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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Haines Highway

Location: Haines Junction, Yukon
Population: 589

Today we headed north on the Haines Highway, which takes you from Haines, Alaska to Haines Junction, Yukon. Don’t you think they could have come up with some more original names? The first part of the drive was along the Chilkat River, the wide, shallow river that hosts the thousands of bald eagles in the fall. Today, we didn’t see a single eagle in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, but a walk along the riverside did turn up a red-breasted sapsucker, a pair of trumpeter swans, and loads of singing Wilson’s warblers. I also heard a faint hooting – maybe one of the grouse that are supposed to be common in these parts? Too far away to tell.

In one of the parking pullouts we scanned the mountaintops and located several mountain goats. Through the scope we could tell that we were looking at what they call a nursery band – mama goats, their kids, and adolescent goats. Some moms seemed to have two little ones with them! Nearby were several two-tailed swallowtails (Papilio multicaudata), and one decided to hang out on the dandelions giving me a chance to take some nice photos of it:

Onwards and upwards, into the mountains!

I hope you're not getting tired of the scenery, because I'm sure not. Check out what the view looked like from the highway in the Chilkat Pass:

While we were pulled over to take the above photo, we heard several interesting calls. One was the trilling call of a Wilson's snipe - what are they doing way up in the mountains? I had no idea this is where they hung out, but this is the second mountain pass where we've heard them. The other call was the hooting from before, but this time much louder and closer. A little hunting and we located the source - sooty grouse (year bird 188, NA life bird 323)! There were at least four or five of them in the area, and we saw two of them. It's a good thing we heard them, though, because that's the only way you can really tell them apart from the dusky grouse, which does tend to hang out a little further inland.

Just a few miles further down the highway and a white bird caught our eye. It looked much stockier than the gulls and terns also hanging out at the mountain lakes. Sure enough, it was one of the other species that I had hoped to see for the first time on this trip: a willow ptarmigan (189, 324)! There were many of them in the area, some of them even close enough to the road for a photo-op:

These chicken-like birds are pretty cool looking, with striking coloration and feathers all the way down to their feet. Their vocalizations are awesome, too, and we got to hear them! They sound very cartoonish and almost human. You have to hear this.

By the way, Dave, you sure you don't want to count your Florida species to make this year bird race tighter down the stretch? I knew I'd see some new species like ptarmigans up this far north, but I hadn't counted on picking so many of the "maybe" species from my original projected list as well! I think 200 species could be within reach on this trip, and we'll only be halfway through the year. Your US birds might push you over that mark already though, eh?

One of our other stops before reaching Haines Junction was to hike a rock glacier trail, which lead up and onto a giant rock pile that was formed when a glacier was pushing rubble before it. Up on top of the rocks someone had built an Inukshuk. We've passed several locations where people have started collections of piles and balanced rocks, including several other Inukshuks, but this one was my favorite thus far. It has style, and a great backdrop:

I just wanted to mention all the Canadian hotels we've stayed in are awesome in the fact that they have recycling bins in the rooms as well as trash cans. None of the US hotels are doing this yet! Plus the Canadian grocery stores charge you if you want a plastic bag. I like it.


The Chatty Housewife said...

The Ptarmigan sounds like someone laughing and then saying "Ohio, Ohio, Ohio." :)

I am definitely not getting tired of the scenery posts. Thanks for taking the time to share them.

Lancs and Lakes Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Your Willow Ptarmigan is the same species as our Red Grouse which (allegedly) causes all the grief to our upland birds of prey - ours doesn't turn white in winter though. Ptarmigan is one of the very few ancient (Scottish) Gaelic words that made it in to the English language along with Capercaillie - another turkey like grouse of Eurasian boreal forests that you don't get in N. Am.

Keep that news coming



Warren Baker said...

Although I'm not tired of the scenery Monika, I dont really like to be reminded of cold snowy conditions :-)

You're seening some great birds - hows the list ?