Monday, July 18, 2011

#6: 4 of 6--Swan Haven, Yukon

Stanley, Wayne, Me, Bethany
Did anyone know there’s a haven for swans? Trumpeter and Tundra? Also wigeons, Canada Geese, Northern Pintails, eagles, shorebirds, and “other predators” that abound in McClintock Bay on Marsh Lake in the Canadian Yukon? Well, there is.

Swan Haven is on Marsh Lake, a huge lake that runs west to east and south, coming out of Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon. The four of us—us being Wayne, Stanley, Bethany, and me—discovered this lovely little place during our exploration of whatever. Lucky us.
We were there, however, at the wrong time of year. April is when the Trumpeter and Tundra swans first make their appearance, filling the sky with their clarion call, fluttering their weary wings, and setting down with a splash and a honk, dropping onto the water’s still icy surface. They, and other waterfowl, are attracted to the first open water in the region: its shallow water, plentiful food, good visibility, and minimal disturbance. A kind of Maui of the North, I guess, for the feathered folk. Definitely a critical stopover in the long migration to northern nesting grounds.

The swans come from the B.C.’s Lower Mainland, as well as Alberta, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and they spend about ten days at Swan Haven “fattening up” before moving on. Like marathon runners before a big race they’re carbo-run, and they gorge on the starchy roots of the surrounding sedge roots, floating  bottoms up, legs aflutter, as they uproot the pond weed. Handy enough for the smaller shorebirds who can’t rip up the weeds for themselves but need them for nourishment.

Last year 2,432 Trumpeter Swans were spotted by April 7. There are about 46,000 in North America now, an exciting improvement over their near extinction at the end of the 18th century, their skin unfortunately valued by Europeans for the making women’s powder puffs, their feathers part of any fashionable hat. So valued, in fact, that the world’s largest waterfowl nearly went way of the dinosaurs. But things are better and we enjoyed their vacated haven, a little heaven for our own souls.

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