by Philippe Henry
March 1, 2022
These past years, I have been going every winter in the forests bordering the Saint Lawrence River, in the south of La Mauricie in Quebec. These wooded areas are perfect spots to observe and photograph the red foxes and the landscapes which can, when it is very cold, take on the appearance of landscapes of the Far North.
I went back there several times this winter 2022 and I discovered that these forests were also the domain of many species of birds and of almost all the species of woodpeckers that can be encountered in Quebec, such as the black-backed, the pileated, the hairy and the downy woodpeckers.
At the beginning of February 2022, the temperature has dropped several days in a row below -35C. I set up my camp on the banks of the Saint Lawrence river and for several days I walked with snowshoes on the pack ice to look for fox prints. With each of their strides, spaced 25 to 30 cm apart, their paws draw oval imprints on the snow which print in a straight line and turn from time to time towards a rock or a mound of ice where they leave their fragrant marks. It's a way for them to mark their territory. These are therefore very specific prints for the species and very different from those of coyotes which also frequent this area.
This forest is home to a large population of red and eastern grey squirrels which are easy prey for foxes.
Several days in a row I was able to photograph a fox in action of predation on these friendly and very nervous animals which, very often, can't escape their predator.
Red Fox that captured a squirrel
As a photographer, when you arrive in a place where you can photograph the coveted species quite easily, it is always a reward to get there. When in addition, you discover that the place is home to other species that we did not expect to see, happiness is at its height. This winter I discovered that these forests were also the domain of the great gray owl and the northern hawk owl.
Great Gray owl in flight
Great Gray owl dropping a pellet
Northen Hawk owl in flight
These two species, which can only be observed in southern Quebec in winter, find there an abundance of small rodents which are their favorite prey.
Great Gray owl
Northen Hawk owl capturing prey
La Mauricie is a region where landscapes encompasse forests, lakes, rivers and mountains. There are a few protected areas which shelters a very rich bio-diversity. You can observe the two species of owls that spend only part of the winter there and also other species that are present all year round, such as the barred owl, the great-horned owl and the northern saw-whet owl.
Barred owl in flight
Saw Whet owl
Great Horned owl
I enjoy watching owls, foxes and squirrels but among all the species I have already photographed this winter 2022 in these forests, the Pileated Woodpecker is my favorite. It is a common year-round bird in many Quebec forests and I have looked for how I could photograph this species in an original way. As I really like winter, I waited for a snowstorm to be announced to go to a special spot where old trees are very attractive to woodpeckers. There I started looking for the Pileated Woodpecker as the snow started to fall. The last time I went there after an hour of walking under increasingly heavy snow, I heard the pileated woodpecker digging the bark of a tree in search of insects. When I started to take photos, the bird was no longer feeding but was holding well sheltered from the rather strong gusts of snow that swept through the forest. When I was back to the studio I downloaded the cards and enjoyed a few photos that shows this woodpecker in an original way.
Pileated woodpecker in winter storm
I took all the photos of this article in the forests that stretch between the cities of Trois Rivières and St Barthélémy, along the St Lawrence river.
For my work I use CANON EOS 7D MARK II and 5D MARK IV cameras with canon lenses from the EF 17-35mm f/2.8 L to the EF500mm f/4L IS USM.
Bio: Philippe Henry is a photographer, a writer and a filmmaker specialized in wildlife and conservation. He is based in La Mauricie, in Quebec. He is currently working on a new wildlife documentary which will be available in spring 2023. You can follow his photography on his facebook page. Photo of Philippe by Diane Meilleur