Just like the summer, autumn flew by. I have to say that going to college has been a huge learning curve, extremely busy, and often highly stressful. I went from being home-schooled my entire life, living the past nine years out in the quiet rural community of Tagish, to going to a public school in Whitehorse with scheduled classes and people everywhere, at all times. Though I am outgoing and act like an extrovert, I am very much an introvert and need quiet time to recharge frequently, which can be difficult to get with homework, fun events, friends, and my own passion to stay busy keeping me on the go. As a result I have been wound up as tightly as a spring for most of the year and have been trying a few different things to reduce stress, one being yoga – which has completely captured my heart. However, nothing seems to work quite as well as going birding, something I’ve done very little of over the past several months.
I went and spent a weekend at the Teslin Lake Bird Observatory in September, and then came back for part of another weekend in October to celebrate the bander-in-charge, Jukka’s birthday with friends. This observatory is one of my sacred retreats; I can bird, learn, sleep, absorb the stunning landscape, laugh with some of my closest friends, and just completely open up and be myself. The trips out there always much needed, much enjoyed, and memorable.
Though the college dorm is now my home, I never feel quite as happy and peaceful as when I am driving the highway out to Tagish and my family. I managed to bird out there a couple of times through the fall, the last time being on November 9th. I checked out California Beach first and saw 78 Common Goldeneye, 2 Bufflehead, and a Long-tailed Duck – my personal latest Tagish record for this species. The lake was glassy, the water still unusually high, and the beach rocks were frosted with white crystals. The narrows at Tagish Bridge were also still. The sun was just starting to get low enough in the sky to colour it with hints of gold and pink, and the faint hum of a motor boat fishing towards Marsh Lake could be heard. My cousin Marilyn joined me, and a scan with the scope turned up 26 Common Goldeneye, 13 Bufflehead, 3 Mallards, 2 scaup, 2 Common Mergansers, and the most surprising, a Horned Grebe. I had never seen such a variety of species in Tagish that late in November before. And the grebe had passed my previous latest Tagish record by 8 days.
The good birding did not stop there. We have been having a very mild winter so far, with the coldest temperature reaching only about -8C in Whitehorse. I think that the gorgeous weather here and the cold stormy weather all through the rest of Canada is holding birds late around Whitehorse. On November 15th, Robbie Mackay found a juvenile Red Phalarope just below the dam on the Yukon River here in Whitehorse. This was a mind-blowing find; not only are these shorebirds extremely rare with less than 10 records for the Yukon, but it was also in a tie with the previous latest shorebird record.
Cameron and I went down to look for it first thing the next morning. We tried not to get our hopes up as the chance that bird would actually stay was highly unlikely, but when we reached the river we spotted Robbie already down on the shore photographing something. Something that showed up in our binoculars as the phalarope! Cameron and I of course were completely thrilled, and the bird let us get close to it for photos. All three of us sat there, our cameras clicking, while my lifer bird continued to feed intensely. After about 15 minutes, it abruptly stopped feeding, uttered two sharp alarm calls, and took off down the river…. never to be seen again. Seems like it decided that very moment was the time to begin migrating again. Aren’t bird amazing? And weren’t we lucky to see it just in time. Nothing could top the phalarope, which was that day officially the latest shorebird in the Yukon on record, but some more odd late birds showed up afterwards including a flock of 13 Pine Siskens, a Robin, and a Varied Thrush (which was hanging out in a yard in Riverdale).
I have not been birding since as it is the final push here at the college before final exams. It is nearly Christmas Bird Count season though, and I will be leading my own count in Tagish. The schedule will be out soon, and I’ll post it here when it is.
In the meantime, if you are interested in getting out for some birding this week Cameron Eckert is leading a bird walk along the river this coming Wednesday:
“Wednesday 26 November: Whitehorse – What’s on the river? Take a lunch-time stroll across the Millennium foot-bridge with Cameron Eckert to look for lingering ducks and robins. Meet at the Fish Ladder at 12pm. Dress warm!! (<1hr)”
Now it’s back to studying for me. Though college has been very stressful, it has also been an incredible experience. Most of my courses are very interesting and the teachers engaging. I’ve been given opportunities to try new things such as yoga and writing for the school newspaper. I’ve been meeting such wonderful people and having tons of fun with them. College is everything I had always dreamed it would be, and though I am most definitely ready for Christmas break now, I cannot wait to begin my studies next year and in the oncoming years. Remember folks, when you’re stressed and life seems overwhelming, stop to take a breather and spend some time doing exactly what you love to do 🙂