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Persistence pays off in Whitehorse photographer's search for swan photos

Peter Mather spent a month this spring trying new tactics to capture the stories of migratory birds

There are no shortage of camera lenses trained on the trumpeter and tundra swans that pass through the Whitehorse and southern lakes region of the Yukon each spring on their migration north. Whitehorse-based nature photographer Peter Mather thought there were still shots going uncaptured despite all the interest in the migrating birds, so he spent a month this spring photographing the swans as much as he could.

In pursuit of unique swan photos, usually taken from eye-level with the birds as they fed or rested on water bodies in the southern Yukon, Mather used a variety of techniques. He used remote cameras, underwater housings and white blankets as camouflage. He described camping out near common migration stops before inching his way out to the waters’ edge hours before dawn and waiting for the swans to come in close. 

“You get some, you know, unique photos, like a different way of capturing them,” Mather said of the stealthy pre-dawn approach.

He noted that shots taken later in the day were also often spoiled by a heat mirage rising off the ice and water at the shore.

“I just spent a lot of time scouting and finding the right spots, and then like, picturing a photo in mind, and then trying to go out and get it,” he said.

“One of the ones I really wanted to get was like, where they're fighting, you know, because they're fighting all the time. They're just bumping into each other, and then they pluck each other’s feathers, and so I got to see that a couple of times. It's pretty intense and pretty cool.”

Another shot on Mather’s list was swans under the northern lights which he tried for with a remote camera 20 of the 30 nights he was out this spring. He said he was lucky enough to get some good ones.

While looking for the perfect swan photo, he said he saw eagles swooping around and otters using the muddy water created by thousands of feeding birds as cover to help them fish.

“I like doing stories about these animals that kind of, like, bring all this life at once, you know, a caribou and salmon are so critical to, you know, the Yukon environment and ecosystems, and the swans are the same way,” Mather said.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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