Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Yukon Have Elk & Moose!

Last nights get together was a little boisterous, to say the least, while in the melee of yarns, tales and ditties many went unfinished. When the moose photograph was posted the other day I said I'd relate the tale of eating the meat, which falls in nicely with a few topics from last night.

The main thrust of my North American trip in the spring of 2008, was to travel the full length of the Alaska Highway by road. Starting at El Segundo Beach, Los Angeles most of the journey was undertaken on the efficient Greyhound coaches, and after a few diversions to view Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Phoenix plus Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks the trip began in earnest. Probably 'the' highlight, for a multitude of reasons, had to be an unscheduled stop at Toad River, Yukon Territory between Dawson Creek and Whitehorse. Here the coach stopped and I joined the driver for a coffee in the small roadside bar, where he suggested I might stay for a few days. It was indeed the 'wilderness', which was what I had come to see, so with his assurance another bus would be along some days later I booked into one of half a dozen sparse but comfortable wooden huts on the edge of the lake.

Yukon Territory, Canada

Toad River Camp - the huts are just out of picture, to the left.

Hospitality was the bye word here between the small population and it seemed in very short time I was a member of the community. Weather was the main concern, as the rain had been persistent and was now turning to snow, but from my room I could view the full length of the lake from where I saw 21 species of wildfowl during the stay. In addition there were Elk, Moose, White-tailed Deer, Red Squirrel, Marmot, Chipmunk plus an active Beaver lodge right next door. Much of the time was spent observing from the cabin, where Dark-eyed Junco, Boreal and Black-capped Chickadee, Say's Phoebe, Swainson's Thrush and White-winged Crossbill were daily visitors. In addition a bird subject of discussion last evening, the Whiskey Jack (yes with an 'e'), was ever present, prompting us to wonder why or how the Grey Jay had come by this nickname?

White-tailed Deer

Beaver Lodge

Dark-eyed Junco

Black-capped Chickadee

Whiskey Jack

Grey Jay

Priority, every morning, as daylight crept across the distant mountains was a large mug of strong coffee, as once I've had my caffeine 'hit' I'm up for anything. That was when a stranger (they were all strangers to me) came in made his first question "where are you from partner". Only Mars would have sparked a more jubilant reaction as I told him "England", to which he countered, " finish your coffee, I have 10 minutes business then I'll take you on a tour". Not believing my luck, I did just that and was soon making the acquaintance of Colin Leake, Maintenance Manager for the Alaska Highway. He suggested collecting my bags and checking out, after which we retraced the route I had taken on the bus. By now the snow was getting heavy, and Colin was taking me to the highest point on the highway, some 40 miles south. What before had been open road, was now all but impassable but his 4x4 got us through and we headed back from whence we came. In both directions there had been a fair amount of mammal activity, but at one stop we encountered a small herd of Bison. Probably naturally, Colin is a hunter, his nickname being 'Trailsniffer', but told me these magnificent looking beasts were left alone as protected. I was to find out more about his hunting prowess later.

American Bison

Returning to the vehicle having capture the image above, he informed me that he had phoned his wife Heather who was now expecting us for lunch. All she needed to know was would I prefer Elk or Moose, as Colin would have to call in at the Maintenance Base to collect the meat. It transpired that the generators at home were sufficient for low domestic supply but could not cope with 'freezer' power, so his company provided the necessary. My request was if both were on the menu, it would be a double 'first'.

Turning off the main highway, we drove down a narrow metaled lane for what seemed like miles until by a pile of recently sawn trees we turned into the Leake homestead. As we passed the logs Colin explained how his father in law had fashioned each and every plank, on a bench saw, and between them had built the fine house that now stood before us. Heather met us at the door, a warm, friendly woman anyone would take to immediately. The introductions soon over we entered the house feeling a drastic change in temperature, accompanied by the smells of cooking, burning wood and pine logs. I had to pinch myself!

some other birds of Toad River

American Wigeon - numerous and confiding.

Barrow's Goldeneye - this astounding duck was approachable with a little patience.

Canvasback - always distant, but afforded this shot.

Slavonian (Horned) Grebe - good numbers of breeding pairs.

Ring-necked Duck - common.

Bonaparte's Gull - only half a dozen seen in this area.

Cinnamon Teal - the only ones seen on this trip.

Mew Gull - subject of another part of the conversation last night, thought distinctive as an adult, but would you pick one out at Ferrybridge? Only a few around Toad River, but some large breeding colonies further north.

Bufflehead - what a little 'cracker'! A few on the lake and common throughout the YT.

Snow Goose - Unlike the 'thousands' seen on another trip over the eastern side of the sub-continent, this was the only one seen.

Trumpeter Swan - The only one at the lake, receiving adverse attention from the Canada Geese, with others elsewhere.

to be continued.

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