Lac Deschênes is a fluvial lake – or a lake within a river – that appears in a broad widening of the Ottawa River, just to the west of the cities of Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Québec. The lake is about three kilometres wide and is bordered on the east by the Deschênes Rapids, and to the west by Innis Point (Ontario) and Baie Alexandria (Québec). The shores are gently sloped and mostly composed of broken limestone interspersed with smaller sections of aquatic shoreline vegetation or mudflats.
Why is this place so important?
Lac Deschênes is recognized as a globally significant Important Bird Area (IBA) because it is one of the larger bodies of water in this region that waterbirds depend on during their spring and fall migrations. And it’s found right in the heart of the National Capital Region!
What is a ‘waterbird’? This includes species of loons, grebes, pelicans, cormorants, bitterns, egrets, herons, ibises, rails, coots, gulls, terns, and skimmers. By some definitions the list is even longer.
Some of the birds that stop on Lac Deschênes fly all the way from South America to the Arctic two times each year, while most of them are flying from parts of the southern United States and the eastern seaboard to parts of northern Québec and Ontario. Whatever the case, Lac Deschênes is a great spot to take a rest and re-fuel during a long flight!
What kind of wildlife is found there?
You’ll find lots of wildlife at Lac Deschênes – not just Canada Geese! During the spring and fall you can see and hear songbirds like Warblers and Vireos moving through the region, and huge groups of Ring-billed gulls, Herring and Great Black-backed gulls, and tens of thousands of waterbird species. August is ideal for watching Great Egrets on the move southward, and you may even spot some shorebirds moving through and feeding on exposed mud flats (when the river is low).
Numerous other waterbirds stop at the lake during their fall migration, including the more common dabbling and diving ducks such as Scoters and Common Golden-eye. Arctic Terns are seen sometimes in spring along with larger numbers of Common Terns. Only moderate numbers of shorebirds are seen along the shores of Lac Deschênes; particularly along the muddier parts of the shoreline at Shirley’s Bay and Andrew Hayden Park, both on the southern side of the lake in Ottawa.
And you’ll see other critters, too! The Lac Deschênes area is home to amphibians, reptiles, aquatic insects, mammals. and numerous freshwater fish. The IBA is also home to a wide variety of plant species from small aquatic plants to towering trees. The Government of Québec has identified significant habitats for at least two provincially at-risk plant species on islands in the Ottawa River just beyond the Lac Deschênes IBA.