California Beach Bird Walk 2012

California Beach in mid to late May.

The California Beach walk was held on April 28th, and was one the new field trips offered by the Yukon Bird Club. I was asked by Tracy Allard (the 2012 Yukon Bird Club field trip coordinator) to lead it, and I happily accepted. I was excited and nervous at the same time, causing large butterflies to grow and flutter uncomfortably in my stomach. Though I lead and have led the Tagish Christmas Bird Count for the past three years, this was the first bird walk that I was doing specifically for the Yukon Bird Club. Tracy sent me a document with some trip tips for field trip leaders which I was grateful for, as well as some waivers and Yukon Bird Club membership forms for me to hand out to the participants. I visited California Beach regularly so I had an idea of what to expect on the walk.

The day arrived, and I met with 13 other birders and birdwatchers, including Helmut Grunberg, the president of the Yukon Bird Club, Tracy Allard, this years field trip coordinator for the Yukon Bird Club, and my friend Rachel Dawson of Rachel Dawson Photography at the Tagish bridge rest area. Everyone was recognizable as bird watchers; binoculars swung from their necks (except for mine) and some people had spotting scopes propped on their shoulders. Everyone carried a bird book, Sibley’s being the most popular. Once everyone seemed to be there I gave directions to California Beach and we all set off. The weather was very corporative for us; after a week of clouds the sky cleared off and allowed us warm sunny weather which made the walk all the more enjoyable. We set up our scopes right on the edge of the California Beach parking lot where we could look over the melting mudflats from above.

The first birds seen was a flock of Horned Larks foraging on the exposed sand along with a pair of Killdeer. I think that they were the first ones of the year for everyone there, perhaps the first of the season. It quickly became apparent that Bonaparte’s Gulls were very numerous; their croaking calls came from all over the lake. Nearby a pair of Green-winged Teal dabbled in the shallow water, the sun glinting off of the male’s green head marking. Some Common Mergansers and Mallards were also seen. Meanwhile a Ruffed Grouse drummed somewhere in the distance and a Northern Flicker called boldly from nearby. All of the birdwatchers were able to look through the scopes to have some magnificent views of the birds that cooperated with us by staying in one place, including the teal pair. After scoping all that there was to see, we set off down the road in search of forest birds such as warblers, grouse, and woodpeckers. Helmut stayed behind to continue monitoring the mudflats and found a juvenile Bald Eagle to add to our trip list.

Our walk was quiet at first, but we soon came across a flock of Boreal Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. We enjoyed trying to ID the chickadees by song before hunting them down to get a visual. The juncos also provided us with some interesting alterations in song, their buzzing melodies changing in pitch and speed. A Robin chattered in the trees, and suddenly a medium-sized raptor flew overhead to quickly disappear into the trees. It looked like a harrier, but since our glimpse was so quick and unexpected we couldn’t call it. We reached one of my favourite spots for scoping; a sand hill overlooking the lake and displaying a beautiful view of the water framed by mountains. Some of the birders exclaimed that they would like to move there, such was the beauty of the location. Many Northern Pintails were in plain sight, and four American Pipits were foraging on shore, alerting us to their presence with their calls: ‘pipit! pipit!’. We lingered for a while, admiring the bird life and landscape before we reluctantly started back to the vehicles to end the walk.

Thank you to everyone who attended this bird walk!

More Yukon bird Club field trips are coming up; you can view the trip schedule at this link: Field Trips.

Tagish Lake in mid-April


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