August 22, 2018
Jack and I are off on another adventure in our new van (tin tent). This time we are headed outside and making our way east to see the fall colors in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and wherever else we may land. When will we return to Homer? The plan is next April or May (2019). Luckily we found some friends willing to stay in our home while we are gone. Nice to have the place occupied.
Before heading out I had to catch up on a few tasks, such as the next seven “Bird of the Month” posts for our local bird group – Kachemak Bay Birders (kachemakbaybirders.org). For one of the posts – Glaucous-winged Gull (to be posted on the website in March) – I had to go out to the Homer Spit and try and get some decent photos of the gull. What good is all that information without a few photos to break up the text. While there I saw several dozen Fork-tailed Storm Petrels feeding in the Homer Boat Harbor and just off Lands End (end of the Homer Spit). One was nice enough to land on the water so I could get a decent photo.
We are about packed up and ready to go. The only thing missing is our beloved Doodlebug (dog) who died last April. We sorely miss her. She was the most gentle dog we’ve ever had. Such a sweetheart.
We leave tomorrow and head to Anchorage where we spend a few days with family before heading out.
August 23, 2018
It rained most of the trip from Homer to Anchorage. Despite the precipitation, we did make several stops along the way: Cannery Road (Kenai), the Kenai Wildlife Viewing Area, and Tern Lake. The most bird-worthy action was occurring at Cannery Road. There were a lot of ducklings – you know the ones that all look like female ducks and are always an ID challenge for the waterfowl novice, like me. There were also several Hudsonian Godwits, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Dowitchers sp. (either Short-billed, Long-billed, or both – another mystery), and at least one small peep that was being pursued by a Merlin. We watched the drama unfold and the peep zigzagged its way around the pond, finally flying underneath our van. The Merlin pulled up short of going underneath the van, and instead flew off to the side, just avoiding a collision. We don’t know if the Merlin was successful or if the shorebird lived to recall its misadventure. And shortly after that two young Merlins were chasing each other. That chase scene didn’t last long with one Merlin flying off and another landing nearby.
At the Kenai Wildlife Viewing Platform there were 8 Green-winged Teals, lots of gulls flying around, but no shorebirds. At Tern Lake all we saw were the Trumpeter Swan pair with their three cygnets. Glad to know these cygnets have survived to date.
August 24, 2018
Today was spent running errands and getting last minute food items. Don’t know what will be available as we drive through Canada. For instance, we have yet to find Pepper Jack cheese at any of the stores we visited. What’s with that??? Not that I need cheese.
My brother Dan had this t-shirt which I really liked.
25 August 2018
Had breakfast with my brother Alan and my father before heading down the road. We were planning to eat at Middle Way Café in midtown Anchorage. We set a time of 7:30, and got there only to find out they don’t open until 8:00. Really??? They must lose a lot of business by not being open before 8:00 am, especially in the summer months. Well they lost my business that day.
After breakfast we headed towards Chicken, Alaska. Made it as far as the West Fork BLM Campground, about 18 miles south of Chicken. We were surprised at the number of people using the campground (two loops) – all hunters from what we could tell. We stayed in the pull-through loop with two other campers. Not a bad spot -campsite #5 – and it cost us a whole $5.00 with the Golden Age Pass (seniors – Jack – pay half price for a campsite).
The trees near Glennallen, Alaska looked like they have been affected by either Spruce beetle or Spruce aphids. The needles on the tips of the branches were all brown.
Once again I scanned the spruce trees for a Northern Hawk Owl and once again I got skunked. And I looked at a LOT OF TREES.
The fireweed at our campground had already gone to seed, although there wasn’t much fall color yet re: willows, aspens, birch, cottonwoods.
26 August 2018
Woke up this morning to cold, cold temperatures. I have a kestrel instrument (gives temperature and wind speed) and the inside of the van was recorded at about 43 degrees F, and the outside temperature was 32.3 degrees F. Brrrrrr. And foggy too. We ate a quick breakfast and headed toward Eagle, but to get to Eagle one must pass through Chicken (so named because the old miners of the area didn’t know how to spell Ptarmigan). The hardy citizens of Chicken have no running water (unless you consider wells or the creek), no electricity (unless you consider the sun or a generator), and no septic system (unless you consider the porta potty or outhouses). Ah, Alaskan bush life…..
Once you were above the fog, the scenery was spectacular.
As we were traveling along the Taylor Highway (before the turnoff to Eagle) a car was stopped in the middle of the road coming from the opposite direction. Two people were outside the car with cameras and binoculars. I saw a dead bird in the road and raptor in the air. Turns out the dead bird was a duck and the raptor was a Peregrine Falcon. Cool. Also in the vicinity were Fox Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Gray Jays.
There was more fall color the further north we traveled. Lots of Common Ravens out and about. Once we turned onto the road to Eagle, we stopped to watch a flock of American Pipits flying low over the road and towards our vehicle. We stopped a short distance later (at a pull out) and watched more pipits pass through (around 50 or more) presumably on their way south for the winter. We also had three Northern Harriers, one Wilson’s Warbler, two Fox Sparrow, two White-winged Crossbill, three Common Raven (which were being hassled by a small raptor that was too far away to id), and two Rough-legged Hawk.
There were a lot of Caribou hunters out and about, and a few tourists. The road to Eagle is in decent shape but sections are steep and too narrow for my comfort! We actually passed a large tour bus on our way out from Eagle. We were happy it occurred at a place where the road wasn’t narrow and steep. Not much traffic on the road going in; more encountered on the way out.
We later saw a Rough-legged Hawk in a tree – remember I’m still looking for that Northern Hawk Owl. Do you know how many tops on spruce trees look like they could be birds? Hundreds. It was nice to see the hawk, even though it wasn’t a Hawk Owl.
We had never been to Eagle before so thought we would check it out. It is about 60 miles out of the way (and that is one-way), but we left a little early on this trip so we could do the Klondike Loop (Tetlin Junction to Whitehorse via Dawson City). Eagle was okay. I guess I expected more. Jack liked it, but then he is a history buff. Eagle is located on the Yukon River and the site of a military fort during the gold rush craze. We watched a video at the BLM and Yukon-Charlie National Park and Preserve visitor center about the 2009 river ice jam. The power of water and ice are amazing – major flooding and destruction. If you ever go to the visitor center and watch the video, have them turn the sound off. You will be glad they did.
While Jack was checking out the visitor center, the historic buildings, and interpretive panels, I was checking out the American Kestrels flying around the airport (which is right in town). I haven’t seen many kestrels in Alaska. Not much bird life here though. In addition to the Kestrels we had one Orange-crowned Warbler and three Yellow-rumped Warbler. That was it. I was also checking out the various mushrooms (and dang I forgot to bring my mushroom id book with us).
On the drive out, we came across a mother Lynx with two cubs They were so cute. No caribou sighting however. I’m sure they head for the hills, so to speak, when hunting season started.
We finally made our way to the Canadian border – “Top of the World”. What views. Beautiful, despite the rain that started shortly before leaving the Taylor Highway. We stopped at the Canadian Custom’s Border Office before closing. So why are Canadian Custom Agents always so serious? I don’t think any of them smile. Always so somber.
Our first bird observed in Canada was the Common Raven and that occurred an hour after entering the country. We stayed the night at the Yukon River- Yukon Provincial Park – $12.00 Canadian. We selected a nice pull-though site along the Yukon River (site #42). This park has 94 camp sites. I would say it was less than 25% occupied.
27 August 2018
Woke up to mostly overcast skies. It rained until around 3:00 am. The morning temperatures were much, much warmer than the day before. We lost an hour (Alaska to Pacific time), when we crossed the Canadian Border, so actually woke up at 8:00 (Pacific Time). After breakfast we took the ferry across the Yukon River to the historic gold rush era Dawson City – now mining the tourists. We toured the town for about two hours and then headed south on the Klondike Loop road towards Whitehorse.
I did check emails at the Dawson City Information Center (or is that Centre). I wanted to check on the status of my brother Larry who is dying of brain cancer and is in hospice. No news about Larry, but did learn that John McCain had died. I didn’t always agree with his politics, but he was a good man (he just made a really bad choice when he picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate) and a hero to the United States (as was anyone serving in Vietnam). My brother has the same type of cancer as John McCain and Beau Biden. A terrible disease.
As we drove south I continued the search for the elusive Northern Hawk Owl, but again no luck. We did see some waterfowl on several lakes and ponds along the way – Canvasback, Wigeons, Ring-necked, Bufflehead and some Trumpeter or Tundra Swans. We also saw four Mountain Bluebirds flushed from the road. Haven’t seen a Mountain Bluebird in some time so a pleasant surprise. Later in the day we observed two American Kestrels in search of food. Must be dinner time. Of course black bear eat all day long, and we did see two black bears feeding near the road. If a vehicle is stopped it’s a good bet there is a black bear (or other wildlife) nearby.
Tonight we are staying at the Fox Lake Yukon Provincial Campground. The fee again is $12.00 Canadian (we paid $10 American). We are in site #14, although you would think based on the sign that we were in site #15. If you saw that campsite you would scratch your head and wonder how anyone could camp there. They would need a small car, motorcycle, or bicycle and a very small tent. And I think their fire ring is in our campsite because we have two. This campground is not laid out very well. If I were to stay here again, I would select sites #37 or #40, if available.
28 August 2018
Woke up to overcast skies and light rain. Seems to be a reoccurring story – wet. At times throughout the day it rained like crazy. I can hardly wait to see the sun.
We stopped for groceries and the internet in Whitehorse. Got groceries, but was never able to access the internet at McDonald’s. I wanted to check to see if there was any word on my brother.
At Watson Lake it seems like the “sign forest” has multiplied from when we last saw it – which was at least five years ago, if not longer. I had thought about leaving a “Kachemak Bay Birder” sticker.
We stopped for the night at Liard’s Hot Springs. We got the second to the last campsite. Woohoo!!! This is one busy place and only 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday (half the campsites are reservable). Otherwise , we would have had to go to the overflow parking/camping area across the road – a giant parking lot. We got a good site too – #27. I would definitely select this site in the future, if available. Luckily I brought our swimsuits so we were able to partake of the hot springs. The sign says the hottest parts of the springs is around 36 degrees Celsius. I think not. That is way too cool. There were certain parts of the pool that was so hot even I couldn’t stand the heat and I like it hot. Lots of people were using the hot springs.
In Canada (British Columbia and Alberta), the US dollar is considered “par” with American. I think the current exchange rate is $0.75 Canadian for every American dollar, which means they make money off us Americans. Of course, when we’ve stayed here when the American dollar was worth less than the Canadian the U.S. dollar wasn’t “par” then. We paid the higher Canadian rate.
Birdwise, not much activity. Did see some Red-tailed Hawks, a couple of Barn Swallows (which was a surprise), Common Ravens, and some swans. And, the roadside alert was correct, we did see Wood Bison.
29 August 2018
Guess what??? You guessed it – more rain. This is so getting old. We left Liard’s Hot Spring without having a morning dip in the springs.
A short distance from the campground, we saw a large group of Wood Bison alongside the road – around 50 or so, and later saw two Caribou – a mother and her young one. Then to top it off, a Black Bear near Fort Nelson. Not bad wildlife sightings for our trip so far.
I decided to count the number of Common Raven spotted during the day – 53. We also had a number of American Kestrel, a Merlin, several Gray Jay, including one that hit our car window. Not sure if survived or not. We also saw four Greater White-fronted Goose standing near the road. More Red-tailed Hawks were observed, as well.
We stayed the night at Charlie Lake Provincial Park, just west of Fort St. John. We are now in fracking country. I think there is one car for every 99 trucks (18 wheelers, and light trucks). Crazy busy – the roads, not the campground. Of all the campgrounds we stayed in so far, this is my favorite. Nice layout, large sites, and you are not within spitting distance of your neighbors. The only downside is the proximity of the park to the highway (it’s adjacent to the highway).
We stayed in site #10. When we arrived there was a mixed flock of Black-capped Chickadees and warblers (primarily Yellow-rumped, with one Orange-crowned Warbler). The park has nature trails to the lake. We decided to get some much needed exercise so we hiked to the lake and back (about 2.4 kilometers). Along the way, I spotted a White-throated Sparrow. I didn’t know this bird could be found in western Canada, but I checked their range map and sure enough. This was a hatch year bird. A FOY – First of Year, bird for me. We did have a deer in the campground.
30 August 2018
Overcast skies and no rain until just before we left. We got to the entrance gate about 7:45 a.m. and found it locked. Jack walked to the park residence and found the ranger. Jack suspects he overslept as he was in sweat pants and very apologetic.
We made our way to Jasper National Park via Dawson Creek – Grande Prairie – Grand Cache. There were trucks everywhere. The activity reminds me of northeastern North Dakota, only with trees (at least for now).
I went into a convenience store to buy crap to eat and drink and I paid US$ cash. Big mistake. Again they treated the U.S. dollar on “par” with Canadian. The guy looked at my ten-dollar bill and couldn’t figure out the exchange rate so did ‘on par’. I should try using a Canadian dollar in Montana and see if they treat it the same as Canadians treat our dollar. Ha.
We finally made it to Jasper National Park around 5:30 p.m. We lost an hour as we went from Pacific time to Mountain time. We decided to stay in the mega campground – Whistler as we haven’t been at that campground before. We didn’t get to pick our site and the young guy at the fee station must not be familiar with the sites or he wouldn’t have given us this site (15-F) – or maybe he does know and since we didn’t know his friend Danny Beers, a snowboarder from Homer he decided to give us a crappy site. If you want some privacy, you do not go to a campground with 781 campsites. Luckily we are only staying the one night. At the campsite, I heard some Chickadees, a nuthatch, and a warbler so decided to check them out. I then heard a woodpecker, and followed the tapping and spotted – right next to our campsite – a Three-toed Woodpecker. So, I guess I should thank the fee station attendant for putting us here.
31 August 2018
Well there was a group of teenagers (gigglers and loud talkers) running through our campground loop until 11:30 pm last night. I sorry, but I find that just plan rude. Surprisingly the quiet hours for the park are from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am. Really!!! I’m the type of person who likes to go to bed early and get up early. I also find it hard to go to sleep in campgrounds where there are people talking, giggling, and shouting. Keep a quiet voice people, I don’t need to hear your conversations. I know they are just having fun. But I bet I wasn’t the only person in the campground wishing they would shut up. Okay, enough of my ranting about rude teenagers.
We actually slept in late, but then I didn’t fall asleep until after midnight. And cold this morning – brrrr 38 degrees F. No frosted windows or vegetation, but still cold. Before we left the campground we did have a few birds flit about – White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Gray Jay.
Well it wasn’t raining this morning, but it was mostly cloudy, some fog, and hazy (from smoke). Not the best conditions to take photographs of the magnificent scenery. This is one beautiful national park. Worth the visit, even with the hoards of people present. There was fresh snow on the mountain tops – termination dust as we Alaskans like to call it -the termination of summer.
We did make a few stops in the park to see the sights – Athabascan Falls and Sunwapta Falls (Jack likes waterfalls). At the Athabascan Falls I noticed a drone. Drones aren’t allowed in the park, but there is always someone who disobeys the laws. I flipped it off. That should be nice for the video of the falls. Oh and the only non-bird wildlife species I saw was a squirrel. I couldn’t believe it, especially since the Elk were suppose to be rutting within the campground. Oh well, better for the wildlife not to have to deal with us humans.
We left the parks (Banff and Jasper) and headed south towards Montana, staying our last night in Canada at Chain Lakes Provincial Park. This is a really nice campground. We stayed in loop C (#102), which was near the restrooms, but still somewhat private. There were a fair number of sites occupied among the three loops, but quiet. We did go for a short walk (about 2 miles total) and saw thirteen different bird species. It was nice seeing Osprey again. We also saw an American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing – both First of Year birds.
It was windy at the campground making it difficult to eat outside, although we did. So far we’ve haven’t had a day where we could eat comfortably outside – breakfast or dinner.
1 September 2018
Yikes!!! Hard to believe it is September already. We woke up to strong winds again, but warmer – 45 degrees F, with partly cloudy skies.
Shortly after we left the campground heading south, I saw what looked like either a short-eared owl or a coyote (seriously) – remember we are driving fast. So Jack slows down, pulls over, turns the car around after all the traffic goes by (and there was a lot for this country road), and drives back to where I saw the “creature”. I was right. It was coyote just looking out towards the road. It was sitting there looking at us, but not for long. They seem to know that vehicles that stop alongside the road are not a good thing and quickly bounded off. Beautiful animal.
We did see a number of raptors along the way, including a Swainson’s Hawk. This is another FOY species for me and a nice surprise. We also saw several Eastern Kingbirds. For some reason I didn’t expect to see these birds this far west. I checked my bird app (iBird Pro) and sure enough, they breed here. Go figure.
We drove through a very small section of the Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada) – Beautiful. Will need to go and explore the area some day.
Stay tuned. Coming up next Montana and North Dakota. Until then, remembers it is always …