A Welcome for Yukon Birds

The Yukon’s swans are returning earlier than usual to M’Clintock Bay at Marsh Lake and other open water areas.

The annual Celebration of Swans officially runs April 17 to 25 at Swan Haven’s interpretive centre, but the trumpeters began showing up early for the party this year.

“Normally you might see around 80 swans here on April 3,” said Jukka Jantunen, Swan Haven’s on-site interpreter and seasonal “bird man” for the Canadian Wildlife Service. “This year we had more than 1,000.”

The Centre, located 45 minutes outside Whitehorse off the Alaska Highway, is open until April 30.

Jantunen speculates that a warmer winter meant the birds didn’t stop much as they cruised their way north through the interior of BC from the Lower 48. The shallow open water areas at Marsh, Tagish and other lakes offer a “haven” for them where they can feed and rest relatively undisturbed during their long journey north.

Visitors to Swan Haven can also count on seeing “dabblers and divers” including pintails, goldeneyes, mallards and other ducks that like to hang out with the longer-necked swans. The swans do all the “heavy lifting” rooting out the lake bottom grasses.

The Yukon boasts 303 species of birds, with 195 nesting here and many of these migrants.

Most shorebirds and songbirds (like warblers) arrive in May.

Bird-watching events around spring migration help to celebrate the Yukon’s biodiversity, which is fitting since April is Biodiversity Month and 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity.

The tundra swans tend to arrive later in April, along with most of the ducks, and stay for shorter periods, but even they are showing up earlier. Jantunen says he has seen huge numbers of “tundras” land and stay for just a half-hour before heading north again, to nesting grounds as far as Siberia. “They have longer to go, and they are intent on getting there.”

Swans fly in family groups, with males and females pairing up from the flock at around three years of age, for life.

What do the younger ones do during this remarkable long-distance breeding journey?

“They kind of hang out, the males and females together.”

Jankonen adds, smiling, “It’s like the 60s all over again.”

As well as being an on-site expert, Jantonen will be giving a Bird Photography Workshop at Swan Haven on Sunday, April 18 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

What has he noticed about the migration over that time? There are more swans using the Tagish area (the Tagish Bridge is a favourite for swan watchers). “They seem to go there earlier and stay longer now.”

This year’s Celebration of Swans includes week-day interpretation from 5 to 9 p.m. and weekends from noon to 7 p.m. with school programs 9:30 a.m. To 3 p.m., until April 30.

There are also movie screenings on migratory birds at the Whitehorse Visitor Information Centre, a student art display and wildlife art exhibit until May 9 at the Marsh Lake Community Centre.

For details on these and other events, such as the Seniors’ Tea and Family Day, see the Yukon Celebrates Spring 2010 brochure, phone 667-8291 or visit www.yukonwild.ca.

Closer to Whitehorse, you don’t have to drive far to see incoming waterfowl: Schwatka Lake’s early open water also attracts swans, geese and ducks, too.

Lake Laberge is another popular waterfowl spot and so is the mouth of McIntyre Creek.

The Yukon Bird Club offers a wide range of free field trips for all levels of birders. Led by local biologists and long-time birdwatchers, the trips begin Wednesday, April 21 with the popular shrike and bluebird tour on the Alaska Highway, with trip leader Boris Dobrowolsky.

This season, the club is offering more than 20 trips including events in Whitehorse, Mayo, Haines Junction, Carcross, Faro, Teslin and Upper Liard and visits to bird observatories (banding and monitoring areas). Most occur in May and June with some trips during fall migration.

It’s a great time to get outside and enjoy the birds, says Yukon Bird Club president Helmut Grunberg.

Look for the field trip schedule, checklists and other Yukon Bird Club publications at http://www.yukonweb.com/community/ybc/ybcpub.html.

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