Friday, 28 December 2012

Spring Flood

The Liard River was rising. Would be a record flood year, the experts said, due to the cold wet spring and heavy snowpack in the mountains. On June 7, when I left Watson Lake on a trip, I stopped at the Liard  River Bridge. The brown river had risen to within a few feet below the huge white sandbags placed on the riverbank after the 2007 flood.  A backhoe worked behind the big sandbags, adding smaller sandbags to increase the height and pushing dirt in behind the bags.

photo by J. Jantunen
At the nearby Albert Creek Bird Observatory, the spring work had ended. Ted and Jukka were taking their time removing the mist nets and packing up the banding equipment in hopes of catching some species that were late arrivals. The river is at least a kilometer from the site, but it's fed by creeks, marshes, a pond and a large lake located at the Observatory. When the water started rising in the river, it backed up to the Observatory. Ted and Jukka rushed to remove the equipment, but had to leave behind a few nets where the water had risen too fast.

photo by J. Jantunen  Ted walking down the road.
After the flood peaked June 8, Ted and Jukka put on chest waders and waded through chest high water to remove the nets. The high water mark on the trees was well over their heads.

photo by J. Jantunen

photo by S. Drury
When I returned on June 13, the large white sandbags lay flat on the riverbank, a lake had replaced the fields on both sides of the highway, and buildings were immersed in water.

On the dirt road leading to the  Bird Observatory, I stood at the top of the hill and watched knee-high water flowing from the pond and forest, across and down the road, into creeks, marshes and trails as it returned to the Liard River.

photo by J. Jantunen Water from the pond flowing over the road.
I returned to the Observatory on June 30. The stretch of road from the hill to the work station was clear of water, however, past this point, the road was covered by numerous rivulets and deep puddles. Forest trails, deepened by 12 years of use, were covered by standing water. Wooden planks used on the trails lay askew on top of bushes. Bridges that once spanned narrow creeks, sat in ruin along the banks. I splashed through the sodden forest, often jumping over narrow deep rivulets.  Grass, brush and tree branches were coated with mud up to a seven-foot height.

photo by S. Drury

A few weeks ago, this forest had been alive with birds singing and fluttering through the trees, squirrels scampering along branches, and muskrats preening themselves on the creek bank. Waterfowl swam in the pond or sat hidden on their nests in the long grass. Now, the forest was quiet, wet and dirty.

A sweet sound broke the silence. A familiar sound that I had heard every morning from the same tree for weeks during the banding season. I sloshed through the water to stand beside a tall poplar, where high above me, sang a white-throated sparrow. No matter what his territory looked like now, the sparrow sang to keep his claim knowing that life does return after disaster.


  1. What an adventure! I thinked I'd be creeped out by walking in water that deep, but I've seen too many scary movies. :)

  2. Fortunately in the Yukon, there are no snakes or any other evil water creatures. The challenge for Jukka and Ted would have been to keep on the narrow paths, and those are tricky in dry weather with roots and bumps.