2022-06-18 Friday & Saturday’s Arctic Terns

Arctic Tern - Sterna paradisaea
I couldn’t bear to leave Whitehorse without trying my luck one last time capturing Arctic Terns.
Red-Breasted Merganser - Mergus serrator
In my search for Arctic Terns, I’d seen Red-Breasted Mergansers at great distances. My luck changed when a pair floated by my position at the edge of the Yukon River in Whitehorse. I was only able to capture the drake.

After my Friday morning at McIntyre Marsh, I explored the riverside area that my new British Columbia friends suggested. I found the location and walked almost a mile into the woods along its trails through the woodlands on the river’s southern shore. The trails were lovely, but there wasn’t a single peep from any birds. I wanted to try for better Arctic Tern pictures, so I headed upstream and parked near the bottom of the Yukon Rapids in Riverdale. It seemed like I saw terns nearer the beach here when I was standing my vigil on Wednesday.

I sat on a bench to observe bird activity on the river when I arrived, but left my camera gear in the van. This turned out to be a big mistake, because a Bald Eagle flew into the nearby island where the Short-Billed Gulls were nesting and at least fifty gulls flew up to mob it. The eagle tried to evade the mob, but the twisting and turning of the white gulls surrounding the dark raptor was spectacular. In the end, the eagle dropped down on the island and I lost track of what occurred after that. The episode could have produced a great picture, or a video if that was my choice. That should be a lesson for me; never ‘observe’ without bringing my camera.

The reason I went out to the river was to see where the terns were foraging. I saw the terns would wander widely on their foraging episodes, but at their furthest, they were less than half the distance from me than my Wednesday vigil. So I fetched my gear from the RV and found a riverside seat on a rock and set up my tripod and camera facing the river and waited for the terns to come my way.

Photographically, there was a problem with my chosen location. The tall trees on the opposite shore, and the high sandy bluffs behind them had sufficient detail, that my camera’s autofocus easily lost track of the flying birds and instead, locked into the background. I struggled with a lot of hit-and-miss photos, but I kept at it, knowing I’d be able to delete all those bogus shots. I tried various camera settings, hoping to find the ‘perfect’ solution. While I experimented with the camera settings, one tern dropped into the river quite near to me and caught a big fish. Most of the prey I saw them capture were minnow sized. This was a ‘pan-sized’ fish, probably a Grayling, and I would have thought it was too big for this Arctic Tern to carry. But carry it, it did. And unlike my prior efforts, I finally got some Arctic Tern images I felt required no apologies.

My time here visiting Whitehorse is at its end. Part of me feels like there’s still photographic treasures yet to be uncovered, but if I linger too long, I may miss out on birds on the backtrack route I’ve been looking forward to. I stocked up on groceries Sunday morning, and I filled and drained all my tanks (including fuel and propane), and early Monday, I began my journey south and east, heading through Teslin to Watson Lake.

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