2022-06-06 The Long Road To Watson Lake

Stone Sheep - Ovis dalli stonei
While on my long drive from Fort Nelson to Watson Lake, the first stop I made to photograph wildlife was when I met Thinhorn Sheep, or Stone Sheep after passing the Muncho Lake valley. These are related to Dall Sheep and are a separate species from Bighorn Sheep.
American Black Bear - Ursus americanus
Near the confluence of the Trout River and the much larger Liard River, I stopped to photograph this Black Bear following the scent of a sow.

It’s a long and arduous drive from Fort Nelson to Watson Lake, and I planned on several stops along the way. I found that there was highway construction going on that prevented me from stopping at some of the locations I’d planned to investigate. This part of the Alaska Highway passes through the mountains, and has a lot of up-and-down places, with bends and turns enough to slow most of us travelers down. I finally found a wide turn-out at Summit Lake and pulled in to stretch my legs and sniff the air for bird-life.

Using my ears, I could tell there were quite-a-few birds about, but many of them refused to yield themselves to my eyes. Among these were a Wilson’s Snipe, but the bird that continues to frustrate me is the Varied Thrush. There were plenty of these birds singing, but they eluded my view by staying high in the tall broad-leaf trees, and well back into the thick foliage.

When I discovered the presence of Tennessee Warblers, I applied a dose of mosquito repellant, collected my camera gear, and set out to try my luck. Besides the Tennessee Warblers, I found Pine Siskins and a pair of Warbling Vireos to enjoy. A heavy cloud-cover had been following me along the road, and when they started leaking fluids on me, I knew it was time to get moving again.

I drove west for the best part of an hour until I reached a small resort with a cafe, called Toad River. Though they didn’t have it on the menu, they obliged my request for a Veggie Omelet. I sat by a window overlooking the lake. Occasionally I could see birds such as ravens, swallows, ducks, and off in the distance, a Trumpeter Swan.

The highest elevation on the road was just before it dropped down to Muncho Lake. There, I met what I thought were the largest Bighorn Sheep I’ve ever seen. The conditions did not allow me to stop to take pictures, but at the other end of the lake, I met several more, though slightly smaller sheep. These, I was able to spend time with, and I gathered images. Later, I did some research to see if I could find a subspecies for these sheep, but to my surprise, they weren’t Bighorns at all. These were a relative of the Dall Sheep, and a different species entirely. They were Stone Sheep. Dall and Stone Sheep are each a subspecies of a species called Thinhorn Sheep.

After stopping to photograph sheep, I found a pair of Harlequin Ducks at rest on a calm section of the Trout River. I spotted them out of the corner of my eye as I was driving past, then I circled back to capture some images. Bison with their “Red Dog” calves were only a short distance away, and when I finished with the ducks, I drove down to meet them too. Later, I drove past Muncho Lake, and spotted a pretty big Black Bear walking near the roadside. I’d passed 5 or six bears on this drive without stopping. This bear just presented itself well enough that I could not resist gathering a few images. When I studied the images of this bear, I realized he was following a scent, and I suspect a fertile sow was the object of his obsession.

I hadn’t planned on completing the seven-hour drive from Fort Nelson in British Columbia to Watson Lake in the Yukon in a single push. I’d counted on a roadside stop with cell coverage so I could work on my blogs and images. Only one hour west of Fort Nelson, I lost all cell phone coverage. I did not get a signal again until I reached Watson Lake. Even then, the internet speed in town was abysmal. Regardless, I was glad to finally reach this town. I have fond memories of being there in 2005, and I looked forward to spending time here again.

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