Back in the early 1960s, I was involved in the capture and banding of waterfowl and consequently receiving the follow up data on just how far some of these birds travelled in their lifetime.
From that time on, I have been fascinated with the long distance annual migration of birds, butterflies and other winged creatures, as well as the short migrations of such animals as caribou and deer.
One long distance migrating bird, that is present in the Yukon, but not that common to see, is the amazing blackpoll warbler.
The male blackpoll warbler is only about 5 and a half inches in size.
These birds are known for their forage on insects: come the fall migration they will gorge themselves on insects to a point of doubling their normal weight.
Come the cool winds of winter, the warbler will take to the sky in large groups, reaching the altitudes of 3,000 feet.
Its eastward migration will take it towards the Atlantic Ocean and south towards their wintering grounds in Brazil, a flight of 2,500 miles non-stop, that could take up to 5 full days.
All this from a small bird that normally weighs about 4 ounces.
Most would think that on the return migration the birds would use the easterly route, but in the case of the warbler, this is not so. Instead they choose a more westerly migration up over Panama and west-central North America to the where the pine forests meet the tundra for their spring nesting.
The flight of the blackpoll warbler’s trip is amazing, but the Arctic tern outdoes all others in its migratory flight.
The tern is much larger than the small warbler. This bird stands close to 15 inches. The Arctic Tern has an amazing ability to almost stand still in flight. On my visit to the Arctic 11 years ago with my wife Lisa, we were amazed at the perfection in flight of the Arctic tern.
What is even more amazing is its record migration flight from the high ice fields to the southern Antarctic, a migration flight of more than 12,000 miles.
Animal behavior is an amazing, never-ending study and the research of all animal, fish and birds can lead you places around the world that you can hardly dream of. Migration can be only a few miles to thousands of miles. It can be from north to south but also from west to east – and that might surprise some.
In the spring of 1964 I came across a small water bird laying on the road. It was still alive and I picked it up and placed it by the heater of the cruiser. When I got home I took my books out and started to decipher what I had found.
It was an Atlantic puffin and I found that it was only the second time (1930s) such a bird had been found in the province of Ontario.
It died within hours and being a taxidermist at the time, I skinned out the smallest of all water birds and reported it to the District office.
Of course the bird is only found along the extreme eastern coastline and was thought to have been blown westward by a large Atlantic gail. The Atlantic puffin was taken by the Ontario Museum in Toronto and was kept there for record purpose.
Since that day the migration of birds, mammals and fish has given me a never-ending curiosity in their life behaviour.
In the early 1960s I did a 3-year life cycle research project of the Hungarian partridge through live trapping, weighing, sexing, releasing and following the many coveys (flocks) through their entire life cycle.
Should anyone be interested in this they can contact me and I will do my best to get you a copy of the life cycle of the Hungarian partridge from birth to its death. One of the most interesting three years of my life was being a conservation officer.