BIRD NERDS UNITE – Winnipeg Free Press
You’ll recognize us by floppy hats, binoculars that cost more than a used car, and a copy of Manitoba Birds rolled up tight and tucked under our arms. We gasp, point fingers, and quickly put a big check mark next to a species name on our life lists. We are bird watchers. Perhaps the greatest nerds to find. And we invite you to join the club.
Manitoba is a bird watcher’s paradise. We are located in the center of a continent, attracting winged visitors from the east, west, north and south. We have grasslands, wetlands, boreal and subarctic landscapes. It is therefore not surprising that we are home to nearly 400 species. So whether you’re a fan of birds or an energetic beginner, grab your binoculars (that’s the ornithologist’s code for binoculars), a good bird book, and let’s meet some feathered friends.
Finding birds is as easy as looking out the window. Perennial visitors like chickadees, sparrows, finches, crows, and starlings are common species, even on the city’s busiest streets. To take it even further, consider visiting one of Manitoba’s 36 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) that cover almost 16,000 square kilometers (importantbirdareasmb.ca). These designated areas each have their own bragging rights with respect to birds and biodiversity. Many are located on private land and have no formal protection, but explorers still know how to respect the landscape.
Whiteshell Provincial Park
Dozens of hiking trails crisscross this vast boreal park (272,900 hectares). And it makes it easy to spot some of the province’s most beautiful birds. Along the McGillivray Falls Trail, prepare for warbler wonderland including Nashville, Magnolia, Mourning, Chestnut-side, and Canada. Sparrows seem to like this trail as well. Search for Chipping and Songs and listen to the unique voice of the White Throat. Stop at scenic Long Pond to see Sedge Wren, Sora, and Wilson’s Snipe.
Start at Grassy Narrows Marsh, part of the Manitoba Pine and Grasslands International Birding Trail, to spot boreal species including Great Gray Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker and the awe-inspiring Black Warbler . From there, head to the water’s edge to spot double-crested cormorants, osprey, bald eagles, and rough-legged hawks. Just off the northern tip of the island are the Pipestone Rocks, a group of treeless islands that American white pelicans have admired. At least 500 pairs nest on these guano-covered islands in the middle of vast Lake Winnipeg.
Hammock Oak Marais
This 60 square kilometer swamp was restored in the late 1960s to include a series of dikes, ponds and islands. Almost 300 species have been spotted, including breeding Franklin’s gulls, night herons and least bitterns. And while the birds are in the swamp all summer, it’s the fall migration that steals the show with an estimated 400,000 geese and ducks moving from the swamp to the highlands during an annual feeding stop.
White water lake
Tucked away near the United States border, Whitewater Lake is a hotspot for bird watchers who love whistling swans and night herons. But the checklist doesn’t end there. Geese, coots, grebes, gulls and dozens of duck species also pass through during migration. And then there are the shorebirds – about 24,000 of them at last count. In wet years, more than 250,000 ducks and geese stop off during migration.
The mix of boreal, tundra, coastal and mudflat habitats supports 95 breeding species. Black Scoters and Harlequin Ducks visit the Churchill area with a flock of shorebirds. But for serious bird watchers, it’s the promise of adding the elusive Ross’s Gull to their list of life that makes Churchill so appealing. It breeds in only two places in Canada (the other is in Nunavut). Above you, you will see peregrine falcons hover while on the ground, the willow ptarmigan blends in with its surroundings.