March 2022

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I See a Deer Here, a Deer There... Are They Everywhere?


The fur of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) becomes greyer in the winter for better camouflage

Photo: Alex Tran


The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is well known to Gault Nature Reserve visitors. Deer encounters while hiking or around the mountain are increasingly frequent. Indeed, deer populations across northeastern America have increased drastically in the last few decades. Did you know that the deer population at the Reserve has been at the center of many research projects dating back to 2006? Some of our long-term monitoring projects measure their impacts on the vegetation. Other projects are defining the distribution of individuals on the mountain. These projects usually have one underlying question in common: how many deer are there?


Monitoring deer population sizes is an important conservation issue. Overabundant deer can have profound negative impacts on the health of the forest. Unfortunately, we cannot ask the deer to line up every few years for us to count or to fill out a census. Scientists thus must be creative when coming up with strategies. Most often, they will use winter to their advantage. When the trees have shed their leaves, deer are easier to spot. Scientists can then count them by flying in a helicopter, for example. Dr. Tim Elrick, Director of the Geographic Information Center at McGill University, has also been testing the use of infrared drones. In recent years, graduate students in the lab of Dr. Virginie Millien, Assistant Professor and Chief Curator and Curator of Paleontology & Zoology, McGill University’s Redpath Museum, have been using camera traps to study white-tailed deer. This technique has the advantage of working in any season.


The Return of the Glider


Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) are frequently found near Mont Saint-Hilaire and have been spotted roosting in the woods near Camp de Grandpré
Photo: Daniel Jauvin


High above the ground or skimming the treetops, the turkey vulture glides silently, its wings in a characteristic V shape. These patient scavengers can spend hours surveying the landscape from above without even beating their wings, held aloft by the rising air currents. Turkey vultures have powerful senses of smell and can detect ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by carrion. For them, that gas signals dinner time. They can often be spotted circling above roadways on the lookout for their next meal—preferably a smaller animal or someone else’s leftovers. After wintering in the south, turkey vultures return in the spring and begin their breeding season, complete with mating displays. In recent years, their range has been expanding northward.

By Johanne Ménard from the Société d’ornithologie de la Vallée du Richelieu. (This text appeared in issue 31 Nature sauvage.)


Staying on Trails: A Simple Way to Protect Nature


Photo: Alex Tran


"The vast expanses of undisturbed snow surrounding the trails can look particularly inviting for hikers in the winter. But staying on the designated trails is important, whether you are wearing boots, snowshoes or skis.” reminds us Anne-Sophie, Activities and Services Coordinator at the Reserve.


Although it may seem like a harmless activity, exploring off-trail can damage plants hidden by the snow cover. Once the snow is compacted, it also takes longer to melt in the spring, leaving young seedlings at a disadvantage. By staying on the trails, you help us protect the exceptional natural habitats of Mont Saint-Hilaire.


The Eastern White Cedar - Môlôdagw

Abenaki Specialist Michel Durand Nolett on Medicinal Plants


The leaves of the eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

Photo: Alex Tran


The eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) might be called a cedar in common parlance, but it’s different from the true cedars found in western Canada and Europe. The eastern white cedar is an evergreen tree that can be identified by its distinct scent and scaly compound leaves that branch out and overlap. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) love to snack on the branches. You may already know that if you have a hedge at home!


According to expert Michel Durand Nolett, Abenaki communities used the plant to treat respiratory issues and problems in, let’s say, more delicate areas.



This project was done in partnership with McGill University’s Indigenous Initiatives unit and the Grand Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki. We would like to remind you that, to protect the balance of our ecosystem, you should not remove any natural items from the Reserve.

Blast from the Past

The Gault Reserve: A Naturalist’s Idea of Paradise


A hiker on the red trail (in the 60's)

Photo: McGill University


In the summer of 1960, Paul Maycock, a botanist, ecologist and professor at McGill University, conducted the first comprehensive survey of the forests of the Gault Estate*. He found an astonishing array of flora and fauna and recommended that the mountain be turned into a nature reserve.


The idea took off as the mountain’s reputation grew and the importance of protecting its biodiversity became clear. The need for conservation became even more apparent when the federal government designated the mountain as migratory bird sanctuary, also in 1960.


*as the Reserve was known at the time


About our Blast from the Past series

As owner and guardian of the Gault Nature Reserve, we plan to celebrate the university’s bicentennial by publishing a monthly photo in InfoGault. Each photo will capture a moment from the history of this beautiful site.



Réserve naturelle Gault

422, chemin des Moulins

Mont-Saint-Hilaire (Québec) J3G 4S6


Téléphone : 450 467-4010


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