Yukoners hit Tagish River for elder stories, chance to see trumpeter swan migration
This year’s swan sightings fall below average
A rapt audience sat around a small campfire, listening to soon-to-be 90-year-old Tlingít elder Ida Calmegane tell stories about her life, and others handed down to her from her grandmother.
"The birds used to talk to us," she said.
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The crowd of 30 was gathered there Saturday afternoon to listen and spot migrating trumpeter swans as part of the Celebration of Swans event, put on by Yukon Wildlife Viewing at the Swan Haven Interpretive Centre.
One of Calmegane's stories centred around herself and her husband Henry, when they were living in the bush between Dawson City and Mayo.
"I was making a big pot of stew and my husband said, 'What are you doing?' and I told him we were going to have visitors. He said, 'How do you know?' And I told him the birds told me," she said.
"Sure enough, we had visitors."
Calmegane says she hoped to see more children there because she feels it's important they know what things were like a long time ago.
Swans slow to show up
The birds in Calmegane's story were whisky jacks, but on this day visitors were looking for trumpeter swans. This is the time of year they usually make their annual migration from Vancouver Island to their breeding grounds in central Alaska.
Two scopes were set up on the shoreline to view the birds. This spot on the Tagish river is one where the swans stop on their journey. The most popular hangout is Swan Haven on Marsh Lake.
In past years, the river would be crowded with a few hundred swans listening in on the stories being told on shore. But on Saturday there were a handful diving into the water to eat — only visible through the scope.
"As far as this spring goes, it's below average bird numbers," said Scott Cameron, wildlife viewing technician with the Government of Yukon.
Cameron said predicting migration is a tricky thing.
"We don't fully understand how it works," he said.
"But certainly colder air temperatures and less open water will keep them on their wintering grounds … It just means the best is yet to come."
Swan Haven Interpretative Centre is open every day until May 6.