April marks the glorious return of thousands of swans to the M’Clintock Bay area of Marsh Lake. This year is particularly special because it marks the 20th anniversary of Swan Haven Interpretive Centre, the facility that has been designed to help humans get a good look at the spectacle – without disturbing the migrating birds.
The origin of Swan Haven dates back to late 1980s when it was an open area where anyone could go. However, people would tend to get too close to the swans, which would scare them.
In the early 1990’s, the Girl Guides of Canada worked together with the Yukon government to create a space where people could get a good look at the visiting swans, but with enough distance between them that the swans weren’t spooked.
“The Girl Guides own the plot of land, but the Yukon government owns the building,” says Scott Cameron, wildlife-viewing technician for the Yukon Government.
The M’Clintock Bay area, located approximately 40 km south of Whitehorse is a perfect feeding ground for swans, because there is an abundance of pondweed, which is a staple food. On average, 4,200 human visitors come to Swan Haven every April to take in the sights and learn more about swans.
The most common species found at M’Clintock Bay are trumpeter swans and tundra swans.
“They come from the west coast, and stop at Swan Haven, before going to Alaska of the Northwest Territories to breed,” Cameron says.
Trumpeter and tundra swans look pretty much the same to the untrained eye.
“If you look at them from a distance, it is hard to tell them a part,” Cameron says. “But if you look close enough, the tundra swans have a yellow eye patch, whereas trumpeter swans do not. Also, their sounds are different. The trumpeter swan makes a musical sounding noise; the tundra is a bit more of a honking sound.”
To celebrate 20th anniversary of Swan Haven, new technological exhibits have been installed at the visitor centre.
“We have changed the displays to be more interactive, with some being game-based, and others being audio-based,” Cameron says.
The visitor centre also features look out points with built-in viewing scopes.
Every year Swan Haven celebrates the return of the swans with a series of public events. A calendar will be mailed out to Yukon residents with details, however, the events at Swan Haven will include a picnic and stories, a painting workshop, and an all-ages night of music on April 12; a photography and willow-weaving workshop on April 13; a spiritual celebration of swans on April 21; bird-banding on April 23; a seniors’ tea on April 26; and a weekend of family events on April 26 and 27.
Back in Whitehorse there will be a celebration of the 20th anniversary with a retrospective look at Swan Haven, taking place on April 16 at 7 p.m. at the Beringia Interpretive Centre, located on the Alaska Highway just south of the airport.
Admission to Swan Haven is free. The visitor centre will be open during April, but the grounds are open year round.
To access Swan Haven, take the Alaska Highway south until you see the Swan Haven sign near M’Clintock Bay. For more information go to the Swan Haven web page on the Yukon Government website.