Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gray-headed Chickadee Raft Trip--Entry 2

On our way back from seeing the chickadee on day 3, we walked thru an area looking for another arctic specialty bird, the smith's longspur. I have only seen this bird in its drab winter plumage in Oklahoma so I was excited about finding it in full breeding attire. The photo above is of our group after checking out a smith's--Bob is in the red shirt next to the scope and Aaron is the very tall guy with the dark cap. We were not able to get close enough to take photos but thru the scope we all had good looks at this very colorful bird which is the size of a large sparrow and tends to stay close to the ground.

On day 4 of our trip we loaded up the rafts again (photo above) not sure what the water depth would be. The weather was pretty good, not too hot or cold or windy. We ended up being able to float most of the time with occasional raft hauling. After a long day including some rapids/boulder dodging at the end of our float, we made our preferred campsite by about 7 PM knowing that we would have a 2 nite layover. The 2 niters are great because it takes at least a hour to set up camp in the evening, and at least 2 hours in the morning to break down and reload the rafts.

At this site we also hoped to see wolves at a den that WBA had discovered last year, but the wolves had not returned to it this year. Instead we saw 2 foxes in the same area. Sue also briefly saw a wolverine when she went down to the river to brush her teeth, but when the wolverine saw her it ran off before anyone else could see it.

On day 5 we had a chance to look at a second chickadee nesting site that was located in a narrow side canyon about a quarter mile off the river. The canyon has a pretty stream flowing out of it (photo just above). We headed up there after breakfast to see if the chickadees were back this year. Sure enough they were nesting very high up on the canyon wall in a cliff swallow "house" which you can see in the photo just below--the upper hole had a cliff swallow living in it, but the hole just below to the right was the home of a pair of chickadees (click on photo to enlarge). We watched them actively flying in and out of the "nest" feeding their young.

After watching them for a time we headed further upstream to go look at a cave. As we were crossing the stream we noticed a partially eaten caribou carcass and decided to turn around in case a grizzly bear was in the area. We returned to camp and spent the rest of the day enjoying the beauty and serenity of the Brooks range which reminds me of the highlands of Scotland. During dinner we saw a red fox stalking a rock ptarmigan who of course eluded it by flying away. It landed not far away back upstream, and sat there throughout our meal, giving us good looks at it thru our scope.

While in this area we continued to see new birds for the trip including several say's phoebes which I think of as a desert bird since I usually see them in the southwest, but the arctic is in fact a cold desert. We finished the day with 43 different bird species seen so far on our trip. I have added another photo taken on day 3 of the gray-headed chickadee since on day 5 the chickadees were far too high up to get a good photo. We had been hearing an arctic warbler calling on the other side of the river all day, and planned to look for it on day 6 before heading further down river. Stay tuned!

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