Evening Birding at California Beach

California Beach, May 5, 2011


A couple of nights ago I took Mom’s quad and went down to California Beach with all of my birding gear. California Beach is the name of the beach along Tagish Lake in the Yukon, and is only a 3 minute quad ride away from where I live. I had almost decided against going because of the weather, which was pretty miserable. It was overcast, windy, and cold, but I’m glad that I went anyways! The ice on the beach was almost all melted, exposing the vast stretch of rippled sand that follows alongside the lake. The river and lake at this time of year are very shrunken; in July all of this sand will be covered in water. I came that evening with the goal of getting a decent photograph of one of the many Bonaparte’s Gulls that had recently arrived. I set up my scope to have a look at what was hanging around first. I saw all of the usuals: Northern Pintail, Mallard, Green-winged teal, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Common Merganser, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, plus the Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans. Next I started checking out the gulls that were gathered on the far side of the river. Mew Gulls and Herring Gulls were there in plenty. I didn’t bother counting them because at that distance I couldn’t be sure if there was any different species mixed in, and it was hard for me to tell the Mew Gulls and Herring Gulls apart.
Bonaparte’s Gull


There was a huge number of Bonaparte’s Gulls lining the far shore, huddled together on the sand. Well, it was a huge number to me. I counted 124 at least, as far as I could see. I had never seen that many Bonaparte’s Gulls together before! Then, this is also my first spring with my very own spotting scope; last spring I had to ID birds at very close range. I put my scope safely back on the quad, then set out down the beach with my camera. I went for the closest Bonaparte’s Gulls that I could see, but they were much further away that I had thought looking at them through my scope. I slowly walked towards it in a zig-zag pattern to get closer. If you walk in zig-zag rather than a straight line, they won’t feel that you’re as much of a threat and will likely let you approach closer than if you walked towards them in a straight line. It’s a trick that my mentor Cameron Eckert taught me, and a very good trick it is!

Bonaparte's Gull


After taking a few pictures the Bonaparte’s Gull walked into the water and swam away, so I set out for another one. The next one I found was foraging along the water’s edge with a bunch of Herring and Mew Gulls. This one seemed tamer than the last one, and let me approach even closer. However, there was a certain distance that it wanted to keep me at. Once I reached the limit of that distance, it would start walking away from me at the same pace I was. The moment I stopped, it would also stop. It was standing in the water watching me as I crouched down on a point of sand sticking out into the lake. It was almost as if it knew I really wanted to take pictures of it. It was very cooroporative and posed for me, just as long as I stayed that certain distance away. It was like we had made an agreement of some sort without saying anything.


Lesser Yellowlegs


After spending a while with the Bonaparte’s Gull I took the quad and went further down the beach to look for shorebirds. I only had to go 300 meters before I found a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs foraging along the shore. I shut off the quad and took some pictures of them too. Every once in a while the Yellowlegs that I am assuming was the male, would stand up and sing this beautifully clear, wavering song, his breeding call. Then the other one, which I am assuming was the female, would watch him sing and then run or fly over and start foraging again beside him. As dusk fell, I checked off a few more species for the evening: Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, and Varied Thrush. I went home very happy that evening, because it turned out to be a really beautiful night after all.


Lesser Yellowlegs in Front of the Mountain


4 responses to “Evening Birding at California Beach

  1. Hi Shyloh, Thanks for the report on your evening birding at California Beach, on Marsh Lake. It sounds like it was a great trip, and I enjoyed your description of it. Bonaparte gulls are one of my favourites, too. We saw quite a few on the edge of the river past the Quartz Rd. wetlands on Thursday night’s Yukon Bird Club trip, with Jim Hawkings. One can usually see “Bonnies” hanging out at Hidden Lake in Riverdale during spring migration also. Your blog is great! Keep up the nice work.
    Jenny Trapnell

    • Shyloh! please correct my post – California Beach is at Tagish – not Marsh Lake?? Thanks!

  2. I really enjoy reading your blog. I do similar walks along the Yukon River in my neighbourhood of Hidden Valley and I share the delight that comes from seeing and hearing so many different species and coming home happy from having such a beautiful walk. Yesterday I heard my first Swainsons Thrush of the season and it was a lovely Mother’s Day gift. Keep up the good work Shyloh, your writing is wonderful.

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