Fort Yukon, Alaska : Celebrating Spring!

Spring is in the air! In Fairbanks the trees are leafing out and the days are long and warm. Even now there are only several hours each day that are dark. 150 miles north of here, Fort Yukon is just starting to wake up for the season. I got to spend some time up there (it was much different than the last time I was here) and I made it a point find some of the things which represent spring. All around birds, plants, and humans are celebrating the season.

As an avid birder I am interested  in the new migrants which arrive in the spring. The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge was set up to harbor waterfowl; they flock there by the 10’s of thousands. The small ponds dotting the landscape are ideal for brooding and raising chicks. My waterfowl list for the trip included a dozen species.  Passerines like yellow-rumped warblers and dark-eyed juncos were abundant. These two  species (e.g. yellow-rumps and juncos) are some of the first to show up for spring, and are a great indicator the season is here for good!

A canvasback salutes the sun and stretches its wings near Fort Yukon
A canvasback salutes the sun and stretches its wings near Fort Yukon
A pintail duck takes flight around Fort Yukon. AK
A pintail duck takes flight around Fort Yukon. AK
A yellow rumped warbler around Fort Yukon, AK
A yellow rumped warbler around Fort Yukon, AK
Dark-eyed Junco around Fort Yukon, AK
Dark-eyed Junco around Fort Yukon, AK

Waterfowl are pursued by Subsistence Hunters as they migrate north. Each spring it provides a new source of meat (in a region that depends on 85% of its meat from the wild) to replenish stores until the salmon arrive in July. In particular white-fronted geese, canada geese, and snow geese are shot. When I was touring around the village I found a place where the birds were plucked. An unusual (for the region) strong north wind blew the features onto the trees and ground. It looked like a massive and violent pillow fight had been staged there. I got to share in the bounty of goose soup, which was delicious!

A strong north wind blew up these goose feathers from the beach where they were plucked. During the spring migration, Subsistence users taken many types of waterfowl.
A strong north wind blew up these goose feathers from the beach where they were plucked. During the spring migration, Subsistence users taken many types of waterfowl.
The results of subsistence users. In the spring time geese are actively hunted, I got to share in the bounty with some delicious goose soup!
The results of subsistence users. In the spring time geese are actively hunted, I got to share in the bounty with some delicious goose soup!

The breakup for the Yukon River is a celebrated event by all who live on it and depend on it. River travel is fast, and gives residents access to some resources which have been unavailable since the previous fall. Although the Yukon has been clear for over a week large chunks of ice on the banks demonstrate the power it took to push them there and are a testament to how thick/resilient the ice can be! Over 8 feet of ice in some regions.

The Yukon River broke up in early May, but huge slabs of ice still cover the shore making boat access difficult in some areas.
The Yukon River broke up in early May, but huge slabs of ice still cover the shore making boat access difficult in some areas.
The power of the Yukon River pushed these ice chunks onto shore where they are still slowly melting away and feeding the river.
The power of the Yukon River pushed these ice chunks onto shore where they are still slowly melting away and feeding the river.

The leaves have not appeared on the trees yet, but spring pasque flowers, and willows have started to bloom. The bright yellow stems of the willows caught my eyes and were at stark contrast with the surrounding gray bark of the aspens. Especially eye catching was the contrast of the yellow stems and the blue sky! The base of the willows were dirty and marred where river water had washed over them just a few days earlier.

These yellow willows are a beautiful contrast against that deep blue sky!
These yellow willows are a beautiful contrast against that deep blue sky!

Yellow Willows

A newly bloomed pasque flower in the sunlight in Fort Yukon, AK
A newly bloomed pasque flower in the sunlight in Fort Yukon, AK
Pasque Flowers are the first flower to bloom in Fort Yukon, AK. Here they have just emerged on 05/15/14
Pasque Flowers are the first flower to bloom in Fort Yukon, AK. Here they have just emerged on 05/15/14

Spring is certainly in the air in Fort Yukon. Overall, it’s one of the ‘last’ springs to arrive in North America. I leave you with a still, spring sunset in one of the river braids of the Yukon. I hope you are having a great spring!

The sunset on a beautiful evening in Fort Yukon. It will not be long before the sun doesn't set at all!
The sunset on a beautiful evening in Fort Yukon. It will not be long before the sun doesn’t set at all!

2 thoughts on “Fort Yukon, Alaska : Celebrating Spring!”

  1. It seems we have a new visitor to our feeders every year, and I’m looking at this year’s new member as I write this. I think it’s the same yellow-rumped warbler you have just included. Now I know who our new visitor is. Nice to have a birder in the family, and to know we have a common link between Perham and Fort Yukon!\

    1. You’d like to know they are called Butter-butts due to their yellow patch on their butt. Ever been called butter butt before? Mr. Wheres-the-butter-hasanyoneseenthebutter? 😀

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