The Grand Council of the Crees

Great Whale Environmental Assessment: Impact on birds

Impact on birds

Posted: 0000-00-00

The comments in this file are organized according to themes, and are based on interviews with Eastmain and Wemindji hunters and trappers done by Colin Scott and Kreg Ettenger, transcribed August 1994, and held in the archives of the Grand Council of the Crees, 27 Bayswater avenue, Ottawa, Ont. K1Y 2E4. The subject of these interviews was the impact of the James Bay hydro project works on the Eastmain-Wemindji area. Respondents are identified only by number. These are from Vol 2, Part A, pps 118-129. Edited slightly for publication on this Web site.

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Sections:

General impact of projects on all birds
Geese and swans
Ducks and loons
Ptarmigan and grouse
Birds of prey
Ravens and gulls
Note: individual species are named in black type to aid archival search.
The dotted line indicates a new speaker.

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General impact of projects on all birds [Top]

The first thing I want to tell you about is how the fowl are affected when they fly up north in the spring. These are the breeding ground for all kinds of birds, big or small. This is where they multiply in numbers. It's apparent that we obey the laws carefully that were established in how we should look after the birds. We were one of the reasons why the laws were made about how we should handle the situations that arise concerning the fowl, especially their breeding periods. When something like the building of dams take place, this is how a lot of them lose their breeding grounds.

A long time ago the ducks nested along the river banks and other species of small birds used to nest in the trees. It's sad to see these birds lose the homes where they used to bring up their families. One can't imagine the devastation Hydro and the government bodies have inflicted on these poor birds. The government signed a paper giving permission to Hydro to build dams. That shows that (the government) has no compassion at all for what it has caused and does not look after the land the way it's supposed to do. This is supposed to be the top priority for the government, that everybody on earth should look after the land carefully. There are lots and lots of different species of animals, domestic animals and all kinds of birds that were given to us. Some of them are there for survival for the human race as long as we have instinct to survive.

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It really affects everybody, it affects everything, the hydro project. Even the birds that fly around, the geese and the ducks and everything. Because they have to feed on grass, on little insects, whatever they eat, and they get affected by mercury. It's not only fish that are affected by mercury, it's also the flying creatures. Now they say you can't eat the liver of a moose; pretty soon they're going to say you cannot eat the geese or the ducks.

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The people are not the only ones affected by this situation, it affects the animals too. All kinds of creatures including birds, any kind of fowl. They are all affected somehow, wherever they are, their nesting grounds along the river banks disappeared under the water. This is where the birds favor as their nesting places, ducks and small birds. Now they've lost their way of survival. When someone or something loses their lifestyles to this situation, one can truly see how devastating it can be.

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Geese and swans [Top]

In history, the river and the lakes weren't as populated with waterfowl as the coast.... Before the reservoirs, before the diversion, it was always known that the waterfowl population was a lot better on the coast then it was inland. In the last ten, fifteen years, since the construction of these reservoirs, which created a huge mass of water, people have realized there seem to be more waterfowl in the reservoir areas than before, because naturally where you have more water you're going to have more birds.

In the last ten, fifteen years, since the hydro project, since the creation of reservoirs, there's a large amount of water, and even below the reservoirs, through the spillways and things like that, there's water. When you have a large amount of water visible to the birds, naturally that's going to increase the population of waterfowl.

There have been reports from other Cree communities and even some of our local hunters that there's an increase of waterfowl population within the reservoirs and below the reservoirs. First of all, in the reservoir, with the dikes and the dam, when the snow and everything else starts melting above the dam, it creates water. The water goes on the ice, creating a huge mass of water. When you have a surplus of water in the reservoir, then Hydro-Quebec (has) to open the doors to let some of the water out, and the water goes on top of the ice below the reservoir. So already you have two large, massive areas of open water while it's still cold on the coast. So that's one theory: it's the thaw and the opening of the doors to let excess water (out).

There are a lot of factors you've got to consider in order to have a good season on the coast. There's the weather factor, the amount of snow you have, and also the wind, the wind direction is very important. If you have a north wind seventy-five percent of the time that you're supposed to be hunting, the birds tend to fly inland more.... Because not only does the wind strength push the birds inland, also it?s colder on the coast. If you have an east wind, it was always a better year. An east or south wind is warm. So considering all these factors, if there is a large amount of snow, and there's always north wind, you'll always have a bigger (bird) population inland.

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I find it very different today compared to what it used to be like hunting the geese. What I think is happening now is, the geese don't come up this way anymore, I mean along the coast of James Bay. Today they tend more and more every year to fly a little more inland, which wasn?t their route for so many years, and I do blame that on the dam. Because of the dry river that it doesn't flow anymore, geese cannot get what the flowing river brought down, like water plants that were driven down by the strong downstream current of the river. Today there is no strong current and the river flows upwards, not downstream like it should. So this is what I find very different, the route of the geese; and besides that, up inland there is more water now since they flooded the land and I believe this is one of the reasons why the goose is not inhabiting the shores of James Bay.

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Sometimes when we have a spring like this, a long spring, if the ice doesn't melt fast, there is a certain part that the geese will maybe understand, I don't know, maybe they do, but they can hear the shots fired. But some springs when the ice is melting fast, there are certain directions where the geese won't even hear your shots, and they'll just fly so low. But this year it's different, it's a longer spring. There are more days and more chances to hunt, but fewer geese coming in because they hear the shots.

When I was a kid we spent the whole fall there sometimes, and the winter. Then in the spring we traveled somewhere else. Our camp in the fall was just across the river, straight north from here. Then in the spring before the geese came we started travelling to the bay. But now the only time we use our camp in the fall, is on long weekends where we have holidays. In the fall we hunt geese and ducks. In the spring we only use the camp for the goose hunt for maybe about three weeks. With the changes after the dam, and the community getting bigger and bigger, I can say there's fewer geese flying over to where we are because of where the community?s situated. The geese can see the houses. Here it's different from down south; when geese go south, they don't mind what they see, but here they see the wild, and there are certain things they don't get near. Some do, but some won't, that's why it changed a lot, the pattern of the geese. The situation of the community, the damming of the river, the salt water, I guess, and all that. That's why every year we kill fewer geese at our camp, and I think the other camps are starting to notice that too, the geese are flying more inland now.

I'm not sure but I've listened to a lot of older people talk about snow geese and blue geese like that. Before, when I was a kid, when I was around six, seven, eight, even younger, my parents used to do a lot of hunting to live on, and I traveled with them. There used to be a lot of blue geese, snow geese. There was hardly any Canada geese, but now there?s lots of Canada?s. Then all of a sudden the blue geese started gradually disappearing, now they're travelling on the west coast of James Bay, most of them.

But lately I started to notice a change again, there's more blue geese and snow geese now every year.

Canada geese and snow geese, they're different, I mean they're from the same family but they eat in different places. Just like us. You're white and I'm Indian, our traditions are different, and that's how they are too. I guess where they feed, I guess if the snow geese and the blue geese come back it might change some of that. I'm starting to notice the Canada geese are gradually going away and the snow and the blue geese are coming in again.

Question: Did you get any of those this year?

Answer: No, since I started hunting I never had a chance to shoot any snow geese or blue geese in the spring, but in the fall I had a lot of chances. When I first got out of school I killed a lot in the fall, but then they started disappearing. But now they're coming back again, gradually coming back. I don't know, I guess it does that for every generation that's born, there's always a change, you know. My dad talks about a lot of times, he said "when I was hunting there was a lot of blue geese and snow geese, there were no Canada?s, and the Canada?s started moving in." Now I see the change too, like the snow geese are starting to come, and blue geese. Especially the snow geese that are traveling out east here, the white ones with the black nose and black feet, we never had those here.

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And also, the other thing I wanted to mention, listening to some trappers from Mistissini and the surrounding communities, there seems to be an increased presence of geese in the reservoirs or below the hydro project. So maybe there is some benefit to that from the projects, the creation of the mud flats on the two rivers, that could be a small benefit. And the other thing I wanted to mention, just so that Hydro-Quebec doesn't say that we've created a good place for Canada geese, that the weather conditions on the coast were not perfect for goose hunting in the last few years. It's been cold, so my theory is that birds have changed their pattern of flight. Instead of concentrating more on the coast, they've sort of flown inland where the temperature is a bit warmer than on the coast at the particular time of year when there's supposed to be a great number of birds.

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The other thing that I notice is that even the geese sometimes don't taste as fresh as they used to back in the old days, because of the damming of the river.

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Same thing with the NBR (complex). Once they go through with that, they close the Waskaganish River, how are the wavies (blue geese) going to survive? You know what happens when you have no water on the mud? The mud hardens. You can't eat it. Because the birds eat that, that's why there's so many wavies there in the fall, because the mud is soft. We used to have wavies here a long time ago, but no more. You don't see any more in the fall, they just pass through here, that's all, they never stop.... Once they go through with the NBR, there'll be no more wavies in Waskaganish, there'll be no more geese. How are the Indians going to survive in the springtime if they can't even hunt the geese or ducks? What are they going to eat?

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Since the damming over there, it's not only this area that's affected. Everything is affected along the coast now. The eel grass are not the same, they don't grow as well as before and that's due to the project. It's the same that is said at Chisasibi; to the north of Chisasibi that's what they say, "the eel grass don't grow as they used to." A long time ago eel grass grew very well, and the geese feed on it.

Q: Another question regarding the berries which the geese feed on; as you know there were a lot of berries (on the coast), has that changed?

A: Positively, there is a poor growth with berries too, that's another factor (in the tendency of increasing numbers of geese to fly inland rather than along coast), further up inland there's a greater excitement over berries, all kinds of berries, blackberries too, cranberries. Caniapiscau Lake is quite far, Mr. M. told me, during the peak of migration that there's a lot of berries, all kinds of berries, blackberries, goose berries. Do you know what nischimin ("goose berries", literal translation from the Cree) look like?

Q: Yes.

A: Those are the berries they feed on, he told me, that's probably why there are a lot of geese towards inland. One time we were at our camp, he was at his camp at the time. One Sunday, I heard him on the CB radio saying, it appears as though there are cloud covers to the south, they're probably flocks of geese and wavies. I guess when the flocks reached his camp, he says they're mostly wavies. That place Caniapiscau Lake, that's probably their migration route, from what I hear. At Caniapiscau Lake and towards the east we flew about an hour to where we landed at a town. All together we flew about three hours from Naskapi Territory to here.

Q: What about wavies, there used to be a lot of them along the coast; why are there no wavies along the coast now?

A: It's the same with wavies, they like to feed on berries too, and along the coast, particularly at Mud Point, have you seen those the wavies feed on?

Q: Yes.

A: They look like onions or potatoes, skinny-looking. They were called utisiihkaanish. I guess they knew what to call them, those are the plants the wavies used to feed on, and now they're probably in the bushes. That's where there used to be a lot of wavies, along that brush line, they would feed in the bushes. There's a couple of places where those kind of plants were found. There were some at Iiwaapuwaau Mjnishtikw ("Brant Island"), "Snake Point" and along the bay. Those are the places I know of where those kinds of plants were found. As soon as they ate all those, now there are no wavies, those plants no longer grow. Where those plants grew there are trees and soil, those are the kind of plants the wavies like to feed on. Also the berries, that's why there's hardly any wavies here. Now the elders, they've seen more geese than I have, G.K., my uncle S. and my late father said there was a man from Rupert's House who hunted here. That man said that's why there are a lot of wavies to the south, that kind of plant is plentiful to the south. He was referred to as Muushaapaau ("Always-a-man"), he used to be in this area, when I saw him, Mr. Trapper he was Muushaapaau's son.

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Q: Can you talk about what it was like before the hydro dams were built, before the flooding of the land in the bush?

A: There have been lots of big impacts since the hydro dams were built; it is as if the hydro dams are consuming, devouring everything that's there. Before the hydro dams, the ptarmigan were plentiful and the geese too, they have changed their habitat and behaviour; now they fly out and land on the reservoirs. That is one of the impacts that is affecting the Coasters; the people who hunt or trap along the coast of the James Bay area. Before the hydro dams, I used to set up a net along the shore here in the winter time; there used to be a lot of ptarmigan even nearby (the community). But since the hydro dams they have changed their behaviour.

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Q: Do you spend your springs on the coast?

A: Yes, that's where I stay now and sometimes I stay in town.

Q: What do think about the geese?

A: There was plenty before the dam but now their numbers have decreased.

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A: No, there was never that many wildfowl inland before the hydro. We would see them, just a small number, they would feed near marshlands. Now they fly out and land and feed where it's flooded. I guess to them the big wide open water looks like the bay. Wherever I went, whether it was inland or a coastal trapline, I have always valued the tallyman or goose boss. I always liked to hunt, but even if I wanted to hunt very badly, I always waited until the goose boss said the hunting season was open. Now the young people show no respect for the goose boss, or wait for the right time to hunt; they just go without telling anyone. Where I go goose hunting in the spring and fall with my sons, the man that was the tallyman and also the goose boss for that trapline died. He would tell us to watch out for the hunting area when he couldn't make it there in time, so we always used to keep an eye on things until he'd arrive and now he is gone. I think of his grand-children, so I have very strong feelings for that area but I think that's why the geese are flying out elsewhere, because there are just too many disturbances, and also people are not respecting the hunting regulations of the goose boss. As long as they continue to hunt every day and not consult the goose boss, geese will fly to the reservoirs where there is not that much disturbance.

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Q: I've heard people comment about the fall migration and that the reservoirs along the La Grande have caused some changes in the way the geese fly. What's your view of that?

A: There's more geese in the bush than there used to be and what we noticed at our camp, where the LG-2 reservoir is just behind us, is that in the fall when we see geese they are usually flying from east to west.

Q: Are these Canada geese?

A: Yes, Canada geese. It's not the same as in the spring because they are coming from the other way but in the fall that's when I noticed that whenever I see geese they fly from east to west.

Q: So where do you think they are coming from?

A: They could be corning from the reservoirs or from Labrador. Up there in LA-1 it's all snow geese. That's what they are saying. I went up to LA-l last October and I saw two or three big flocks of snow geese.

Q: What kilometer is that?

A:394

Q: Wemindji territory?

A: It is just past LG-4; LG-4 is km. 314 and it's maybe another sixty or seventy kilometers, then there's a turn off that goes to LA-1.

Some people went up there from here and said that there were a lot of snow geese, so they might be the ones that come from Quebec City because we don't get that many snow geese here.

Q: You get more in the fall?

A: Yes. But we don't get as many as Great Whale because they cross from Cape Jones to Ontario; they don't come down this coast that much.

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There is something else I want to talk about, I want to talk about the geese when they fly up north in Quebec. There are lots of geese that fly over all along the coast. The geese mate and lay their eggs over here, sometimes a goose has four or five eggs. Two geese laying eggs produce almost ten geese. Those geese teach their goslings where to eat, just like a human being or a Cree teaches his children how to survive and where to hunt. I saw them doing this, also the snow geese (wavies) do the same.

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One of the things that people have noticed along the coast, and not just around the reservoirs, is the amount of snowfall has increased, because of all the water surface in the region; like not just the Bay now, but also the reservoirs to the north and east inland. Ice conditions have also changed along the coast. The ice has been going faster in the spring, since the hydro project, and this has affected the waterfowl migration along the coast, too. Another thing is the movement of eel grass, it seems to be moving southward in its distribution. Like the old man at Old Factory has said, when he was very young, there were no brants at Old Factory -- the brants need eel grass to feed on. Then, during his hunting years, the brants came into the Old Factory area.: And now, they go beyond Eastmain, almost halfway to Waskaganish. This is one of the changes the old people have noticed in their lifetimes, and from long ago.

Q: Do you have any idea what would have been the connection between the ice going out earlier and the hydro project?

It probably has something to do with the amount of fresh water that's coming into the Bay now; like it's increased from the La Grande.

There's another thing that influences the geese (Canada?s and wavies) to migrate inland, that's the land coming up along the coast. When I used to hunt at Old Factory, the old man showed me a bay where there used to be lots of geese. Now there?s none, because it's all dried up. The places where they feed drain as the land comes up, so more of them fly inland.

Where we were camping for goose hunting one time, the old people can show you a place that has goose blinds made with stones that used to be near the water; now they're way up in the trees, even further from the shore than where the camp is now.

On L.'s territory, there is a quite high hill toward the inland, where the old people say there is still cedar driftwood way up on the side of the hill. They say that must have been a beach, long time ago. The old people could say more about that.

The shooting boss was explaining that the concentration of geese in the coastal bays during the migration used to be so high that, where the geese had been feeding, the ground was all worked up -- it almost looked as though there had been some animals had been fighting there. This was very good for the growth of new vegetation. Now, with the reduction of density of geese in the coastal areas, there are not enough of them to have the same effect on the ground. So he is worried about the regrowth not being as good, and the area being even less attractive to the geese.

Another thing they have noticed, the geese are fatter now when they get to James Bay in the spring than they used to be. They must be stopping more to feed further south, like in sanctuaries or something.

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Waapisuuch "swan" --I am going to talk about this species, they are rare around this area. They lay eggs on land like the geese, the parents teach them the same way as the geese do their young ones. Iiwaapuwaauch "brant" -- they live in the water most of the time, except when they are laying their eggs on land. They teach the young ones where to find food so when they're fully grown and flying around they will know where to find food to survive. This is the way I see these birds do their teaching.

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Ducks and loons [Top]

1 can say by firm honesty and confirm to you that the information that I'm about to give you as far as these water-birds before the hydro project will be accurate and honest. I also have a few things that I want to say (about them) since the hydro project, but then those will be more or less like speculation; I cannot confirm them to you. First of all, we'll talk about the existence of the different species of water birds, not necessarily just waterfowl, but water birds in my trapline and also in the traplines affected by the Opinaca/Eastmain reservoir. We had the common loons, we had the red-throated loons, we had mergansers, we also had the black scoter; we had all kinds of different species of water birds. And mind you, there was also presence of mallards and certain species of ducks that you would normally find on the coast, but of course in not as great numbers as on the coast. There was also presence of geese, but the population was nothing compared to the population of geese on the coast And I had breeding areas, I even came across some nesting areas. And there were certain lakes and certain rivers that had groups of different species, so there was a good presence of these birds within my trapline and the Opinaca reservoirs.

I'll tell you of one time when I was in my canoe with a fellow trapper, we were paddling around on one of the lakes on my trapline. We came into a small stream, and to our surprise there we came across a whole bunch, like a great number of red-throated loons. We managed to bag ten out of that bunch. And ten might not be a big number, but for that area that is something, because they're not supposed to be that many in number of what we saw. What we took is not everything that we saw. And it was almost like a stopover for a lot of different species of these water birds, like loons; they normally go to James Bay but probably stop over for feeding or for roosting. And same thing with the red-throated loon. It's almost like half-way between the Atlantic coast to James Bay, so there was always the presence of these birds on my area. And one of the other things, too, some of the vegetation that was found, especially in the traplines of VC-34 and VC-35, some of the vegetation that was found in the bigger lakes, like Low Lake and Opinaca Lake, was the exact vegetation for the needs of these birds. So not only was this the stopping area, it was also a feeding area. And my theory is, whatever the presence was in the Opinaca, the Little Opinaca before the diversion, I'm sure it has been almost limited to nothing since the diversion. Because I assume these birds feed in certain levels of water, I mean they feed in -- not in real deep waters. So with the creation of the huge reservoirs and the depth, I guess it makes it more difficult for them to get at the food or at the vegetation that existed in the reservoirs before the diversion. So one of the things 1 think is the reservoirs didn?t increase; 1 think they sort of destroyed the vegetation necessary to feed these birds.

There was a lot of presence of mallards, the green-head mallard and also the black mallard (black duck), and I've noticed that their presence was in lakes that are sort of shallow, not real shallow, but with a certain amount of depth. And also, they seemed to be concentrating on areas that had lots of either rock bars or sand bars, and lakes that have a lot of streams flowing into one central area. And that is probably because of preference for feeding, like you know, where you have current there's vegetation or different types of leaves, and underwater weeds that flow down to the mouth of that river or stream that usually empties into a lake.

I had a lot of areas, where I could safely say that I've taken a good number of ducks, like hundreds of ducks, not just in one season but over the period of time that I hunted. And if you start getting hundreds of ducks in one of the inland traplines, it's very good. One of the other things I've noticed with these ducks, is a lot of them would come in the same numbers, sometimes with a little bit of increase. It almost seemed to me that sometimes the same bunch or the same flocks would come to a certain area. That is what I believe, that the birds that know of a good feeding area, the birds that were born in the area always return to that area. And I?m sure that also happened after the diversion; the birds wanted to return and to their surprise something had changed, there was a difference in the landscape, there was a difference in the amount of water. So therefore either their presence is still existent but probably in a different location, and maybe in the same numbers, but you kind of hope in increased numbers.

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....just like a human being or a Cree teaches his children how to survive and where to hunt, the loon also does the same thing, but loons stay in the water all the time with their babies and teach them where to find food -- such as fish, small fish -- and swim with them. The parent loons teach the young ones where food can be found so they won't go hungry, they find a lake where the fish is. Aashimwaakw --- red-throated loons -- once they are flying on their own they do the same thing, they live in the water like the (common) loons, and teach the young ones in the water.

Mihkihtaaship --- black mallard -- many people see them swimming with their young ones, where the weeds (grass) grow in the water. This is where they teach the younger ones where to find food so that when they are fully grown they?ll know what to do. Also the uminikw --- northern pintail. This is the way these birds that lay eggs teach their young and also the kuiishkushiipaatim --- black scoter--- also kwaahiikinch and ahaawaashiishich teach their young and so do the chuchishipishich t --- green-winged teals.

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Ptarmigan and grouse [Top]

The other bird I'm going to talk about is getting very scarce these days, not like before when there were lots of them. I'm talking about the ptarmigan (white birds). Long ago there were plenty of ptarmigan. I guess there aren't many around here in our area. There must be some, somewhere where they lay their eggs, I see them on TV they live on land not in water, just like the grouse. I can't say or explain exactly how the grouse breed, I have never found grouse eggs. They say they lay eggs and it's a curse when one finds grouse eggs, something terrible happens. It is like a kind of warning of bad luck when you find grouse eggs. I can't say where they lay their eggs, maybe they hide their eggs, maybe somewhere where man can't see or find them, maybe this is the reason why man can't find the eggs but we know they lay eggs because they produce.

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There was nothing wrong with the rabbit and ptarmigan; the only thing since the forest fires is that the rabbit is scarce. With the spruce grouse, if we find them on a tree stand there are usually quite a few. And with the ptarmigan, there aren't any just like along the coast. That's the case with the ptarmigan, there aren't any around there any more.

Q: Were there a lot of ptarmigan at your trapline during the time there were ptarmigan along the coast?

A: Yes, there were a lot of ptarmigan on the bigger part of Yasinski Lake, there were a lot of ptarmigan. Everything is pretty much the same, a decline in population, just like the cause of forest fires.

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When I talk about the natural cycle of animals, when I referred to the rabbits, the rabbit had a cycle of three to four years and it always seemed to maintain that cycle. And I still believe today that it does maintain that three to four year cycle. Same thing with the ptarmigan, the sharptailed grouse, the spruce grouse, all the birds that are in the grouse family, they also had, in my mind, a cycle of three to four years. And I could say the spruce grouse maintains that, and the sharptailed. But what bothers me, or what I question, is why the ptarmigan, or the other name for it is the white-bird, seems to have lost its cycle totally, and that maybe has a connection to the hydro project. In previous years it always sort of maintained the three to four year cycle, now with the existence of Hydro-Quebec it sort of lost its cycle totally. Even others, like muskrats they also had a cycle. In the days when I was a young trapper I believed that every small game was like that, it had a cycle and it always lived up to that cycle.

Q: As far as the ptarmigan goes, is the population now low, the population has become lower and hasn't increased again as it normally would have?

A: I believe the ptarmigan?s very low in population, and I also believe that it's totally lost its cycle. I don't expect it to ever reach its full cycle of very good population, I can't see that in the future. Because like I said, in the previous years it's lost totally its cycle and also the population is very low. I for one, in the last five to six years haven't even killed one ptarmigan, and when the population was high I used to be able to harvest my share of ptarmigan, and I always used to consider that bird real plentiful on the coast and on the traplines within the two rivers. But I know all the other small animals like muskrat and rabbit, I'm still confident that they'll have their peak cycle.

Q: The animals that are still experiencing that cycle, when they are at their most populated now, is it close to the same levels, do you still see as many of those animals as you did before the hydro projects?

A: As far as the rabbits I believe they'll maintain their cycle, they will also have a peak time of their cycle, when the population will be high, with or without the presence of Hydro- Quebec. The only problem here is the ptarmigan. And I cannot directly say it's a result of Hydro-Quebec?s presence, but I could just say to you that with all the activity going on, I'm sure the ptarmigan has either relocated or has concentrated on different areas. I would like to say that not only do the animals get low in population as a result of people harvesting them, or people disturbing the areas that they have habitat in, there's also, just like human beings, natural death, just like any living thing. When I was a trapper, a number of times on my trapline I would notice that beavers had been dying off on the shore of a creek or on the shore of a lake, probably just a natural death so that the population could be naturally maintained, that's probably the way nature wanted it to be.

Q: What can you tell me about ptarmigans in terms of what they eat or where they live or how they react to disturbances that would possibly explain why they've pretty much disappeared from your trapline?

A: First of all the ptarmigan feeds on willows, the bud end, the little end of the willows, it's almost like a seed where vegetation will grow from, that's what they feed on. They also like to feed in gravel pits or in sandy areas like on islands, on beaches, so sand or gravel is what they feed on. And one of my questions, or it's just a theory for me, is that I assume they feed on berries, the different kinds of berries, especially in the summer time.

The ptarmigan likes a certain type of weather, certain type of climate, it likes stormy weather, what we would call bad weather for human beings, it's adapted to that. It enjoys living in overcast days, in cloudy days with snow and mild conditions, like mild conditions as far as temperature, it enjoys living in those types of climate. Their behaviour is very calm, it's very relaxed, if I may use that word, when that kind of climate plus the proper food is available, with the right climate they seem to be very calm and relaxed. When the weather turns sunny, clear and cold, their behaviour changes, they're harder to harvest, they're more scared, they're very cautious in sunny, clear weather. That's what I have noticed in my years as a hunter, but that itself cannot explain the decline of the population or even the non-existence of its cycle.

Q: Have you seen any changes in any of those things you've mentioned, the willows or other places that they feed, or the weather or anything that you noticed that has changed, that could possibly explain why it is that they're in decline or they have declined?

A: I can strongly say to you I haven't seen any change in the willows, the willows seem to exist both on the coastal traplines and also on the inland traplines. The areas where good populations of ptarmigan used to exist, their feed, the willows, the sand, there's no explanation, they haven't disappeared. As a matter of fact I have some areas I think where actually the willows have improved. And also, even as far as the weather, there have been some changes but there hasn't been that drastic of a change to account for a total loss of the population or to be responsible for the loss of the cycle. So I cannot say these three items have changed enough to change the population of the ptarmigan.

I also want to point out that the rabbit and the ptarmigan had the same cycle, it was believed that they had a low and high cycles together. That's why I'm totally surprised that the rabbit seems to have maintained its cycle and also maintained its population, whereas it's different with the ptarmigan -- no cycle, the population is very, very low and it's almost totally wiped out of the Eastmain traplines.

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A: I also heard from others that there are lots of loss due to the hydro development. I know that the ptarmigan have found new habitats and they are sighted way past the road at LG-4.

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Birds of prey [Top]

Now I will talk about the owl; the owl nests and lays its eggs on hills (on steep rocks) where nobody that doesn't fly can touch its eggs. Only birds that fly can get the owl?s eggs from a ledge on the rocks. This is where the owl teaches its young once they fly, when they are flying around looking for food.

Pipunisuu --- gyrfalcon -- nests on the hills or in a tree. This bird builds its home in the tree where it will lay its eggs. It's like a little house we call its nest. This bird teaches its young like the owl does; it kills the small creatures to feed its young and shows the young ones how and where to hunt them. Misikushkw has lots of eggs. It nests in the trees, the babies are very small and drops them in the water. We wonder how they survive in the tree and how it carries them, probably by their necks. How can their young ones survive or not get lost when the mother drops them in the water? I guess the babies have survival skills they were taught, like us, when we leave our young we tell them to take care of themselves. I guess that is the way they teach their young, too. Usikw --- red-breasted merganser --- lays many eggs, also the iyikischikutaauship too, there would be a lot of baby ducks if all eggs are preserved or protected not destroyed. This duck teaches its young the same way.

Waapikiyuu --- snow owl --- lays its eggs on a ledge on the hill. Only other birds that fly can get at its eggs. Once the young can fly, then it flies with them to show them how to hunt on land not water. It doesn't get its food from the water only on land, it really likes to eat mice. The baby owl does the same when it hunts. Pipiyichisuu --- hawk owl --- is like the rest of the birds that I have mentioned and the chiipaayaash --- great-horned owl --- too, whiskeyjack is the same. The babies learn to fly early/quickly when they're young. When they see a teepee/tent they are really mischievous, they want to steal. The people feed them because the parents can't seem to feed them. Miichikiishkishiish, I can't really say exactly what it does, probably the same as the others after the eggs hatch; it teaches the babies how to hunt and survive. Also the kaahkaakw --goshawk --- is exactly the same.

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Ravens and Gulls [Top]

When somebody sees the seagulls' eggs they are very happy. They pick them and take them home because there are already too many, so there won't be more seagulls to hatch here in Quebec. I think that's the way the Cree look at it. There are many seagulls and they have lots of eggs. The seagulls raise their young on islands out in the bay -- you can see lots of baby seagulls flying around. The baby seagulls live off the island and there are lots of them. The baby seagulls seem to multiply fast. It's almost impossible to count them. We don't know how many are there on the islands.

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Also there are a lot of birds, like seagulls and ravens. At some places on that road you have to slow down because there's so many of them, in some areas especially such as the little access roads that go off the main road. I guess the (sports) hunters went in to the lakes and brought the animals to the road and gutted them; they left what they didn't need in piles of guts.