Fall is a season of change and beauty. For Yukoners it is also the chance to witness the migration of thousands of geese, swans, ducks and other migratory species.
After coming north to nest and rear their young, our summer visitors are now heading south to seek out warmer climes and wintering grounds.
One of the best places to observe this migration is along our larger lakes, which serve as vital resting stops.
The Yukon Bird Club offers a number of fall trips to enjoy migration, including the last trip of the year – this Sunday – to Lake Laberge.
Located just a half hour from Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway, this long yet narrow lake body, through which the Yukon River flows, is a great spot to birdwatch.
From mid-September to mid-October its large bays, such as Shallow Bay and Jackfish Bay, and also Deep Creek, can sometimes be crammed with flocks of ducks. Swans will show up later in October.
“We usually see a nice cross-section of waterfowl,” says trip leader Ione Christensen.
One of the best places to view the incoming migrants is at Shallow Bay. In past years up to 1,000 mallards have been seen here, and sometimes thousands of Canada geese.
Dabbling ducks such as mallards, American wigeon, northern pintail and others that graze underwater with their bums in the air, and diving ducks (such as lesser scaup, Barrow’s goldeneye, and bufflehead) are commonly seen.
At Jackfish Bay you might get a glimpse of the double-crested cormorant, a rare Yukon breeder which nests at Richtofen Island.
Yellow-billed loons also make a special appearance, lingering on some lakes (last year there were record numbers seen, some even at Schwatka Lake).
And where there are ducks there are also raptors (bald eagles, northern harriers and perhaps a passing peregrine falcon) looking for a duck dinner.
This is the fourth time Christensen has led the trip. One of the busiest trip leaders this year – she’s taken groups to Hidden Lakes, Fish Lake and Schwatka Lake – the septuagenarian has been enjoying Yukon birds since she was a young girl at Fort Selkirk.
Last year the Laberge trip was cancelled due to icy roads so it’s best to register in advance. You can call Christensen at 667-7390 and she will contact you if the trip is cancelled.
If you want to learn more about the birds of fall, Christensen and Lee Kubica will host a Yukon Bird Club photo presentation on October 21 at 7 pm at Hellaby Hall.
They’ll discuss the birds that remain after our summer guests have disappeared: woodpeckers, owls, and our constant companions – the ravens, chickadees, nuthatches and grosbeaks, among others. And it’s time to think about birdfeeders.
Watch for ads in the coming weeks.