Winter remains only in what is left of the snow, the cool temperatures at night, and the northern lights in the sky. These past couple of weeks the weather warmed substantially and migrant songbirds began showing up. Robins, Varied Thrush, Dark-eyed Juncos, Purple Finch, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and swallows (including an early Cliff Swallow seen in Whitehorse by Cameron Eckert) are becoming a common sight throughout southern Yukon.
I’ve been trying to get out birding at least every other day, whether it’s a walk to California Beach or birding Tagish Bridge with Jukka Jantunen. There have been several excellent spring birds I have been lucky enough to see, thanks to Jukka’s text-updates. A pair of Hooded Mergansers lounged near the bridge for a few days early last week, and yesterday morning Jukka spotted a Pied-billed Grebe in the same area; close enough to give me really good views of my lifer bird!
The most exciting species of spring so far was a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake, spotted by Jukka at Tagish Bridge on April 14th. I received and urgent phone call from him, telling me to get to California Beach as fast as possible – The kittiwake was winging it towards the beach from the bridge. Though I arrived at California Beach in about 6 minutes, it didn’t show up. A Herring Gull got my heart pounding as it approached from a distance, but I was disappointed – clearly not a kittiwake.
I walked a couple of kilometers up the river, assuming it must have stopped somewhere between me and Jukka. After an hour of hiking and seeing no kittiwake, I decided to return to the beach to check out the very distant flock of 83 Herring Gulls lining the the open water, considering the possibility that the kittiwake had beaten me to the beach and joined them in the middle of the lake. Through the heat haze and bad afternoon light I could only make out dark gull-blobs. I stayed bent over my scope for another hour, held by the idea that the kittiwake was with the gulls – it was the only logical place for it to have gone.
About 45 minutes later, the light had changed enough that I could make out the main colours and markings on most of the gulls. Sweeping across the flock for the zillionth time, a smaller bird caught my eye. It was floating in the water at the edge of the ice, contorting in strange angles as it bathed. Keeping the scope fixed on it, I could see that it was much smaller than the Herring Gulls, with a longer, slimmer-looking body, a slender bill, and long, pointed wings – but I couldn’t see anything else t0 confirm its identity. Finally, it flushed into the air with most of the Herring Gulls. The black tail bar and the dark ‘W’ across the back became obvious. My very first kittiwake flew into the sky and became lost in the swarm of gulls.
It was one of my most memorable lifers.
Spring has gotten off to a great start. I’ve already seen a few unexpected rare birds thanks to Jukka, and I’m sure that more will come. As always, I’m hoping that Red Knot will be one of them 🙂
Have you been getting out much to enjoy spring and the new migrants? You will have an excellent opportunity this weekend if you are interested in coming out to the Tagish and Carcross area.
There will be a Dusky Grouse hike up Nares Mountain being led by Dan Kemble on Friday, April 25th. If you would like to join this walk, meet the group at the gazebo across from Montana Services in Carcross at 6:30PM. Dress warm and wear study footwear – the mountain trail is steep and rocky.
On Saturday April 26th, I will be leading a bird tour along Tagish Narrows. If you are interested, please meet me at the day-use area by Tagish Bridge (the opposite side of the river from the gas station) at 1:00PM. Bring your spotting scope and/or binoculars, as well as a bird guide if you have them; we will be seeing a wide variety of bird species! It’s a good idea to wear rubber boats for this one.
Happy Spring Birding! 🙂