A rare swan has been spotted at M’Clintock Bay for the second year in a row.
The whooper swan, which calls Europe and Asia home, first made headlines last year when it stopped among the flock of local trumpeter and tundra swans that seasonally eat and rest in the Yukon. Avid birders wondered how it managed to fly so far off-course from its usual migration routes.
It was seen again last weekend from the Swan Haven Interpretive Centre, sending a flurry of texts and social media posts through the Yukon’s birding community.
“Lots of folks came out just to see it,” said Scott Cameron, a wildlife viewing specialist with the Yukon government.
“There’s definitely some thought that it is the same [bird], that now knows where to stop and rest with the other swans; it’s a good spot to feed.”
Cameron called the second sighting “pretty exciting,” as whooper swans are rarely seen in Canada. The whoopers are recognized by their yellow beaks, differing from the black beaks of their local counterparts. Last year’s whooper was the first Yukon sighting in 15 years.
Otherwise, this swan season has been slow to start, Cameron said.
Hundreds of birds gather on Marsh Lake every April, as a stopping point in their migration to the farther North for the summer.
As of April 13, 296 trumpeter swans had been counted, signalling an early season migration.
A number of factors will cause the swans to run late, Cameron explained. A cold spring in British Columbia, challenging daily weather patterns or strong wings can all impact the flocks’ flying time.
“At this point, there’s no cause for alarm,” said Cameron, who has worked the spring season at Swan Haven for 10 years.
It’s also still early – Cameron said peak bird counts often happen mid-month.
Two types of swans usually migrate through the Yukon. Trumpeter swans are bigger, sport straighter beaks and flashes of red on their jaws, winter in the Pacific Northwest or the interior, and migrate north to Alaska in the summer.
Tundra swans are smaller, with curved beaks and often some yellow beneath the eyes. They travel farther north for the summer, breeding on the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada.
As of April 13, only one tundra swan had been spotted among the 296 trumpeters.
According to the Yukon government’s bird count, M’Clintock Bay has also hosted a diversity of ducks; with 22 mallards and 100 common goldeneyes among six spotted species.
There have also been 75 herring gulls and six bald eagles counted.
Those bird counts are updated daily on Yukon.ca/swans and eBird, an independent birding forum. To mark the annual return of the swans, a number of events are planned at Swan Haven and in downtown Whitehorse this month.
Bird origami is taking place at Swan Haven on April 16, hosted by the Japanese Canadian Association of Yukon.
On April 18, a bird nest box building workshop will take place at Northlight Innovation in Whitehorse, with advanced registration required.
Family Weekend is planned for April 22 and 23, with crafts and a guided scope station available at Swan Haven.
A group hike up the “short but steep” M’Clintock West Ridge will happen on April 25, to get a view of the bay from above.
The Marsh Lake Community Society will also be hosting a seniors tea on April 26 at Swan Haven.
A free shuttle is also available, by registration, from Whitehorse to Swan Haven on April 15, 22 and 23.
The full list of events can be found online at Yukon.ca/swans.
Gabrielle Plonka is a freelance writer based in Whitehorse.