Dunnes – Pete and Linda
Three W’s – Weidensaul, White, and Wells
Bird the Boreal – read on
Located in the heart of Canada’s Boreal forest, the Mackenzie Valley contains some of the last and largest untouched and unallocated blocks of terrestrial habitat in the world. It also contains two of the world’s largest lakes and one of the largest and longest free-flowing rivers in the northern hemisphere. This vast region is also critically important to supporting the abundance of a host of bird species. Perhaps the importance is best highlighted by the fact that the watershed encompasses more than 10% of the total North American breeding range of more than 100 bird species. Of these, at least 40 have 20% or more of their breeding ranges within the watershed. The fate of all of these species rests heavily on the ability of the Mackenzie River Watershed to provide the high quality breeding habitats that they require. For species like Bohemian Waxwing (50% of population in watershed), Mew Gull (40%), Harris’s Sparrow (35%), or Short-billed Dowitcher (30%) the need is especially critical since such a large proportion of the population relies on the watershed. As if this weren’t enough, the Mackenzie Watershed is home to six officially recognized Important Bird Areas. The region regularly hosts 1% or more of many waterfowl and shorebird species including up to 10% of the global population of Lesser Snow Goose and 20% of Black Brant. Thousands of Tundra Swans stage in the watershed many of which have been found, through satellite tracking, to migrate through and winter in the mid-Atlantic state of the eastern U.S.
But the Mackenzie Valley is at a crossroads. Not only is it one of the last great pieces of untouched habitat left in the world but it is also potentially represents one of the world’s last great opportunities for financial gain for natural resource based extraction industries. Looming on the horizon is perhaps the largest industrial project ever proposed for the Mackenzie Valleyâ€”an 800-mile pipeline through the heart of millions of acres of the Boreal. The peoples of Canada, especially the native aboriginal residents of the Mackenzie, are struggling with the difficult societal, economic, and environmental issues that this and other projects mean for the future of the Boreal. There is no doubt that it is a project that will change the face of the Mackenzie Valley forever. It will also have lasting impacts on the birds that spill out from their nesting grounds in the Boreal to fan across wintering grounds in the U.S., Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
To see firsthand the Mackenzie’s birds and habitat and learn more about the issues facing its future, I will get to spend six days (Aug. 7-12) exploring a few diverse locations within the Northwest Territories with a group of North America’s top birder/writers.
You may find the names pretty familiar–Pete and Linda Dunne, Scott Weidensaul, and Mel White.
Pete, for example, is the author of nine (or is it ten?) books, including Pete Dunne on Bird Watching, Hawks in Flight, The Wind Masters, and, most recently, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion: A Comprehensive Resource for Identifying North American Birds. He is a vice president of the New Jersey Audubon Society and the director of its Cape May Bird Observatory and has written columns and articles for virtually every birding magazine as well as the New York Times.
Scott is known as one of the nation’s top naturalist writers. He has written more than two dozen books on natural history, including Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; The Ghost with Trembling Wings, about the search for species that may or may not be extinct; and his most recent book, Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent’s Natural Soul. He lectures widely on wildlife and environmental topics, and is an active field researcher, specializing in birds of prey and hummingbirds.
And Mel is another superstar. He is a contributing editor for National Geographic Traveler and Living Bird magazines, having won the 2002 Lowell Thomas Award for best environmental journalism article and he is the author of numerous books including National Geographic Guide to Birding Hotspots of North America, Exploring the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail: Highlights of a Birding Mecca, and A Birder’s Guide to Arkansas among others.
Our trip will start at Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, a bustling frontier city on the north shore of Great Slave Lake. Here, in the north’s 18 hour daylight we will have plenty of time to find and study birds in the many parks and trails around Yellowknife, tour the city and see its juxtaposition of new and old, and meet with organizations involved in trying to maintain the ecological integrity of the province.
After a day-and-a half in Yellowknife we will board a small plane (Aug. 9) for the two-hour flight north to the small aboriginal community of Deline. We will fly over Sahoyue (pronounced “saw-you”), a sacred area proposed for protected area status. The only town located on Great Bear Lake (a lake the size of NJ), Deline is home to about 600 Sahtu people and is accessible only by plane or boat. During our stay in Deline we will spend time exploring the birdlife that is surprisingly different from that of Yellowknife some hundreds of miles further south. We will also visit with tribal leaders and people from the community to listen to their thoughts about the proposed pipeline and the future of their community.
Following an overnight in Deline, we will have an early evening departure (Aug. 10) to travel further northwest over Willow Lake (a traditional hunting and fishing area also proposed for protected area status by the Sahtu Dene) then follow the Mackenzie River to Norman Wells. In contrast to Deline, Norman Wells is a town built around the discovery of oil deposits. Hundreds of oil wells and a refinery complex are found here, nestled into a beautiful valley. Again we will explore the birds of the area with its riverine habitats and spend some time talking with wildlife officials and viewing the industrial oil complex to get a better sense of the issues and place. We will fly back from Norman Wells to Yellowknife on August 11 for flight connections home on the 12th.
Stay posted to hear about our experiences as they happen starting on Monday, August 7th!