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Birds to watch for in the forests of Abitibi-Témiscamingue in winter

Birds to watch for in the forests of Abitibi-Témiscamingue in winter

There are countless ways to enjoy Val-d’Or all year long. In winter, outdoor activities are very popular, which include taking a walk in the woods. Nothing quite compares to the joy of getting some fresh air and immersing yourself in Nature. Although most birds head south in winter, to escape the snow, some of the hardier ones stay behind, enhancing our local forests with their own special beauty, to everyone’s delight. You can take photos and even feed them. Here are eight birds you can see in the woods of Val-d’Or during our colder months.

Brown Creeper

This little bird is brown on the upper parts with light spotting, distinguishable by its long thin bill, eyebrows and white underparts. The creeper can often go un-noticed due to the fact that this bird, which forages for food on tree trunks, blends in so well it appears to be part of the tree bark. Sunflower seeds are a big hit with creepers.

Ruffed Grouse

Sometimes incorrectly referred to as a partridge, the ruffed grouse is a ground-dwelling bird, often found close to tree trunks.  About the size of a small chicken, the grouse’s dappled and barred plumage ranges in colour from pale grey through to reddish brown. The male fans its tail to seduce females. It is a relatively shy bird, but you can get closer for a peek if it happens to be perched in a tree. Click here to hear the song of the ruffed grouse so you know what to listen for when you’re out in our woods:

Common Redpoll

What makes this little seed-eating bird quite distinctive are its pinky-dappled breast and the dash of red on top of its head. Its short, pointy, yellowish beak is perfectly designed for getting at tree seeds (particularly, birch seeds), its primary food source. Redpolls can be seen hanging out at birdfeeders in the winter and they enjoy all kinds of birdseed. Click here to hear its song.

Blue Jay

Long before it became the emblem for Toronto’s baseball team, this bird was a resident of Quebec and the great forests of Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Its magnificent plumage is bright blue overall, with some touches of grey. It is a friendly bird that enjoys being around humans. Its shrill call makes it easy to recognize. Click here to have a listen of its song.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

As its name implies, this bird’s red breast makes it easy to identify. Another distinguishing feature is the black band across its eyes. Its main sources of food are coniferous seeds, suet and birdseed from feeders. Sunflowers are a big hit with these little birds. Click here to hear its song.

Gray Jay

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Photo | CC BY-SA 3.0

This bird, also known as the Canada jay, can live up to 19 years! Its plumage varies from white to gray, with touches of blue on its tail. It can be up to 23 cm long. Often mistaken for a magpie, the gray jay is omnivorous. To make it easier for you to identify, click here to hear its song.

Pine Siskin

This bird is brown and streaky overall with subtle yellow edgings and a pointed tail. They tend to roam in twittering flocks; in fact, in winter, they can live together in groups of as many as 50 individuals. The pine siskin eats all kinds of seeds. Click here to hear their song so that it is easier to identify them.

Black-Capped Chickadee

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Photo | Mary C Kirby “shurdbug”

This is the most common of the American chickadees and definitely the best known bird in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Its black cap and white sides to the face make it easy to identify. Sometimes, it has bluish highlights on its off-yellow flanks. Black-capped chickadees are curious and congenial birds that won’t hesitate to eat out of your hand if you offer some sunflower seeds. Their vocalization is very distinctive. Click here to hear its song.

With a bag of seed, a good sense of observation and some patience, your walk in the forest can become a veritable ornithological adventure! Nature is our playground and Val-d’Or and Abitibi-Témiscamingue are ample proof of that. Come see for yourself!

To see more photos of birds that live in our beautiful forests, I would suggest Raymond Ladurantaye’s work. Raymond is a photographer and avid birdwatcher from Val-d’Or. Check out his images by clicking here.

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6 Reasons to love the intense winter in Val-d’Or, its cold weather and its abundance of snow

6 Reasons to love the intense winter in Val-d’Or, its cold weather and its abundance of snow

Expedia has recently published an article on the Canada’s worst winter cities and Val-d’Or is one of them. The ranking was done according to four criteria; the snow, the cold weather, the means put in place to get warm and the national records. Well, Val-d’Or scores high in all these criteria! But don’t forget that it’s not because winter is intense that you shouldn’t visit Val-d’Or at this time of the year. In fact, I strongly suggest to visit it. Here are 6 reasons to love the intense winter in Val-d’Or, the cold and the abundance of snow.

A dry weather

In Val-d’Or, there is dry weather most of the time. But know that it is easy to protect oneself from it by dressing warmly. Well dressed, you can enjoy the fresh air and the outdoors for a long time

Magical landscapes

Winter in Val-d’Or is completely gorgeous. With all the space we have, no need to remove all the snow and put it in the pits for this purpose. We only have to move it to the side of the streets. Even in the city, you can find large spaces all white and admire the shine snow. The contrast of dark green spruce with the whiteness of the snow is quite handsome. And there, I don’t even talk about the skies at dawn and sunset that looks like cotton candy or a drink of Tequila Sunrise!

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A lot of outdoor activities

Of course, we can practice a host of winter sports in Val-d’Or: snowshoeing, ice skates, cross-country skiing, fat bike and many others. Moreover, you will find the Forêt Récréative (recreational forest): 50 km2 of playground for outdoor enthusiasts. There are trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and fat biking and a 2 km loop of an ice-skating trail. All the equipment necessary for these sports is rented except for Fat Bikes (they can be rented at Cyclo Vélo Pro). To complete, an outdoor fireplace is maintained to warm the users of the trails.

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Recreational forest trails are illuminated in the evening until 9pm and 11pm.

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The outdoor fireplace is located at the central entrance of the different trails.

High quality snowmobile trails

The Abitibi-Témiscamingue region is known for the quality of its snowmobile trails, and Val-d’Or contributes to maintain the reputation. Snowmobile enthusiasts will enjoy 3,700 km of wide and safe trails throughout the region. Val-d’Or for its part, has these urban trails allowing snowmobilers to access services such as restaurants, hotels, gas stations and snowmobile dealers. Then, the cold weather and the snow that people generally dread allows us to start our snowmobile season earlier and finish it later!

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Nothing better than a beer or a coffee after a day of snowmobiling. But to have beautiful snowmobile trails, it takes snow and cold!

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With all those signs who are indicating nearby services and directions, you can’t get lost in the snowmobile trails in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and in Val-d’Or.

Restaurants and cafes to warm up

Val-d’Or has a host of restaurants and small cafes that will warm you up suitably after a day out in the open air. You’ll have a lot of choice between coffee shops and delicious teas. There are restaurants with a warm atmosphere like the microbrewery Le Prospecteur or the poutine bar Bar à poutine chez Morasse, or others who propose comfort food like as Windsor or Chez Vic.

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Windsor proposes the most comforting cuisine in a warm and comfortable atmosphere.

Activities to celebrate winter

The winter in Val-d’Or is not perceived as miserable, but rather as a beautiful season to play outside and have fun! Besides, it doesn’t stop people from organizing events or festivals. For example, at the beginning of February, winter is celebrated with the Hiver en fête Festival. It offers musical shows, open-air cinema, fireworks and a host of activities for the whole family, ice fishing, dog sledding, pony riding, horse drawn carriage rides, maple on snow, inflatable games, Zipline, snow sculpture, giant sliding, rock climbing and more! There are also Polar Night [s] two days long and offers musical performances in a giant igloo. Exploded activities and fires to roast sausages and marshmallow are planned.

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The Hiver en fête festival is taking place at the great site of the Cité de l’Or.

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During the event Nuit Polaire (Polar Night) in 2017, Valaire’s band came to warm the crowd.
Photo | Geneviève Lagrois

Winter in Val-d’Or can be cold and the snow can be abundant, but when we know how to dress and that we found an activity which we like, then this cold and this snow become expected and appreciated. Then we see the landscapes under another eye noticing their beauty and their magical side. Come visit us and try it!

When I started walking the talk about the wonders of snowmobiling in Abitibi-Témiscamingue – Part 2

When I started walking the talk about the wonders of snowmobiling in Abitibi-Témiscamingue – Part 2

Three days ago, I was preparing for my first snowmobiling experience (Read When I started walking the talk about the wonders of snowmobiling in Abitibi-Témiscamingue – Part 1). My uncle, Yves, his daughter and one of her friends, a couple of my uncle’s friends, Marco and Danielle, my sister, Kim, and I had planned to travel out to the Pourvoirie des Îles du Lac Duparquet and come back the next day. In all, the trip would cover 440 km; my sister and I, who had never snowmobiled, were to spell each other off driving the machines. Three days and 440 km later, I can now safely brag about how wonderful sledding is in Abitibi-Témiscamingue because I have actually experienced it!

ABITIBI-TÉMISCAMINGUE: A SNOWMOBILERS’ PARADISE …FOR NOVICES TOO!

People who say that Abitibi-Témiscamingue is a snowmobiling paradise are right! I felt totally safe and in control, which was so reassuring for a first experience. Of course, I have nothing to compare it to, because I have no experience sledding in other areas, but I can assure you that I was blown away by what I saw and experienced! The vegetation and the scenery are breathtaking and changing constantly. The trails are undulating and winding in places and straight and true in others, but always very wide. As a novice, I found this quite reassuring because I was never concerned about catching an oncoming snowmobile. Also, the frequency and quality of the signage was impressive. I was travelling at my own speed, which was very different from Yves and Marco’s, who’ve been sledding for about 20 years, or Danielle’s, who has had her own machine for six years, so I’d lose sight of them occasionally. So, even if I lost sight of Danielle bouncing along on her sled or taking a tight turn, I knew what was coming on a corner or at the bottom of a hill. The little yellow signs were always there to give me a heads up! There were numerous rest stops and huts, providing ample opportunity to stop safely and often to prevent fatigue.

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One of the numerous rest stops in the snowmobile trails, in Rivière-Héva.

WE ALWAYS NEED A GOOD YARN

It’s a fact. The trips that include an unexpected adventure or leave you with a great story to tell are the most memorable. And I can assure you that this is one we will definitely remember! Kim and I were not the only novices in the group. It was also the first time snowmobiling for my uncle’s daughter and her friend. They were two very excited little 9-year-olds as we headed out on our adventure together. About 20 minutes into the trip, we stopped to check that everything was going well. We discovered that their enthusiasm had waned and their little faces were now

an interesting shade of green or white. Motion sickness had joined our expedition! After a 15-minute break, we started out again only to stop about 20 minutes later. The girls had both brought their breakfast up on the blanket that was keeping them warm. That was the beginning of the story. Every 20 minutes, we stopped to clean up the vomit, and console and encourage the girls. We finally stopped in Cadillac for a rest and some lunch, which was good for everyone. The girls were feeling a lot better by then and even fell asleep in the sled after lunch, which allowed us to travel a fair distance without stopping.

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From the inside of  the sleigh

Then we came to another lake. The crossing woke the girls up and they promptly threw up again; they also got scared. So, at Preissac, just over the halfway mark, we decided to spell each other off in the passenger sleigh. Yves climbed in with his daughter’s friend and, 30 minutes later, all was well. Her fear had disappeared and she felt good. Then it was my uncle’s daughter’s turn… and mine! It brought back childhood memories of being small and not able to see anything, as well as a few added bonuses: the smell in the sleigh was awful, my cousin’s motion sickness was still very much on board, and the suspension was broken (the sleigh didn’t care for my uncle’s powerful build). I must admit, even as an adult, I HATE sleighs!

We finally reached the Pourvoirie des Îles du Lac Duparquet where we would bed down for the night; the girls played all evening. Sunday morning, my cousin’s grandparents came and rescued the girls from another day of torture on the snowmobile. They drove to Duparquet and took them and the stinky sled back to Val-d’Or. So, on the return trip, we were down to five adults and four machines.

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The view from our room at the Pourvoirie des Iles du Lac Duparquet. In addition of the great landscape, the food was delicious and service was top-notch!

With stars in their eyes, so many sledders have described the sense of freedom, spirit of camaraderie and stunning landscapes that draw them to snowmobiling. The experience certainly matched the descriptions I’d heard over the years. On my machine, I felt as though I were floating on the snow, flying through the trees. On my own and surrounded by the strength and magnificence of Mother Nature, I was indeed free. And I met two wonderful people: Marco and Danielle are simple, funny, considerate and passionate souls and lovely travelling companions. Now, I will be able to describe the snowmobiling trails in Abitibi-Témiscamingue from personal experience, with stars in my eyes. I’ll be able to explain why it is so much fun, describe the beauty out there and talk about the camaraderie that reigns. And, believe me, I’ll do it with passion!

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Because we also need a good yarn for Sunday, my uncle had a little incident on that day!

When I started walking the talk about the wonders of snowmobiling in Abitibi-Témiscamingue – Part 1

When I started walking the talk about the wonders of snowmobiling in Abitibi-Témiscamingue – Part 1

For a little over three years now, I’ve worked at the Val-d’Or Tourism and Convention Bureau. As part of my job, I often talk about snowmobiling in Val-d’Or and Abitibi-Témiscamingue, when I am on the road promoting our area or assisting a visitor at our tourist information office. I suggest itineraries, talk about how great and beautiful the snowmobile trails are, let people know which sections are more straightforward and which are more technical, but I had not actually done any sledding for about 20 years!

My only memories of snowmobiling are being bundled up in sheepskins, squished like sardines into the back of a passenger sleigh with my two sisters. Between our helmets, our size and the tight space, we couldn’t really see a thing. So, for me, snowmobiling was just a slow, uncomfortable way of getting to the family cottage.

I have always felt a little uneasy promoting snowmobiling when I don’t even do it. I feel as though I am talking through my hat. And then there was the fear of misleading someone despite carefully studying our regional snowmobile map and frequent conversations with local sledders who know the trails and the terrain. The doubt and uneasiness that have always lurked at the back of my mind will soon be gone because in less than 24 hours, I’m heading out for a weekend of snowmobiling!

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The stand of Tourisme Abitibi-Témiscamingue during a snowmobile show in Québec in 2015, which I participated to.

Along for the ride will be my uncle, his 7-year-old daughter, and one of her friends as well as a few of my uncle’s friends, all old hands at snowmobiling. My sister will join us too; she’s a real novice like me! We’ll leave from Val-d’Or, spend the night at the Pourvoirie des Îles du Lac Duparquet and head back to Val-d’Or the next day. We will cover about 440 km in all. I am very excited about finally getting out. By all accounts, sledding gives you a wonderful sense of freedom. I am also pretty nervous. Why? Because, for logistical reasons, my sister and I will need to spell each other off driving the snowmobile.

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Our itinirary

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My sister who were pretty happy to find all the equipment we will need for our trip.

So, I’ve been preparing for this excursion all week, pumped full of anticipation and adrenalin. My sister and I had to round up all the gear we needed: helmet, snowmobile suit, mittens, long underwear, woollen socks, snowmobiling map, etc. Since neither of us usually do any sledding, we got our parents’ old snowmobiling gear out of mothballs and borrowed the rest. We were all ready, with our mismatched suits straight out of the nineties, but still cozy warm. They did the trick! Stay tuned, Dear Reader, for a few gems in the second part of this blog! J To satisfy my need for a modicum of control over the unknown, I also sought out advice on driving a snowmobile. I contacted my uncle and my sister a million times to go over the various stages of our trip and to sort out the most minute details, right down to what we’d eat for breakfast the morning of our departure! Yup. Under stress, I can get a bit controlling…

Here we are now, just hours from leaving, and everything is just about ready to go. A few more things to buy, luggage to secure on the machines and then a good night’s sleep to be in good shape for the trip. As soon as I’m back, I’ll tell you about my first actual snowmobiling outing. For the first time, I’ll be able to give a firsthand account of the beauty of our land, the great camaraderie, the freedom we felt. And this time I’ll know what I am talking about!

Read the second part
God Bless Snowmobiling – 10 reasons why snowmobilers should visit us

God Bless Snowmobiling – 10 reasons why snowmobilers should visit us

There are several magnificent snowmobiling locations in Quebec, but Abitibi-Témiscamingue is in a class by itself. Our wide, meandering trails are safe and so extensive, chances are you won’t see another person all day, even though there are hundreds of snowmobilers out there. Our region is a snowmobiler’s paradise! Snowmobiling is highly important in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, both for residents and visitors. Not only is it rooted in our culture, it is the main tourist attraction during the winter months, making a substantial contribution to the regional economy. Below are ten reasons why snowmobilers should visit Val-d’Or and the surrounding area, and why we should all exclaim: God Bless Snowmobiling!

International Reputation

With its wide open spaces and long winter season, Quebec is snowmobiling heaven. Tourists from around the world are visiting Quebec to snowmobile in increasing numbers. In the 2012-2013 winter season 3,329 Americans, 5,308 Canadians from outside Quebec and 88,535 Quebeckers bought snowmobile permits (TAT, 2014), with Abitibi-Témiscamingue ranking third for the number of permit sales after Outaouais and Lanaudière. Top snowmobiling magazine Supertrax International has more than once named Abitibi-Témiscamingue one of the best snowmobile destinations, and awarded it first place in 2010 and 2011. The region is also receiving high praise from other quarters, and growing numbers of journalists, experts, bloggers and other visitors to the region are unanimous: snowmobiling in Abitibi-Témiscamingue is an unforgettable experience!

An Excellent Reason to Enjoy the Outdoors!

There is only one thing to do when there are wide, meandering trails and breathtaking natural panoramas on your doorstep: spend the day outdoors snowmobiling! The benefits of the outdoors are many: more energy, less stress, sound sleep and a hearty appetite, in addition to wonderful memories to take home.

Top Quality Trails

Abitibi-Témiscamingue, known for its wide, meandering snowmobile trails and breathtaking scenery, is one of the most popular snowmobile destinations in the world. With 3,700 km of trails, snowmobiling is a top tourist attraction and the number-one tourism product during the winter. Snowmobilers can cover long distances without crossing roads and love both the variety of trails (straight and curved) and the sense that they have the trails all to themselves. It is rare to encounter other snowmobilers, even when there are several enjoying the trails at the same time.

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A Longer Season

Winter 2016 was unusual for its late start. Generally, snowmobile season opens in Abitibi-Témiscamingue approximately two weeks earlier than in many other Quebec regions, and ends two weeks later, offering snowmobilers an important extra month of fun!

Snowmobiling is part of who we are

Because snowmobiling is so popular among residents of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, it is part of the culture. Visiting snowmobilers won’t feel that they are a disruption and will encounter respectful and careful drivers when crossing urban areas. Moreover, they can easily get tips on the best locales, where safety precautions are paramount, and reliable advice.

Welcoming Locals

It goes without saying that the warmth and friendliness of the residents of Abitibi-Témiscamingue also have a major impact on the quality of the snowmobile tourism experience. With such a friendly reception from residents, visitors find it very easy to fall under the region’s spell and rate their experience as unforgettable. A number of returning visitors to our visitor information centre tell us that it only took one visit to convince them to come back again and again.

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Brasserie Le Contact is un pub connected to a local snowmobile trail which connects to regional trail #83 as well as a large parking

Accessible Services

In Val-d’Or, an urban snowmobile route is prepared each year through a large part of the downtown area, providing access to numerous services, such as gas stations, banks, snowmobile specialty shops, hotels and restaurants. There are information panels located along the route to direct snowmobilers who are unfamiliar with the city.

An Active Tourism Industry

Although tourists place a great deal of importance on trail quality, access to services and a destination’s reputation, the human side is equally important. The region’s tourism industry understands that fact, and makes sure that snowmobilers have access to products and services that will give them a top-notch experience. For example, hotels offer competitive packages that are designed for snowmobilers, with a number of value-added services and products, such as trailer and snowmobile parking with 24/7 monitoring, or heated garages. There is also signage along the trails for a number of restaurants and hotels.

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A Longer Tourist Season

Because snowmobiling is such a tourist attraction in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the tourist season extends through the winter, reducing the drop in revenues between summer and winter. For example, many accommodation providers in Val-d’Or offer snowmobile packages and restaurants regularly welcome groups of snowmobilers stopping in for a meal.

A Substantial Economic Impact

Snowmobiling is an essential component of tourism in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, with economic spinoffs of over $2.5 billion in Quebec as a whole, including $60 million in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and close to $20 million in MRC de la Vallée-de-l’Or (MRCVO). It is now recognized as a major economic partner in regional development. The urban route in Val-d’Or also bolsters other services that while not a direct part of the industry, such as gas stations, banks and snowmobile specialty shops, benefit from snowmobile tourism in Val-d’Or. Tourism has a positive impact on the city’s economy as a whole.

 

Translation by Anne Laflèche