Where to begin…
Upon arriving in Whitehorse, Yukon (after a beautiful flight over the mountains) I was greeted by my friend Lila, and ready to start the next leg of my birding adventure.
Our first stop was to check the river that runs through Whitehorse. After stopping at a few vantage points we eventually came across a small group of ARCTIC TERNS foraging over the river. My first year bird in the Yukon!
Photo: Arctic Tern in downtown Whitehorse
The next day was spent organizing for our upcoming camping trip, but we did go up to the top of one of the many hills surrounding the city. At the very top there are no trees, just shrubbery and some sub-alpine plants and bare rock. As we made our way up a gravel trail we saw a TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE in a small clump of spruce. A few minutes later we saw another, but this one was feeding a very spotted fledgling. There were few other birds around, but we did see and hear a Golden-crowned Sparrow. I saw several of these birds earlier in the winter in Victoria, but they were very dull and not nearly as sharp looking as these breeding plumaged birds.
Photos: Townsend Solitaire, and a view above Whitehorse
The next day, after getting all packed up, we headed out on the highway towards Dawson City. After about a 6 hour drive we gassed up the truck and took a quick walk around this quirky little town. Then it was time to backtrack a few km to the start of the Dempster Highway. We followed this legendary gravel road (it goes up to Inuvik, Northwest Territories) to the Tombstone Territorial Park campground. I cannot begin to describe how stunning the scenery is in this park. I just hope some of my pictures do it a little justice.
Photos: Me and Lila on our Dempster Highway journey
We spent the rest of our day setting up our awesome little camp. There are about 30 campsites, with some basic facilities, and a top-notch visitor center. We would use this as our base, and would adventure out during the day exploring other parts of the highway. I kept a daily bird list, so for the purpose of this blog post I will list the new birds I saw each day.
Photo: Our site in Tombstone Territorial Park
The birding was pretty good, although you could tell that many species of birds were already feeding young. It would have been far easier to find many of the species a few weeks earlier. I missed several species that I thought I would easily find, but I was very happy to get a few of my most wanted ones. Of the 5 new species for the year that I added in the park, 2 were lifers!
To get to some of the tougher species we had to climb to the summit of the smaller hills alongside the highway. They look so close to the road, but it took us several hours to climb up and then back down. It was truly exhausting at times, but the views were worth every second of physical pain.
Photos: Near surfbird mountain in Tombstone Territorial Park. One of the “small” hills we climbed. We tried really hard for Northern Wheatear in the the rocky areas, but no luck.
The weather was generally fine. The first full day we had was clear and warm. Afternoons generally clouded over, and we had a few sprinkles of rain. The one unfortunate thing was the wind. While it is often breezy at the summit of the peaks, it was also unusually windy down by the road. The park staff told us it was not typical weather. The winds did keep the insects away, so there were only a few times that we got ravaged by mosquitos and blackflies.
I was a bit under the weather the first few days, which really took a toll on my ability to get sleep. On the third day I crashed, and by the afternoon I just needed to sleep. That afternoon we ventured a bit north of the park, and while I was snapping in the truck Lila went out for a quick walk. While doing so she saw a Grizzly Bear! Darn it, it would have been cool to see, but that is what happens when you take a nap…
Our mammal list for the park was Moose (4), Red Squirrel, Caribou (1), Marmot (heard them up on a slope), and a Pika (possibly the cutest mammal on earth). There was a Black Bear reported in the campground, but we didn’t see it. The most exciting sighting for us was a quick glimpse of a Wolverine that scampered across the road and into a ditch.
Photos: A Moose and a Pika!
Day 1 – Tombstone Territorial Park
Dark-eyed Junco, Varied Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, Myrtle Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Golden Eagle, Herring Gull, Northern Waterthrush, Wilson’s Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Alder Flycatcher, White-crowned Sparrow, American Robin, Northern Shrike, Orange-crowned Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Solitary Sandpiper, Mew Gull, Common Redpoll
Day 2 – Tombstone Territorial Park – CANADA DAY!
New birds: Merlin, Common Raven, American Tree Sparrow, WILLOW PTARMIGAN, RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, Savannah Sparrow, Lesser Yellowlegs, Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, Cliff Swallow, Common Loon, American Pipit, Horned Lark, Say’s Phoebe, Yellow-shafted Flicker, Harlequin Duck, GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (finally! I missed this species during spring migration in Ontario), Gray Jay
Photos: A family of Willow Ptarmigan (male, female, chick)
Day 3 – Tombstone Territorial Park
New birds: White-winged Crossbill, Surf Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Yellow Warbler, SMITH’S LONGSPUR, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Horned Grebe, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Pintail, Wilson’s Snipe, Bald Eagle, American Dipper, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Townsend’s Solitaire, WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN
Photos: Smith’s Longspurs! Male, female, and 2 different aged fledglings
Photos: White-tailed Ptarmigan. We had to climb to the very top of Goldensides Mountain for this one! Worth every painful second!
Day 4 – Tombstone Territorial Park
New birds: Spotted Sandpiper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pine Siskin, Blackpoll Warbler, American Kestrel, Boreal Chickadee
In summary, this corner of Canada is among the most incredible places I have ever been. What a wonderful place to celebrate Canada Day!
Photos: Just a few of the many breathtaking views of Tombstone. It is worth the climb!