher beautifully describes their arrival on our lands, ” Reached the St. Lawrence, stolen considerable, to the high altitude of 600 metres, they turn towards the east and follow the river or the edge of the Laurentian up to the cap Tourmente. And then, suddenly, recognizing their rest area, they are all dropping like dead leaves. The hunter then said that they break the wings. ”

What Barrel discovered is fascinating. The white geese — some have even a plumage blue-gray — eat in small groups of about a hundred geese, while sentinels posted all around stand guard, ready to alert the army in case of danger. Geese readily accept the diversity. Among them, our observer notes the presence of wild ducks, mallards, geese and other geese. A show high in colour, constantly in motion at the option of the departures and arrivals of the other members of the troupe. Then suddenly, an apparition, a unique model that stands out in the middle of the mass of the winged : a white-fronted goose, recognisable by its yellow beak and his white spot on his forehead color ashy. A very rare species in this part of the country, according to the poet, Morency.

Between two walks, Barrel speaks of the peregrine falcon, the turkey vulture red-headed, the red-tailed hawk, the passerin indigo male ” blue shimmer “, the hummingbird, the snipe, chimney swift, the kingfisher and scarlet tanager, among other species, are volatile.

Three thousand kilometers

When the geese will have stored enough energy, after an intense browsing of three to four weeks, they will resume their flight up in Nunavut, a journey of three thousand miles, not without having stopped en route to refuel.

How are they to navigate, even on a cloudy day ? What is it that triggers the mechanism of the departure and the return to the collective ? The geese have a memory that would be that they will come back in the same place every year ? Barrel is yet in the literature to answer these questions, which the writer of the Swedish Selma Lagerlöf, first woman to win the Nobel prize for literature.

This book is a balm for the soul for the time of a pandemic. I highly recommend it to dispel all the dark clouds that float above our heads.

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