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Swan Haven adapts activities to pandemic

The annual Celebration of Swans counted over 3,000 feathered visitors on the peak day

A near-record-breaking month at Swan Haven has delighted kids and adults this spring as festivities adapted to COVID-19.

“It definitely changed programming, but in a good way, because last year COVID shut everything down. Whereas this year, we were allowed to open,” said wildlife viewing technician Olivia Masters.

Masters said the biggest changes this year were requiring participants to register online for events, including birding walks, banding demonstrations, craft projects, kids activities and a hike up Brownie Mountain.

Health and Social Services even made a special COVID-19 poster, demonstrating social distancing with an illustration of a tundra swan.

The pandemic did not slow down the swans arriving at Marsh Lake either.

This year was almost a record-breaker — the second time that over 3,000 swans have been counted overnight at Marsh Lake. This year the peak day was April 13, with 3,036 swans. The all-time record is 3,076 swans that overnighted on April 13 in 2019.

“I think the reaction of the swans this year has been really great because the weather has been absolutely gorgeous. So it’s been these warm spring days, going for beautiful walks out on the ice, and lots and lots of swans,” Masters said.

“There’s other years where it’s been much colder and blowing snow where it just doesn’t have that same feel,” she said.

Two species visit Swan Lake during the month of April. Both look similar, but have different behaviours and migration patterns.

The tundra swan — also known as the whistling swan — is a large white bird that travels to the far north to nest and have young along the far northern coast of Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Hudson’s Bay.

The trumpeter swan is also a large white bird and can be hard to tell apart for an untrained eye. Like its name suggests, this swan has more of a noisy “trumpeting” call. Unlike the tundra swan, this species travels north but breeds in the interior of the Yukon, British Columbia and Alaska.

Both species travel to Marsh Lake on their migration pattern in order to rest and feed on the open water in April.

“For both the trumpeter and the tundra swans we’ve seen really good numbers for both. They both seem to be doing very well. The tundra swans tend to peak later in the month, whereas the trumpeters are earlier in the month,” Masters said.

One of the most popular events this year — with registration selling out in an hour — was a beading lesson from Copper Caribou duo Delaney Prysnuk and Montana Prysnuk. The beaders guided crafters in the creation of a swan keychain.

Festivities will wrap up on May 15, with a dagay (swan) walk in Kluane with elder Mary Jane Johnson from Kluane First Nation.

The final weekend festivities at Swan Haven will take place this week, with a hike on April 28 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., a shorebird walk from 10 a.m to 11:30 a.m. on May 1 and a watercolour landscape workshop on May 2 from 1 to 3 p.m.

“I love the swans because it’s just such a sign of spring. I grew up in Whitehorse and hearing that honking in the sky and then seeing all the birds is just such an indicator that winter is truly over,” said Masters. “Spring is coming. I think anybody who lives in the Yukon should get out there and celebrate the end of winter. And what better way to do that than to go out and see some beautiful birds?”

Contact Haley Ritchie at