Counting the birds in Whitehorse by Joyce Moore, Jan 4, 2012
Title: Fort Macleod Gazette
Publication Type: Daily Newspaper
This year we were privileged to spend the most Canadian of Christmases in Whitehorse in the Yukon with our family there, which includes three grandchildren aged eleven, nine and six. The Whitehorse Christmas Bird Count is held on Boxing Day so our daughter had arranged for Cam Eckert, Yukon wildlife biologist, author and photographer, to pick us up about 10 a.m. and take us out for a morning's bird count. Cam had kindly done the same thing four years ago when we were in the North for Christmas.
This year the temperature was mild (about -2 C) with a good snow cover. We turned off the Alaska Highway and drove up the McIntyre Creek road, just a few kilometres outside Whitehorse straining our eyes to see what might be about as the world was just beginning to show light.
Cam spotted two American dippers on the snow by the black waters of the creek. We hopped out to watch them popping in and out of the stream until they flew off as we marvelled at a lifestyle that allowed these birds to thrive in the frigid streams of the north and of our Rocky Mountains.
We continued up the same road for a few kilometres until we came to the McIntyre Marsh, an area where springs allow open water all year long. We heard the duck call sound of Mallards and after carefully scoping different groups on the creek, Cam came to the conclusion that there were 35 of them. They seemed jittery, moving restlessly. We discovered why. Two bald eagles perched in the black spruce above them were looking for a good meal. We noted that a section of the Trans Canada Trail (Copper Trail) went by in this area.
Our next destination was the Whitehorse
Landfill - always a prime birding spot. We wound around the various roads in the dump overwhelmed by the numbers of ravens perched on the hills of snow and swirling in the air. In between the ravens, flocks of magpies flew up in the foggy atmosphere. Spruce and pine trees bordered the landfill.
There was something eerie about the foggy scene reminding us of Hitchcock's 'The Birds.' We turned our attention to the evergreen border picking out three more bald eagles. The estimated number of ravens was 1,700, undoubtedly the highest number of ravens we have seen in one place at one time.
Our final stop was Cam's own backyard, where he provides birds with fat, sunflower seed and millet. The millet is to attract juncos. We were treated to 15 pine grosbeaks, including several of the males that are pinkish-red, which brightens up a winter landscape. A hairy woodpecker flew in to feast on the fat. A couple of black-capped chickadees took a seed or two. Cam noticed movement under a brush pile that he keeps specifically for cover. His quick eye had caught two juncos. Earlier he had spotted a ruffed grouse in the yard. We knew that grouse were in the vicinity as my husband had seen tracks in two different spots on his walk the day before along the banks of the Yukon River.
Cam is one of the authors of Birds of the Yukon Territory. He is knowledgeable about all things avian there. About 30 people participate in the Whitehorse Bird
Count - a fairly large group - and they usually spot about 39 species. In our conversation, Cam mentioned that house finches occur in Whitehorse and that Eurasian collared doves are now there in the summer. The first Eurasian collared dove was seen in south-east Alaska in 2006.
Participating in the Whitehorse Christmas Bird Count was a treat added to our special family Christmas.