Wildlife viewing program offers free nature walks and talks

What do mushrooms, squirrels, Kokanee salmon, a salt lake and elk have in common? They’re all things you can see in the upcoming Wild Discoveries events hosted by Environment Yukon over the next month.  From a focus on fungi to how elk attract mates, the free evening hikes and talks are being held in and around Whitehorse.

Scott Cameron, wildlife viewing technician, said the first events are all about mushrooms. Local expert Sam Skinner (aka the mushroom man) will give a keynote talk during “mushrooms 101: A fungal primer,” taking place Aug. 20 at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. This new event will serve as an introduction to fungi in all its forms, including how they grow and how they differ from plants and animals. There will be reference resources to view as well as a question and answer session. Two forest walks (dubbed “mushroom power-up”) follow on Aug. 21 and 22. There is a registration waitlist for these events, which focus on the biology and identification of mushrooms.

“Yukon’s great salt lake” is scheduled for Aug. 27 at the Takhini Salt Flats, just west of town. Well-known biologist Bruce Bennett will lead a short hike (boots are recommended) while explaining the salt deposits and rare plants.

“It’s a really pleasant walk in open forest and meadow and Bruce has some good stories about the lake site and what grows there,” Cameron said. One such plant is the sea asparagus, a succulent tube-like plant that turns bright red, in dramatic contrast to the salt deposits.

For a fishy experience, plan to attend “Red fish, blue fish!” The Sept. 4 event includes a visit to Scout Lake, where fisheries biologists will discuss Kokanee salmon, a smaller and landlocked type of sockeye that’s stocked there. During the spawning season, its colour changes from blue and silver to a vibrant orange-red.

“You can usually see them ‘schooled up’ by the shore,” said Cameron. Participants will learn about the fish and its habitat by using nets and perhaps flipping over rocks to see what fish eat.

On Sept. 12, “winter is coming” involves a three kilometre walk in the Hidden Lakes area off Chadburn Lake Road to investigate how animals and birds are getting ready for our coldest season. “We’ll talk about squirrels caching food, bird migration, bear hibernation and the differences between these survival strategies,” Cameron said. “We might see beavers preparing for winter here too.”

The final event of the season is “elk bugling.” It takes place in the Takhini burn area on Sept. 20. “Hearing elk during the rutting season is the goal,” Cameron said. “The males have a high-pitched scream (like a bugle). It’s quite different.” Cameron said some elk are radio-collared, so they’re easier to find. Staff will have binoculars and scopes to use, or attendees can bring their own.

For more details on the Wild Discoveries events (including car-pooling opportunities), visit Yukon.ca, check @YukonWildlifeViewing on Instagram, or call 867-667-8291.

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