The annual Celebration of Swans begins this weekend at Marsh Lake, heralding the arrival of spring for many Yukoners.
The largest birding event of the year, coordinated by Environment Yukon, runs April 16-24 at Swan Haven at M'Clintock Bay, about 50 kilometres south of Whitehorse.
Now in its 17th year, the popular festival gives visitors the chance to be thrilled by the sight and sound of huge flocks of trumpeter and tundra swans, ducks and other birds returning to their northern breeding grounds.
About 10 per cent of Yukon's population is also expected to touch down at the centre, including 600 school children, some from as far away as Skagway, Alaska.
Besides providing an opportunity to see large numbers of migratory birds, the Swan Haven interpretive centre has also helped reduce human impact on the birds, according to Yukon Government wildlife viewing biologist Bruce Bennett.
The Marsh Lake site is one of five key staging areas for swans in the Yukon.
Trumpeters are the first to arrive, because their long necks allow them to forage in deeper water. Their annual journey will eventually take them as far north as Two Moose Lake on the Dempster Highway.
Last year, Swan Haven hosted a huge turnout of trumpeters, with over 2,400 arriving by April 7. According to Bennett, that is the largest number of trumpeter swans recorded in one place at the same time.
The trumpeters are followed by diving ducks, such as mergansers and common goldeneyes, that feed on broken bits of roots and insects stirred up by the trumpeters.
Then come the tundra swans, en route to the northern coast of Alaska.
Before the interpretive centre was established, people boating or walking their dogs along the shoreline would often disturb the birds without realizing it, Bennett says.
This could cause the birds to stop feeding, or interrupt the rest they needed to continue their northerly journey.
Special events at this year's Celebration of Swans include a talk on "Real Raptors" by Dr. Dan Hart from the American Eagle Foundation in Haines, Alaska.
Swan Haven is open to the public on weekdays from 5–9 pm and on weekends from noon to 7 pm. Except for school tours, it is closed until 5 pm on weekdays.
On-site staff includes bird bander and expert Jukka Jantunen, who has been counting birds and people at the site each April for at least a decade.
For more information, check out the Celebration of Swans on the Environment Yukon website at http://www.environmentyukon.gov.yk.ca/wildlifebiodiversity/swanhaven.php or look for the calendar of events in your mailbox or community library.
Yukon Bird Club Field Trips
This year the Yukon Bird Club has organized mare than 20 free events with local birders to birding hotspots in Whitehorse and the communities.
The first trip takes place April 19 with an "explore spring at Hidden Lakes" event in Riverdale. Meet Ione Christensen at 6:30 pm at the fish ladder. (Subject to snow levels; please phone Ione at 667-7390 to confirm.)
Helmut Grünberg will lead a trip to find shrikes and bluebirds on the Alaska Highway on April 21. Meet at the Porter Creek Super A at 6:30 pm.
Stay tuned for the next article about upcoming Yukon Bird Club trips and other birding events slated for this spring and summer.