Early Spring: Ducks, Eggs, And Greens

May 10, 2019

Spring bird hunting is a tradition in Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, but this year it began very early and had a very different look. 

“It’s weird that spring bird hunting can occur via boat instead of snowmachine or ATV on the tundra, which is somewhat novel," said Bryan Daniels, waterfowl biologist with the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

Daniels says that this is the earliest waterfowl nesting year ever. Locals can start gathering eggs a week after the birds arrive and nest, which is something that usually doesn’t happen until the end of May.

“I know that somebody from the neighboring community, Kongiganak, found wild eggs already,” said Lillian John Kiyunya of Kwigillingok. “But I have not heard of anyone from Kwig finding eggs yet.”

She says that these spring eggs are a long-awaited treat. Lou Adams in Platinum agrees.

“Goose are the best. Their yolk when you eat it is so creamy. Swan eggs, crane eggs; they all have their own flavor. And we get arctic tern eggs. I use them to bake cake; turns out good,” she said.

Laying their eggs early is not always good news for the birds, however, especially geese. Scientists say that if goslings hatch and the right food has either passed its optimum time or is not yet ready, that can mean fewer goslings getting what they need to become adult geese.  

Daniels says that biologists don’t track the success of most waterfowl, but they do gather information on the numbers of juvenile black brant geese when they feed on the huge eelgrass beds at Izembek Lagoon before flying south for the winter. Three years ago, when it started getting very warm, Daniels says that biologists found the number of juvenile geese ready to fly south was only 10 percent of the total population. 

“Which is very low,” said Daniels. “Last year was much better. It was around 30 percent, which is a little bit low, but somewhat normal. So we see 30 percent juveniles and 70 percent adults.”

The rapid warming of the Y-K Delta is forcing many waterfowl to adapt. Scientists say that there is some data that suggests the black brant goslings are able to find additional nutrition from food later in the season to help make up for what they might have missed out on by hatching at the wrong time. But that data is still very weak and needs more study. Meanwhile, delta residents will be out looking for the eggs, which Kiyunya says are much better than the ones in the store. She calls it a taste of spring.

“And the eggs we gather has a wild taste than what we gather from the store,” she said. 

People have also begun gathering greens from area lakes and ponds.