My Yukon Birdathon

Male Pine Grosbeak

The moment that I had been waiting for all year finally arrived. On May 27, Friday, at 5:00pm, the Yukon Birdathon began. I had prepared for it’s coming beforehand; I had my equipment clean and ready to go, my backpack was filled with the things I would need, and had my camera and binoculars hanging off my shoulder. I was ready to go, and very excited! I set off birding around the yard first, because during the day I had heard about 15 species singing. I instantly checked off Ruby-crowned Kinglet, the first species for the birdathon. This kinglet had been tirelessly singing like crazy all month, every day, all day. Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Boreal Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Sisken, Common Redpoll, and White-winged Crossbill followed soon after. Just when I thought I had everything singing in and around the yard, I stumbled across a male Pine Grosbeak foraging on the lawn. I had not seen one all spring, and it seemed to have shown up just so that I could tick it off on my checklist. It was very tame, and let me slowly creep up to it to take a photograph.

California Beach

Next I strapped my tripod onto my bike, slung my scope and backpack on my back, and set off for California Beach. The forest fire smoke from Faro had been blown to Tagish, and I could see at California Beach just how smokey it was. The mountains were hazy and foggy; some were not even visible. It was beautifully warm and sunny, with no wind. Perfect conditions for birding. I did not see much at the beach though. I checked off Gray Jay, Bald Eagle, Mew and Herring Gull, but that was pretty much it.

6-mile River

The next morning Dad, my little brother Toren, and I left at 10am for a full day of birding for the birdathon. I had a list of places to visit during the day, and the first was a little beaver pond down the road from our house. As I opened to door, the loud chorus of many different melodies bombarded my ears.  The beautiful songs were hard to separate at first, but I could hear Common Yellowthroat, Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, and Rusty Blackbirds. Two male Rusty Blackbirds flew past me and perched in a tree. I had a very good look at them through my scope. Their pale yellow eyes were bright against the coal-black of their feathers. At another little pond we spotted Red-winged Blackbirds and a single Spotted Sandpiper.

Toren birding at the Beaver Pond

Judas Creek was much quieter than it had been on the birdathon last year. We still found a few cool species, such as Horned Grebe, Arctic Tern, Blackpoll Warbler, Greater Scaup, and Greater White Fronted Goose. I was not expecting the goose, so I was very pleased with that sighting. Blackpoll warblers were crawling all over the willows, and through the binoculars I had some spectacular looks at them. One of the prettiest male Yellow Warblers I have ever seen was singing his little heart out at the top of a poplar. The bright, sunshine yellow feathers and warm, red streaks seemed to glow from within the green leaves.

Toren and Dad scanning Marsh Lake from the Judas Creek Marina.

Our next stop was one of the places I was looking forward to the very most. A Saw-whet Owl had been heard singing in one yard beside Marsh Lake many times through the spring, and after receiving permission from the people living there we went hunting for the small owl. Nobody has ever gotten a Saw-whet Owl on the Yukon Birdathon, so we were aiming to be the first. We were having no luck, and I was just heading back to Dad and giving up when my mentor Cameron Eckert pulled in the driveway. He thought we might be there, and stopped to help us find the owl. All four of us scanned the trees and Cameron even tried calling it in, but we were out of luck. It was probably watching us quietly from deep within a tree while we were searching. Before we left, Cameron pointed out a Mountain Chickadee up in a tree, and the song of a Warbling Vireo to me. We now had the complete set of common Yukon chickadees: Black-capped, Boreal, and Mountain Chickadees. Then Cameron left for Judas Creek, and we headed for Whitehorse.

Black-capped Chickadee

After stopping at a couple more small ponds alongside the highway, we arrived at Schwatka Lake. I had heard that Shwatka Lake is good for scoters, so we decided to find out for ourselves. the lake was pretty empty; I could only see a flock of Mew and Herring Gulls down the lake near the shore. There were a few ducks on the far side of the lake, but they were too far away for identification so we went to the other side. This time when I focused my scope on the birds, they turned out to be female Surf Scoters! There was also a pair of spectacular looking Pacific Loons, only the second pair I have ever seen, and a small flock of Red-necked Grebes. Other lakes we visited were unsuccessful because of the number of other people also visiting. Our last stop of the Yukon Birdathon was the Whitehorse Sewage Lagoons. I had really wanted to go there because you are guaranteed to see Ruddy Ducks. Ruddy Ducks are a species of duck I have really wanted to see for a long time. They are such an interesting looking bird with their bright blue bills, rusty feathers, white under-tail feathers, and the way they always hold their stubby tails straight up.  When we arrived at the lagoons, we met up with Helmut Grunberg who was also birding there for the Yukon Birdathon. He pointed out the Ruddy Ducks right away, as well as Long-tailed Ducks and Lesser Scaup.

The Yukon Birdathon ended at 5pm on Saturday, May 28th. The was a BBQ being held at 6pm at the Robert Service Campground that all participants were invited to, so Toren and I went there. It was nice to see the bird club members again! The first hour of the BBQ was mostly chatting, and sharing stories and sightings from the day with other birders. Cameron Eckert and Pam Sinclair were there, as well as Jim Hawkings (who had coordinated this year’s Yukon Birdathon), and Helmut Grunberg. Jukka Jantunen, who was this year’s lead birder for the Yukon Birdathon had teamed up with Ben Schonewille and Ted Murphy-Kelly for the birdathon. They started birding around Whitehorse on Friday evening when the birdathon started, and then worked their way to Watson Lake through the night. They spent part of the next day birding Albert Creek and other nearby sites before making their way back to Whitehorse. They made the BBQ at 7pm, totally exhausted but with a great feeling of accomplishment. They had broken the record for the number of bird species seen in the Yukon on the Yukon Birdathon with a whopping 125 species. One of those species, the Saw-whet Owl roosting beside Marsh Lake was the first ever Saw-whet Owl seen on a Yukon Birdathon.

Toren reading our checklist

At every birdathon, there are awards and drawing for prizes. This years Raven Award was given to me. The award was a copy of “Birds of the Yukon Territory”, a book that I had been admiring since it first came out in the bookstores. The amount of information in this book is insane! I have never seen a book about birds with so much information in it. There are parts about the different landscapes that you can find in the Yukon, which landscapes are suited to which kinds of birds, endangered species, bird activity during each month of the year, First Nation legends and myths about birds, and a wealth of information about each species of bird that can be found in the Yukon. There is way more than what I have listed, but I have not actually sat down to read it yet; It is a thick book and will take a long time to read through. Many years of data and studies in the Yukon have been compiled into this one book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about Yukon birds. Near the end of the BBQ, Jim read the Yukon checklist, and the rest of us had to say what we had, or had not, seen. Toren was in charge of reading our checklist, and was very enthusiastic about it. All in all, our total species for the day was 73, 13 more than I had been expecting! All too soon, the birdathon and the BBQ came to an end and now I have to wait another whole year for the next one. This was mine and dads second birdathon, and Torens first. We all enjoyed it very much; it was amazing to see so many birds. If you are interested in doing the Yukon Birdathon next year, just contact the Yukon Bird Club at: yukonbirdclub@gmail.com .

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One response to “My Yukon Birdathon

  1. sounds like it was fun!!! great pics, btw! love the one of the 6 mile river! it is beautiful! well done!

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