Skanse’s Grizzly Creek Lodge is a 45 minute to 1 hour-long floatplane ride out of Watson Lake in the south-eastern corner of the Yukon. It is a fishing lodge run by the O’ Farrells where you can see moose and bears everywhere, and pull monstrous, almost prehistoric-looking fish out of Toobally Lakes. This summer my dear friend Katie and her family invited me and my cousin Marilyn to come out to the lodge for a while. Reggie and David O’ Farrell’s eldest daughter Kayla kindly drove Marilyn and myself to the floatplane base in Watson from my home in Tagish. Kayla was very good company on the trip, and it was really nice talking with her. The Beaver was waiting when we arrived; it was a nice-looking floatplane, but I was a bit apprehensive about actually getting inside of it because of its small size. While we waited at the base to board the plane I spent my time birding around the parking lot. There were Cedar Waxwings in a willow, Barn and Tree Swallows cutting through the air over head, and a Western Wood Pewee catching flies from a spruce tree. The Watson Lake area is an odd place for bird life in the Yukon; eastern birds are commonly found there that are seen nowhere else in the Yukon. The Cedar Waxwings were the first eastern birds that I saw on my trip. I had high expectations on the birding at Grizzly Creek Lodge, and I was not let down.
When the Beaver landed at lower Toobally Lake and pulled up to the dock at the lodge it was raining, and Reggie, David, James, and Katie O’ Farrell were there to meet Marilyn and I. They showed us the lodge which was really warm and cozy looking inside, especially after a long trip while it’s raining. Katie showed us the little cabin where Marilyn and I would be staying with her and dropped our bags off there. Though the lodge is only accessible by floatplane and is an hours flight away from Watson, they had pretty much everything there! There was running water, electricity from a generator that they run during the day, cabins, the main lodge with the kitchen, dining rooms and living room, plus anything that a guest may have forgotten to pack: toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, hair brushes, blow-dryers and straighteners, and many other things. The supper that Reggie made was delicious, and bed felt so good afterwards.
The first bird I heard was a lifer Tennessee Warbler singing in the willows behind our cabin. Katie and I tracked it down and took some photos of it, but I thought that it was a Red-eyed Vireo at the time. However, we discovered what it really was while we were listening to bird songs on the computer. Katie, Marilyn and I went out fishing in one of the little fishing boats on our first day to a very active Pike bay near the end of lower Toobally Lake. The water was shallow, and looking down we could see pike surrounding the boat watching. Almost every cast had a pike take the bait, and if you did not get one it was only because there were too many of them fighting over it. The first pike that I pulled in that day (My first pike ever caught) was a very nice size. I thought it was big, but Katie told me that it was actually a pretty small size for what you can catch around Toobally Lakes. When she showed me a photo of her Dad, David holding a monster Pike whose head was as big as his, I realized how true this was. We went Lake Trout fishing too; at Toobally Lakes you can catch three different phases of trout: silver, golden, and green. The silver phase is what you normally catch while trout fishing. Golden phase had beautiful bright copper-colored fins, and the green phase is found at the very deepest parts of the lake. They hang out at the deepest part of the lake bottom for their whole lives which causes the lack of sunlight to turn them an odd shade of green. Another characteristic for these fish is they get MASSIVE. Katie showed me a photo of David holding the biggest green phase Lake Trout ever caught there and I thought it was photo morphed at first. It wasn’t. That is how huge it was! Every time we went out in the boats we saw Moose. Especially along Smith River, the river that connects lower and upper Toobally Lakes.
There was no lack of birds around the lodge. Tennessee Warblers sang sweetly by our cabin every morning, and Chipping Sparrows were always in the undergrowth. I heard my first Alder Flycatcher of the year by the cabin one morning, and White-throated Sparrows were singing their patriotic song of Canada from the trees around us. ” Oh sweet Canada Canada Canada!” would softly pierce the air. The sharp tapping of a Black-backed Woodpecker echoed across the river where we were having our fish bake on a small island. A single Swamp Sparrow called from a marsh as we were passing by, its rich buzz filled with the thoughts of a hot, lazy summer. Osprey were in no short supply; they would perch on the tops of spruce trees scanning the lake with sharp, cruel, and almost insane looking eyes while the loud rattling call of a Kingfisher issued from the shore. I loved all of these sights and sounds, but the one that really got me was the short, sweet and clear warble floating down a poplar tree from a Magnolia Warbler. Magnolia Warbler had been one of this year’s goals for me. I had been listening carefully to every Common Yellowthroat I heard all year, comparing it with the Magnolia Warbler call on my MP3 player and hoping each time that it would be my lifer bird. Finally, my wish had come true. It called only twice; the first time was just as we pulled up to shore at Grizzly Creek, which caught my attention immediately. The second call came several minutes later and confirmed what I had been hoping for.
My stay at Grizzly Creek Lodge is certainly a time that I will never forget. The birding was a part of it for sure, there are birds there that would be very rare anywhere else in the Yukon. I had 7 new-for-the-year species, including 3 lifers. I also enjoyed the numerous Moose, the beautiful, lush landscape, the amazing fishing, and most of all my hosts. The O’ Farrells really made me feel at home, and took Marilyn and I out everyday fishing or birding. The meals that Reggie and David cooked were delicious, it seemed like they always made my favorite meals. Katie really showed me a great time while I was there, taking me out boating, canoeing, birding, fishing, and hiking almost everyday. James took us out boating and fishing and also showed us how to make birch bark bowls and containers that were watertight. I’m really thankful that they invited me to come and spend some time there; I had such a great time. I would recommened booking some time at Grizzly Creek Lodge some summer if you are into the outdoors. Their website is: http://www.grizzlycreeklodge.com . Someday I would love to go back there!