A Trip to Edgy Bonaventure Island

By Robert Brodey

Gaspe, Quebec. Photo by Robert J. Brodey

“There’s an orgy on the island,” my auntie Pat says. My uncle excitedly agrees.

What’s not to like about this adventure? It’s a perfect day. Only a few clouds hang in the celestial blue skies, as we push off from the shores of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec.

I am surrounded by curious voyeurs packed to the teeth with cameras and telephoto lenses. As the boat motors toward the high cliff walls of Bonaventure Island, I see hundreds of birds floating like dust caught in a beam of light.

But it isn’t until we land and hike 45 minutes to the far side of the island that we glimpse the real goings-on. As we approach the top of the cliff through the forest, we know we’re getting close to ground zero, because the smell of guano (shit) assaults the senses like smelling salts. Then we hear them crying out.

When we finally break the tree line, we get our first close-up view: 20,000 white and golden headed gannet birds covering every conceivable surface like pee covered snow. It’s a scene that bombards the senses.  The gannets have congregated here from all over the southern United States with one task in mind — to meet a mate and copulate.

In all fairness to the gannets, though, it’s controlled mayhem and not an orgy in the strictest sense. They’re a monogamous bunch, and, once paired off, they stay together for life (though I witness more than once certain gannets attempting to break up the marital party).

My aunt, uncle, and I spend the better part of the day photographing and observing this remarkable colony of birds, watching as they arrive with seaweed in their mouths to make nests. We marvel how the gannets always seem to find their mates among the endless sea of blue-eyes and golden heads (think Scandinavian beach in the summertime).

Bonaventure Island is only one of four or five sites in the world that host the annual migration of the gannets. At the height of the Gannet season, the population on the island swells beyond 100,000, which means mucho guano.