Gavia immer; Gavia pacifica and Gavia stellata
Yes, we can guarantee sightings of the common loon, a spectacular bird roughly the size of a small goose. You will see and hear loons everyday on Scott or on any of the fly out lakes. There are nesting loons throughout the region and the dramatic black and white plumage makes them hard to miss on the deep blue lake surface. The wild and thrilling call of the loon echoes across Scott every night. These are the real birds of paradise.
More About Loons
Common loons have large territories in the far north, defended by the males (males and females do look exactly alike but the males have one call unique to the gender, making the distinction possible). Like our clients at Scott, loons love to fish. It’s their life. With clear water and an abundance of forage fish (lake ciscos primarily but also smaller white fish, suckers, sticklebacks and immature lake trout) sight-fishing loons here have an easy life here. You will never see a skinny loon at Scott.
Loons start nesting on Scott about two weeks after their arrival which of course will depend on the ice out date, usually around June first). The incubation period lasts twenty-eight days which puts chicks on the water around mid-July. They start their migration to warmer climes, generally the Gulf of Mexico coast, about the time Scott shuts down, but beginning around the middle of August they start flocking and feeding more aggressively, preparing for their long trip south.
This is the time of season when it’s common to see and hear the uncommon loons, the Pacific loon and the red-throated loon. These loons breed even farther north but pass through our area both in spring and early fall (fall at Scott does start around the middle of August). Their calls are quite different and both species are considerably smaller than the common loon. The Pacific loon was for many years called the Arctic loon and most Scott guides still use the term. Whatever the name this is a striking bird and the odds of seeing one in June or August are pretty good. The red-throated is a much smaller bird than either the common or the Pacific. It holds its head in a distinctive up tilt angle, a dead giveaway for identification. Its calls are quite different as well. A rare visitor is a fourth loon species, the yellow-billed. The yellow-billed looks a lot like the common but is much larger and has, naturally, a bright yellow bill. There are only a few thousand of these loons, nesting exclusively in arctic coastal areas and on lakes on the arctic islands but some do pass through our area during migration. Whatever species you spot loons are a big part of the Scott Lake experience. Enjoy the guaranteed sightings.
Like loons, bald eagles are part of the aquatic landscape (or it is waterscape?) in the region. It’s an unusual day when you don’t spot an eagle. This is perfect habitat for the national US symbol, though Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey, thinking eagles were lazy scavengers. Eagles are opportunistic and do pick up after some of our guide’s shore lunches. Eagles in the United States had a close call with extirpation.
More About Eagles
The use of DDT in the 20th century caused the egg shells to thin. By the late 50s there were only 400 nesting pairs in the continental US. With the chemical banned, eagles had one of the great wildlife comebacks of all time and are now common throughout the US. They were removed from the Endangered Species List in 1995 and the Threatened Species List in 2007. There are sixty eagle species worldwide but only two in North America, the bald and the golden, which is occasionally sighted at Scott.
Often called the “fish hawk “or “fish eagle”, the osprey is another Scott regular. And the osprey rivals the loon as a great angler. The osprey’s diet is 99% fish. Smaller than the eagle with very distinctive wing shape, the osprey is easy to identify and easy to admire. They crash into the lake with abandon and often lift out small pike, whitefish or lake trout. Like eagles ospreys like to build their huge nests in large trees. That’s a problem here.
More About Osprey
There are no large trees on the 60th parallel. So both the eagles and ospreys here put their nests on some of the small cabin sized boulders that the glaciers so thoughtfully left behind about 6,000 years ago. Many a Scott angler has been treated to the sight of osprey chicks looking out of their nest while the adults fly protectively overhead. Ospreys are found worldwide and are as common as crows in places like the Florida Keys, but they look just right here at Scott.
If you’re going to see a large mammal at Scott (not counting your fellow anglers), it will probably be the black bear. Someone sees a black bear almost every day. While many of our large mammals have tough sledding this far north due to the extremely long and cold winters, black bears have a great solution: they just sleep through the howling gales of winter. With an abundance of wild berries (blueberries, crowberries and bearberries mainly), lots of ant larvae and some Scott Lake Lodge shore lunch leftovers, bears get fat and happy over the summer. They do very well here at Scott and the odds of seeing a bear are quite good.
More About Bears
Black bears are big, up to 500 pounds, and the Scott area has its share of bruisers. While nearly all of our bears are black, there are a few blonde black bears and at least one pure white one. Grayling fishing at the outlet of Gardiner Lake a few years ago, a group of six anglers and guides were stunned to see a perfectly white black bear at fairly close range. They even got pictures.
Black bears are not among the rare and exotic wildlife species. Black bears are everywhere in North America. Canada has an estimated population of 300,000 and the US around 200,000. They are long lived, up to 30 years in the wild, so you might see the same Scott bear year after year. Because bears are great swimmers, the lakes of our area pose no problems. We have seen bears swimming across lakes with over five miles between shorelines. Nearly all of our bears fall into the “good bear” category. Some do acquire a fondness for shore lunch and need a little aversive conditioning (pepper spray) now and then. There has never been a bear attack of any kind at Scott or even a bluff charge but the rule of thumb is to give bears a lot of respect and distance. All of our guides do carry bear spray which actually does work, but it’s a job best left to the professionals. The best seat for bear watching is your seat in the boat. Enjoy these interesting animals from a comfortable distance.
You will not need a mammal guide book to help identify a moose. You know it when you see a moose. Yes, they are as big as a moose. How big? The biggest on record was a monster shot along the Yukon River that tipped the scales to 1,800 pounds. The biggest moose are all found in Alaska and the Yukon. But the moose around Scott, subspecies, Alces alces andersoni, are plenty big, reaching a half a ton. Even the smallest of the moose subspecies, the Shiras moose which inhabit the upper Rockies, Oregon, Washington and into Pacific Canada, are huge, often around 800 pounds.
More About Moose
So they are big. What else is cool about moose? Watching a moving moose is a confounding contradiction. They look gangly and awkward when you see one just standing there, but watch one move and its sublime, poetry in motion. They move through even thick brush and timber with grace and ease. They are just amazing animals. They are not rare, found throughout the northern world. In fact they are quite common in some regions, like in northern Europe, Russia and Siberia. In Sweden alone the annual harvest is 150,000 animals, twice the entire North American harvest. No one harvests any moose around Scott, except for the wolves.
Due to the relatively scare aspen and willow cover (their favorite food) we don’t have a lot of moose around Scott but we have enough birch to keep a small population alive in the winter when they can’t get at the aquatic vegetation they love so much. Most of our moose sightings are from the windows of our Beavers en route to fly out locations. Areas near Sandy, Ivanhoe and Dunvagen are prime moose locations as is Trapper Boat Bay on Scott. In June 2010 a moose carcass (probably natural morality) was spotted at the south end of Scott, being guarded aggressively by a black bear that over the course of about a week ate the ENTIRE moose. By the end of that time the bear was so groggy he barely moved when boats pulled up right next to him. It’s exactly how some Scott customers feel when they leave the dessert bar.
Wolves around Scott have a rich history. For over a decade a pack claimed the area just north of the lodge as the heart of their territory. Wolves for many years (white ones, grey ones and black ones) were seen regularly within a mile of the lodge, often at the Tundra beach or Wolf Island. But something happened to the pack structure in 2008 and now wolf sightings are not so predictable around the lodge. We do see wolves at various places around Scott Lake and at many of the fly out lakes (Ivanhoe and Dunvagen being prime locales).
More About Wolves
The wolves around Scott, despite their varied colors, are grey wolves, the largest of the wolf subspecies. And our wolves are bigger than those found in the Rocky Mountain west or in Minnesota, the wolf stronghold in the lower 48. The size of wolves, and many other mammals like deer, increase in size according to latitude. It’s known as Bergmann’s Rule, named after the biologist who first noticed the geographic differences. In lower latitudes a big wolf is around 80 pounds. In our part of Canada a big wolf could go over 150 pounds.
There have been many encounters of the wolf kind at Scott. And there has never been any evidence of aggression, only curiosity. Kayakers have drifted up on wolves resting on a shoreline to within 10 feet before the wolf even bothered to move. They do really look and act like “just big dogs”, very big dogs. If you read all the wolf literature, you would have to conclude that wolves feed almost exclusively on ungulates, like deer, moose or caribou. In summer at Scott that’s a problem for wolves. We have only a few moose around Scott but in many years lots of wolves. The wolves of Scott apparently make due with lots of snowshoe hares, squirrels, mice and other small mammals until the caribou come through in early winter. Or as some recent research from Northwest Territories suggests our wolves, especially the females, might journey a hundred or more miles north to hunt caribou, putting on some extra fat and muscle, then returning south to care for the litter of young pups. With the legendary travelling abilities of the wolf, it does sound feasible. Winter is actually easy street for wolves: it’s when large numbers of caribou are in the area. Wolves and caribou have coexisted for thousands of years, predator and prey each playing their roles in an ancient dance of death. While you may or may not see a wolf at Scott, it’s exciting to know that you might see one.
Here’s an animal right out of casting for Star Wars movies. There is nothing else on earth that looks like a musk ox, the ultimate northerner. Native to Canada, Greenland and Alaska, the musk ox is actually related to sheep and goats not to oxen. They are surprisingly short but very stocky and solid. Most weigh around 500 pounds, nearly twice as heavy as the average caribou. Their stronghold is Banks Island, well off the arctic coast where around 60,000 live, but there are big numbers on Victoria Island as well. On the vast Canadian tundra there are numerous scattered herds with the highest inland concentration around the Thelon Game Preserve, about 250 miles northeast of Scott.
More About Musk Ox
Worldwide there are around 100,000 of these shaggy critters and they do get fairly close to Scott. Twice in recent years a herd of over a dozen musk oxen have been spotted by anglers en route to Smalltree Lake. There is an esker (a long, skinny sand hill) about twenty miles south of Smalltree that may well be home to that group. On trips to the Elk River sightings are more common (usually on the north shore of Renne Lake) but never totally predictable. If you hiked around that area though you would probably find strings of “qiviut”, the wool undercoat that is the warmest fiber on earth. It’s tough to get and sells for over $50 an ounce. But a sighting of this prehistoric looking beast is even more precious. Fly north and hope.
The scientific name does sound odd, but it’s right on. Gulo mean glutton in Latin and that trait, along with a degree of savage ferocity, defines the wolverine. They are famous for fighting way above their weight class. Even though they weigh only 40-70 pounds, they have been captured on film challenging a grizzly for a carcass and are well know to drive black bears off of carrion sites. Just plain mean.
More About Wolverines
They are well distributed in the far north, found in the Nordic countries of Europe, Russia, and Siberia and throughout northern Canada. Once found in the northern tier of US states, they now live only in Alaska and a few scattered wilderness areas of Montana and Idaho with the primary concentration in the lower 48 in or near Glacier National Park. The only wolverines found in Michigan now will be in Ann Arbor on fall Saturdays and even those wolverines aren’t as fierce as they used to be.
With vast home ranges of over 200 square miles and a habit of keeping on the move, wolverines are extremely difficult to locate. Even in areas with stable populations like the Scott Lake area, they are seldom seen. Over the past 15 years at Scott there have been less than a dozen sightings. But one did swim across the northwest arm of Scott right over the famed Wall, one of Scott’s best trout holes about a mile from the main lodge. Other wolverine sightings at Scott were in Trapper Boat Bay, the shoreline near the Wignes cut and on the north arm of Scott, by the “S” turn. There have been several sightings at Ivanhoe, including a mama with three young wolverines. One of the Ivanhoe sightings was memorable: a swimming wolverine made it to shore just seconds before the guide boat pulled up to it; it turned on the rock and gave the intruders a menacing hiss before charging off.
One of Sandy Lake’s premier pike spots is Wolverine Bay, named for a wolverine that was chasing geese off their nest to rob eggs along the shoreline. So it is possible to see this iconic northern mammal at Scott, but the odds are low. After well over a thousand days on Scott or its fly out lakes, owner Tom KIein has seen but three wolverines. Many long time guides have never seen one. But the sure knowledge that wolverines are around makes this wilderness all the more pure and exciting and keeps anglers glancing along the shoreline once in awhile, hoping to spot this illusive creature.
No wildlife species has had more influence on the history of a continent than the beaver played for North America. It was the quest for the luxurious beaver pelts that drove the exploration of the north. Without the demand for those furs in the capitals of Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, there would probably not be a Scott Lake Lodge today: the exploration of the far north would have been delayed for a century or two. But there were plenty of beaver to trap and the voyageurs did come.
More About Beaver
The beaver is the largest rodent in North America, a critter of 40-50 pounds with some specimens reaching 100. The beaver is the national symbol of Canada (though the loon is a close second and the hockey stick a distant third) and of course the namesake of the aircraft that opened the far north—the De Havilland Beaver, your north woods taxi. While Scott Lake itself does not have many resident beavers, most of the fly out lakes have some, evidenced by the large dams and lodges they build. There are lodges on Scott in Trapper Boat bay and on Grindle lake, a walk-out lake at the south end of Scott. Some beaver dams can be huge. One in Wood Buffalo National Park, about 250 miles to the west of Scott, is over a half mile long. None of that size have been seen anywhere around our area. Most of our beaver population seems content to just build lodges. Since beavers are primarily nocturnal workers, you will probably not see any construction activity.
While there are still an estimated 10 million beavers in North America that is a small fraction of the maybe 200 million that lived here prior to the fur trade era. But they are starting to get urbanized. There are the famous Lincoln Park beavers in Chicago and urban beavers in San Francisco and Washington DC, as well as at least one in the Bronx River in New York City. Your odds of seeing beaver or at least recent sign are best on Ivanhoe, one of our most popular fly out lakes.
Here’s another animal that guests at Scott can relate to: one that does nothing but fish and play. The river otter as they are typically called are just as comfortable in lakes. A member of the weasel family, otters are quite large, from 10-30 pounds. They have long whiskers and a rather silly expression. They are insatiably curious and playful. They are usually seen in small family groups and will pop up and give a sort of dog like bark at any intruder. They are exclusively fish eaters but are not particularly selective: they will eat whatever they can catch which in our area would probably be the slowest of the region’s fish, the sucker and burbot. But they can catch any fish in the lake; no fish will escape a hungry otter. Otter have been spotted near the lodge but the area hot spot seems to be Labyrinth Lake where they are seen regularly.
This nifty little mammal, often called the pine marten, is common but seldom seen. They are largely nocturnal. If you do see one, it will appear to have a lot of extra vertebrae, moving with a sinuous motion, almost like a snake. They have very small territories, maybe three square miles. We do see lots of evidence of marten at the winter native camps on many of the fly out lakes, especially Ivanhoe, Smalltree and Beauvais. The marten is the number 1 priority for local trappers and their egg sized skulls can be found in abundance at these winter camp sites. A few years ago a pair of martins took up residence on our island living for most of the summer under the deck at Caribou Condo, keeping the island rabbit population in check and picking up any scraps they could find. They love going into guide boats and the guide den to look for any leftovers.
BIRDS, BIRDS and more BIRDS
While the border country of Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territory is not a birder’s dream, like say Costa Rica, it is still a destination with a lot of our feathered friends. On a recent five day trip one customer (a very experienced birder) observed a lot of birds during the normal fishing trip experience. In addition to the obvious birds like the Common Loon, Canada Goose, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Herring Gull, Common Tern, Gray Jay, Raven, American Robin, Black Capped Chickadee, Hairy Woodpecker, Slate-colored Junco, there were a bunch of not so obvious and cool birds like the Pacific Loon, Arctic Tern, Parasitic Jaeger (a menacing-looking bird that steals its prey from other birds), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ruby -crowned Kinglet, Northern Waterthrush, Brown Creeper, Black-backed woodpecker and Short-eared Owl. This is probably just the tip of the bird iceberg, but it’s a start of the Scott list.