There are some birds that you often hear, but seldom see.
The Common Yellowthroat (a type of warbler) is one of those birds.
A few weeks ago I saw my first yellowthroat while exploring the “duck ponds” behind Yukon College, on the edge of the Takhini subdivision.
This colourful songbird has a striking yellow front and black patch below the eyes that gives it a sort of a Zorro look. It’s larger and bolder than the plain yellow warbler, and just as vocal.
Its song—a sort of “witchety-witchety-witchety-witch” noise—is one of the most common in wetlands areas, says Katie Aitken, an ornithology instructor at the college.
“It’s not as easy to get a visual on this bird, which lives in thick shrubs,” she says.
The Takhini ponds are one of the few places in Whitehorse where such a glimpse is almost a promise–or at least a pretty good bet.
Aitken is leading a Yukon Bird Club trip to the ponds on Friday evening (June 11). If you haven’t yet joined one of the club’s outings, this one offers something for everyone.
“We start at the Yukon Arts Centre parking lot and then descend down the trail and a hill right next to the ponds,” says Aitken, “so we see a bit of everything—forest birds, wetlands birds, and water birds …The nice thing about these ponds is that they are small and very accessible, and once you hear a bird, there’s a good chance you can track it to a visible spot.”
The duck ponds are part of the McIntyre wetlands, a rich and productive area for all kinds of birds. Last year was the first time Aitken offered the trip, and the group she led was also thrilled to see a Sora. It’s a rail—a grey and brown marsh bird sometimes found in the southern Yukon that likes to hide out in the reeds. It’s also one of those species you “never ever see but often hear.” Helpfully, they say their name: a loud “so-RA, so-RA“.
Another benefit of bird-watching in this area that you can get very close to the shore, but you don’t need rubber boots.
Last year this time, Katie and her group saw lots of birds including, a belted kingfisher, “tons” of eagles (“they probably nest nearby as we see a lot of juveniles”), white-crowned sparrows, robins, chipping sparrows, and Swainson’s thrushes. This thrush, slightly smaller than a robin and rather drab in its plumage, has one of the most memorable evening songs of the forest.
The McIntyre wetlands complex—including these ponds and others along the Fish Lake Road and in Porter Creek—is one of the City’s only contiguous corridors for wildlife and serves as an important travel zone for birds and mammals. Aitken has seen muskrat there, and the area is also visited by moose, bear and coyotes.
Like all of the Yukon Bird Club field trip leaders, Aitken is volunteering her time to share her knowledge and love of birds with others. She has a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in bird ecology, and teaches a second-year science course at the College. (Her course is another a good way to learn a lot more about birds.)
The Yukon Bird Club trip is part of a week-end of events aimed at creating awareness and appreciation of the special values of the McIntyre Creek area.
The trip to the Takhini duck ponds begins at 7 p.m. this Friday, June 11 and everyone is welcome. Meet at the parking lot at the Yukon Arts Centre. Bring binoculars and wear footwear suitable for a steep, if short, descent.