Government’s wildlife viewing program helps curious humans make good choices

Imagine you are a trumpeter swan that has just flown all the way from its wintering grounds in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia to a rest and refreshment stop near Swan Haven at McClintock Bay in Marsh Lake.

by Erling Friis-Baastad

Imagine you are a trumpeter swan that has just flown all the way from its wintering grounds in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia to a rest and refreshment stop near Swan Haven at McClintock Bay in Marsh Lake. You have settled onto a welcome open patch of water, all too rare in a chilly boreal April, and are about to feed on some nourishing pondweed.

Suddenly a large, thrilled dog comes tearing across the ice at you. Unrested and unfed, you struggle to lift your tired 13-kilogram body back into the sky and resume the search for another open patch of water – somewhere, perhaps kilometres back the way you came – at Johnson’s Crossing or Tagish Narrows, maybe. Hopefully, there won’t be a canoeist taking his or her craft out for a first spring spin right where you hope to resettle and feed.

Carrie McClelland is a wildlife viewing biologist with Environment Yukon. She is passionate about “alternative wildlife management strategies.” These allow people to watch, come to understand and even love wildlife in natural settings without creating havoc on the land or water and among the creatures themselves by getting too ‘up close and personal.’

“We’ve found that Yukoners don’t deliberately disturb swans,” McClelland says. “It’s just that they want to go out for a walk with their dog off-leash or go canoeing and are unaware about how these activities will affect the swans. When birds are disturbed, they spend essential migration energy getting airborne and searching for a safer spot to feed and rest. What we need to know is just how limited their opportunities to regain strength are and what fortuitous combinations of circumstances draw them close enough for us to watch. There are few places in Yukon in April with such welcoming conditions for birds.”

For example, at M’Clintock Bay, where the M’Clintock River enters the Lewes River at Marsh Lake, the shallow depth and swift currents of the river lift warmer water to the surface, clearing the ice away early in the spring, and allowing migratory waterbirds to reach the pondweed below.

Ultimately, wildlife viewing programs, whether they’re about swans, bats, sheep, or mushrooms, carry a message. “We’re trying to provide educational opportunities so people can make good decisions when they’re on the land… often we’re dispelling myths or misunderstandings,” McClelland says.

For example, ducks arrive at Marsh Lake at the same time as swans and for the same reasons: food and shelter en route to summer nesting grounds. But sometimes visiting humans look out over the water and assume that the multitudes of smaller birds are baby swans. Swans are not nesting at Swan Haven, however. They are simply stopping for a rest on their way to their nesting grounds in central and northern Yukon.

Many species of ducks can be found among the swans. They feed on the leftover plants and insects stirred up by the long necks and large feet of the much-bigger birds. In return, the ducks provide extra sets of eyes and can alert the swans to predators approaching on the ice or in the sky

When one considers the predators, diminishing habitat and limited food sources, and the unsettled weather the swans and ducks encounter en route to the North, it’s obvious they don’t need any more threats. They don’t want any more of what McClelland calls “migratory headaches” brought on by naive but well-meaning folks in the outdoors.

Guided viewing programs run by biologists or volunteer naturalists are a friendly way of inviting people to be careful where they tread. “The Wildlife Viewing Program encourages Yukoners to explore the outdoors while being aware of what impacts we are having on the land,” McClelland adds.

It’s Family Weekend at Swan Haven this coming weekend, with an afternoon of swan-watching and fun activities, such as crafts, face painting and games.

Following on the heels of April’s Biodiversity Awareness Month activities is the Town of Faro’s Annual Crane and Sheep Viewing Festival in early May. As summer and early autumn come on, there will be further wildlife viewing opportunities and walks scattered around the territory sponsored by organizations like the Yukon Bird Club, Friends of the Dempster Country and the Yukon Conservation Society, to give people an informed appreciation of the natural world.

For further information on wildlife festivals, walks and related opportunities in Yukon, keep an eye on the following websites:

www.wildlifeviewing.gov.yk.ca

www.faroyukon.ca/about-faro/events.cfm

www.dempstercountry.ca/

This column is co-ordinated by the Yukon Research Centre at Yukon College with major financial support from Environment Yukon and Yukon College. The articles are archived at www.yukoncollege.yk.ca/research

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The City of Whitehorse will be spending $655,000 to upgrade the waste heat recovery system at the Canada Games Centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New waste heat recovery system coming to the CGC

Council approves $655,000 project

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate education advocates and volunteers help to sort and distribute Christmas hamper grocery boxes outside Elijah Smith Elementary School on Feb. 23. (Rebecca Bradford Andrew/Submitted)
First Nation Education Directorate begins Christmas hamper program

Pick-ups for hampers are scheduled at local schools

Cyrine Candido, cashier, right, wipes down the new plexi-glass dividers at Superstore on March 28, before it was commonplace for them to wear masks. The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program extended to 32 weeks

More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program

City of Whitehorse staff will report back to city council members in three months, detailing where efforts are with the city’s wildfire risk reduction strategy and action plan for 2021 to 2024. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Council adopts wildfire risk reduction plan

Staff will report on progress in three months

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Nov. 25, 2020

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read