Text and Photos by Shyloh van Delft
Northern Hawk Owl
Every place in the world has its own unique assortment of birds. It's unbelievable that there can be so many birds, and yet no two species are exactly alike. In North America there are a lot of species that can be found continent-wide, such as Great Horned Owls and Northern Flickers. Other species are range restricted. The Yukon is a special place for most birders because of its wonderful variety of birds. No matter where you go, or what time of year you bird in the Yukon, it's always a rewarding experience.
In the spring, migratory birds make a spectacular sight as they come through en masse. Trumpeter and Tundra Swans can be found in huge numbers in Carcross, Swan Haven, and Tagish, covering the lakes and shores. Tagish Narrows is one of the top birding hot-spots in the Yukon, as well as one of the best places for fishing. I went there for my first bird walk and got to meet some members of the Yukon Bird Club. We had our binoculars and spotting scopes out and focused on the birds, and I was learning the names of the different species of waterfowl that were foraging along the shore. As I was marveling over how many different birds there were, a fisherman in a small, slow and very loud motorboat went by, hundreds of birds taking flight in front of him. The birding group's disapproval hung in the air like a heavy cloud as hundreds of birds took flight, many that had been hidden and were now revealed. As the droning roar of the motor slowly faded away we were left standing in silence, not a bird in sight. Spring not only brings waterfowl and fishermen, but also hordes of Lapland Longspurs that visit yards and eat any seed they can find. Common Redpolls and the first American Robins arrive. Yukon birders look forward to finding the first robin of spring. One year I reported the first sighting of the year to the Yukon Bird Club. Beginning in March you can hear Boreal Owls give their haunting calls at night. Some people have had luck attracting Boreal Owls into owl houses in the Yukon. Last spring, a pair of Great Horned Owls in my yard began calling to each other for a month, but unfortunately I did not get to see them. The first time I heard them, I was out alone in the dark imagining shining eyes appearing in the trees, when a Great Horned Owl hooted loudly and suddenly from a tree nearby, scaring me half to death.
Sandhill Cranes are also around Faro during the summer and flying overhead in migration. When the birds have arrived and the breeding season has started, it's not uncommon to find male Spruce Grouse strutting around displaying for one or more females and to hear Ruffed Grouse drumming in the forest. Last spring, I got to see a male Spruce Grouse bring in two females and display for a week outside my window. It was comical watching the male display while the females pretended to ignore him or run away if they were not interested. When they ran, the male would run after them as fast as he could while trying to hold his impressive look, stopping every couple of minutes to fan his tail. You could almost hear him hollering: Wait baby! Come back!
male Spruce Grouse
male Spruce Grouse
Bald and Golden Eagles are seen sitting on tree tops or nests looking out over the land with pale and fierce eyes. Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies are common, scavenging in towns, streets, communities, and yards. In the fall, Canada Geese are seen honking angrily to each other in flight and seemingly trying to become organized, while down below flocks of sparrows and warblers prepare for the long flight ahead of them. Hundreds of Bohemian Waxwings arrive and feast on the berries left over from winter. I'll never forget the sight of over one-hundred waxwings sitting in one poplar tree, singing and preening. The sun shone on them and made their colors look warm and rich. Even in the winter, after all of the migratory birds have headed south, there are still many birds to find. Chickadees, a variety of winter finches, woodpeckers, and owls can be seen throughout the winter.
Many rare and unexpected sightings have been reported in the Yukon. For example, on June 6, 2007 there were four American Pelicans seen at Tagish and then at Nares Lake. On June 30, 2008, an Oriental Turtle-Dove was seen in Whitehorse. It was the Yukon's first and Canada's second record. The spring and summer of 2009 also produced lots of exciting birds, including a Turkey Vulture on May 5 and a Whooping Crane on May 17 at Ross River. From Black-capped Chickadees to Oriental Turtle-Doves, the variety is incredible. The Yukon is a really awesome birding place because you really never know what you will see!