29 May 2017
Before heading into Canada, we spent about 1.5 hours in the morning birding Freezeout Lake Wetland Management Area again. They have an auto tour route we did not take the day before.
A good morning. We saw about 30 different species, and ‘top of the morning’ — two Short-eared Owls. We later saw an additional two Short-eared Owls – flying low over the farm fields in search of breakfast. These are my favorite North American Owl species. So glad to see them doing well in northern Montana.
At the Wetland Management Area, we saw and heard a number of Marsh Wrens. They were busy gathering nest material among the cattails. Fun to listen to their chatter and see them with their tails raised. The other two species we saw today, but didn’t see yesterday were the Common Tern and the Western Grebe.
We made it to the Canadian Border around 1:00 pm. No hassles getting into Canada. They asked how long we planned to spend in Canada and we said seven days. I hope it is less. No offense to Canada – it is a beautiful country, although we’ve only seen the western Provinces and Territories. Someday we hope to get back east, especially Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. We like the wild areas and those areas with few people. But we’ve been on the western Canada roads numerous times in the past 10 years and it’s a long slog home, once you make the decision to go home – sort of anti-climatic.
We stayed the night at Chain Lakes Provincial Park. The cost of an electrical site was $30 Canadian. Seemed expensive. The bathrooms were vault toilets, and the water was centrally located, and no showers that we could find.
We experienced an exciting thunderstorm that passed through right after we finished eating. Timed that right. But the skies cleared and we had a peaceful (no thunder or rain) night.
30 May 2017
We decided to briefly visit Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. There is a noticeable difference between the two parks. Banff is much more developed. They have fencing to keep the wildlife off the roads, and overpasses so the wildlidfe can get from one side to the other. Not so in Jasper. Jasper also has fewer pull-outs. The park just seems more wild than Banff. And not as many visitors, although there were still a lot of vehicles on the road.
We made a few stops within the parks, but since we had been here in 2014, we decided to just enjoy the scenic landscape beauty as we drove through. We did spend the night at the Wapati campground just south of Jasper. We got here early and just enjoyed the afternoon – warm temperatures and sunny skies. Can’t beat that.
31 May 2017
Got up early and spent most of the day driving Highway 16 from Jasper towards the Cassier Highway. We stopped about 22 miles short of the Cassier Highway, spending the night at Seeley Lake Provincial Park. At 7:44 pm, we are the only campers in this 20 campsite park. We are okay with that. Beautiful area, with the lake outside our back door. The only downside is that the campground is RIGHT off the highway. You can hear all the traffic, and there are a lot of large semi-trucks traveling this highway. The diesel pickup trucks don’t help either. But the beauty does outweigh the traffic noise.
We got to the park right after it rained. The birds came out in droves to finish feeding for the day. The highlight of the 14 species we noted, was a pair of Western Tanagers. I wasn’t sure we would get to see this species so was very happy we did.
Bird Species Seen or Heard at Seeley Lake Provincial Park:
- Western Tanager
- Pine Siskin
- American Robin
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Dark-eyed Junco
- Chipping Sparrow
- Wilson’s Warbler
- Warbling Vireo
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Northern Flicker
- Song Sparrow
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Hermit Thrush
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
Before reaching the park we did stop for an early dinner at Tandoori Bristo in Smithers. The food was GREAT. I would highly recommend this place to anyone traveling through Smithers who loves Indian cuisine. Not to be missed.
1 June 2017
Left our campsite at 6:00 am and headed west to meet up with the Cassier Highway. Our intent is to drive 433 miles of the 450-mile road. There is a series of small lakes (Blue Lakes) that we love and they have a campsite at one of the lakes. That is our goal for the day.
This drive is a favorite of ours. Fewer cars than on the Alaska Highway and prettier scenery, at least I think so. We had intermittent rain throughout the drive and stopped numerous times to stretch our and Doodlebug’s legs. At one stop I heard a bird singing nearby. I didn’t recognize the song, but I followed the sounds to the tree it was coming from. There in the tree was a MacGuilvary’s Warbler. This warbler looks very similar to the Mourning and Canada Warblers. The difference? This warbler has a broken eye ring or eye arcs as it says in my Sibley’s Guide (field guide book). I haven’t seen this species in over ten years, so was happy to see the bird again.
We had planned to stop for lunch at the world famous Tatooga Restaurant, but when we got there no one was around. Jack went to see if they were open and there was a sign on the door stating they were temporarily closed due to a work-related accident. I hope whoever was injured was not injured badly. They were planning to reopen at 12:30, but we decided not to wait a half hour and proceeded to Dease Lake and the Tin Rooster Deli for lunch — a ‘deli’ within a grocery store. Lots of fried food if that is what you like. I was hoping for a nice chicken breast sandwich, but I was out of luck. Had chicken fried strips instead. I wonder what we missed at the Tatooga Restaurant?
Well when we got to Blue Lakes we decided to continue onward because hordes of mosquitoes were angrily swarming around the car looking for blood, and we haven’t even gotten to Alaska yet. Yesterday, Doodlebug was bitten numerous times on her belly, which is bare because she was shaved for her ultrasound about two weeks ago. No belly hair to protect her. Poor gal. We didn’t want a repeat performance of that, nor did we want to provide blood for future generations of mosquitoes. Instead we decided to spend the night at the Big Creek Campground in the Yukon Territory. We’ve stayed here before and our favorite campsite was vacant. Hooray!!!
Tomorrow we hope to make another 500 miles. This is nothing compared to what some people travel in a day. Someday we are going to vacation in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It’s on my bucket travel list.
2 June 2017
Another early start, although this time we slept in an hour and didn’t leave until around 7:45 am. We continued our journey along the Alaska Highway, stopping occasionally for birds (e.g., a Northern Hawk Owl – haven’t seen one of those in several years), vistas, food, restrooms, stretching.
We camped tonight at Lake Creek Campground, near the Canada/Alaska border. I think on this drive on the Alaska Highway my favorite area is around Haines, Junction. I just love the snow capped mountains. So majestic. I was surprised at how low Kluane Lake is this year; much lower than when we came through about a year ago. Climate change? I think so. If this large lake (largest in the Yukon Territory) is shrinking, imaging what the many area wetlands are doing. Many birds and other wildlife depend upon these water features.
Tomorrow we venture into our home state of Alaska. We won’t make it home (Homer) tomorrow – it is a large state – but it will be nice to know we are almost there. Besides, we have a number of errands to run in Anchorage before making the final 200+ miles back home.
3 June 2017
Another long day of driving. Today we went from Lake Creek Campground in the Yukon to Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site along the Glenn Highway, about 100 miles east of Anchorage. And it was along a lot of rough road. Good thing our shocks were in working order. Lots of frost heaves have made for a roller coast ride. No fast driving today.
What was really surprising on today’s drive was the number of small wetland ponds that were dry – no visible water and it is spring when you would expect more water from snow melt. Last year at this same time these ponds had water in them. Not much, but at least their was some water. There are also a number of ponds where there is very little water. These wetlands are so important for wildlife. Birds need them for feeding, roosting, and raising their young. And even though it was raining throughout the day, what rain they get isn’t enough to keep these ponds full. They need snow melt. The fire danger in the Yukon was rated ‘Very High’, and after we got to Tok it changed to ‘High’. Still not good so early in the season – it isn’t even summer yet. Despite the naysayers, our climate is changing and changing rapidly.
I did mention to Jack we are getting back just as the days are reaching their longest in terms of the amount of sunlight. Shortly after June 21nd the days will start getting shorter again. Doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t the longest day of the year be mid summer? Oh well, I just hope we have a warm (70s), dry summer. Just because it is nice in Homer, doesn’t mean it can rain elsewhere though – like eastern interior Alaska and the Yukon – where it is so dry.
Tomorrow we drive into Anchorage and will spend the night. It will be good to be home, but I also will miss being out on the road bird watching, visiting new and old favorite refuges and friends, and seeing our great country. Regardless of all the promises to “Make America Great Again”, I already think its pretty great.
4 June 2017
We arrived in Anchorage early, did some errands, visited with family, and just relaxed before heading home tomorrow.
5 June 2017
After a few more errands around Anchorage – can’t forget to stop at Costco to stock up for the summer, we drove five hours to reach home. I was surprised at how much snow was still present in the mountains around Turnagain Pass.
It was good to be home, and having arrived early (around 4:00 pm), we were able to get most things put away before calling it a night.
All in all, we had a GREAT trip. I will be making periodic posts throughout the summer on birds, activities around Homer, and other fun, interesting stuff. But before I go, here are a few statistics about our trip:
Miles Driven: 25,000 (estimated) – need to think about carbon offset
Number of Days: 253
Number of Bird Species Seen (9/26/2016 to 6/5/2017): ~390
Number of Birds Species Seen (1/1/2017 to 6/5/17): 379
Number of Life Birds: 8
- Philadelphia Vireo
- Black-capped Gnatcatcher
- Golden-winged Warbler
- Cerulean Warbler
- Connecticut Warbler
- Cape May Warbler
- Tennessee Warbler
- American Woodcock
Number of States (I) Visited: 23 (not counting Alaska)
Number of Canadian Provinces/Territories: 3
Number of Campgrounds: 91
Number of National Wildlife Refuges: 61 (at least one in each state visited except Kentucky)
Number of “New” National Wildlife Refuges visited: 27
Number of National Park/Recreation Areas/Nature Preserves Visited: 8
GET OUT AND ENJOY
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
And Bird On ….