More Spring Birding Adventures!

Ross's Geese; Photo By Jukka Jantunen

Ross’s Geese; Photo By Jukka Jantunen

Birding these past couple of weeks has been totally amazing. Rarities have been popping up here and there, and the shorebirds just passed through. After my last post, things started happening on May 14th when a pair of Ross’s Geese was found and documented by Jukka Jantunen at the mouth of the Yukon River by Lake Laberge. The next day Cameron invited me to go with him to twitch it. These geese were the second record for Ross’s Geese in the Yukon, so they were a pretty big deal! When Cameron and I left with only few hours to find those geese (I had to be back in town at a certain time) our trip turned into a mission. We slogged through sticky mud, waded through creeks that went over my knees, and bypassed hundreds of ducks and shorebirds before we found the Ross’s geese in amongst a big flock of Cackling Geese. The Ross’s Geese stuck out as two glowing white blobs out on the mudflats. We took some distant documentation photos and observed them through the scope before we decided to try moving a little closer. By the time we were ready to leave the flats and head back to town we had moved close enough that we were able to get gorgeous views of the geese through the scopes and some decent documentation photos. Ross’s Geese lack the black gape-patch on the side of the bill that Snow Geese normally have, and the top of their bill is bluey-green, unlike the normal orange of snows. Ross’s Geese are also smaller than Snow Geese, and if you look at them really closely you can see the head shape is slightly different too. A big thanks to Cameron for helping me to see this bird! Another cool bird that we saw while we were there was a Swainson’s Hawk, which flew over low enough for good binocular-views.

Ross's Geese on Left - Snow Goose on Right. Photo By Cameron Eckert.

Ross’s Geese on Left – Snow Goose on Right. Photo By Cameron Eckert.

Swainson's Hawk; Photo By Cameron Eckert

Swainson’s Hawk; Photo By Cameron Eckert

Yellow-headed Blackbird with Red-winged Blackbirds. Photo By Beakingoff.

Yellow-headed Blackbird with Red-winged Blackbirds. Photo By Beakingoff.

After the Ross’s Geese expedition, a male Yellow-headed Blackbird was seen at Ken and Sandra Gabb’s place along the Atlin Road on May 17th. Knowing that I’d want to see it, Cameron and his wife Pam Sinclair kindly invited me to join them on a twitching excursion for it.  We were treated to spectacular views! After a while of waiting and scoping in the cold wind that was blowing through the fields on the Gabb’s property, a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds swooped in to a nearby bird feeder, joined by the Yellow-headed Blackbird. It flew in low, pausing to hover over our heads before landing in a nearby tree to pose. It was not shy at all, and once we moved out of its path to the bird feeder we had unintentionally been blocking, it flew in closer. We were even lucky enough to hear it sing twice; a grating rattle of a song which you can find in this website. It was a new bird for me, thanks to Cameron and Pam! That day we also got to see two Song Sparrows that Pam had heard singing, and she pointed out my first Hammond’s Flycatcher song.

Yellow-headed Blackbird; Photo By Beakingoff

Yellow-headed Blackbird; Photo By Beakingoff

Long-billed Dowitcher in Flight; Photo By Beakingoff

Long-billed Dowitcher in Flight; Photo By Beakingoff

On our way back from the Gabb’s place, we paused at Tagish Bridge and noticed multitudes of shorebirds along the exposing mudflats. Close to the bridge was my first Whimbrel of the year. After that Cameron and Pam dropped me off at the Six Mile River Resort where I work and we all had a drink before they went back to Whitehorse and my shift began. Seeing those shorebirds on the mudflats inspired me to start coming out birding there every evening, so I planned my first expedition for the 21st. Cameron and his friend Boris joined me that evening, but Boris had to cut his visit short and head back for town. According to Cameron, there were abnormally high numbers of American Golden Plovers across the southern lakes region, so he carefully counted all of the golden plovers on the mudflats that night to add to the chart of numbers for different locations he had been working on.  That night he counted 310 American Golden Plovers, 21 Black-bellied Plovers (an amazingly high number for this uncommon spring migrant), and 200 Common Loons: the highlight numbers. I had dropped by the bridge the day before to have a quick scan, and the numbers that Cameron counted were half or a little less of what I had seen (but not actually counted) the day before. It was astounding!

Male American Golden Plover - Not Yet in Full Breeding Plumage. Photo By Beakingoff

Male American Golden Plover – Not Yet in Full Breeding Plumage. Photo By Beakingoff

We also saw Hudsonian Godwit, several Whimbrel, lots of Long-billed Dowitchers, a single Short-billed Dowitcher (we got to hear it sing too), Least, Semipalmated, and Pectoral Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, lots of ducks of all different kinds, Snow Geese, and amongst the flock of Snow Geese Cameron ID’d a Blue Goose. Blue Goose is a Snow Goose with a different plumage variation. It is not even a separate subspecies; the only difference between Blue and Snow Goose is plumage colour. The one we saw Cameron told me was a juvenile, which has a muddy-brown plumage colour. The adults are slatey-blue, hence the nickname ‘Blue Goose’. It was the first record for Southern Yukon and only the 3rd for the whole territory. We also flushed a longspur that Cameron ID’d by its call as a Smith’s, but he didn’t see it and my only look was at a tiny speck flying across the river. Smith’s Longspur is a rare Yukon bird that is not seen every year. All in all it was a great night! My Mom and Dad went for dinner at the Six Mile River Resort that night and were still there when Cameron and I finished birding, so they invited us to join them for some drinks. We all had a great evening, and thanks to my wonderful employer Mitch, we had a good visit even though it was past closing time.

Blue Goose Amongst the Snow Geese - It's the Dark Goose in the Center. Photo By Beakingoff.

Blue Goose Amongst the Snow Geese – It’s the Dark Goose in the Center. Photo By Beakingoff.

Whimbrel; Photo By Beakingoff

Whimbrel; Photo By Beakingoff

I visited the bridge again the next night, mainly to practice my photography, but I did check the mudflats as thoroughly as I could with only my binoculars. I counted about 240 American Golden Plovers (give some) and 11 Black-bellied Plovers. Last night there were 150ish American Golden Plovers and 6 Black-bellieds. The numbers are steadily dropping and the main wave of spring shorebird migration is coming to an end.  Spring migration itself will be coming to an end soon; then in only 2 more months some of the birds will begin their fall migration back down south. They are allowed such a short amount of time to breed and raise their chicks here that it is a wonder they can successfully accomplish the task every year. I hope that spring birding is going as well for you as it is for me! 🙂

Long-billed Dowitchers Feeding; Photo By Beakingoff

Long-billed Dowitchers Feeding; Photo By Beakingoff

Lesser Yellowlegs; Photo By Beakingoff

Lesser Yellowlegs; Photo By Beakingoff

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