My last post was only a week ago and yet I’ve fallen a couple of weeks behind when it comes to writing about bird migration. Our weather went from being cold, windy, and blizzardy, to screaming windy, and then to May. The sun finally came out, the wind died down, and temperatures rose as high as +20C; hot enough to cause the winter clothing layers to come off!
The swans and geese had reached their peak numbers during the blizzardy weather; in fact the peak day for geese and Tundra Swans was April 29th, the same day that I led my bird walk here in Tagish. Thankfully the weather cleared that evening just for us. Earlier in the day, Jukka had counted about 1800 swans in total and many hundreds of geese. When my group (2 people) and I arrived at the bridge that evening we observed over 2000 swans. A huge flock of over 300 Tundra Swans flew low over the river at tree top level at one point, passing overhead and continuing on to Swan Haven down Mash Lake. These were the highest numbers of swans that Jukka had ever heard of or witnessed in Tagish during spring. It was a truly breath-taking sight! The river was choked with large white birds.
There were hundreds of Canada and Greater White Fronted Geese, plus 19 Cackling Geese (Minima subspecies) that day as well. I had seen these small lifer Cacklers for my very first time earlier in the day while birding with Jukka. They are a goose species I have kept an eye out for through several springs but was never lucky enough to see one. It was surprising seeing exactly how small they were! They are tiny: exactly the same size as the Mallards that were floating around. They have bright chestnut breasts, unlike the pale breasts of Canada Geese, and tiny, stubby, little bills. Their call sounds higher pitched than that of a Canada Goose. This spring is excellent and strange in terms of Cackling Goose numbers. Normally a few are seen during spring migration every year, but this year there are flocks of hundreds being counted in some areas of the territory. Cameron Eckert and Pam Sinclair counted 467 Cackling Geese in total along the Alaska Highway from the Beaver Creek Yukon border to Whitehorse on May 7th.
Swans and Geese are not the only abundant birds right now; the late spring and snow melt is causing most species to cluster together in the few areas where it is thawed enough for them to find food. This spring we are seeing really high numbers of Varied Thrush, American Tree Sparrows and Golden-crowned Sparrows too, birds that normally migrate through and to higher altitude areas. Instead, they are clustering in the warming valleys such as Tagish where the snow is quickly receding. Today there were Golden-crowned Sparrows everywhere!
Last Monday my little sister Sabrina and I joined Jukka for a solid 5 hours of birding at Tagish Bridge. It lasted for five hours because of the hundreds of ducks that had moved into the river, Jukka’s highest counts coming from Northern Pintail. We spent a bit of time doing some photography before going onto the bridge to count. We saw several new (for me) migrants including Snow Goose, Ruddy Duck, a Tufted Duck/Lesser Scaup hybrid (half lifer for me; I really want to see a true Tufted Duck one day), Red-necked Phalarope, Wilson’s Snipe, Least Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, Savanna Sparrow, and Violet-green Swallow. Things were definitely moving in on that first mostly beautiful day!
After the weather cleared up all of the birds that had been held back down south by the weather flooded (and are still flooding) into the Yukon. A few days ago I woke up to hear a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Varied Thrush, and a Robin singing in the yard. The next morning I woke up to a ton of White-crowned, Savanna, and American Tree Sparrows singing. All day I was seeing Wilson’s Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging in the trees along out garden fence, and the sparrows were carefully picking over the remains of the winter bird seed husks on the ground.
Last Wednesday after finishing my errands I met up with Cameron to take a walk along the Quartz Road Wetlands in search of new migrants. There were sparrows buzzing everywhere, swarms on them in the willows and on the walkway. There were Herring and Mew gulls in the water along with American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and Mallards. At some feeders in a forested area there were Rusty Blackbirds, and Cameron pointed out a single female Red-winged Blackbird tagging along with them. Further on we saw our first Orange-crowned Warbler of the year. After Cameron and I parted ways I went up to wait for my martial arts class, which is located on the Air North Cargo road, except instead of going down the road on the right you keep going straight. While I was there I saw many more White-crowned and American Tree Sparrows, a Lesser Yellowlegs in a puddle, a female Northern Harrier, a lock of 300+ longspurs with 50+ large sparrows mixed in, and a little Deer mouse that was slowly dying. It seemed as though it had been poisoned, so I scooped it up in an empty Starbucks cup and put it at the corner of a building in a quiet, sheltered spot under a board leaned up against a fence.
It has certainly been an eventful couple of weeks, and an even more eventful past couple of days! Today our family will be leaving for Skagway to camp at the Dyea Campground overnight for Mother’s Day; I will write about what we see there as there is sure to be some interesting birds. Happy spring birding at last everyone 🙂