Home Island Presentation 13th September 2017
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Island Presentation

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The Isthmus and the Lagoon of Grand Barachois

 

“This english translated version is made available for those who cannot read French. Translating from your own language into a foreign language is not an easy task, the translator is quite aware of its limitation and will welcome any suggestions. Thanks.”

To the west, the knolls are in fact sand dunes fixed by the vegetation. They appeared probably at the end of the last glaciation while the sea level was much lower because an enormous amount of water was stuck in the ice further north. We can figure out how it happened : a very large dune (it’s quite possible, as the depth there is quite moderate) the sand moved by the winds has  accumulated and was fixed by an appropriate vegetation : Beach grass, sea rocket etc. …

These sandy knolls called locally  “buttereaux”  have fluctuated a lot, with periods of erosion and periods of accumulation. At the present time we are in an important phase of erosion which could end with the disappearance of the northern part. For several years now some work took place in the area, some “sand trap” are built to re-profile the beach and limit the impact of the waves. The erosion is obvious as well on the east coast of the lagoon when the wind blows from the north-east and during spring tides. The road built like a dyke several years ago protects the dunes for about 2/3 of the way on the lagoon side.

 

The Grand Barachois is inserted between the two arms of the isthmus on its northern part. This is a shallow salt lagoon with large sand banks exposed at low tide. It is even shallower on the western end, exposing a wide beach of fine sand.

The Harbour seal breeds inside the lagoon of Grand Barachois. The females give birth to their pups during the last week of May and the first week of June. The young, born at low tide, must be able to swim within a few hours, in fact for the next high tide. The mother suckles its young for about 3 weeks. The bonds between the mother and pup are through the senses of smell and hearing. Any disturbance during this critical period that separates the mother from its young leads to the abandonment of the young and its subsequent death while its fat reserves are depleted. The biologists says that the harbour seals leave Grand Barachois to feed at sea.

The grey seal is a visitor from spring to fall. They breed on Sable island where they give birth to their pups at the end of January. We have found here several grey seals that were marked on Sable island. This species is more massive than the harbour seal and is easy to recognize with its longer head.

The lagoon of Grand Barachois is a wonderful site to study the seals. Two students from MemorialUniversity in Newfoundland got their PHD in 1993 for their work on the seals of that lagoon.

 

Among the plants growing on the Isthmus (but also in other habitats on the islands) lets mention : Canadian burnet, beach pea, silverweed, sea-beach Sandwort, beach and cord grass, cow parsnip, Baltic rush, seaside plantain and bog bean.

The shorebirds do frequent the area :

some species breed here : semipalmated Plover, spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s snipe, least Sandpiper and the endangered piping Plover.

Others are visitors in spring during the northward migration, rather regularly like the black-bellied Plover, occasionally like the ruddy Turnstone and rarely like the European Golden-Plover and exceptionally : Black-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Curlew.

During the autumn the shorebirds returning from Labrador or from the Arctic where they breed arrive here by the hundreds to feed on the sand banks and along the shores of Grand Barachois. This stopover allows them to built some fat reserves to be ready for the long migration to south America where most species spend their winter. The arrival dates are different for each species. At the end of June or first week of July for the Whimbrel, and from mid-July on for the Yellowlegs and the Dowitcher, early to mid-August for the semipalmated Plover and white-rumped Sandpiper, and by the end of August for the Sanderling and in September for the Dunlin. For several years now the number of red Knots has increased substantially between September and November.

Hudsonian Godwit and Buff-breasted Sandpiper are much less common.

The Anatids (ducks) feeding on eel grass, are common on the lagoon. In spring the black Duck (over wintering in ever increasing numbers, over 500 individuals in recent years), are joined by migrants of their own species. The northern Pintail, now the most common breeder on the Isthmus, arrives during the first fortnight of April, in company with the green-winged Teal and less commonly with the blue-winged Teal. Rather rare, but seen from time to time are the American Wigeon (a casual breeder) and the northern Shoveler (the latter bred there in 1998 and 1999) and the Mallard.

 

The summer is calmer on the lagoon, the broods of ducks arriving there around mid-August.

Among the diving ducks, the red-breasted Merganser could be seen year round and breeds in the surrounding marshes. The common Goldeneye is present from November to mid-April or as long as open water permits. Much less common are the greater Scaup and the Bufflehead.

The Canada Goose, common in the past, and over-wintering fairly regularly has become rare since 1985, following some poaching. Paradoxically the number of breeders has raised significantly, although these are of a different origin.

A few species of Larids breed on the isthmus : herring Gull, great black-backed Gull scattered in favourable habitat, south of Grand Barachois. The ring-billed Gull, more gregarious, breeds in denser colonies. The latter is a migrant, arriving during the first days of April and leaving in October/November.

Two species of Terns, The common Tern and the Arctic Tern are present regularly and breed on the Isthmus, they are present from mid-May to September  or October.

The Piping Plover, an endangered species has bred on the isthmus several times. We have about 25 nesting evidences, the first one being in 1985.

The lagoon of Grand Barachois communicates with sea through a gully which changes in shape over the years, under the influence of winds and currents.

The free-roaming horses are a curiosity on the Isthmus. They are often called “wild horses” while in fact they all have an owner. How do these horses have reached the islands ? Possibly with shipwrecks. Apparently there is no data about it. Once one of the only means of transportation, they have been quite appreciated, to carry the mail between Miquelon and Langlade, for farm work, wood gathering etc. The horses of Miquelon-

 

Langlade that went through natural selection in spending winter outdoors  became quite resistant. The introduction of breeders from the continent may have changed somewhat this adaptation. Less utilized since the advent of modern means of transportation, they are now quite popular for hors-back riding.

There was a natural reserve project for this exceptional site of regional importance. This project was opposed by the majority of the population at the time, it seems that things have evolved and the interest of the site is now better understood. This reserve would not have been important in the past, where means of transportation were scarce, non-pollutant and slow. Now things have changed and protection is needed for the preservation of this unique area. The lagoon is a “hunting reserve” since 1980 (meaning that hunting is not permitted there).

 

The Isthmus had several farms: Why those have been abandoned ? Work on a farm under our climate is difficult. It was possible at the time where the most important thing was “SURVIVING ! They could not maintain themselves through the competition with larger farms from the continent, from which the products became more and more easily available through an improvement of the marine traffic.

One of the marshes, about 2 km south of Grand Barachois is the richest of the islands. There you can watch broods of Pintails, red-breasted Mergansers, a several dozen pairs of common Terns. Even the black Tern has nested there in 1992 and 1993, which represents an important extension to the east. Its breeding limits in the Maritimes Provinces is near the New-Brunswick/Nova Scotia border. Barn and tree swallows are often seen there as well.

The southern part of the isthmus was almost without vegetation, now the cover is rather important and includes a lot of Strawberries, which are ripe usually around the end of July. The crowberry (black and red) are abundant there as well, but, surprisingly enough the Bayberry, common in this habitat in the Magdalen and Prince Edward islands is not present here and found only on peat bogs.





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