Wildlife Viewing Changes on the Thelon, Burnside and Others
Why the Thelon and Burnside Rivers are “on hold”
Caribou by the thousand were almost guaranteed! The sweet spot each year was June 19. That was the date for beginning an arctic Burnside River trip with the best chance of viewing large numbers of migrating caribou. They would be returning from calving on the east side of Bathurst inlet, accompanied by wolves, grizzlies, foxes and raptors. A veritable wildlife extravaganza… but then it stopped, or did it? Where did they go? Well after some years of investigation, it seems they shifted their birthing destination to the WEST side of the inlet, and now they no longer cross the Burnside River in the same numbers. Gone with them is the parade of camp-followers, the carnivores and omnivores that exist in their midst and on their flanks. The fact that their population has dropped from 450,000 to only 16,000 animals is also likely a factor – and grave concern. Biologists and others are perplexed by the change. Another census is being conducted in June, 2018. That will provide a snapshot, but won’t change the realities.
The Thelon River is experiencing similar phenomena. Paddlers in recent years have experienced poor wildlife viewing, ironically, even in the Thelon Sanctuary. Muskoxen were once frequently viewed there along with an abundance of other species. Have they relocated? No one is certain, but Biologist Alex Hall claims that a full season of wildlife sightings on the Thelon in recent years, would have been a “bad day” of viewing in the 70’s. He further points out that the Beverly caribou herd, who’s range is more or less centered on the Thelon watershed had completely disappeared by 2010.
Until such time as we learn of improvement, we can only recommend these rivers as cultural and historic experiences.
The good news is we continue to have great wildlife viewing success on the Firth River.
- Classic Arctic adventure with plenty of wildlife viewing
- See caribou, muskox, grizzly, wolves, hawks, eagles and falcons
- Float across the Arctic Circle
- 12 river days
The Burnside River is frequently referred to as the “wildlife river” because you’re practically guaranteed top wildlife viewing and a classic Arctic adventure. Our Burnside River rafting trips in Nunavut, Canada are timed to coincide with the historic Bathurst Caribou migration.
Musk oxen and caribou are the two most commonly seen animals along the river. The Bathurst caribou herd, which numbers over 300,000 animals, crosses the river on its way to and from its calving grounds along the east side of Bathurst Inlet around the Elise River. Huge numbers of caribou often follow along the river in late June or early July. Wolves, which follow the herd, may be seen along the river and there are many good denning sites in the area. Musk oxen can be seen along the length of the river, appearing individually or in groups of 30 or more. Photographers can get quite close, but should keep in mind that musk oxen have been known to charge and cause serious injury. Grizzly bears are also seen along the river. Caution is advised in this regard when hiking or camping. We carry both bear spray and a shotgun as deterrents. Although we have had many bear sightings over the years, we have never had a problem. Wolverines, foxes, Arctic hares, Arctic ground squirrels and several other small mammals are also found. In the Wilberforce Hills region, there are many birds of prey. Notably, peregrine and gyrfalcon as well as golden eagles and rough-legged hawks. These magnificent birds make their nests on the rocky cliffs along the river.
We travel over 12 river days from the outlet of Kathawachaga Lake to the portage at Burnside Canyon near Bathurst Inlet, a journey of approximately 205 kilometres (130 miles) with an elevation drop of 385 metres (1275 feet).
Please note that hotel costs and meals while in Yellowknife are not included in the trip fee.
Prerequisites: None. Beginners welcome!
While following our checklist in the “What to Bring” package, please note the specific considerations for tundra rivers. All tundra trips require good quality foul weather gear. Rubber boots make excellent footwear – if you’re unsure of what to look for you’ll find good quality rubber boots in a sailing shop.
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