Yellowknife birder points out favourite viewing spots for early season species

·2 min read
A Canvasback duck, captured by birder Reid Hildebrant. (Reid Hildebrant - image credit)
A Canvasback duck, captured by birder Reid Hildebrant. (Reid Hildebrant - image credit)

There are a few reasons why Reid Hildebrant loves coming to the pond near the Legislative building this time of year.

The bird watcher, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the flighty critters, joined CBC's Loren McGinnis there this week to point out his favourite aspect of bird-watching there.

He says these muddy shores are where the early birds of the season rest before heading to other habitats.

Out on the waters, a male Lesser Scaup, a medium-sized diving duck, preened and bathed, enjoying the sunlight, among 20 to 30 others. Hildebrant says the females typically nest in ponds like this small boreal pond, while the males are there for courtship and to help lay eggs.

Reid Hildebrant of Yellowknife loves to bird watch and he has a deep knowledge of birds.
Reid Hildebrant of Yellowknife loves to bird watch and he has a deep knowledge of birds.(Loren McGinnis/CBC)

"They'll bugger off to hang out in their own groups," Hildebrant said. "They leave their breeding areas quite quickly."

This particular area is one of the first places in the area to have open water in the spring, he said, and a lot of birds come here first.

Often, that means Hildebrant can spot the first signs of a returning species before they head out to other places around Yellowknife.

A red-winged blackbird, captured by Hildebrant in Yellowknife.
A red-winged blackbird, captured by Hildebrant in Yellowknife.(Reid Hildebrant)

He says he likes the area for two reasons — one is that the birds are "so tame here," which allows for great views.

"In other ponds, they'd be flying off whenever you show your face," he said.

LISTEN: Birder Reid Hildebrant chats with CBC's Loren McGinnis on the early season flocks:

And the second reason he likes it, is because all the exposed muskeg bottom and muddy edging makes it a great place to find shorebirds in late spring and early summer. That includes a Least Sandpiper, a small round-bodied bird, which he pointed out, foraging in the muck.

A green-winged teal duck captured by Hildebrant.
A green-winged teal duck captured by Hildebrant.(Reid Hildebrant)

"It's just so tiny that it almost escapes notice, but it's incredible to see these birds drop in and then push on to their breeding grounds," Hildebrant said.

"It's my favourite time of year where … our biodiversity, our number of species, is filling out and everything is singing loudly and courting and it just speaks of life and the summer to come. It's really quite special."

Among the birds he spots around this time of year include a Lesser Yellowlegs, a medium-sized shorebird, which he says fly down as far as Venezuela and Brazil for part of the year, but will fly tens of thousands of kilometres back.

Hildebrant says seeing species return to the North in the spring is like 'old friends coming back.'
Hildebrant says seeing species return to the North in the spring is like 'old friends coming back.'(Loren McGinnis/CBC)

"I definitely see that as old friends coming back," Hildebrant said.

"They may not be here for very long, but it definitely gets my heart a-pitter-patter seeing all the birds returning, and the journeys that they go through to come back here is quite remarkable."

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