Bald eagle and swans on the Lewes River Trail

I’ve been so busy that I’m now 3 weeks behind on the blog, but there have been some very cool things happening so I’m going to catch up rather than skip a lot.

This post is about 2 hikes on what I’m calling the Lewes River Trail, because it starts at the Lewes River Dam. It’s actually the Yukon River, but historically it was called the Lewes and in some contexts we keep that name. These hikes were on April 25th and 26th. On the first one I had a superb encounter with a bald eagle and some very active swans – partly as a result of those, there are 37 photos in this post. On the second hike there was no bird activity but I hiked out to the end of the trail for the first time.

The first photo was shot at 10:45 on April 25th, from Km 1394 of the Alaska Highway. The destination for this hike was a bald eagle nest I’ve visited before – it was located above the marshy area to the right in the photo, on the north side of the Yukon River.

Yukon River from Km 1394 of the Alaska Highway
At the Yukon River Bridge is a large rest area, which is also the access to the Lewes River Dam.

Yukon River Bridge rest area, Alaska Highway
The Lewes River Dam has a very cool set of hand-operated locks to allow small boats to pass. Sometimes people decide it would be run to run the “rapids” through a gate – and sometimes rescue crews are then called.

Lewes River Dam warning sign
By 11:10, the dogs and I, and my friend Kevin and his dog, were already high above the river on the trail, which begins as an ATV trail at the dam, following the Yukon River downstream towards Whitehorse.

Lewes River Trail, Yukon
Five minutes from there, the trail descended into the very dry poplar, spruce, and pine forest.

Lewes River Trail, Yukon
The trail does some descents and ascents as it takes short-cuts across some very large sweeps of the bench from an ancient Yukon level.

Lewes River Trail, Yukon
The views of the river and distant mountains from most of the trail are wonderful.

Lewes River Trail, Yukon
Some migrating Trumpeter swans approached from the Marsh Lake area, and landed on the river below me.

Trumpeter swan landing on the Yukon River near Whitehorse
All of a sudden at 11:30 there was a bald eagle right in front of me. The branch he was sitting on was low and only 10 feet from the trail.

Bald eagle along the Yukon River near Whitehorse
I switched to my 100-400mm lens and moved closer – he showed no signs that he was bothered by us. When we first saw him, Tucker got excited, but as always, when I told him to be quiet, he did. Bella has always been great about these encounters.

Bald eagle along the Yukon River near Whitehorse
The eagle wasn’t a big surprise – there is often a sentry there, guarding the nearby nest. But there was a problem this time – the nest was gone! I finally realized that it was laying on the ground, probably toppled by a severe wind storm a couple of days before.

Bald eagle along the Yukon River near Whitehorse
In the next photo, he was watching a small plane pass over. He may have been still trying to comprehend what had happened – were the ratty tail feathers a sign of his stress? This photo was shot at 400mm and then cropped, so the equivalent of about 1000mmm.

Bald eagle along the Yukon River near Whitehorse
After spending about 10 minutes with the eagle, we continued on down the trail. There were probably 50-60 swans on the river below us.

Lewes River Trail, Yukon

Trumpeter swans on the Yukon River near Whitehorse

There was enough activity that I switched back to my 100-400mm lens, and was soon rewarded with some flights.

Trumpeter swans flying over the Yukon River near Whitehorse

Trumpeter swans flying over the Yukon River near Whitehorse

Trumpeter swans flying over the Yukon River near Whitehorse

We reached a spot on the trail where erosion of the bank had brought the trail very close to a sheer drop. The way around it involved some bushwhacking over deadfalls and juniper bushes that would be too much for little Tucker, so we headed back.

In the next photo, the bald eagle nest can be seen on the ground. How sad – we could only hope that there were no eggs or chicks yet.

Fallen bald eagle nest along the Yukon River near Whitehorse.

That evening, the dogs and I hiked to the site of Canyon City, which I wrote about in my last post. Later, I talked to someone on Facebook who had been in to the bald eagle nest a few days before, and an eagle was sitting on it. Bad news – I had to go back for another look.

Just after 1:00 the next afternoon, I was back on the rough dirt road leading to the Lewes River Dam. This time, I left Bella an Tucker at home so I could see how far I could get on the trail.

The rough dirt road leading to the Lewes River Dam


The rough dirt road leading to the Lewes River Dam near Whitehorse
The next photo shows the 4×4/ATV trail that leads up to the bench above the dam.

4x4/ATV trail above the Lewes River Dam
The vehicle trail just takes people up to the great views, then there’s a spot to turn around and the hiking trail continues.

4x4 / ATV trail above the Lewes River Dam near Whitehorse
Back into the forest at 1:25.

Lewes River Trail, Yukon
The temperature had dropped to -10°C that morning, and the Prairie crocuses didn’t look too happy about it. They’re tough, though.

Crocuses along the Lewes River Trail, Yukon
The number of trees along the trail that have been freshly cut by beaver is quite amazing.

Beaver-cut trees along the Yukon River near Whitehorse
The next photo better shows just how steep and far it is from those trees to the Yukon River. Busy beavers!

Beaver-cut trees along the Yukon River near Whitehorse
I dropped down to the bald eagle nest for a close look, to see if I could find any sign that it had been in use. I dreaded the thought of finding anything, but I didn’t. If eggs or chicks had been present, there were buried under the hundreds of pounds of sticks and grass that the nest was built with, or cleaned up.

Fallen bald eagle nest along the Yukon River near Whitehorse
Continuing downriver at 1:45.

Lewes River Trail, Yukon
There were lots of crocuses along the trail, but none were in very good condition anymore.

Crocuses along the Lewes River Trail, Yukon
The bad section of trail that stopped us the previous day is just ahead in the next photo. By myself, it was easy to navigate around.

Lewes River Trail, Yukon
At 2:05, a steep trail dropped down to the river, and the trail ahead got very faint – this was obviously as far as most people go.

Lewes River Trail, Yukon
At the bottom of that trail is this nice campsite that looks like it gets a fair bit of use.

Campsite along the Lewes River Trail, Yukon
At these record low water levels, there’s even a nice sandy beach there. There had been no eagle, and even the swans didn’t want me within a kilometer this day – quite a change from the previous day.

Sandy beach along the Yukon River near Whitehorse
I only stayed there for about 15 minutes, then started back towards the car. I noted that a deer had followed me up the trail, though I didn’t see him/her.

Deer tracks on a Yukon hiking trail.
Almost back to the Lewes River Dam and the Yukon River Bridge, right at 3:00. For a short outing (2 hours), this is an exceptionally nice trail.

Lewes River Dam and the Yukon River Bridge
And finally, a map of trail as recorded by my Garmin inReach.

Map of the Lewes River Trail


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