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 Ar ea (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.
The Lac Deschênes IBA is accessible from many points in Ottawa and Gatineau-Aylmer. Many kilometers of National Capital Commission bike and walking paths run alongside the IBA on both sides of the Ottawa River, right from the downtown cores. Plus there are excellent green spaces on both sides of the river, including Andrew Hayden Park, Shirley’s Bay, Mud Lake, Deschênes Rapids Park, the Aylmer Marina and more!
You can walk, bike, hike, run, swim and even canoe/kayak in various parts of Lac Deschênes! And you can do all of this right in the heart of one of the city’s most important wildlife habitats! Lots of birdwatchers flock to the Lac Deschênes area during the spring and the fall to see which feathered friends are passing through, and it’s a great place for everyone to visit year-round.
The Ottawa Field-Naturalists Club, the Outaouais Birding Club, the Innis Point Bird Observatory and the Macoun Field Club all conduct events and activities regularly at and around the Lac Deschênes area. Nature Canada is joining in on the action at the National Capital Region’s only Important Bird Area, too! Check out our list of events and activities to find out more.
Things to do at Lac Deschenes IBA
Ride your bicycle
The National Capital Commision (NCC) maintains 31km of paved pathway that runs parallel to the Ottawa river and right through NatureHood Ottawa/Gatineau. Check out the NCC’s site for maps and information on how to make the most out of your bicycle trip down the river.
Cool off with a dip in the Ottawa River at one of the city’s many riverside beaches. Inside the Ottawa-Gatineau Important Bird and Biodiversity Area are two beaches (Britannia and Westboro)with easy access to bikepaths and major roads and transportation hubs.
Walk or run
Take stroll down the pathway and take in the beautiful scenery or join the many runners who flock to this quiet, car-free zone. For maps and suggestions on different pathway walks, check out the NCC’s site.
Get out your camera
This is a perfect place to hone your nature and wildlife photography skills. There are many places where you are bound to spot wildlife at these wildlife hotspots.
What can I do to help protect the IBA?
The Lac Deschênes IBA is near one of the largest urban centres in Ontario and Québec.
Pressures on the site include:
- water withdrawals for human consumption, municipal and industrial uses
- direct urban run-off into the river
- traffic related to recreational boating and sailing
- overflow drainage from storm and sanitary sewers
- residential and/or industrial shoreline development
- shoreline erosion
Much of the IBA on the Ontario side of the river is made up of National Capital Commission lands, which are actively managed. Land ownership on the Gatineau-Aylmer side of the river is more varied and includes private residential and commercial property, as well as lands managed by the NCC and the Ville de Gatineau. Because the IBA is mostly aquatic and spans two provinces, the two provincial governments and the federal government all have a responsibility to manage and protect the site and its wildlife.
Nature Canada, alongside the Ottawa Field-Naturalists Club, the Outaouais Birding Club and key stakeholders are developing a Conservation Plan for the Lac Dechênes IBA, which will help to identify the state of the IBA, the pressures it is facing and the collective responses that are required to address those pressures. This plan will provide a roadmap for how stakeholders, including you, can work to protect the IBA from negative pressures.