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THE YUKON, BRITISH COLUMBIA, & NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
09 - 24 June 2001
by Paul Jones
The following is an account of a two week trip to the Yukon,
British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.
During the first week (June 9 to June 14) I intensively birded the
Yukon, north-eastern British Columbia and south-western Northwest
At the beginning of the second week I met family members in
From June 15 to June 24 we traveled at a slower pace north to Inuvik
back to Whitehorse.
SATURDAY, JUNE 9 - Whitehorse - Sunny, scattered
I arrived mid afternoon in Whitehorse via Air Canada and picked up a
rental car at the airport. From Whitehorse I crossed the Yukon
to check the town’s sewage lagoons (see
for detailed directions). There were no shorebirds at the
but there were a fair number of ducks, including Mallard, American
Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Barrow’s Goldeneye
From the lagoons I headed south on the Alaska Highway approximately
kilometres to Wolf Creek Territorial Campground. The campground
basic services (pit toilets and cook shelters, but no showers) and is
and well maintained. Camping permits, available at Yukon Visitor
Centres and retail stores (but not on site) cost eight dollars per
A walking trail runs from the campground along Wolf Creek and provides
easy birding loop. At the point where an extension of the trail
the Yukon River there were two Northern Rough-winged Swallow (a rare
in the Yukon). Golden-crowned Kinglet, Swainson Thrush, Pine
and Purple Finch were in the immediate vicinity of my campsite.
SUNDAY, JUNE 10 - Whitehorse to Carcross
Mountain) to Watson Lake - Sunny, scattered clouds, 5-7 overnight, low
daytime - rain showers in Watson Lake.
I awoke at 5:30 a.m. Ottawa time (2:30 a.m. Yukon time) to partial
broke camp and headed south on the Alaska Highway. For the first
of the trip I stayed on Ottawa time to take advantage of the northern
very early sunrise/dawn chorus.
At its junction with Route 2, I left the Alaska Highway and headed to
At Carcross I followed Cameron Eckert’s directions from “A
Guide To Canada, Revised Edition” (J.C. Finlay ed., McClelland &
2000) to Montana Mountain. As promised in the guide, it was
“with care to drive to the treeline with an ordinary car”.
1/3 the way up I came across three singing male Townsend’s Warbler in
area of mature Spruce. At the point where a wash-out decisively
further driving impossible, I parked and continued upwards on
There was still a fair degree of snow on the ground. A Say’s
sang from the water tower/temple. Another Say’s Phoebe and a
“Timberline” Sparrow were in the vicinity of the abandoned
dwellings farther up the valley. I continued upwards to the right
these buildings, attempting to reach higher areas of alpine
Rushing meltwater blocked my access and, after an hour or so of
about, I left the area and returned to the car. I saw Horned
but no White-tailed Ptarmigan (snow tracks only) or Rosy-Finch.
I had continued on the old road to the left of the dwellings I might
had more success in exploring the alpine habitat.
After leaving the mountain I briefly explored Nares Lake at
The area is scenic and features an impressive grass/mudflat delta that
holding Canada Geese, American Wigeon, Mallard, Lesser Yellowlegs,
Sandpiper, Herring Gull, Mew Gull and Bonaparte’s Gull.
From Carcross I headed east on Highway 8 through Tagish to Jake’s
where I picked up the Alaska Highway for the 350 K drive to Watson
I arrived in Watson Lake in the late afternoon and set camp at the
Lake Territorial Campground (comfortable, quiet, empty). From the
I doubled back east to the area around the community of Upper Liard.
In comparison to the rest of the Territory, the south-eastern Yukon is
in passerine diversity. One of the most accessible locations to
this relative abundance is the “Rancheria Loop Road”. The road
north from the Alaska Highway near the community of Upper Liard.
commences a kilometre or so west of the point where the Alaska Highway
the Liard River (more specifically, just west of the point where it
Albert Creek). The base of the loop actually starts at the back of a
development. In my late afternoon exploration of the road I saw
Warbler, American Redstart, Least Flycatcher and two Western Tanager.
Tanagers were males, singing from the exposed tops of mature
Both birds were incorporating their distinctive “pity-tuck” call note
MONDAY, JUNE 11 - Watson Lake to Tetsa
Park, B.C. - Sunny, scattered clouds, 5-7 overnight, low 20's daytime -
but heavy, rain showers in B.C.
I awoke at 3 a.m. Yukon time and headed back to the “Rancheria Loop
for a more thorough survey.
At the Alaska Highway bridge over Liard River there was a beautiful
Owl perched on a road sign a few metres away. The loop road
was alive with birds. I saw, among other things, Spruce Grouse,
Woodpecker, Alder, Least and Olive-sided Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo
singing males tracked down to maturish mixed spruce/aspen woods),
Tennessee, Yellow-rumped and Magnolia Warbler, White-throated Sparrow
Complete exploration of the area was impossible because heavy rain
the previous week had washed out a culvert, blocking the road.
portion of the road that was still open was deeply rutted and filled
large puddles. However, it was drivable in an ordinary car.
I returned to the campground, took down my tent and drove into the town
Watson Lake. At the park at Wye Lake there was a singing male
Sparrow (another rare bird in the Yukon). Along the portion of
Alaska Highway that runs through town there were four Brown-headed
At 8 a.m. I began the 525K drive east to Fort Nelson, British
Just inside the B.C. border I noticed a car on the shoulder with its
staring down the steep roadside. I pulled a very quick u-turn,
in time to see a brown/grey shape moving away through the trees.
driver indicated that a Lynx had been sitting by the roadside.
never seen a Lynx, I was disappointed at missing the opportunity.
quality mammal sightings for the day included two Black Bear, one
one Elk and seven Dall Sheep, all in the Muncho Lake Provincial Park
Mid afternoon I pulled into Tetsa Provincial Park, set camp and crashed
early in the evening.
TUESDAY, JUNE 12 - Tetsa Provincial Park, B.C. -
Lake, B.C. - Fort Nelson, B.C. - Fort Liard, N.W.T., Blackstone
Park, N.W.T. - Sunny, scattered clouds, 5-7 overnight, mid 20's daytime.
I awoke at 2:45 a.m., quickly broke camp and was on the road at a
after 3 a.m.
There are a variety of bird species, that while widely distributed
to the east in Canada, are restricted in British Columbia to the
portion of the province. The stretch of the Alaska Highway from
Provincial Park to Fort Nelson is an good place to view this outlying
Jack Bowling and Wayne Campbell’s commentary in “A Bird-finding Guide
Canada” provides excellent information on birding in this
As I headed east from Tetsa Park on the Alaska Highway I stopped every
kilometres to listen to bird song and track down anything of
Tennessee Warbler was abundant everywhere. Three singing male
Flycatcher were at margins of the second bog west of Steamboat Creek
the Alaska Highway. One Palm Warbler was singing from
open portion of the first bog west of Steamboat Creek. An Eastern
was at the bridge over Steamboat Creek. In the Kledo Creek area
were Philadelphia and Red-eyed Vireo as well as Ovenbird, Black
White Warbler, Mourning Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The
were more easily sorted by habitat than by voice - Philadelphias in
young aspen/poplar stands, Red-eyeds in mature forest. The
Warbler sang only a partial song (or maybe a complete “western”
- “Churri, Churri, Churri” and was confirmed only after a long, wet,
tracking exercise through a young aspen/poplar tangle.
Continuing east along the Alaska Highway I was able to pick up most of
northeast B.C. specialities by simply pulling off the road and briefly
the myriad of trails that wind out from the highway. In the
of the intersection of the Alaska Highway and the Fort Liard Road there
a large expanse of cleared land abutting the highway to the south that
two Sandhill Crane and three singing LeConte’s Sparrow. A number
Cape May Warbler were in the mature spruce at the back of the
They sang concealed in the tree tops and were very difficult to see.
Just outside Fort Nelson a small sign for the “Old Alaska Highway”
the road to Parker Lake, a recommended birding location. I drove
the road, parked the car and walked to the end of a small dock where I
picked up Solitary Sandpiper and Common Grackle. As I turned back
the car I looked up to see, less than 10 m away, an animal slowly
away from me. At first I thought it was a large dog, but when I
its stubby black-tipped tail it dawned on me that it was a Lynx!
turned around and stared at me for about 10 seconds before moving
off into the woods. Two days later I saw another Lynx on the Fort
Highway. Later in the trip a Canadian Wildlife Service employee
to me that the Snowshoe Hare population had just crashed and that Lynx
being seen on the move everywhere.
After the Lynx sighting I picked up Blue-headed Vireo and another
Warbler at Parker Lake and then headed into the town of Fort Nelson to
gas and stock up on supplies. Checking the Fort Nelson Airport,
Upland Sandpiper appeared on cue (as per the bird-finding guide) in the
mowed grass in the terminal area. The last stop in town was the
lagoons (prominent by the roadside to the south along the highway)
held no birds at all.
From Fort Nelson I swung back westwards on the Alaska Highway to its
with Highway 77, the road to Fort Liard, N.W.T. and other points
The highway is gravel and very dusty, although it is well maintained,
on the N.W.T. side.
Just outside Fort Liard (which is approximately 170 kilometres north of
from the Alaska Highway) I pulled into the Hay Lake Municipal
a scenic water-side site in amongst immense (by northern
poplar and spruce. In the campground were Hairy Woodpecker,
Sapsucker, Magnolia Warbler, Western Tanager and Red-winged
On the lake were Red-necked Grebe, American Coot, Mallard, American
Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead and Ring-necked Duck.
For Liard is a pleasant and relatively prosperous looking
There was a Northern Hawk Owl in the town site itself. After a
visit I returned to the highway and continued north to the Blackstone
Park, a fabled campground located another 120 kilometres up the road.
70 K out of Fort Liard a slight squeaking noise started from the left
wheel of my vehicle. It soon turned into a piercing metal on
screech. Suddenly there was a loud pop and I looked back to see a
object bouncing down the road. Anticipating a long and costly
(if I could locate a tow truck) I backed up to inspect what had come
It proved to be a large rock, which presumably had become lodged in the
mechanism. The car was fine. I continued on my way.
Eventually I came to the Blackstone Territorial Park. The office
in a beautiful log building that also houses a comprehensive
display of the area. The showers and cook shelters were fantastic
and stainless steel structures. I picked a tenting site in
near empty campground with a view of Liard River and the Nahanni
rising in the distance.
The area teemed with bird life. Pairs of Western Tanager and
Grosbeak flitted about the cook shelter. An Eastern Phoebe sat on
nest it had constructed above the shower building door. Least
Hermit Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush and White-throated Sparrow sang from
surrounding brush. From above my tent a Philadelphia Vireo
late into the “night”.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13 - Blackstone Territorial Park
Watson Lake - Sunny, 7-10 overnight, mid 20's daytime.
I broke camp at 4 a.m. and began the drive back south to the Alaska
Bird highlights along the stretch to Fort Liard included a Great Gray
sitting by the roadside in a mature aspen/poplar stand and a
The Connecticut Warbler was at N60.48.599 W123.14.522.
My understanding was that this bird could be found in northeast B.C.
southwest N.W.T. in mature aspen/poplar stands. I had searched
previous two days in such areas but had had no luck. In order to
a broader section of this habitat, I decided to cruise the road at 60
with the windows down. As I zipped through an area of suitable
I heard one singing and I slammed on the brakes.
The bird was singing at the road’s edge from the canopy of a mature
monoculture. The song was a loud, ringing, two syllabled
Beecher! Beecher! Beecha!”. The forest had a thick
understory approximately 20% of the height of the mature trees.
a frustrating search with binoculars I was finally able to locate the
as it sat motionless near the tree top. Setting the scope on it,
was able to watch it as it sang. Other birds in the area included
Warbler, Ovenbird and Black-capped Chickadee.
At Fort Liard I birded the perimeter road that circles the airport and
an American Crow, three LeConte’s Sparrow, one Clay-coloured Sparrow
a pair of Purple Finch.
With new found confidence in the search pattern for Connecticut
I was able to locate two more singing males on the B.C. portion of the
Highway (4.4 K north of its junction with Alaska Highway at gravel
on west side of road). Both these birds were also singing high in
canopy at the edge of a mature aspen/poplar monoculture.
in the afternoon I pulled into the Watson Lake Territorial
Mammals seen during the + 700 K drive included one Lynx, six Black
three Moose, five Caribou, seventeen Dall Sheep (including four newborn
right at the roadside in Muncho Lakes Provincial Park) a Least Chipmunk
THURSDAY, JUNE 14 - Watson Lake to Teslin -
hard rain during night, 6-8 overnight, low 20's daytime.
I awoke late and birded the Watson Lake area. The Clay-coloured
was still singing from same location but I saw nothing else of great
I then drove the 275 K to Teslin Lake Territorial Campground in the
There were Purple Finch and Black-capped Chickadee at my tent site.
FRIDAY, JUNE 15 - Teslin Lake to Whitehorse - Rain
night, daytime sunny, scattered cloud, 6-8 overnight, mid 20's daytime.
I awoke 4:45 a.m. and was on the road by 5:00 a.m. My first stop
the loop road that runs off the Alaska Highway north of Jake’s Corner
overlooks Marsh Lake at the Judas Creek delta. Two female
Phalarope were visible on the delta’s mudflats. The view from the
of this superb looking habitat is very distant. I was not able to
an easy access route down to the water’s edge.
Continuing towards Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway my next stop was
at Marsh Lake, just south of the North M’Clintock Bay Road, and below a
land fill site. Scanning over the water I noticed a Franklin’s
flying up the lake. It landed in a flock of Herring Gull along
shore. The bird appeared to be in second summer plumage, with a
black hood, but very restricted white in the wing tips. The bird
left the area, but approximately half an hour later I was able to
it along grassy margins of the M’Clintock River near the “Swan
area. There are very few records for Franklin’s Gull in the Yukon.
At my last stop before Whitehorse (Lewes Marsh) I found a drake
Cameron Eckert provides an excellent discussion of the birding
in this area in “A Bird Finding Guide to Canada”.
SATURDAY, JUNE 16 - Whitehorse to the base of the
Highway - Cloudy, low 20's daytime.
Mid-morning I meet my wife and her two sisters at the Whitehorse
With the arrival of family, the birding component of the trip
I returned the mid-size car and, when the booked Chevrolet Suburban was
available, our chief negotiator managed to secure us a Ford F-350,
V-8, 4X4, Supercrew with cap. It had its own backup warning
We then drove the 550K from Whitehorse to Tombstone Territorial Park at
base of the Dempster Highway.
SUNDAY, JUNE 17 - Tombstone Mountain to Rock
- Sunny, 6-8 overnight, low 20's daytime.
We awoke late and departed leisurely from the Park. Two Moose
at K 105 of the Dempster Highway was filled with ducks including
and Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter, Bufflehead, Long-tailed Duck and more
2 Redhead (males), 1 Gadwall (male) and 1 Eurasian Wigeon (male).
We stopped for lunch and showers at Eagle Plains (K 368) and ended the
at the Rock River Territorial Campground (K 433).
We saw six Dall Sheep on the slopes to the east of the highway at North
Pass and one Black Bear near Eagle Plains.
MONDAY, JUNE 18 - Rock River to Inuvik - Sunny,
overnight, low 20's daytime.
Drove from Rock River Campground to Inuvik. Settled in at the
TUESDAY, JUNE 19 - Stokes Point, Ivvavik National
(Yukon Coastal Plain)
After surviving an “over night” storm (the sun does not set in Inuvik
mid June), we awoke to a clear, cool morning and made our way to the
Wings office at the Inuvik Airport. During the proceeding winter
had arranged with Arctic Wings and Parks Canada for a charter flight
Inuvik to Ivvavik National Park on the Yukon coastal plain.
Our destination was Stokes Point, an abandoned Defense Early Warning
site located approximately 230K northwest of Inuvik on the Yukon coast
the Beaufort Sea. The purpose of the trip was sightseeing (for
non-birders) and birding (for me). Yellow Wagtail, a species that
on Yukon’s arctic coast and no where else (regularly) in Canada was one
the birds I hoped to see. Shingle Point, some 40K to the east of
was considered as an alternate destination but was rejected in light of
expressed by the residents of that location over the interference
by tourist flights. In retrospect, the concerns about Shingle
were probably mis-communicated to me. The air strip there is far
from the seasonal Inuvialuit whaling camp, and the problems with
apparently arise from planes buzzing the camp, not from flights landing
the air strip.
Accessing Stokes Point presented a number of logistical hurdles.
first was to secure a landing permit/day use permit from Parks
Because of the importance of the coastal plain to many animal species,
and waterfowl in particular, Parks Canada carefully regulates access to
In order to secure permission for a visit I submitted a proposal to the
office in Inuvik explaining the purpose of the visit and precisely what
activity would be. Park staff were extremely helpful throughout
permit application process, graciously explaining their concerns and
The necessary documents were granted expeditiously.
With permits in hand, the next step was to secure transportation to
I began discussion with Arctic Wings, a charter company based in
and was quickly able to arrange for a flight.
So, at 8:30 on the morning of June 19, bundled in our warm clothes, we
aboard a single engine Cessna 207 and set out for Stokes. The
was to land at the gravel airstrip at Stokes and spend three hours on
ground. The plane and pilot would stay with us - two hours of
holding time, the additional hour at $200. The cost of the flight
was approximately $1,200.
The first part of the flight took us north-west over the MacKenzie
Flying at approximately 700 feet, we saw one Moose and thousands of
geese and swan. All the larger waterfowl (Tundra Swan, Canada
White-fronted Goose, Brant) were identifiable from the air. After
an hour or so, we left the green and blue maze of the delta and
west along the arctic coast, past the open muddy water of Shallow
Beyond the N.W.T./Yukon border, the Beaufort Sea was frozen to the
Small groups of Caribou were visible on the high bluffs above the
The pilot banked tightly and circled back over them, staying high
to avoid causing any disturbance.
We continued past Shingle Point and, about an hour and a half out of
the huge white “golf balls” of the radar towers at Stokes came into
The pilot circled the area, buzzing low first to find the airstrip, and
to make a visible inspection of it, before attempting a landing.
around again, he set the plane down smoothly and we all piled out onto
gravel airstrip. The air was cool, 8-9 degrees, but absolutely
The sky was partially overcast. We set off to explore.
Our first challenge was to leave the landing strip. The strip is
right on the coast, less than a metre above sea level, and is
by a maze of ponds and channels. We carefully clambered over a
driftwood dam that had formed across one deep channel and constructed a
driftwood bridge over another one. Slowly we made our way
to the radar installation, located on a low bluff overlooking a large
to the west of the landing strip.
There were deep snow drifts in the vicinity of the radar site.
covered the larger lakes and most of the lagoon at the Point, although
smaller ponds were open. The ground cover (wet grassy tundra with
no willow) was still brown after a late spring. We did not see a
mosquito during our stay.
Lapland Longspur was the signature bird of Stokes Point. At the
and back up on the tundra breeding plumage males performed their
flight song oblivious to our presence. All open water was filled
birdlife - Pacific Loon, Tundra Swan, White-fronted Goose, Common
I circled around in back of the radar site in an initially desperate
for Yellow Wagtail, trying to clue in on its distinctive call
Not finding any, I returned to bird the richer coastal wetlands.
never did find a Wagtail. Shingle Point, where they are seen
seems from the air to have much denser willow scrub, and maybe that is
key to finding them there (although there are reports from Stokes as
Our three hours passed in what seemed like fifteen minutes.
advice for anyone else planning a trip along the coastal plain is to
to stay over at least one night. After resolving minor
involving soft gravel and the nose wheel of our plane, we flew
On the return trip we ranged out over the pack ice, and saw hundreds of
(presumably Ribbon Seal). Despite the failure on the Wagtail
the trip was still an amazing birding adventure. The flight
alone was a great experience.
Complete Bird Sightings - Stokes Point, Yukon
Plain - June 19, 2001
Red Throated Loon - two - a pair on a pond behind the radar site
Pacific Loon - eight - pairs and individuals in the coastal
near the airstrip
Common Loon - one - coastal lagoon
Tundra Swan - two - ponds near the airstrip
White-fronted Goose - twenty - coastal lagoon/ponds near the airstrip
Canada Goose - fourteen - coastal lagoon/ponds near the airstrip
Northern Pintail - four - ponds near the airstrip
American Wigeon - ten - ponds near the airstrip
Gadwall - two - a pair on a pond near the airstrip
Common Eider - twelve - all drakes - coastal lagoon/ponds near the
Long-tailed Duck - twelve - coastal lagoon/ponds near the airstrip
Red-breasted Merganser - three - coastal lagoon
Northern Harrier - one - flypast
Peregrine Falcon - one - perched on radar installation - chasing Raven
Sandhill Crane - one - flypast
Semipalmated Plover - four - coastal lagoon/ponds near the airstrip -
Semipalmated Sandpiper - three - coastal lagoon/ponds near the airstrip
in flight song
Common Snipe - one - winnowing near the radar installation
Red-necked Phalarope - four females - ponds near the airstrip
Parasitic Jaeger - one - flypast
Glaucous Gull - six - acting territorial at the ponds near the airstrip
Arctic Tern - two - ponds near the airstrip
Common Raven - one - flypast
Savannah Sparrow - four - tundra and coastal areas
Lapland Longspur - eight - tundra and coastal areas
Snow Bunting - one - singing male in driftwood alongside airstrip
Redpoll sp. - twenty - tundra and coastal areas
Brant - 3 - from plane in N.W.T./Yukon border area
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 20 - Inuvik to Rock River - Sunny,
clouds, 8 -10 overnight, mid 20's daytime.
We awoke late and leisurely drove from Inuvik to Rock River. Bird
in the N.W.T. included a pair of Gadwall at the Inuvik sewage
Northern Wheatear at K 20 and Short-eared Owl at K 4. We probably
a dozen Long-tailed Jaeger by the roadside from the Richardson
to Rock River.
THURSDAY, JUNE 21 - Rock River to Tombstone
- Overcast, 7- 8 overnight, low 20's daytime.
We drove leisurely down the Dempster, stopping to catch some Grayling
the Olgilvie River, and arriving at Tombstone mid-afternoon.
was a Northern Shrike family at K 84.
FRIDAY, JUNE 22 - Tombstone to Ethel Lake -
rain, 6-7 overnight, low 20's daytime.
We awoke early in Tombstone to a cold, gray dawn, took down our tents
drove to Dawson and then back on the Klondike Highway to Ethel
The territorial campground at Ethel Lake is actually set 27 K back from
highway, at the end of a narrow, twisty road. Heavy rain made
rather difficult, but the campground itself was very beautiful.
sightings at Ethel Lake included:
SATURDAY, JUNE 23 - Ethel Lake to Whitehorse -
6 overnight, mid 20's daytime.
SUNDAY, JUNE 24 - Whitehorse and home.
The trip was timed for mid June in part to avoid the clouds of
that come later in the season. For the most part this strategy
successful, although bugs were starting to get bad at a number of
(notably Rock River and Ethel Lake). The long hours of daylight
June made for easy driving and camping and provided lots of time to
The trip’s itinerary was ambitious, especially for the first week which
almost 3300 K of driving. A more reasonable schedule would be to
aside two weeks for the southern Yukon or two weeks for the Dempster
(although the Dempster can easily be driven in a week from
Road conditions were generally good. We drove very cautiously on
Dempster, keeping speeds low and pulling off and almost stopping for
oncoming traffic. In this way we avoided windshield chips and,
flat tires (the Dempster, particularly around Rock River where it is
of shale, can be hard on tires - there is a running debate about
driving slowly reduces punctures). The Dempster, which was not a
of birding on this trip, is recommended, both for the beauty of the
and the birding.
The trip added 39 species to my Yukon list (to 153), 25 to my B.C. list
282) and 37 to my N.W.T. list (to 141).
Thanks to the Yukon birders whose writings or direct correspondence
important information - Cameron Eckhart, Helmut Grunberg, Pam
and the late Robert Frisch. Thanks to Linda Cameron and the staff
the Tombstone Mountain Nature Centre for updates on the Dempster.
to the Parks Canada staff in Inuvik, in particular Ron Larsen and Angus
their assistance with the Stokes trip. Special thanks to Renee
Dieen for the F-350 and the charter flight.
306-159 Murray Street,