Manitoba, Canada 2007

...with Mark Finn

June 5th - 15th

This was the first organized tour of southern Manitoba and the Hudson Bay outpost of Churchill operated by Birdwatching Breaks. The tour was a great success despite unseasonable weather in the south which affected the sightings of a few species. A wide-range of North American warblers were observed on their breeding grounds including the rather scarce Golden-winged Warbler. On remnant prairie patches of southwest Manitoba we located several key species notably Sharp-tailed Grouse, Sprague’s Pipit, Loggerhead Shrike and displaying Upland Sandpipers. Further north at Churchill a mini invasion of Hawk Owls was a welcome sight in the stunted spruce forests. Also at Churchill we witnessed large numbers of divers, ducks, gulls and northbound passerines in Pine Grosbeak, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur and White-crowned Sparrows. It was also a pleasure to observe Bohemian Waxwings, Two-barred Crossbills, Spruce Grouse and Smith’s Longspurs on their breeding grounds.

June 5th: Heathrow - Toronto – Winnipeg.

We met up at Heathrow Terminal 3 for the flight to Winnipeg via Toronto with Air Canada. The flight across the Atlantic Ocean went quickly and we arrived on time at Toronto. Picked up our bags and transferred to an internal flight to Winnipeg the major city of Manitoba. On arrival in Winnipeg we made the short journey to our accommodation on the outskirts of the city. Few birds were seen within the city limits but included Barn Swallow, European Starling and skeins of Canada Geese.

June 6th: Winnipeg - Oak Hammock Marsh - St Ambroise – Brandon.

Weather : Overcast with heavy rain showers pm, south wind 16 C.

Checked out and travelled towards Oak Hammock Marsh a great birding area situated among the extensive wheat-fields and farmland of Manitoba. Along the road we recorded Northern Harriers, Franklin's Gulls and hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds. Before reaching the Conservation Centre we stopped at an area of ponds holding Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall and Blue-winged Teal. Around the parking lot nesting Killdeer and Barn Swallows. After checking in at the centre we embarked on a gentle walk around the reserve. Swathes of American White Pelicans flew overhead. On the first patches of grass we located Sedge Wren and in the bull-rushes Marsh Wrens. Nearby trees held Common Yellowthroats, Mourning Dove and singing Savannah Sparrows. A series of ponds were viewed, resulting in observations of Western, Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes, Canvasback, Redhead, Wood and Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Merganser and an adult Black-crowned Night Heron. Near the centre a stand of trees attracted Alder Flycatcher, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, Eastern Kingbird and a pair of Clay-coloured Sparrows. We visited the northern end of the reserve with American Golden Plover en-route. From an observation point Pied-billed Grebe, Ring-necked Duck and the commoner wildfowl. Returned to the centre for lunch, with the added bonus of an immature Bald Eagle and two Grey Partridges on the way. After lunch we headed to St Ambroise located at the southern end of Lake Winnipeg. I decided to take a gravel road which added several Wilson's Snipe and a few summer-plumaged Bobolinks in grassy fields. A bonus in the latter habitat was two Willets of the Western form. Checked in at the campground as the weather was turning to heavy rain and winds. Walking along the road through mature trees and scrub provided us with Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Wood-peewee, Baltimore Oriole and Red-eyed Vireos. At 1630 we called it a day and travelled west to Brandon our base for the night.

June 7th: Brandon - Douglas - Whitewater Lake - Culter Park - Lyleton – Melita.

Weather: Rather windy with some sunny spells, 8 C

Thankfully the heavy rain had abated in Brandon as we headed east to Douglas a small town surrounded by marshes. Little of interest in the marshes but nearby gardens had singing Chipping Sparrow and Grey Catbirds. Further along the road we found a pair of Eastern Bluebirds an increasingly scarce bird in Manitoba. We stopped on a bridge within wooded habitats where dozens of Cliff Swallows were noted plus calling Black-capped Chickadee and Blue Jay. Whitewater Lake was next on the agenda. Several roadside ponds held Black-necked and Clark's Grebes, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks and the first Wilson's Phalaropes of the tour. On roadside wires we found American Kestrels. On arrival at Whitewater Lake the wind was blowing hard from the north. A sheltered spot was found and we started scanning the flooded marsh and fields. Large numbers of birds present including Pied-billed and Western Grebes, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals, Semipalmated and Stilt Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Franklin's and Bonaparte's Gull the latter being a first-year bird. After lunch we travelled to the hamlet of Culter and Culter Park one of the oldest in modern day Canada. Before Culter we checked an area of river where Snow Geese, American Wigeon and Double-crested Cormorants were observed. Culter Park itself is like stepping back in time and rather run-down in appearance (both buildings and trees). Good for birds as Least and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireo, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Hairy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker were noted. Our final birding spot was the village of Lyleton just north of the border with North Dakota. On the road a Red Fox with prey and in Lyleton a juvenile Wild Turkey and Collared Dove a recent colonist from further south. Windy conditions made birding difficult so we headed to Melita our base for the night.

June 8th: Melita - Broomhill - Tilson - Lauder Sandhills - Pothole Country - Riding Mountain National Park.

Weather: Sunny with light southwest winds, 18 C

An earlier start today in order to explore remnant patches of prairie lands around Melita and Broomhill. Before reaching the turn-off for the main birding area we had close views of Upland Sandpipers perched on fence-posts and in display. Along the road several Horned Larks were observed with Vesper and Savannah Sparrows perched on fence wires. Up to three Sprague's Pipits were heard singing high above our heads. Further down the road we encountered a covey of eighteen Sharp-tailed Grouse standing next to a clump of bushes - prolonged views obtained. Shortly afterwards we found the first Loggerhead Shrikes of the trip a declining bird in Manitoba. We made a short diversion to take in the border with Saskatchewan and afterwards to Tilson a village with a population of fifteen. At Tilson we found a pair of Brown Thrashers in a garden and Cliff Swallows nesting on the church. Also in the area were a single Turkey Vulture, Swainson's Hawks, Western and Eastern Kingbirds and a female Northern Harrier. We returned to Melita stopping at a seasonally flooded field attracting Least, White-rumped and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Picked up lunch in Melita and proceeded to Lauder Sandhills. A short walk through the aspens and farmland added Lark Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird and several territorial Least Flycatchers. Lunch taken and then driving back towards the main highway west of Brandon. Another short detour to watch over a flooded field system with dozens of the commoner ducks, Wilson's Phalarope, Marbled Godwit and an adult Black-crowned Night Heron perched in the open. We joined Route 1 towards Brandon and then Route 10 before turning off into Pothole Country. Driving along dirt roads close to potholes (small reed-lined ponds) added several pairs of Red-necked Grebes, Buffleheads and the more numerous duck species. We rejoined Route 10 onto Wasagaming our base for the next two nights.

June 9th: Riding Mountain National Park.

Weather : Sunny with light winds 22 C.

Before breakfast in conifer trees opposite our motel up to three Boreal Chickadees, American Redstarts, Chipping Sparrows and Black-billed Magpies. After breakfast we headed to the south trail along Clear Lake. Mature trees attracted a Pileated Woodpecker taking chunks out of a rotten tree (we later heard it drumming on a telegraph pole). In the campground we observed Blackburnian and Yellow-rumped Warblers and a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet. We reached the boat ramp where three Sanderlings were feeding along the lake edge. In the lake Great Northern Divers, Red-necked Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Goldeneyes. The walk along Clear Lake was excellent for birds with the first sector next to a marsh attracting Song Sparrow, Least Flycatcher and overhead an adult Broad-winged Hawk. Further along the trail we encountered Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-throated Green and Black and White Warblers and dozens of singing Red-eyed Vireos. Adjacent to another lake a pair of Swainson's Thrushes, Tennessee Warbler and a singing White-throated Sparrow. Returned to base recording singing Northern Wrens, Alder Flycatcher and to my surprise a Willow Flycatcher giving its distinctive 'fitz-bew' calls. Picked up supplies in Wasagaming and travelled north along Route 10 to Moon Lake. In the campground Chestnut-sided Warbler and Dark-eyed Junco. A walk around the camp revealed high numbers of American Redstarts, Red-eyed Vireos and a Merlin taking a dust-bath on the road. Next on the agenda was the Boreal Trail. Although short on birds it gave us an insight into the boreal forests of Northern Canada and the first Pine Siskins of the tour. Our last birding stop at Ominnik Trail passes through marsh and woodland. Water levels were higher than usual making the boardwalk 'float' at times. In the marsh singing Swamp Sparrow and Marsh Wrens. Bonus birds came in the form of Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Chimney Swift both scarce in this area of Manitoba. Tomorrow we head back to Winnipeg via the eastern sector of Riding Mountain National Park.

June 10th: Riding Mountain National Park – Winnipeg.

Weather: Cloudy with heavy rain pm 19 C

At 0630 we set off to Lake Katherine and the approach road. At the end of the approach road the lake had calling Great Northern Divers and Common Goldeneyes. The woodland had few birds apart from a 'drumming' Ruffed Grouse and Cedar Waxwings. Returned to Wasagaming for breakfast. Due to Route 19 being closed we had to make a long diversion in order to visit another region of the national park. From Route 10 we followed 262 stopping at an area of open country with isolated pockets of forest. Blackburnian and Cape May Warblers were observed singing from the tops of conifer trees. In a stunted aspen singing Orange-crowned Warblers, and in the distance Blue Jays and American Goldfinches. A few kilometers up the road a small pond had Red-necked Grebe, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Song Sparrow, Tree and Barn Swallows. Near an old quarry a pale female Merlin perched on a telegraph pole. In the quarry nesting Sand Martins and brief views of Belted Kingfisher. The east gate of the national park was reached with a White-breasted Nuthatch feeding on the trunk of a mature oak. Route 19 was closed at this end as well so we visited the Oakwood Trail near Macready. A walk through the oak woods produced numerous American Redstarts, Black-throated Green, Black and White and Canada Warblers, Least Flycatchers and singing Veery. Further up the road I located a singing Golden-winged Warbler. The rest of the day was spent travelling back to Winnipeg through horrendous thunderstorms. Along the way we managed views of Belted Kingfishers, Marbled Godwit and Brewer's Blackbirds. Tomorrow we fly north to the Arctic outpost of Churchill located on the south end of Hudson Bay.

June 11th: Winnipeg - Churchill (Granary Ponds - Cape Merry - Akudlik - Goose Creek and Hydro Roads).

Weather: Sunny with light winds from the south 12 C

We left the hotel in Winnipeg and travelled up to Winnipeg Airport for the flight up to Churchill with Calm Air. On the flight north we flew over vast tracts of country dotted with pools and stunted forests. Arrived in Churchill on time and picked up the van. We set off to Churchill itself and booked into the hotel for three nights. Our first birding stop behind the railway terminus produced Red-throated Divers, Ruddy Turnstones and two Pomarine Skuas the latter being a scarce migrant at Churchill. Other species present in the river at this point included Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail. A short stop at the Granary Ponds added Greater Scaup, Green-winged Teal, a calling Sora Rail, American Tree Sparrow and Common Redpolls. Cape Merry was reached where we ate a picnic lunch. Walking out towards the cape we added White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows, American Pipit and three Lapland Longspurs. From a vantage point looking into the river we observed high numbers of Red-throated and Pacific Divers and Common Eider. Akudlik was next on the agenda a series of ponds dotted with vegetated islands. Close views of Pacific Divers, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-necked Phalaropes and Hudsonian Godwits. Stopped to read records at the recent sightings board before going down Goose Creek and Hydro Roads. Near the cottages brief views of a male Pine Grosbeak in flight. Various roadside pools held White-rumped, Semipalmated, Least and Baird's Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Grey and Semipalmated Plovers. In the deeper pools American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler and a few Mallards. Checked out the end of the road and pumping station with Yellow Warblers for company. On the return journey to Churchill a Northern Shrike showed on top of a stunted pine.

June 12th: Churchill (Cape Merry - Coast Road - Landing Lake - Goose Creek Road - Docks and Granary Pools).

Weather : Early showers giving way to sunshine southwest winds 11 C

Before breakfast I headed down to Cape Merry and found a sheltered spot out of the wind. Bird activity was high with divers, ducks and gulls travelling up-river in high numbers. Common Merganser and Surf Scoter were new for the trip plus two migrant Rusty Blackbirds. After breakfast we headed along the coast road recording Lapland Longspurs feeding among discarded straw. Various ponds held Red-necked Phalaropes, Semipalmated Plover and Sanderling. A stop near 'Miss Piggy' produced Common Redpolls and American Robins. The weather worsened as we headed to Landing Lake via the dump. At the latter American Herring Gulls and Canada Geese with goslings. Woodland along the road had Orange-crowned Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. In Landing Lake, Pacific Diver, Surf and White-winged Scoters and in willow type vegetation Arctic Redpolls. On the return journey we located a pair of Willow Ptarmigan which gave us excellent views. American Golden Plover and Sandhill Cranes were also noted before our picnic lunch. Back to Goose Creek Road and a visit to a private house with feeders. Very close views of Pine Grosbeaks and Grey Jays. We turned off again to visit a newly constructed road and dam area. The marshes here had Slavonian Grebe, Short-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon and hunting Short-eared Owl. Near the weir we found four Little Gulls picking insects from the water. Back to Churchill and a visit to the Granary Ponds. Split grain proved irresistible to hordes of Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings. On a nearby pond, summer-plumaged Stilt Sandpiper. A final visit to Cape Merry produced little of interest apart from American Pipits building a nest among the boulders.

June 13th: Churchill (Twin Lakes - Cook Street - Halfway Point Road - Goose Creek Road).

Weather : Mist on the coast, cloudy inland with southwest winds 14 C

An earlier start today as we headed east towards Twin Lakes. En route we noted Northern Harriers, Short-eared Owl, Wilson's Snipe and a Fox Sparrow flying across the road in front of us. We parked up at Twin Lakes and walked into a burnt area of pines surrounded by miles of spruce forest. Isolated, high trees attracted singing Grey-cheeked Thrushes, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers. At the end of the track Two-barred Crossbills flew over and the first of several Bohemian Waxwings perched in a nearby spruce. A surprise find was American Black Duck flying over the forest into a small lake. Returned to the van and travelled the short distance to Cook Street. Walking into the forest here added Northern Shrike, 30+ Bohemian Waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks and Boreal Chickadees. On the lake Great Northern Divers (scarce), Greater Scaup and Arctic Terns. Walking slowly back along the track Jo located a pair of Spruce Grouse. Prolonged views of this beautiful bird at close range. After lunch we rejoined the main track with exceptional views of Willow Ptarmigan. Further on another stop produced a pair of Smith's Longspurs. Luck was with us as a pale-phase Rough-legged Buzzard flew across the road and landed in a stunted tree. At Halfway Point Road a short trip towards the icy Hudson Bay was productive for Short-eared Owl, Least and Baird's Sandpipers, Tundra Swan, and in a distant field a group of Snow Geese. A juvenile Bald Eagle flew slowly towards the coast and male Merlin perched in the top of a spruce tree. On leaving the area, Horned Lark and various ducks on pools. We ended the day on Goose Creek Road adding nothing of note. Returned to base after another great day in northern Manitoba.

June 14th: Churchill (Goose Creek Road - Weir - Golf Ball Road - Halfway Point Road - Granary Pools and Flats - Cape Merry.

Weather : Overcast with some bright spells pm 8 C

After breakfast we headed straight down Goose Creek Road stopping at a house with feeders, usual species around plus a Field Sparrow. Near the bridge an Osprey carrying a fish to its nest. Roadside pools held the commoner waders and ducks, Savannah Sparrow and singing Yellow Warblers. Luck was with us as an adult Hawk Owl perched in a stunted spruce next to the road. Prolonged views obtained of this rather scarce and rare bird of northern forests. Next stop was the weir where I found a pair of Black Scoters, and a Greater Yellowlegs an annual but uncommon bird around Churchill. Misty conditions on the river made viewing difficult so we headed to Golf Ball and Halfway Point Roads. Little of interest at both locations, apart from hunting Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls. Back to Churchill with a visit to the flats. Distant groups of Snow Geese and on the shore line feeding Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling. Near the docks spilt grain attracted Lapland Longspurs and the first Snow Buntings of the tour. A rather tatty Peregrine Falcon (taiga race) flew north and out into Hudson Bay. Our final birding at Cape Merry provided us with Red-throated, Great Northern and Pacific Divers, Red-breasted and Common Megansers, Common Goldeneye, Surf Scoter and Common Eiders. In Hudson Bay the ice was starting to break up heralding the start of summer. Back to the motel, picking up our bags and onto the airport. Checked in with Calm Air for the flight down to Winnipeg. On arrival we made the short journey to Canadian Inns for the last night in Manitoba.

June 15th /16th: Winnipeg - Oak Hammock - Toronto – London.

Weather : Sunny with strong southwest winds

A later start this morning revisiting Oak Hammock Marsh north of Winnipeg. Bird life was much quieter than our previous visit although we added a Sharp-shinned Hawk hunting over the marshes. A leisurely drive around farm roads added a pair of hunting Northern Harriers, Western Kingbirds and the commoner birds of the region. At 1230 we arrived at Winnipeg Airport and checked in for the flight back to Heathrow via Toronto

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