Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gray-headed Chickadee Raft Trip--Entry 3

On day 6 we woke up to little wind, strong sun and very mild temps. After breakfast we loaded up the rafts and went over to the other side of the river to look for the arctic warbler that we heard calling all morning. We quickly located it but the bird was not really close and tended to hide some in the leaves as it sang. Eventually everyone got to see a bird that is found only in the summer in Alaska where it has traveled to from its wintering grounds in Thailand.

We started on down the river (photo above) again not knowing what kind of water conditions we might find. After some more mild rapids, it turned out to be much like day 4, mostly floating with some places where we had to pull the raft when it would bottom out. We stopped for lunch at a large spring that came right out of the side of the mountain. The photo just below shows some of the waterflow plus in the middle of the picture is a small round mound with a hole in it. It is the nest made from moss by a dipper which is one of north america's most interesting birds because it walks on the bottom of fast flowing creeks and rivers looking for food. The second photo below is of Richard, Marty, me and Craig standing in front of the spring flow.

After another roughly 10 mile float we arrived at our evening campsite which was at the base of mountain and just above the confluence of the Marsh fork and the main Canning river. By now we were feeling more competent as rafters, and confident that we would make our takeout point the next day. Dinner as always was prepared by Aaron and Bob. Many of the ingredients used for all our meals were air dried veggies and herbs that Bob and his partner Lisa had prepared the previous fall to use on the raft trips run during this summer by WBA.

We woke on Day 7 to another sunny, warm morning. By now everyone had adjusted to it never getting dark, waking at times to see either full light, or even the sun peaking over a low mountain. As we were packing up the boats the skies darkened with very ominous looking clouds. Soon after hitting the river it began to pour down rain--the heaviest of the trip. We quickly floated into the main fork of the Canning river which had much more water in it. While it was nice to have deeper water for floating, unlike the Marsh fork whose water was crystal clear and a most beautiful light hue of aquamarine, the Canning was milky. For 20-30 minutes it rained hard and then let up but stayed overcast. A second downpour came but stopped before long. During the rain a mother moose and 2 calves came walking across the river in front of us.

After the rain ceased we took a break to have a quick lunch, and then floated a short distance to our final campsite for the trip where the next day the bush plane would come pick us up. By the time we had camp set up the sun was out shining brightly. We had seen a red-throated loon while floating, and it plus the arctic warbler had raised the bird trip total to 45.

Since the afternoon had turned so pretty, Bill and I asked Aaron to hike up with us to the low plateau just above our campsite to see if some more new birds might be on the lakes we could not see. We spent the 2+ hours walking over the tundra and found 10 more new birds for the trip including a flock of hoary redpolls. The photo just above is of a pair of horned grebes in full breeding plumage--the male is on the right with bigger yellow "horns" and more black on the neck (click on it to enlarge). The photo just below is of Aaron, and the one below him is of a full breeding plumage american golden plover.

When we returned to camp we all had our last dinner of the trip. It began with margaritas using ice we had chipped off an ice mass along the river. It was Marty's birthday, so we also drank some 21 year old single malt scotch from the Isle of Jura. The dinner was capped off with a dark chocolate tort/cake that Bob had made at home and packed carefully to survive the weeklong trip.

Sunday dawned almost totally clear with light winds. We packed up in stages depending on who was flying out next. We said goodbye to Bob first who took almost all the gear and rafts on the first shuttle flight back to our put in point so that he would be there to meet his next rafting group. Among the new group would be two 80 year olds and two 70 year olds, and they would be taking a 17 day trip that floated all the way to the arctic ocean. The photo just above is of the bush plane landing on the gravel bar to pick us up.

Next out were Jim, John and Sue who made the 45 minute trip back to Arctic Village. After they were dropped off, the bush pilot delivered 3 of the group heading in to meet Bob. Next out for us was Bill, Richard and myself. The photo just above was taken flying back up the river valley which let us see from above where we had floated over the past 6 days. Finally Aaron, Craig and Marty made it back to Arctic Village where we all boarded the bigger plane to make the 90 minute flight back to Fairbanks.

We all said our goodbyes as the group split up to return to their lodging. Craig, Marty, Richard and I returned to our B&B, looking forward to having a shower. We were tired and a bit sore from all our efforts but very thankful to have been able to make a raft trip in such a wild beautiful part of the world. We walked into downtown Fairbanks for dinner, and strolled thru the summer solstice festival. Seeing the booths and people reinforced that Fairbanks is definitely a unique place. I am now in Anchorage where my wife flew into yesterday to meet me. We are about to begin our drive up to Denali NP. Stay tuned!

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