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PostPosted: September 12th, 2019, 1:19 pm 
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Joined: August 27th, 2019, 12:14 pm
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Mudjatik Trip Report

First of all, thanks very much to Chris for his trip report from 2011! It was so nice to have an idea of what was coming every day. I figured I would write up another trip report in case anyone wanted a second opinion of the trip. :wink:

I paddled this route with fellow Wildlife Technician Sara for the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas in order to access some remote survey locations. We started each day with a pre-dawn hike to our survey locations, then broke camp and paddled to the next site in the late morning. The trip was 295 kilometers long and took us 17 days (15 days of paddling and 2 days of rest). The first few days with a long portage and Snag Creek were a bit of a slog, and the last days on the Churchill I could have lived without, but everything in between was very very nice. The Mudjatik is a lovely meandering river with only a few rapids, mostly either easy enough for rank amateurs to run or short enough that portages around them were no big deal.

If you wanted to make your life easier and skip the first few days of the trip, it would be worth asking your bush pilot if they could drop you on Solitude or Sandy Lake!

Check out this link for a Google Earth file of rapids and where we chose to camp: https://drive.google.com/file/d/10MyzbTilxJMZUpv4z-S7CJA8S8VH7M97/view?usp=sharing I would suggest looking at Bing Maps as their satellite imagery is much higher quality than Google in that area.

Day 1 – On June 18 we flew to Cree Lake using Voyage Air out of Buffalo Narrows. The pilot was able to drop us off south of Stony Narrows at the very south end of Cree Lake. It was quite windy and we spent some time floundering around and trying to get our bearings. We met a group of fishermen staying on the lake who checked in with us to make sure we were doing OK. They were monopolizing the best sandy beach in the area, so we made camp on top of a rocky peninsula at 57.231405, -107.099388.

Day 2 - We woke up at 3:30 to get our bird surveys done. Lots of tiny regenerating Jack Pine, with some Black Spruce and sphagnum bogs mixed in. We had several Rusty Blackbirds and Olive-sided Flycatchers (species at risk) as well as the typical northern boreal songbirds, Chipping Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, Palm Warblers, etc.

We got back to camp around 7:30, made breakfast, took down camp, and were on the water at 10:00. We quickly made it to the start of Brustad River, and paddled upriver on it for most of the day. We meandered through lots of very cool floating bog, and picked up more birds typical of grasslands (Savannah Sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Northern Harrier) who were loving the open habitat. We met several fishermen along the river, and one kind fellow gave us a Walleye!

We made it to Mitchell Lake that afternoon, feeling quite tired after all that upriver paddling. We camped at 57.141044, -107.173656, on top of another rocky hill that had recently been burned. We had a delicious meal of pan-fried fish over the fire and hit the sack at 7:00 PM.

Day 3 – Another early morning to do bird surveys. Nearly the whole morning we were in knee-high regenerating Jack Pine, with only a few point counts in mature forest. We found several Vesper Sparrows and Clay-coloured Sparrows, species more regularly detected on the prairie. We flushed up a Palm Warbler off of her nest, and spent a long time tracking down the Vespers to get a recording of their song. Back at camp we heard a beautiful duet of Common Loons, and some juvenile Gray Jays came to check out camp.

We finished the last bit of the Brustad, and paddled right by the connection we were supposed to make to the lake to the south of us. Good thing Sara was paying attention to her GPS! We quickly crossed that lake and made it to the start of Highland Portage. We weren’t able to find any trail to speak of, and it looked like that area had recently burned. It wasn’t terrible walking, though, mostly sandy soil with very low shrubs and ankle-high down logs. It was hot and buggy and with our full barrel of food and heavier-than-expected Clipper, it was a bit of a slog and took us a few hours to make the 900 m trek. A quick paddle across the next lake and we were at the start of the next portage. It was only 200 m long but we were tuckered out again, so we carried our food and gear across, left the canoe at the start, and camped halfway. A long day to only go 4.5 kilometers!

Day 4 – We had a bit of sleep in, waking up at 5:00 AM to finish the last three point counts we needed to do in that area. Just as we got back to the tent, a shaggy-looking black bear came for a visit. It ignored our yelling and made straight for our gear at the bottom of the hill. Eventually I went down, intending to spray it, but ended up chasing it several hundred meters from camp. We eventually backed away, and very quickly took down camp, carried the canoe across, and got on the water. A little motivation helped to make the portage happen faster!

We were happy to be paddling downriver, but Snag Creek got narrower and more twisting as it went on. We were able to paddle about a third of it, occasionally hopping out to help the canoe around tight bends. As we went on, we had to get out to haul the canoe over the grass at very tight bends more and more often, until it became faster to stay in the water and wade behind the canoe rather than keep jumping back in and out. Several hours of wading waist-deep and hauling, and one last terrible push through thick willows in chest-deep water, and we were FINALLY on the Gwillim River. The Gwillim was fast-flowing and kept pushing us into the shrubby outer banks of the river. It took us a little while to learn how to paddle through the currents. There were quite a few deadheads and sweepers in this section of the river, but they weren’t terribly hard to avoid even with the fast-flowing water.

The day ended with a lighting storm RIGHT on top of us as we approached Solitude Lake, with nowhere to take shelter except in the shrubby, boggy river edges. If there was any part of us that was still dry after Snag Creek, it got wet in the pouring rain. It let off as we got onto the lake. There was a lovely sandy beach right as we entered the lake, but who was enjoying the sandy banks but ANOTHER BLACK BEAR. We didn’t feel like another bear encounter that day so we paddled across the lake to camp at another beach at 57.036538, -107.239328. There was a cabin and outhouse there, but nobody home, so we walked down the beach a little bit and set up our tent. We were very happy to change into dry clothes and crawl into our sleeping bags that evening.

Day 5 – Another morning of bird surveys. We walked through about a kilometer of terrible wet sphagnum bog before making it into some mature Jack Pine forest, and found the common boreal songbirds. We picked up a few Orange-crowned Warblers, and got a sneak peak of the rapids.

We got on the water just before 10:00. The river was a bit wider and more gentle than it was north of Solitude Lake. We came across rapids and started the portage around them on river right at 57.019396, -107.217486. Just a 250 m portage around them, starting with a bit of a push through some burn. There was a trail along the southern half of the portage that ended at 57.017972, -107.214988. We made it to Sandy Lake in good time, but had a windy crossing. We camped on the second little lake south of Sandy, trying to get as close as possible to our survey locations for the next morning. We pitched our tent in a space between the deadfall at 56.913605, -107.282112.

Day 6 – Got up early for a short walk to our survey points. The habitat was varying successional stages of Jack Pine, from ankle-height to mature forest. I was getting bored of hearing nothing but Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Hermit Thrushes! We got rained on mid-morning, so we didn’t quite finish our surveys. We headed back to the tent, napped in the tent through the worst of the rain, then swam in the lake and washed our socks.

Day 7 – We had a cool, misty morning of surveys but we managed to finish them off. More boring Jack Pine surveys but we found an American Three-Toed Woodpecker nest on the way back to camp.

It was a calm, cool afternoon and we had a lovely paddle down the river to Loon Mud Lake. We found a Common Tern and Ring-billed Gull colony on the lake, with adorable fuzzball chicks. We camped on the eastern shore of the lake at 56.829085, -107.361956, on a lovely sandy beach. We had a delicious dinner of dehydrated chile and bannock, cooked over the fire.

Day 8 – The morning weather held out for us again and we had another morning of surveys in open Jack Pine forest. I was starting to feel like there were no plants in the world but Reindeer Lichen and Jack Pine, and no birds in the world but Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Hermit Thrushes.

We paddled the rest of the Gwillim that day and had the first of the run-able rapids just before the Gwillim joined the Mudjatik. They were easy to run and we were happy to finally get to the Mudjatik! We ran the first set of Little Grand rapids at 56.691723, -107.274634 and made a short carry/drag over the bushes at the second set at 56.691723, -107.274634. We camped that night on the island just past the second set at 56.684373, -107.284287.

We decided to try our first Harvest Foodworks dinner and prepared some “Sweet and Sour Oriental”. It did not specify exactly what was going to be in the meal. Turns out it was sweet and sour rice with balls of soy. I fed the soy balls to the river.

Day 9 – We paddled across the river in the morning to get to the mainland to do our surveys. We immediately got drenched in awful, swampy slime as we got out of the canoe, but had the rest of the day in open Jack Pine forest. I thought I was going to lose my mind.

That afternoon we made good progress on the fast-flowing river. We portaged around both of Grand Rapids at 56.663644, -107.369317 and 56.660681, -107.371445. We had lunch on the island just after Grand. We were surprised to find a pile of charcoal, a cast-iron pan, and a boatload of garbage on the island, including a large piece of steak and some baked potatoes. No wonder the bears in the area were happy to barge right into camp and start rummaging around, if folks are leaving steaks out for them to snack on! We were making good progress that day so after lunch we made a fire to burn all that garbage. That night we camped as close as possible to our survey locations on top of a steep sandy cutbank at 56.615924, -107.365071. There were lots of down trees at the top but we managed to squeeze our tent into an opening with not an inch to spare.

Day 10 – We FINALLY got some more variable habitat in our point counts the next morning. I have never been so happy to see a tamarack swamp! We picked up some boggy birds like Lincoln’s Sparrows, Tennessee Warblers, and Common Yellowthroats.

We needed to stay another night here to survey again the next morning, so we had the afternoon off to swim, wash our hair, and do some more laundry. The sun came out and it got quite hot. I went for a walk to try to find the nest of the Red-tailed Hawk that had been hanging around, but I had no luck. I should have just had another nap.

Day 11 – We finished off the surveys in an interesting spot with a bit of an esker that sloped down to an ephemeral stream. It was more open Jack Pine, unfortunately, but the landscape at least was interesting.

I was beginning to feel like a zombie after 11 days in a row of points counts, but it was easy paddling. We found that 10 km as the crow flies was about 20 km of paddling with all the meanders the river was making, but the current pushed us along at a good speed so the extra distance didn’t matter too much. We passed a transition of habitat and started seeing lots of big pockets of aspen, poplar, and birch, some of the first hardwood of the trip. We picked up the first Western Wood-pewees, Red-eyed Vireos, Black-and-white Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, and Least Flycatchers of the trip! It was interesting to see such a hard and fast transition of habitat and bird species. Nearing the end of the day, after 35 km of meanders, I was feeling like I could not make one single more paddle stroke so we camped on a nice flat open area at 56.475298, -107.491104.

Day 12 – We had good weather in the morning but decided to sleep in regardless because I needed to remedy the zombie situation. That afternoon we had a pleasant but drizzly paddle through more meanders. We got to our next campsite that afternoon at 56.360040, -107.520563, in a little path of live trees among the marsh and the burnover.

Day 13 – We had a terrible morning of surveys, wading through the wet, regenerating forest and climbing over slimy logs. It started raining on us midway through the morning but we completed most of what we had wanted to do.

We came upon Old Woman Rapids fairy quickly, and had a fairly easy time lining them on river right. The sun came out and we made good time to our next camp at 56.270168, -107.512720. It was a nice campsite, so of course there was more garbage lying around from previous visitors.

Day 14 – Wind and rain in the morning so we got to sleep in again. It drizzled on and off that afternoon and we ran all of the five sisters rapids. We had a spicy moment trying to avoid a large rock with the first of the sisters, but all of the others were very easy and we pretty much drifted down them without steering at all. After the third sister we stopped to cook up some bannock in a burnover, then did some birding. We found Red Crossbills, a baby Chipping Sparrow, a Wood-pewee nest with eggs, a Brown Creeper, and a Hermit Thrush nest with one egg! It was nice to be able to wander around in the forest without a timeline to follow.

We continued to make good progress that afternoon and quickly came up on Bear Rapids. We had been warned by Chris that they had “run Bear Rapids on river left, quite a ledge with a chute. We´ve shiped a good deal of water!” We got out of the canoe to take a look at the rapids, and they looked nice and flat and easy on river left. I thought to myself that these must be just a preliminary set of rapids before Bear Rapids started, so we went ahead and ran them. Well, there was actually quite a ledge with a chute, and we shiped a great deal of water. I thought for sure we were going to be swimming as we scraped over that ledge, but we managed to keep the canoe upright. We pulled off to the shore, bailed out the canoe, and had a good laugh at ourselves.

Just after Bear Rapids, we heard a funny screeching sound on river left. I had a sneaking suspicion about it, so we pulled off and started scanning the trees. It was one adult and one baby Northern Hawk Owl, calling back and forth to each other! A little farther down the river we heard a House Wren singing, another first for the trip.

That evening we camped at 56.156010, -107.623098, at a surprisingly nice little grove of trees surrounded by wetland. What a great day it had been!

Day 15 – Too windy and rainy for surveys again, so we had a nice long lie-in. We couldn’t travel very far because of where we needed to do our surveys, so we had a short but wet paddle to our next camp at 56.094891, -107.606600.

Day 16 – We had great weather but lots of blackflies for our morning surveys. It was challenging terrain, with lots of wet bogs and exposed rocky burnovers, but we picked up the first Connecticut Warblers of the trip as well as Mourning Warblers, Winter Wrens, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest with young, and an American Three-toed Woodpecker nest with young. It was neat to see all the curved bands of sedge near the river where the river channel used to be! We figured at one point the grove of trees where we were camped must have been an island.

We were worried about how hard our last day was going to be, so we tried to get as far as possible that afternoon. We ran the last of the rapids of the Mudjatik around the island to river left, another nice easy set with almost no steering. We joined the Churchill that afternoon and paddled to Leaf Rapids. We did a bit of lining but mostly walked alongside the canoe, floating upriver through the rapids. We portaged the first section of Drum rapids – holy guacamole that was some big water – and walked up most of the rest of it. It was very slow going with lots of tripping over the rocks and getting soaking wet. At about 8:30 PM we had been up and working hard for over 17 hours, and we finally called it quits. We made a terrible camp in a boggy burn, stamping down the stinging nettle and squeezing the tent into a space between the logs at 56.003234, -107.654008.

Day 17 – We thought we were all done with the rapids, but just around the corner from our campsite was one last set, which waded through again, cursing the whole way. The rest of the paddle was windy, and my wrists were starting to get angry with me after too many days of J strokes. We had one last windy crossing of Shagwenaw Lake, and pulled up to the beach near the Patuanak Co-op around 3:00PM. Kelly soon arrived to pick us up and we headed for an overnight stay at the cabins at Lac La Plonge.

To finish off, here's a shameless plug for the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas. If you're interested in birds or canoeing, or better yet BOTH, we want your help! The project is running through the summer of 2021 and we need birdwatchers and paddling guides. https://sk.birdatlas.ca/contact-us/


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PostPosted: September 15th, 2019, 7:54 pm 
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Joined: December 20th, 2003, 9:27 am
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Hi, Laura,
Really enjoyed your report especially all of the different species of birds you saw. I am definitely not a birder but it was interesting. You two worked really hard. Good on you.
I've been considering your trip for years so will add your report to my file.
Thanks for posting!


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PostPosted: September 15th, 2019, 9:06 pm 
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Joined: August 26th, 2008, 8:48 pm
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A paid canoe trip?! :thumbup:
Thanks for the report, it’s very interesting to hear about all of the birds, I’m usually too preoccupied with the toothy slimy wildlife in the water :D
All the best.
Molly


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PostPosted: September 26th, 2019, 3:08 pm 
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Location: Saskatoon
Thanks for the report, and for filling in the gaps in our bird knowledge about that not-well-travelled part of Saskatchewan.
Cheers,
Bryan

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