All posts by Jim Hawkings

Report: Whitehorse Christmas Bird Count 2023

(For more information about Yukon Christmas Bird Counts see this page on our website:

The 2023 Whitehorse Christmas Bird Count was both remarkable and rather ordinary. The weather was remarkably warm, as it has been all fall and for most of the past year – a sign of things to come no doubt. December 2023 was a full 10 degrees C warmer than December 2022. There was very little snow on the ground and plenty of open water. Together, these conditions should make life relatively easy for our resident birds – no pressing need to mob feeders during the day in order to survive the long cold nights.

Marina McCready scans the wetlands adjacent to Copper Ridge subdivision. There was very little snow on the ground this year. (Elise Maltinsky)
This immature Golden Eagle was seen by Cameron Eckert and Lena Ware in amongst the normal throng of Bald Eagles at the Whitehorse Landfill (Cameron Eckert)

It’s been easy for people too – 46 observers ventured out all over Whitehorse on Boxing Day to count in the balmy weather (temperatures right around freezing) and 12 watched their feeders.

When reports trickled in from all the observers, 3,047 birds of 25 species had been recorded.  Over the years the number of species has ranged from 18 to 33, but the average is 25.  Common Raven was the most numerous bird (no surprise…), followed by Common Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, and House Sparrow in a very tight race for 2nd place. Strangely, there were no unusual birds found this year, save for a young Golden Eagle found at the landfill by Cameron Eckert and Lena Ware. We had expected all kinds of migrants to hang around to enjoy this weather and easy access to food. But there were no lingering juncos, sparrows, or American Robins to be found. One lonely merganser was the only duck on the Yukon River.

Bohemian Waxwings were in short supply due to a very poor crop of berries this year. (John Meikle)

There were also remarkably few Bohemian Waxwings (21 – compare this to 4,023 last year!), likely a result of our warm, dry summer which led to a miserable crop of their favorite winter food – berries.

Bald Eagles were everywhere around Whitehorse this year, not just at their normal hangouts, the Whitehorse Landfill and adjacent McIntyre Creek (Cameron Eckert)

Bald Eagles, on the other hand, were flying around everywhere this year, including a pair checking out their(?) nest on the bluff along Robert Service Way.  We had 89 in total, our second highest count ever.

This pair of Bald Eagles was looking very interested in a nest on the bluff overlooking Robert Service Way. Could they be thinking of refurbishing their nest already for the upcoming spring?? (Jim Hawkings)

Some of our regular winter residents were found in close to record numbers: Red Crossbills were found in many parts of town, enjoying the offerings at feeders, as were Canada Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, and House Sparrows.

This Hoary Redpoll was found by John Meikle and Syd Cannings at a Riverdale feeder. (John Meikle)
It’s always nice to see new faces on the Christmas Bird Count. Mac and Bec borrowed some binocs from the Yukon Bird Club and joined us to help count birds along the Yukon River below the Fish Ladder. (Jenny Trapnell)

Here’s the final bird list:

  1. Mallard 70
  2. Common Merganser 1
  3. Ruffed Grouse 1
  4. Spruce Grouse 1
  5. Golden Eagle 1
  6. Bald Eagle 89
  7. Downy Woodpecker 2
  8. Hairy Woodpecker 2
  9. American Three-toed Woodpecker 2
  10. Canada Jay 27
  11. Black-billed Magpie 109
  12. American Crow 3
  13. Common Raven 1693
  14. Black-capped Chickadee 147
  15. Mountain Chickadee 1
  16. Boreal Chickadee 47
  17. Red-breasted Nuthatch 7
  18. American Dipper 9
  19. Bohemian Waxwing 21
  20. Pine Grosbeak 206
  21. Red Crossbill 147
  22. White-winged Crossbill 33
  23. crossbill sp. 7
  24. Common Redpoll 213
  25. Hoary Redpoll 1
  26. House Sparrow 205

Total Individuals 3047

Total Species Reported 25

My sincere thanks to everone who took part in this year’s Whitehorse count. Looking forward to next year….


Mackenzie Alain, Edward Allen, Tracy Allard, Aaron Baker, Bruce Bennett, Selena Boothroyd, Diane Brent, Laurie Brochu, Syd Cannings, Paul Davis, Loreena Dobson, Gabrielle Dupont, Cameron Eckert, Rob Florkiewicz, Trish Fontaine, Sam Gallagher, Jim Hawkings, Jane Haydock, Melody Hazel, Ed Jenni, Matt Kitchen, Cathy Koot, Greg Kubica, Lee Kubica, Pia Kukka, Maria Leung, Mary Ann Lewis, Rob Lewis, Bonnie Love, Elise Maltinsky, Meghan Marjanovic, Marina McCready, Karen McKenna, John Meikle, Valery Monahan, Dave Mossop, Marty Mossop, Randi Mulder, Wendy Nixon, Alex Oberg, Adam Perrier, Bec Reh, Don Reid, Gemma Richardson, Bob Sagar, Barbara Scheck, Becky Striegler, Jenny Trapnell, Lena Ware, Keith Williams, Scott Williams, Tegryn Williams, Mabel Wong

Here’s a complete report with more details:

Report: 2023 Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon, May 26-27, 2023

2023 marked the second full-on Birdathon since we (mostly) emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Once again it was a pleasure for everyone to be able to gather socially for dinner after the birdwatching dust cleared!

Tired Birdathon participants gathered at Rotary Park on Saturday evening to share stories and a meal. Fortunately the cold wind was kept at bay by a clever windbreak of tarps (on the right) erected by John Meikle and Paul Warner!


Total participants: 32
Number of people attending the post-Birdathon BBQ:  28
Total Species observed: 139
(Summary Tables with names of all participants and a complete species list are at the bottom of this post…)

Most Species by a new Birdathoner:
  • Cathy Hoehn 32
  • Colin Abbott and Vickie Rochon 31
  • Tony Gonda 23
  • Jasper Caudle 16
  • Gemma and River Richardson 16

Most Species by a family/household:
  • Julie Bauer and Terry Skjonsberg 78
  • Shyloh, Toren, and Kassandra van Delft 68
  • John Meikle and Helen Liskova 42
  • Amy, Lauren, and Hannah Ryder 22
  • Gemma and River Richardson 16

Is that a Swainson’s or Hermit Thrush? Our youngest birder this year was 6-year-old River Richardson, who participated with his mother Gemma Richardson.
Youngest Participants:
  • River Richardson (6 years old)
  • Hannah and Lauren Ryder  (12 years old)
  • Jasper Caudle (12 years old)
Hannah and Lauren Ryder had so much fun on last year’s Birdathon they came back again! This year they had some serious competition for the youngest participant award! While exploring the area near their home in Whistlebend on foot, they dressed appropriately for the cool spring weather, but their friend opted to stay in his winter coat….. (Amy Ryder)

Oldest Participant:

  • Faulty Team (Bob Atkinson, Barbara Grueger, and Angelika Lange)  Age 75
  • Jim Hawkings Age 69

Most Species Envirobirding:
  • Shyloh, Toren, and Kassandra van Delft 68 (bike and foot)
  • eShrikes – Lena Ware and Cameron Eckert 63 (eBike and foot)
  • Jenny Trapnell 57 (foot and public transit)
  • Cathy Hoehn 32 (foot and plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle)
  • Becky Striegler 31 (foot and public transit)
  • Jim Hawkings 31 (foot)
  • Tony Gonda 23 (foot)
  • Amy, Lauren and Hannah Ryder 22 (foot)
Shyloh van Delft and her daughter Kassandra all set for a fun day of birdwatching by bike! Note the multi-function child seat on this bike… (Toren van Delft)

Most species found near your own home/backyard/shared space:
  • Jim Hawkings 31 (walked around Wolf Creek, Pineridge, Fox Haven)
  • Tony Gonda 23 (walked around Hidden Lakes)
  • Amy, Lauren and Hannah Ryder 21 (walked trails near/around Whistlebend)

Perhaps the most unusual bird found in this year’s Birdathon was this Black-Legged Kittiwake, found at Quartz Road Marsh and seen by multiple observers. (Adam Perrier)

Once again we had tremendous participation.  There were  29 birders, including 7 first-timers.  Cathy Hoehn had a great time in her first birdathon, using her plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle to get around.  Newcomer 12-year-old Jasper Caudle made a great effort, and even dragged his six siblings and both parents to the potluck!

Lots of folks made a really good effort to be enviro-birders:  Five people were solely on foot, two more used foot and public transit, three were on regular bikes (even hauled an infant with them!), two were on eBikes, and one used an electric car.  Together, that’s 13 of 29 participants – a huge change from previous Birdathons.

Toren, Shyloh, and Kassandra van Delft (somewhere in the Ibex Valley?) show how much fun our Yukon Birdathon is when you envirobird! (Shyloh van Delft).  All three of them spent the day getting around by bike and foot from their home base near the Takhini River Bridge on the Alaska Highway.

Weather…..well, after a pretty nice time last year, 2023 was a bit of a character-builder.  Windy and pretty cool (11-13C), with just a few drops of rain on Saturday. The wind was definitely our constant companion, and it made life at the potluck dinner much more interesting as well.  luckily at Rotary Park Paul Warner and John Meikle  stepped up and rigged a very nice windbreak using tarps and rope.  With the wind at bay, the evening sun kept everyone warm long enough to enjoy a great meal and the great company of other birders.

Ted Murphy-Kelly took the opportunity to bask in his favorite haunts at the Albert Creek Bird Observatory at Upper Liard…..which was a bit wetter than normal this spring. (Jukka Jantunen)

As usual most people were birding in the Southern Lakes between Marsh Lake, Carcross, and Lake Laberge, again this year, but we did have some going further afield. Julie Bauer and Terry Skjonsberg were out between Kluane and Haines Juction. Jukka Jantunen and Ted Murphy-Kelly decided to relive their birdathon of 10 years ago, so they drove from Whitehorse to Watson Lake on Friday and returned on Saturday.  Thanks to their sleep-deprived efforts, our species total was bumped up by 20 species.  Close to half of that increase was from birding in southeast Yukon – where a handful of species can be found at the very northwestern part of their North American range (e.g. Pied-billed Grebe, Blue-headed Vireo, Clay-coloured Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Tennessee Warbler, American Redstart, Western Tanager) .  Meanwhile Julie and Terry added another 5 species that were not seen by other observers (Northern Harrier, Great Gray Owl, Great Horned Owl, American Pipit, Pine Grosbeak).

Hardcore Yukon Birdathoners (left to right) Jukka Jantunen, and Ted Murphy-Kelly managed to see/hear 111 species this year, making them champions by quite a good margin. We’re not sure if Rudy – on the left with the binoculars – was part of the team or not.

Hard work (and covering a lot of ground) makes for a long bird list.  Our resident experts Jukka Jantunen and Ted Murphy Kelly proved this once again.  Their “sleepless in Watson Lake” epic netted 111 species.  This year’s Feature Birder, Alex Oberg, got a better night’s sleep at home, and was not too far behind with 87 species, followed by Tracy Allard with 81.

Our Feature Birder, Alex Oberg, managed 87 species in only his second Yukon Birdathon.   Alex also put in a huge effort to get sponsors for his Birdathon.  Well done Alex!

Our Birdathon species total was 139, which ties for the lowest number in recent years.  The cold, windy weather definitely played into this relatively low number. Compare that to 151 in 2019, 139 in 2020, 147 in 2021, and 146 in 2022.

As to the actual birds seen this year, nothing horribly unusual was seen, but there were a few interesting wanderers:  a Black-legged Kittiwake appeared at Quartz Road – this is gull there never really strays far from salt water and nests on cliffs along the coast! Also at Quartz Road was a Ring-billed gull….common on the prairies, but not here.

Memorable moments from this year’s 24 hours?  Swallows will figure in most people’s notes: It seems people saw almost no swallows, or, if they were lucky, stumbled on one the sheltered wetlands where hundreds or thousands of swallows were desperately wheeling about trying to get enough to eat.  In my case, the only one I saw during 30 km of walking was the Tree Swallow that was nesting in my nestbox at home – and all I saw was its head!   Logan McLeod found the other end of the spectrum – hordes of them in a small pothole lake near the Whitehorse Sewage Lagoons.

The Birdathon is one of the main fundraisers for the Yukon Bird Club – really the only one we have aside from our annual membership dues.  This year several participants really stepped up:  Alex Oberg, our 2023 Feature Birder, Cathy Hoehn – a new member and brand new participant in the Birdathon, and Ted Murphy-Kelly – a longtime YBC member and an undisputed cornerstone of the Yukon birding community. A huge THANK YOU to them and all the other participants and their sponsors this year.

On behalf of myself and all the other participants, I’d like to thank  once again thank our Birdathon Coordinator Jenny Trapnell for all her efforts, as well as Betty Sutton who lined up prizes and took care of logistics for the BBQ.


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Master Checklist

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It’s March – time to look for the first baby birds of the year: Crossbills!

March is the time to look for our first young birds of the calendar year in the Yukon. A number of our resident birds are already busily preparing to nest: Raven, Great Horned Owl, Boreal Owl, Canada Jay, Bald Eagle. But the earliest of all are crossbills! As this article from our Spring 2021 Yukon Warbler explains, crossbills can and will nest at virtually any time of year if there is enough food (spruce and pine cones) available. Previously we’ve had juvenile Red Crossbills appear at feeders in March.  Often the math tells us they must have been nest building, incubating eggs, and even feeding young in the nest in bitterly cold winter weather!

What can you do? If you see either Red or White-winged Crossbills, try to look closely for juveniles. They will be brown and heavily streaked underneath, as shown in the photos in the Warbler article, and in this video taken by Don and Sharon Russell (featured in a previous Yukon Birds Facebook post).  These young birds will likely be in the company of one or both parents and may be begging food from them. Bird feeders are a great place to spot these, as the parents have probably been frequenting your feeder for weeks while nesting, and naturally will want to show their newly-fledged youngsters where the feeding trough is!

If you do find young Crossbills, please make a note of your observations and try to get a decent photograph.  The best place to do this is on a  citizen science web site such as eBird or iNaturalistBy doing this you are contributing to a permanent database of bird information that is invaluable to scientists and the general public. If you don’t use either of these, maybe this is the time to start!  Failing that, you could post your observation on the Yukon Birds Facebook Group or email it to the Yukon Bird Club.

Report: Whitehorse Christmas Bird Count 2022

Bohemian Waxwings were everywhere this year! (photo Syd Cannings)

The 2022 Whitehorse Christmas Bird Count was very successful in spite of the weather being a tad windy and cold. There were 44 participants, including 28 different parties and 11 feeder-watchers. All told, participants counted 6,822 birds of 28 species — compared with 4,162 birds of 24 species last year (the long-term average is 25 species). After a very warm fall season, the Boxing Day count was preceded by a week of brutal cold, including 20 December when the mercury dropped to -42.1 C and topped out at -36.1. Quite a few oddball birds that normally winter south of here were hanging around prior to that and there was considerable speculation about their ability to survive that kind of deep freeze. However, on count day we discovered a lot of them had done pretty well: We had all-time high counts for 9 species (American Wigeon, Common Goldeneye, American Crow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Bohemian Waxwing, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-Crowned Sparrow, and Purple Finch). People were delighted to have thousands of Bohemian Waxwings around through the Christmas holidays — quite a contrast to last year’s count when we were totally stumped! Not only were we awash in Bohemian Waxwings (almost double the previous record of 2,033 set in 2016), but for the first time ever they outnumbered our perennial winter resident Common Ravens! Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s count!

Satellite image of the Whitehorse area showing the Whitehorse Christmas Bird Count circle. Birds are counted within this red circle each year.
These five Common Goldeneyes were lounging on the Yukon River just below the Rotary Centennial Bridge (photo Jim Hawkings)
The lonely female American Wigeon at MacIntyre Marsh (photo Syd Cannings)
Ogling the American Wigeon at MacIntyre Marsh (photo Syd Cannings)
Elated finders of the American Wigeon! (photo Lena Ware)
Elise Maltin and Marina McCready enjoying the wilds near Copper Ridge (photo Elise Maltin)

Here’s the list:

  1. American Wigeon 1
  2. Mallard 63
  3. Common Goldeneye 5
  4. Common Merganser 1
  5. Spruce Grouse 3
  6. Northern Goshawk 1
  7. Bald Eagle 51
  8. Downy Woodpecker 6
  9. Hairy Woodpecker 6
  10. Canada Jay 11
  11. Black-billed Magpie 56
  12. American Crow 6
  13. Common Raven 1757
  14. Black-capped Chickadee 101
  15. Boreal Chickadee 16
  16. Red-breasted Nuthatch 9
  17. American Dipper 5
  18. American Robin 7
  19. Bohemian Waxwing 4032
  20. Dark-eyed Junco 40 (Slate coloured 39, Oregon 1)
  21. American Tree Sparrow 1
  22. White-crowned Sparrow 4
  23. Pine Grosbeak 88
  24. Purple Finch 10
  25. Red Crossbill 21
  26. White-winged Crossbill 186
  27. crossbill sp. 49
  28. Common Redpoll 74
  29. finch sp. 60
  30. House Sparrow 152

Total Individuals 6822

Total Species Reported 28


Tracy Allard, Jeremy Baumbach, Carrie Boles, Selena Boothroyd, Diane Brent, Cindy Breitkreutz, Laurie Brochu, Linda Cameron, Syd Cannings, Paul Davis, Marianne Douglas, Gabrielle Dupont, Cameron Eckert, Alison Eremenko, Timothy Giilck, Jim Hawkings, Melody Hazel, Christine Hedgecock, Ed Jenni, Carole Kroening, Yvette LePage, Maria Leung, Elise Maltinsky, Meghan Marjanovic, Logan McLeod, Karen McKenna, Dave Mossop, Marty Mossop, Wendy Nixon, Adam Perrier, Don Reid, Claudia Riveros, Bob Sagar, Mike Setterington, Pam Sinclair, Becky Striegler, Jenny Trapnell, Jim Tredger, Lena Ware, Ryleigh Whitfield, Keith Williams, Scott Williams, Caitlin Willier

Here’s a more complete report for those who like details….


Report: 2022 Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon

Harlequin Ducks are late migrants, but they can be a bit hard to find by Birdathon time at the end of May. Kim Selbee found this amorous pair near Mayo on Friday evening. (Kim Selbee)

Well, after a couple of pretty weird years, the Yukon Bird Club is back in normal field trip operating mode this year, including a fully-fledged Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon held on 27-28 May – complete with an IN PERSON potluck dinner on Saturday evening after the 24 hours of birding was finished.  This was a pleasant change from two years of Zoom meetings which made it very difficult to share any delicious food!


Total participants: 29
Number of people attending the post-Birdathon BBQ:  27
Total Species observed: 146 (plus 2 varieties)
(Summary Tables with names of all participants and a complete species list are at the bottom of this post…)

Most Species by a new Birdathoner:
Kirsten Wilcox 116
Dominique Blanc 96
Alex Oberg 60
Ryleigh Whitefield 44
James Whelan 26
Amy, Lauren, and Hannah Ryder 21
Lawrence Purdy and Pippa Lawson 13

Most Species by a family/household:
Wendy Nixon and Grant Abbott 50  (also winners of the yet-to-be-created Electric Car birding category!)
John Meikle and Helen Liskova 42
Amy, Lauren, and Hannah Ryder 21
Lawrence Purdy and Pippa Lawson 13

Overlooking the mouth of Judas Creek, Marsh Lake. Veteran Birdathon participants know big rewards lurk in Yukon wetlands where dozens of species of waterfowl and other waterbirds can be found in the spring. Spotting scopes are a big help in these wide-open spaces. (Lena Ware)
Youngest Participant:
Hannah and Lauren Ryder  (11 years old!)
Shyloh van Delft (28 years old)

Oldest Participant:  Mary Whitley (50 species! Way to go Mary!)

Most Species Envirobirding:
Jim Hawkings 56 (traveled by Bike: Pineridge, Wolf Creek, Mary Lake, Lewes Marsh and points between)
Amy, Lauren and Hannah Ryder 21 (walked trails near/around Whistlebend)

Most species found near your own home/backyard/shared space:
Amy, Lauren and Hannah Ryder 21 (walked trails near/around Whistlebend)

Male Long-tailed Duck. Another hard-to-find species come Birdathon time in late May. This one beautifully captured by Kim Selbee near Mayo. (Kim Selbee)


This year’s Birdathon had tremendous participation.  There were  29 birders, including 11 first-timers.  For the first time in several years, the weather was quite pleasant (definitely in a different league than last year!), notwithstanding a few isolated squalls of rain and hail on Friday night in the Whitehorse area.

People were birding mostly in the Southern Lakes between Marsh Lake, Carcross, and Lake Laberge, but a few went as far as Haines Junction, and we had Kim Selbee up in Mayo.  This was the first year in quite awhile that none of our participants were birding in the Watson Lake area, where a handful of species can be found at the very northwestern part of their North American range.  In spite of that, our hard-birding crew managed to see or hear 146 species, just one less that the 147 seen in 2021, and better than the 139 seen in 2020.  The best recent year was 151 species recorded in 2019.

As to the actual birds seen this year, a few oddballs turned up. A Willet – a large shorebird normally found on the prairies- was seen by multiple participants at Lewes Marsh.  Tracy Allard glimpsed a Black Tern at Jackfish Bay on Lake Laberge.  Black Terns are also prairie birds that just poke their noses into the southeast Yukon. A Glaucous-winged Gull was skulking among the hordes of Herring Gulls in on the gravel bars at Quartz Road, well inland from it’s usual home on the Pacific Coast.  Alex Oberg found another visitor from the southeast – a Western Tanager – at the Marsh Lake Campground.

Cameron Eckert and Kirsten Wilcox in search of the elusive Willet in the bowels of Lewes Marsh (Lena Ware)

After all the Steller’s Jays seen in the past 18 months, only one turned up on the Birdathon – all that is left of the big invasion?

Dufflbags, the winning team composed of our Feature Birder Lena Ware, Cameron Eckert, and Kirsten Wilcox, found 116 species of birds during the 24-hour event! They look pretty happy here on Friday evening at Judas Creek, no doubt fueled by thoughts of nice weather and upcoming sleep deprivation. (Lena Ware)

Our top birders this year were a team of biologists: the Dufflbags, including our feature birder Lena Ware, long-time YBC board member Cameron Eckert, and Kirsten Wilcox.  They managed 116 species of birds – and even got a few hours of sleep in the middle of it!  Close on their heels was Adam Perrier with 114 followed by Tracy Allard with 106.  Our perennial winner, Jukka Jantunen, tried his luck in Haines Junction this year instead of his usual Watson Lake haunts.  Along with teammates Shyloh van Delft and Julie Bauer, he saw 96 species.

It was particularly heartening to see the 11 first-time Birdathoners, many of whom are still quite new to birding. Congrats to all of you! One of our new youngish keeners, Kirsten Wilcox, topped this crowd as well as being part of the overall winning team. Behind her was Dominique Blanc with 96 and Alex Oberg with 60.  Among our newcomers were 11-year old sisters Lauren and Hannah Ryder and their mom Amy Ryder.  Lauren and Hannah were also our youngest participants and their team also distinguished themselves by enviro-birding very close to their own home in Whistle-bend!

Hannah and Lauren Ryder were youngest Birdathon participants. Along with their mom Amy they scoured the trails around their home neighbourhood of Whistlebend. (Amy Ryder)

Aside from the Ryder clan, the only other enviro-birder this year was yours truly.  Enviro-birders participate under their own power or using only renewable energy during the entire 24 hour period.  Traditionally this has been walking, biking, or paddling.  This year does mark our first Electric Vehicle participants: Grant Abbott and Wendy Nixon! Next year we will consider officially expanding this with some other categories:  e-bikes, other Electric Vehicles,  Car Pooling, Public Transit.  Let us know if you have other suggestions!

In 2022 we were finally able to re-instate our in-person potluck BBQ social event on Saturday night following the Birdathon. Here participants, including Birdathon Coordinator Jenny Trapnell (in red), gather around as Lena Ware goes through the checklist of Yukon Birds to find out how many different species were seen in total – as well as where any unusual birds turned up. (Beth Hawkings)

This year our Birdathon wasn’t completely without glitches, as our normal post-Birdathon social venue, Robert Service Campground, was closed for renovations, forcing a move to a more exposed location at Rotary Park. Luckily for us, the sun was out and the wind calmed down so it was an extremely pleasant shirt-sleeve event attended by 27 people!

As always, there were interesting stories of adventure from participants.  Among my memorable moments was exploring the bike trail along the Alaska Highway between Golden Horn subdivision and the Yukon River Bridge for the first time ever, even though I have lived here since 1983, and even lived for 7 years at the Yukon River Bridge!  This was a very pleasant ride in the warm(ish) morning sun, made even better by a nice tailwind from the north and a generally downhill gradient.  Coming back at the end of the afternoon into the wind and uphill was a bit more exhausting however.  Another great moment was a surprise I got while watching an Olive-sided Flycatcher busily working the shrubby area at the far end of Lewes Marsh next to the sawmill road.  I was enjoying a nice view of this bird through my binoculars and lazily waving at a bee that was buzzing around me, when the flycatcher looked my way and then, completely unprovoked, suddenly charged directly at my head. I was actually quite startled but quickly understood the situation as the bird snagged the bee next to my ear and darted back to it’s perch, where it beat it’s quarry furiously against a tree branch and swallowed it.  That was the end of that buzzing.

On behalf of myself and all the other participants, I’d like to thank  our Birdathon Coordinator Jenny Trapnell for all her efforts, as well as Betty Sutton who lined up prizes and took care of logistics for the BBQ.  And of course thanks to all the participants and sponsors for making the event a huge success this year!


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Master Checklist

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A new tool for looking at how the spring is shaping up for the birds at Swan Haven – or wherever you like!

It’s been my passion – and I’m sure I’m not alone – to watch the spring progress each year, and to think about how each year compares with the ones before. This is of concern to many, many people these days as climate change strengthens its grip on our part of the world. I’ve been watching the special open water areas in the Yukon Southern Lakes that are so important to our early bird migrants, especially the Trumpeter Swans. Almost every spring since 1986 I have flown around in an airplane and taken pictures of these places on the same dates: April 24 and May 8. I talk about that photo record elsewhere on our website This flying costs money and I am extremely grateful to my former employer Environment Canada as well as the generosity of an American NGO called  Lighthawk and local pilots David Downing and the late Gerry Whitley. I’ve also scoured through publicly available satellite images from the past 38 plus years. Satellite images are a bit problematic because regular (i.e. visible light) imagery can’t see through clouds. In addition the NASA Landsat series of satellites, which have the longest period of standard imagery, only pass over each part of the earth every 16 days. Fortunately at our high latitude the paths overlap a fair bit, so there is repeat coverage more like every 8 days. Still it’s a bit sketchy when things are changing fairly fast on the ground and many passes are obscured by clouds.

I just discovered (thank you Doug Davidge!) a series of European Space Agency satellites (Sentinel) launched in the past 7 years that offer much more frequent coverage, and have higher ground resolution than the Landsat satellites. The imagery is free to the public, and perhaps even more important, there is an extremely user-friendly web-interface that makes it easy to visualize and download samples of these images very shortly after they are acquired. Anyone can do this – you don’t need to be a techno-geek. If you can use Google Earth you should be able to handle it. You’ll find this great resource at SOAR.EARTH. (Note this link will open to images of the Swan Haven area, but you can choose to look at anywhere on earth!) WARNING: ADDICTIVE.

Here are a few of these satellite imagery gems I’ve gathered to show how spring is shaping up this year in the area of Swan Haven as compared to the previous 6 years.  It’s important to note that the 2019 and 2016 images were taken much earlier in the spring than the others  because there were no cloud-free images available closer to the desired date.  Public satellite images are very convenient, but they can leave gaps in coverage! That’s where good old airplanes, or perhaps drones, can help. Luckily, we now have three years in a row with images on exactly the same date:

11 April 2022

11 April 2021

11 April 2020

2 April 2019. Note this is 9 days earlier than the recent images yet is shows dramatically less ice. This was one of the earliest springs we have ever had.

12 April 2018

10 April 2017

3 March 2016. This looks pretty normal, BUT it was taken 37 days EARLIER than the other images. This was the earliest spring ever in the photo record.

Watch for marked Trumpeter and Tundra Swans this Spring!

Spring is here! All you recovering cabin-fever cases should keep an eye out for these Trumpeter (and a few Tundra) Swans marked with neck collars in Washington State over the past few winters. If you see a marked swan, record as many details as you can and report it as described in this document. Photos are great if you can get them.

Why do gull nests get flooded on the Yukon River in Whitehorse at this time of year?

Every year around this time, people notice a few unfortunate Mew Gull nests getting threatened by rising water in the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse.

Aerial view of the Shipyards Park/Quartz Road area on 9 May 2019. Mew Gulls (20 pairs or so) prefer to nest on the grassy islands adjacent to Quartz Road in the centre right of the photo. Large flocks of Herring Gulls are often seen resting on the gravel bar on the extreme right but few if any nest here — they prefer to nest on the rocks immediately below the Whitehorse Rapids Dam. (photo Jim Hawkings)

Typically these at-risk nests are located on very low and often small gravel islands, for example in the Quartz Road/Shipyards Park area.  I just got an email from a concerned resident who noticed this very thing (see photos). Why do these gull nests get flooded?  Is Yukon Energy responsible for this?

This Mew Gull nest is about to be flooded by the rising water. Mew Gulls nest on islands to be safe from terrestrial predators, but sometimes they make a poor choice by nesting too close to the low water level. (photo Lysane Busque)
The Yukon River adjacent to Quartz Road in the vicinity of Walmart 10 June, 2020. The small dot in the water is a Mew Gull nest about to be submerged by rising water. (photo Lysane Busque)

Well, as it happens, the rising water at this time of year is a natural phenomenon. Natural runoff from snow melt causes this rising water. Yukon Energy operates water control structures (dams) in Whitehorse and at Marsh Lake, but from May through July they just let the River flow without any restriction.  They do regulate the flow of water beginning in August and throughout the winter months to make optimal use of all the storage capacity they are allowed to use upstream of the Marsh Lake dam on Marsh, Tagish, and Bennett Lakes.

Water levels in the Yukon River at Whitehorse, December 2018 to June 11, 2020. Water levels reach a natural minimum each year in May and then begin to rise as the spring runoff hits. Click on the graph to see a larger version. (Real-time hydrometric data from Environment and Climate Change Canada)

If you look at the chart above you will see that the water level on the river in Whitehorse is at a minimum in May, after which it rises rapidly through June, July, and into August due to snow melt and glacial runoff.  At Marsh Lake, which is located upstream of both the Whitehorse Rapids and Marsh Lake dams, the annual minimum water level is also in May and rises in much the same fashion during June and July (see chart below).

Water levels at Marsh Lake, December 2018 to June 11, 2020. Water levels reach a natural minimum each year in May, just as they do in the Yukon River below the Whitehorse Rapids Dam. Click on the graph to see a larger version. (Real-time hydrometric data from Environment and Climate Change Canada)

The differences between these two locations show up during August though April, when Yukon Energy is manipulating flows through both dams to provide electricity generation when it is needed most — during the cold months of winter.

Mew Gulls begin nesting in May when water is at a yearly low pretty much everywhere in Yukon.  They nest on the ground, so they are smart enough to choose islands in order to prevent terrestrial predators such as foxes, coyotes, and the like from eating their eggs and young.  Successful nests are the ones that are placed high enough on these islands to survive the rising water until the eggs hatch.  Once hatched, young gulls are very soon able to swim and can safely leave the nest and move to higher ground where their parents continue to look after and feed them.  Some gulls, perhaps the younger, less experienced ones, gamble by nesting very close to the low water.  In some years this might work – they are safe from predators and win the race against the rising water; in others they get flooded.  Maybe it is a mistake they only make once — we don’t really know.

Should we rescue these nests?  We probably could scoop up some of these nests and place them on the adjacent islands, but would the parents accept this or simply abandon the nests?  Would other gulls nesting nearby take offence and attack the newcomers?

In fact this type of thing (nests getting flooded) happens all the time in nature….birds take risks.  If they are lucky they will live to learn from them.  As long as we are not causing this problem, I don’t really see a reason to intervene in the few instances that are right in front of our noses.  What do you think?

Report: 2020 Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon

The 2020 Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon took place from 5 pm 29 May to 5 pm 30 May.  Other field trips usually offered by the Yukon Bird Club have been cancelled to date due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a slightly modified Birdathon turned out to be a winner for both the club and keen birders in the Yukon.  As can happen, the weather challenged everyone, with frequent rainshowers both days sending birders scurrying for the shelter of the nearest building or vehicle or even a handy spruce tree. In spite of these difficulties, we had 22 participants in 14 parties, including  4 families (2 or more people from the same household).  Four parties (7 participants) were enviro-birding, i.e. they birdwatched using human- or renewable energy-powered transportation only from 5 pm Friday to 5 pm Saturday.   In the spirit of current times, most people stayed pretty close to home – even those who used their car to get around.

Shyloh van Delft and her brother Toren managed to snap a great photo of two Trumpeter Swans and a single Tundra Swan on a pond at the Takhini salt flats – a nice side-by-side comparison. Photo Shyloh van Delft

A total of 139 species was seen, a bit less than last year’s 151. Jukka Jantunen, our perennial champion, saw the most species (103), but this year he only beat the runner up, Adam Perrier, by one species! Adam’s Birdathon effort was remarkable considering he did not have the benefit of species that frequent southeast Yukon, where Jukka was birding.  Julie Bauer, who was also birding in southeast Yukon, managed 98 species, while Cameron Eckert and Pam Sinclair were 4th with 86 species. In the Enviro-birding category Jim Hawkings was first with 47 species;  Kim Selbee was second with 38 and the family team of Melanie McFadyen with Joseph, Kalia, and Morel Graham were 3rd with 31 species.

In between rainshowers, Kim Selbee managed to get a nice photo of this Orange-crowned Warber. You can see the orange crown here — something that is not always prominent in the field. Photo Kim Selbee

Speaking of species found in southeast Yukon but generally not around Whitehorse, here are a few that gave Jukka and Julie an edge this year: Pileated Woodpecker, Franklin’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Magnolia Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Western Tanager, Brown-headed Cowbird.  In addition, they found a couple of habitually late migrants, Alder and Least Flycatchers, which had made it to southeast Yukon by Birdathon time but were not yet in the Whitehorse area.  Eastern Kingbird is another species usually found only in southeast, but Adam Perrier managed to find one closer to Whitehorse this year, one of the more unusual sightings of the 2020 Birdathon.

In honour of COVID -19 this year, there was a special category for the most species of Corvids (Ravens, Crows, Jays, Magpies).  Julie Bauer  wins most species (Common Raven, Common Crow,  and Canada Jay).  Most species for a household/family team goes to Cameron Eckert and Pam Sinclair with 86 species followed by Logan McLeod and Caitlin Willier with 70 and Melanie McFadyen and her family with 31.  The most species by a person new to the Birdathon goes to Logan McLeod and Caitlin Willier.  The youngest participant was a 10-year-old member of the Graham clan, while the oldest participant award goes to Betty Sutton.

This Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was very cooperative for Shyloh and Toren van Delft. It’s a species that can be a bit hard to find on Birdathon Day. Photo Shyloh van Delft

This year’s feature birder, Taylor Belansky, sighted 38 species.  We thank her for spearheading the fundraising side of the Birdathon, with all of this year’s donations going to the Whitehorse Food Bank.  We do not know how much money was raised for the Food Bank, but we sincerely thank everyone who donated in these times that are so difficult for many low-income people.

Kim Selbee was one of the few lucky participants to catch up with the elusive Golden-crowned Kinglet. Photo Kim Selbee

In lieu of the normal BBQ gathering at Robert Service Campground, most of this year’s Birdathon participants took part in a cozy and delicious online conference call to compare bird notes and tales of survival.  Particpants on the call mused about some apparent trends in the birds seen over the years: Where have all the Red-necked Phalaropes gone? Why only one Least Sandpiper? Why no American Kestrels?  Where are all the Mountain Bluebirds – they were quite common in past years?  Are we going to get Rock Pigeons back in town?

So, in spite of being in the midst of a global pandemic, our 2020 Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon adapted to the times and was a success. Kim Selbee summed it up pretty well after her 24 hours of fun:

I got home at 4:50pm, starving but really happy 👍. I hope you, and everyone else who participated had half as much fun as I did!!!

The Birdathon is a chance to get out in your own back yard and see what might be there—right under your own nose! Kim Selbee captured this stunning portrait of a lynx while picking her way through the forest near home. Photo Kim Selbee

Thanks to all participants and  fellow organizers, especially our Birdathon Coordinator Betty Sutton.  We hope to see you all again next year at a real live post-event BBQ social!

Here is a list of this year’s participants and prize-winners!

Download (XLSX, 10KB)

And here is a complete list of the birds reported on the 2020 Birdathon.

Download (XLSX, 22KB)