At the house where I was staying it was beautiful, sunny, and calm. However, once I left the shelter of the trees the wind ripped at my jacket. Maybe going birding at the bridge that day wasn’t such a good idea after all. Mom let me borrow her quad and I left for the bridge despite the wind, hopeful that the conditions would not be really bad. It didn’t take me long to get to Tagish Bridge, and when I did I quickly parked and evaluated the river. The birds were not super close to the bridge, but the majority were still along the easy-viewing area. Maybe this wouldn’t be a bad birding trip after all. I set up my scope halfway across the bridge and began counting the first duck I saw: Mallards. My counting method works like this: I start counting the first duck species I see and focus only on that species unless I see something unusual. Once the unusual bird is confirmed (or not), I continue counting my chosen duck species. Then I move on to another duck species when I’m finished. It may take longer to count, but for me it keeps things easy to remember as I write down my numbers. I do this for one side of the bridge at a time. The Mallards were by far the most plentiful duck. I moved on to the Canvasbacks and Northern Pintails next.
Suddenly a swallow flew through my field of vision in the scope. Violet-green? I followed it, trying desperately not to lose sight of it. They fly like chickens run, dodging every which way and changing direction when you least expect it. It was far away. It came closer, heading for the little creek on the west side of the river. I caught the sight of blue highlights, and saw the white chin, throat and underbelly… it disappeared in the trees. Tree Swallow, not Violet-green. The first of the season! I checked in my field guide to make sure I had it right. Violet-greens have white on their face which is noticeable in flight. The guide also said that they have a white almost-band across their rump which is also noticeable in flight. Unlike Tree Swallow, they have green plumage, not blue. This swallow had none of those things. It did however have the dark blue plumage, and the white throat of a Tree Swallow. Confirmed!
Resuming my count of Canvasbacks and Northern Pintails a few minutes later, a Merlin flew through my field of vision and perched on the branch of a dead snag. Very cool. I had a great look at the Canvasbacks; there was a pair in full sun not far from where I stood. My first-of-the-year Gadwall was also pretty close, giving me one of my best looks of them ever. Thier dull ‘Quack.’ could be heard among the Mallards raucous laughter. The wind was shaking my scope pretty badly when the wind gusts passed by. Thankfully they were just gusts and I could ID the birds further out in between them. The sun stayed out and it was warm enough I was comfortable in my hoodey and windbreaker. I was really enjoying myself and having fun; there is nothing like watching spring migration on the move, especially in Tagish. Tagish is one of the most important places in the Yukon for migrating birds. Anything and everything shows up here.
I finished doing my count on the Marsh Lake side of the bridge and turned to do the other side. I counted all of the Mallards and was just starting on Ring-necked Ducks when I saw it. Tagging along at the end of a line of Ring-necked Ducks was a male Hooded Merganser, his hood fully flared. He was close too, so my view thorugh the scope was breath-taking. I immediately called Cameron Eckert, the sightings and checklist coordinator for the Yukon Bird Club to report my sighting. After I hung up I snapped a few photos off the bridge. It wasn’t close enough to get good photos. I had to use all of my zoom which created a fuzzy and pixellated photo. Just record shots. Hooded Mergansers are rare but regular in the Yukon; they are seen every year but in very low numbers (ej. a pair). I noticed someone photographing the swans further down the bridge and thought I should inform him in case he was interested. Turns out it was a chance meeting with one of my blog readers 🙂 He does a lot of photography and has just started using birds as his subjects. You can view his photography at http://www.yukon-bearspirit.com/. I tried to find the Hooded Merganser for him in my scope but it must have flown away with all of the Mallards heading towards Marsh Lake. It was gone.
My last exciting bird of the day was the all-time earliest spring arrival record of Common Loon in the Yukon. When I first saw it, it was too far out to ID properly, but it looked like it had that loon shape. Later on when I rechecked it, it was much closer and easily identified. The shape, black head, and white neck ring was very distinctive.
Spring migration is one of the most exciting events for birders world-wide. Here in the Yukon, spring migration accompanies the melting of snow and the warming of the sun, a welcome change from our long, cold, and dark winters. I always feel happy and full of adrenaline when I go birding in the spring, because I never know what bird is going to show up at my birding haunts. Most of the time they are common birds, but occasionally something unusual or really rare shows up such as the Hooded Merganser. For birders, there is nothing quite like spending a spring morning or evening just watching the birds come through.
I left the bridge to the sound of Herring Gulls screaming overhead.
My List for this day (April 7) at Tagish Bridge is as follows:
Canada Geese 6
Trumpeter Swans 257
Northern Shoveler 4
Northern Pintail 4
Ring-necked Duck 10
Common Goldeneye 28
Hooded Merganser 1
Common Merganser 3
Common Loon 1
Bald Eagle 3
Northern Harrier 1
Herring Gull 22
Black-billed Magpie 1
Common Raven 9
Tree Swallow 1