….OF DIRT AND GRAVEL ROADWAY. Specifically, that would be 467 miles North, and 467 miles South, crossing 2 mountain ranges, 2 river ferry crossings, the Continental Divide and the Arctic Circle, and requiring 25-35 mph maximum driving speeds at all times. We feel lucky to have only 2 rock chips in our wind screen; almost all cars in Inuvik at the end of the road have severely cracked windshields, and had to use their spare tires on route.
Something about the sun still being above the horizon at 2 AM makes it easy to stop frequently for bird identification, short hikes (the bugs are voracious), naps….and more driving. Our first day yielded a molting fox, a nesting Say’s Phoebe just 3 feet over our heads…and a Tea Party to celebrate Canada Day at the Tombstone Provincial Park. The Staff foraged for last year’s sweet wild cranberries (sweet from freezing all winter and ripening further in their second summer on the bush) for cake, and a tea made from 3 plants: Labrador Tea, Spruce tips, and Coltsfoot. Tasted like eating/drinking Xmas trees!
On a ranger led hike up the Goldenside Trail in the Ogilvie Mountains, to a harem of marmots (not just a group identifier like a ‘murder of crows’, marmots live in female harems), we spotted a white crowned sparrow in the sub-arctic tundra, at the upper boundary of the tree zone.
Speaking of birds, here’s our list so far: American Raven (everywhere, horrible beggars), Say’s Phoebe, Yellow Warbler, Small Eared Owl (sited at the Arctic Circle, hunting in daylight since there is no darkness), Willow Ptarmigan, Bald Eagles including an immature, Gyrfalcon, and our favorite sighting, a Red Crossbill, noteworthy for its top and bottom beak criss-crossed. We are still hoping for an arctic tern sighting, the longest migrator of them all, and a bird that hovers like a hummingbird before it dives for food, eg. we might be able to get a picture! As beginning birders we mostly are paging through our book looking for “grayish, brownish little birds” who all look alike to us. Often, females and these little songbirds are described as, “Confusing”. We wonder if our birding pal Judith secretly intended to drive us crazy with the gorgeous Northern bird identification book. We like it better when she just points out and identifies birds for us on walks. No confusion.
If we were smart we would instead be working on our lichen identification skills as there are so many beautiful lichen (1500) and the variety is amazing in the Arctic; this lovely Caribou Lichen stays still and smiles for our pictures. The First Nation people here take it partially digested from a caribou stomach after a fresh kill, mix it with fish eggs, and eat it as a dessert called, “Stomach Ice Cream”. Here’s a test: Would you try that frothy white concoction?
Our sightings of Tundra Moose (the largest moose on the planet), snowshoe hare, bison and calves, and black bear and cubs were lovely but, like birds, too far away or too fast for good pictures…so we like landscapes…that stay in place.