Les Îles du Pot à l'Eau-de-Vie are located 10 km from Rivière-du-Loup and are just east of Île aux Lièvres in the midstream in the St. Lawrence estuary, Québec. The IBA consists of 3 islets at high tide, Le Petit Pot (1 ha), Le Gros Pot (21 ha) and Le Pot du Phare (7 ha). The main islets (Le Gros Pot and Le Pot du Phare) are joined throughout most of the year, while le Petit Pot remains separate, except during periods of very low tides. Most of the islands are covered by a typical boreal forest species such as Balsam Fir, White Spruce and White Birch. The islands are surrounded by a margin of rocks and on the north side of Le Gros Pot, this band of rock becomes a sheer cliff almost 60 m high in some places. A lighthouse on Le Pot du Phare was regularly inhabited during spring to fall until 1964, when automatic light controls were installed. These islands are also known as Brandypot Islands.
Îles du Pot à l'Eau-de-Vie is noted for its large colonies of Common Eiders, Black Guillemots, Razorbills, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Double-crested Cormorants.
About 1% of the population of the dresseri subspecies of Common Eider nests on these islands. Although the numbers of nests have fluctuated over the last 13 years, from as few as 580 in 1995 to as many as 1,658 in 1999, the 12-year average of 857 nests is probably reflective of earlier decades, since in 1966 1,250 were counted. Fluctuations, at least in recent years, have been caused by Red Fox predation – after the high in 1999 the population dropped to 669 in 2000 due to the presence of two foxes.
One researcher estimated that at least 200 Razorbill were present in 1964, while another, possibly underestimating, thought that about 90 birds in total were present in 1966. By 1999 however the colony had increased significantly. In this year 1108 Razorbills, or about 1.5% of the North American Razorbill population, were counted.
Large numbers of Black Guillemots have been recorded nesting along the rocky shorelines. Eight hundred pairs (1% of the North American population) were counted in 1966 and it is assumed that they are still equally as numerous. They are most concentrated on the cliff ledges of Le Gros Pot.
Double-crested Cormorants are the most numerous bird on the islands. In 1999, 1,945 nests were counted; this is equivalent to about 2% of the Atlantic population.
In 1989, roughly 450 Black-crowned Night-Heron nests were counted, representing approximately 8% of the estimated Canadian population. Night-herons have increased in numbers in recent decades at this location, since in the 1960s and early 1970s the number of night-herons was very small.
In addition, hundreds of other birds breed on Îles du Pot à l'Eau-de-Vie. Other breeding species include: Great Blue Heron (57 nests in 1990), Herring Gull (716 pairs in 1999), Great Black-backed Gull (92 pairs in 1999), Common Crow, and Common Raven.
The Société Duvetnor is an organization dedicated to wildlife and habitat conservation. This group counts eider nests annually when collecting down. The organization owns the Gros Pot and Petit Pot Islands and it shares the ownership of the Pot du Phare with the Canadian Wildlife Service. CWS manages half of the islet as a part of Les îles de l'estuaire National Wildlife Area.
The presence of Red Foxes can seriously effect the number of nesting eiders. Foxes in the St. Lawrence River estuary either swim to islands with colonies of birds or make their way there on drifting ice. Currently (2001), the Société Duvetnor is trying to remove this species from the island. Generally the eiders will not even attempt to nest on an island when a fox is present, but since the female eiders are strongly philopatric, the eider colony is expected to recover once the foxes are either removed or leave the island of their own accord.
Oil spills are a threat to the birds on the islands in the St. Lawrence River and estuary, which is heavily traversed by large ships. During the late spring, tourist boat traffic can become very concentrated around the islands of the estuary, as people are attracted to the large congregations of birds. Such activity can be detrimental to nesting birds.
The landscape of the are is made out of Spartina marsh, eelgrass beds, rocky shores and gravel or pebbles beaches. Some rivers are hosting rainbow smelt spawning runs (the south shore population of the St. Lawrence middle estuary). At the beginning of the summer, it is possbile to observe capelin rolling on the beaches during spawning. The downstream migration of American eel toward their breeding sites in the Atlantic, which takes place in the fall, allows the capture of migraing adults using fishing weirs. Two other species commercially exploited are also roaming in the open waters of the estuary: the Atlantic sturgeon and Atlantic herring.
Loss of fish habitat remains a major problem in the region. The dikes, for example, reduce the number of spawning habitats, while agricultural along the coast, the residential development and the presence of resorts together with coastal erosion are resulting in the destruction of several riparian ecosystems.
Major species present:
Rainbow smelt (population of south shore of the St. Lawrence middle estuary)
Rocky islands are composed of schist and quartzite. Despite the unfavorable conditions for settlement, some plant species are able to grow there. On the windward side, we find mainly mosses and low-lying plants such as juniper and cranberries. Areas more sheltered allow spruce to built small woodlands. In the portion swept by the tides, algae colonize the bedrock.
The geographical barrier created by the St. Lawrence River provides the IBA a kind of natural protection, a protection often enhanced by legal protection. However, water pollution and the risks of oil spills remain a source of concern for the protection of the flora and fauna of this area.
Major species present :