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Going Wild

by Matt Salisbury on 17 November 2014, 10:11AM

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If you’re thinking about taking a holiday where the opportunity to marvel at the local wildlife features highly on the ‘to do’ list, then you aren’t really going to be short of options. From the big cats of the Maasai Mara to the monkeys of Gibraltar, and from the Little Penguins of Phillip Island to the elephants of Asia, the opportunities are almost endless when it comes to a wildlife holiday. But I will stick my neck on the line and suggest that if you asked most people to choose a holiday where they could spend time ‘going wild’; Canada wouldn’t be top of the list.

That was certainly the case as far as I was concerned, but that was before being invited to take a trip to Quebec back in September, where the opportunity to see the best in Canadian wildlife was part of a busy itinerary. Admiring wildlife on water and on land, it proved to be a memorable experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry...

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It was in the picturesque surroundings of Baie-St-Catherine that the wildlife leg our trip would commence, although we’d already been given an indication of what to expect during our overnight halt in La Malbaie. There, at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, we’d been told about the Beluga whales that are to be found in the waters that surround the hotel and had seen pictures of the hotel’s mascot – a giant beluga – hard at work entertaining guests. Boarding our Zodiac boat, complete in fetching overalls and full safety gear, we set out onto the water with our guide and within minutes of leaving the jetty encountered our first Minke whale. Breaking the surface of the water nearby, the animal wasn’t unduly bothered by our presence and appeared a number of times before we headed further out onto the river; passing by a number of playful seals in the process.

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It was once into deeper waters that we encountered a Humpback whale, another of the 10+ species that are regularly found in the river. The sight of the creature rising from the water before diving to the depths was as majestic at close quarters as you’d expect after an afternoon watching David Attenborough’s best bits, and at times it almost seemed to be putting on a show for the watching boats; all of which maintained a safe distance so as not to cause too much disturbance. A quick blast into the Saquenay Fjord was rewarded with the chance to witness a group of seals relaxing on the rocks, while there was a brief glimpse of a beluga in the distance.

While the trip went on for a number of hours, it certainly didn’t feel that long, although the more extreme nature of the Zodiac isn’t something that will appeal to all, especially when the Canadian weather bites. For those who prefer to travel in more comfortable surroundings however, there are other options available. No matter which option you choose, the chance to admire the Saint Lawrence whales is something that shouldn’t be missed...

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Within hours of setting foot back on terra firma, we’d headed into the forests near to Quebec City to go moose watching in the Montmorency Forest. Our initial plan had been to rise early the following morning but when a group of the animals were seen out in the open feeding, the decision was taken to instead pile onto the old school bus used to navigate the forest tracks to head for a specially constructed viewing platform. While a yellow bus might not seem the most conspicuous way in which to try and ‘sneak up’ on a wild animal, the moose isn’t a creature known for its eyesight, instead relying primarily on its sense of smell and its hearing to be aware of its surroundings.

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After leaving the bus and walking silently to the viewing area, it soon became apparent that the animals had already made their move back under cover; leaving us to try again the following day. Under the cover of darkness, we headed out early on with our guide Pierre and within seconds of leaving the main forest road to join the private tracks, we’d come across our first moose of the morning. Stood feeding, the female was aware of our presence but continued with her business before we continued into the woods. A fleeting glimpse through the trees of a larger male was followed by Pierre suddenly bringing the bus to a halt in an open area of woodland, where we disembarked to be shown footprints on the gravel road and the remnants of some skin from the end of some antlers that were an indication of a battle that had recently taken place. The two males involved then appeared on the road ahead of us but within seconds, had vanished back into the trees.

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In total, we spotted no fewer than seven moose during our morning tour with Pierre’s enthusiasm being clear to see. It is rare to see someone with such a passion for their work and it came through while out on the trip and also back in the university buildings, as Pierre passed on his knowledge to group. While the early start isn’t something that would appeal to all, the end reward was one of the undoubted highlights of the trip and really drove home the fact that Quebec is more than a match for the established wildlife destinations when it comes to getting close to nature.

For more information about Quebec visit Tourism Quebec

To find out more about holidays to Quebec click here


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