Spring at Tagish Narrows can be an amazing sight. As the ice melts over a thousand Trumpeter Swans gather along 6-mile River, as well as Tundra Swans, to rest and feed during April. Tagish Narrows is protected as an important migratory bird resting area, mainly for waterfowl. Hundreds of ducks of a wide variety of species stop to rest here alongside the swans, including Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Common Mergansers, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Green-winged Teals, Canvasbacks, and Gadwalls. Jukka Jantunen is hired every spring to monitor the main resting areas in the Yukon during spring migration: Swan Haven, Tagish Narrows, Johnson’s Crossing, and the southern end of Lake Labarge. He counts the number of swans and ducks at these areas during the main spring waterfowl migration all week, every week, no matter what the weather. It can be a tough job, especially when the wind is screaming or when the Bald Eagles are flushing all of the ducks over and over! Jukka’s latest count tallied 940 swans in total at Tagish Narrows.
I accompanied Jukka on one of his counts counts at Tagish Narrows last week (which he does from the Tagish Bridge), and he pointed out four new year species for me in less than ten minutes! The first was a Hooded Merganser, which was a lifer. It was a male in breeding plumage, and I was really excited when I saw it because I had always wanted to see one. Then he showed me a lone Canada Goose at the edge of the ice towards Marsh Lake, as well as a Ring-necked Duck and a pair of Buffleheads. I was really happy about these sightings not only because they were new for me for the year, but also because it put me in the lead of a competition one of my mentors, Ben Schonewille and I decided to have. The rules are simple: whoever gets the most species by the end of the year in the Yukon, wins! Ben had been in the lead until then, but he had to spend a couple of weeks in British Columbia which meant that he was temporarily out of the competition. Now he is back, and the birding is getting intense!
In the past week, waterfowl numbers have really been rising, and the raptor migration is underway. I’ve been quadding out to Tagish Bridge every evening that I am able to with my scope and camera to have a look around and see if anything new has stopped there to rest. Last Sunday I was lucky enough to not only see my first Green-winged Teals of the year, but also my lifer Short-eared Owl! I was unable to get photographs of either of them, but last Tuesday I saw a big flock of male Common Goldeneyes with only one or two females in it. All of the males were crowding around the females displaying by tipping their heads backwards onto their back, and making this really weird groaning call. They were close enough that I was able to take some pictures of them. This weekend hopefully I will go back to the bridge and see what is hanging out there again, and maybe get some more pictures!