The following morning, June 5, we found our course soon after pushing off. Below Primeau Lake we ran Crooked Rapid and part of Knee Rapid, after making a short portage over the rocks at its head where the first inrush of water broke angrily over a rocky dip in elevation. We had not long left Knee Rapid when a Black Bear was sighted on the north shore, wading in the water in search of fish, as is a common habit with them in summer. The canoe was run ashore, and as the animal ambled into the woods, for it had seen or scented us, I tried a long shot at about 300 yards, but failed to bring it down.
The greater part of the day was spent travelling a zigzag course through Knee Lake, a long, extensive sheet of water, and we camped toward sundown well up to the north-east end, where should lie the river outlet.
Knee Lake, like the others, was very irregular in shape, and contained many islands. The rough hilly north shore was often less densely wooded, and, here and there, ranged along the lake for a considerable distance, were bare grass-hills scantily scrub-grown.
During the afternoon we came on a pair of Bald Eagles nesting on a prominent point on the west shore of a side-channel on Knee Lake. The huge, twig-constructed nest was on the top of a decayed spruce tree, and contained one well-grown young bird.
To-day was a lean one for securing specimens. I note that it was remarkable that I saw no hawks in this territory, and had not seen one since leaving Lake Ile a la Crosse-though up to that time I had seen a fair number and had secured one or two skins. It bears out that which I have always experienced in Canada-that birds are remarkably local, principally because, in my humble opinion, in such a vast country, they are free to select ground of nature most attractive to their habits of feeding, and most remote from their natural enemies. I do not include man and gun as " natural " enemies, for they have invaded the country after the habits of the birds were inherent. Large numbers of some species, such as geese and cranes, have had the wisdom to seek new haunts north of the line of civilisation. All of the edible species that remain within the settled country, such as Sharp-tailed Grouse, Pinnated Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, ducks of many species, geese, and cranes-all are diminishing, some even threatened with extinction, like the buffalo and the Prong-horned Antelope; and that though the legitimate shooting season is open but for two brief weeks in the Fall (autumn) of the year.
With extracts from my field diary I will follow out the incidents of the remaining days we voyaged down the Churchill River; extracts which it is my hope will continue to serve to bring before the mind's eye of the reader something of the varied, wholly outdoor and untrammelled aspect of this great northern waterway.
Morning dull, threatening rain, high wind from north-west. Astir before 5 a.m. Cooked breakfast, and, as customary, the one meanwhile struck tent and packed canoe ready for embarking, while the other was employed over the fire. Mosquitoes were very troublesome when we came ashore last evening, and worried us all through the night. At all times at this season mosquitoes are in great numbers, but when they are particularly bad-swarming and biting with unshakable persistency-it is a certain sign that rain is near. Those insects, and black-flies and sand-flies at times, are the bane of summer travel in Canadian north territory. Out on the water they never trouble one, but on shore they pounce on one from the vegetation that is there, and are a constant jar to one's full pleasure. One should never set out, as I thoughtlessly did, without mosquito curtains; I would never again overlook to prepare against them. True they carry no disease, but in numbers and capacity to torment they far outstrip the malarial mosquito in Africa (Anopheles) in my experience.
We reached the east end of Knee Lake between 9 and 10 a.m. There were there, close to the exit from the lake, a small log cabin or two, on the north shore and on an island. Those were completely deserted of Indian or halfbreed : no sound was there, no contented smoke curled above the thatched roof to give welcome to lonely voyageur hungry for companionship and the sound of human voices. The inhabitants had gone, the men taking with them their womenfolk and their children, even their dogs. They had gone, perhaps, to meet the Treaty Party, perhaps to pitch their teepees at some favoured summer haunt where fish and fowl and beast were sufficient to feed them plentifully.
Invariably those log cabins of Indians are built-as those here were-on a site remarkable for the long stretches of water it commands : the sharp bend of a river, or the junction of two rivers, is most often chosen, where the hunter inhabitant can obtain, without moving from his door, an extensive view down at least two great watercourses, and see, perhaps, the passing of worthy game, and, seeing them, would then set out in chase.
At this point of Knee Lake there was a pair of ospreys nesting; magnificent, masterful birds- the " Fish Eagle " of the country. Their nest was on the top of a dead jack pine on a drear hillside scorched at some not long past date by a runaway bush fire. There grew there now, among the charred and blackened debris, the little ad-venturings of new green growth ; an uprising of little living things about the feet of the grave, grey, dismantled masts of trees that were dead and but monuments now of lives once lived.
When we were nearing the osprey's nest the male bird was seen to approach, against the wind on powerful wings, carrying in his talons as food for the sitting female a small pike about twelve inches long. This fish he carried not broadwise to the wind, but held parallel to the body, and with the head facing forward, so that it offered little resistance to the wind.
About 10.30 a.m. we passed the mouth of Haultain River, a stream from the north, about 300 feet wide where it empties into the Churchill River over shallow sand-bars. Here, in the marsh west of the river mouth, I spent some time observing bird-life. Five specimens were collected during the afternoon, and three nests of eggs were found.