Early-Season Swan Hunting in the Yukon

We’ve been having above-average warm weather for weeks now, and I estimate that Spring is about 3 weeks ahead of schedule. Reports that some swans even spent the winter in the Whitehorse area prompted us to go on a tour of the main swan viewing spots yesterday.

The return of the Trumpeter and Tundra swans is one of the parts of Spring that I love the most. See the article The Spiritual Swan that I wrote in 2003 for much more information about the swans, including audio clips of both species.

The first possible location was the Yukon River Bridge but there was very little open water there, and no swans. We continued on to the Swan Haven Interpretation Centre on Marsh Lake, which is the location that most Yukoners are familiar with.

The center does an excellent job of introducing swans to people, but viewing is not very good even on a good day – the center is simply too far from the water.

There are spotting scopes set up for people who don’t have their own.

The sign asks people to view swans from a distance 🙂

There were perhaps 30 swans barey visible on the ice about a mile away. We continued on…

Reaching the Teslin River Bridge, we continued across it to have a high look at the river and to run the dogs at the Canol Road turnoff. A rest area was built there a couple of year ago, and it now has outhouses, several old trucks and some interpretive signage.

Once you proceed past this point, you’re on your own until reaching Ross River, 226 km north (and there’s not much there either).

Heading back across the Teslin River Bridge, looking downriver (north).

Crossing the bridge, we could see about 30 swans but it didn’t look like viewing would be very good. Just north of the Johnson’s Crossing Lodge there’s a side road that takes you right down to the river.

From the parking lot under the bridge, the swans were quite a distance. Deep snow (knee-deep) with an icy crust made a closer approach a poor idea.

A trail got us a bit closer.

Then I found another trail that got us this view – not bad with the spotting scope and a long zoom lens.

A glimpse at Alaska Highway history along the road back to the highway – a construction-era cottage still being well cared for. During construction of the highway, Johnson’s Crossing was the location of a very large camp.

As it was now a bit after 12:30, we stopped at Jake’s Corner with the idea of getting lunch and perhaps gas if the price was reasonable, but the cafe was closed, due to open on Wednesday under new owners.

We turned down the Tagish Road, and half an hour later were at the Tagish River Bridge, which I had expected would be the day’s hot spot. There was a strong wind blowing straight down the river, though, and there wasn’t a swan to be seen.

When I got home there was an email in my Inbox telling me that the swans weren’t at the Tagish Bridge today, but at California Beach, about 3 miles up the river/lake.

Neither of the possible eateries were open in Tagish, so we continued on to Carcross, which looked promising upon arriving. There were no swans on the bit of open water on Nares Lake (seen here below Caribou Mountain), though, nor on the calm, open water of the Nares River.

There was only one more location to check out – there’s always a bit of open water on Lake Bennett right in front of our cabin. And there they were! This was my first shot of the swans, seen under the footbridge.

The best way to approach the swans without disturbing them was to walk across the WP&YR railway bridge and then approach on the footbridge. Footing on the railway bridge was tough for Cathy, as the boardwalk for pedestrian traffic has been removed. This photo shows the broad view from the south end of the footbridge.

A closer look from that location.

The swans who hang around the Tagish River Bridge get very used to people and noise and can be approached very close (including on the low bridge directly above them), but the Carcross swans are much spookier. By walking on the side of the bridge furthest from them, we were able to cross with minimal disruption – they just calmly paddled a hundred yards or so further away.

A broad view looking down Lake Bennett to Mt. Gray.

This was the best viewing of the day. We didn’t stay long, but did decide that we need to spend a weekend at the cabin soon. This is the time when I do miss not living in the cabin anymore – I absolutely cherished “swan mornings”, getting up very early, sitting on the deck with my coffee and spotting scope, watching the world wake up and listening to the swans softly chatting to each other.

We finished our touring day off by having a late lunch at Montana Services, which is under new management again as of the middle of last season. Only soup and sandwiches are available until tourists start to arrive mid-May, but the vegetable soup was notably good, as was the apple-raisin cake we had for dessert.

For the start of the season that turned out to be a very good day. In a couple of weeks at peak swan time, we’ll do it again 🙂


Early-Season Swan Hunting in the Yukon — 3 Comments

  1. Thank you, M. Lundberg for this most useful information on where to find the swans. I’ll be heading up to the Yukon (my very first visit) in early May and the first two days will be spent around Marsh Lake to photograph the swans. I’ll take good note of your suggestions on where we can best see them. I can’t wait! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will still be around.

  2. Thanks Murray for the info on the Yukon swans. I enjoy my many winter days looking for possibly the same swans on our lakes down here.