When the faint stirrings of fall migration begin, the Yukon bird banders open the nets for the Yukon Bird Observatories. Teslin Lake Bird Observatory (TLBO) opened July 23. It usually starts out pretty quiet, but over August the bird activity rapidly increases (The photo above records one of the busiest days during my stay so far.) until you can easily catch well over one-hundred birds on the busier days. Early in the season at this observatory the most movement is from local breeders and their fledglings such as Yellow-rumped Warblers and Swainson’s Thrush. They eventually give away to outstanding numbers of Alder Flycatchers. If you volunteer at TLBO you will see more Alder Flycatchers than you have seen in your entire life! Many other flycatchers are also caught; so far during my time volunteering at TLBO we have caught and banded all of the Yukon’s common flycatcher species (Least, Alder, Hammonds, Dusky, Yellow-bellied, and Olive-sided Flycatchers, as well as Western Wood Pewees) except for Say’s Pheobe. While I have been here two other girls were volunteering at the same time: Kelly Riggs from Missouri, and Abril Heredia from Mexico. Kelly volunteered at TLBO for 6 weeks, and Abril is staying for 2 1/2 months.
The most common species being caught currently at TLBO are Alder Flycatchers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Slate-coloured Juncos, and Yellow Warblers. However, this year is seeing some strange bird movement; species that usually migrate through in September started migrating sometime during the third week of August. These late-fall species mainly consist of Juncos, various other sparrows (such as White-crowned, Fox, and American Tree Sparrows) and Boreal Chickadees in the mist nets, as well as good numbers of American Robins and Townsend’s Solitaire flying above. These are signs of an early winter. On August 31st A Townsend’s Solitaire was captured in a mist net at Teslin Lake Bird Observatory, and is only the second bird of this species to be banded here. The Bander-in-Charge, Jukka Jantunen realized that he had just given away the second Solitaire at that observatory after he gave me permission to band and saw me take the bird out of the bag. He has never banded one there; the first was banded by Ben Schonewille, and the second by me. Jukka mentally kicked himself for giving permission to me to band without knowing exactly what it was that I had!
Another highlight for the observatory during my time volunteering in this past week was a Western Sandpiper on August 26th , a rare shorebird in the Yukon. It let Jukka and I approach very close and kept foraging along the water’s edge. After we had taken plenty of photos it flew off down the lake, southwards. August 31st brought us a Sanderling on the beach in front of the banding table, an uncommon shorebird for the Yukon.
Though there has been quite a bit of activity at the Mist Nets, the fly over migration has been fairly slow. Then suddenly, on August 28th, TLBO had its first really active fly over migration for the season! Over 6000 Greater White-fronted Geese were counted, and raptor movement was a steady flow. Many Red-tailed and Sharp-shinned Hawks were seen, as well as American Kestrels and Merlin. The highlight of the raptor migration for that day was a flock of twelve Swainson’s Hawks, followed by two more stragglers of the same species. Jukka Jantunen told me that it was the biggest flock of Swainson’s Hawks he had ever seen in the Yukon.
Sometimes a Sharp-shinned Hawk will fly down and get caught in a Mist Net. If it is discovered in the net, the extractors really have to run for it or the hawk will fly out of the net and escape. Most of the time they escape. However, While I was there we caught a hatch-year female Sharp-shinned Hawk, the biggest Sharp-shinned I have banded yet! TLBO’s first banding record for Merlin occurred August 29th and was banded by Kelly Riggs. This small raptor caused a lot of excitement at the banding table! Common, Pacific, and Red-throated Loons are seen regularly on the lake counts, as well as Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, Mallards, Pintails, Scaup species, American Wigeon, Red-necked Grebe, and Horned Grebe.
Visitors are always welcome to visit the observatory and see what is happening. To get to the observatory you walk down to Teslin Lake from around lot 19, and then turn right and follow the shore down. You will come across the banding table on the shore, and are welcome to come over and watch. Some days are very busy (Over 100 birds in a day), and other days are very quiet, with few birds being caught. If you have any questions concerning the Yukon Bird Observatories you can contact Ben Schonewille at firstname.lastname@example.org .