Southern Manitoba Jun 06—12, 2011
Posted by Jeri Langham
Having led this tour for 26 years, I know that Manitoba's June weather is completely unpredictable. It rained a lot during the previous month so the rivers were higher than I have ever seen them, Delta Beach was so flooded we could not even drive to it, two important birding roads were closed in Riding Mountain, and many unpaved roads in the Southwest were too soft to drive. This year we only had a little rain the first day, followed by cold, clear days. As always, we managed to find almost every target bird and the breeding warblers put on a real show, as did the birds displaying in the short grass prairies.
On every tour I lead, I write a journal covering the locations we visit and the highlights of each day, and then email it to my participants. Here are a few excerpts:
Day 2, June 7: Winnipeg to Oak Hammock Marsh to PR227 Landfill to Delta Beach to Riding Mountain National Park — Our first birding stop opposite "The Manitoba Museum" produced distant Chimney Swifts spotted by Bruce Di Labio, my co-leader. Kildonan Park was also good to us, with many Wood Ducks and a superb view of a male Indigo Bunting trying to attack me. The Red River flows through the park and I was surprised to see how the recent rains had swollen the river beyond its banks. From the park we drove to the southeast side of Oak Hammock Marsh, straight to the new blind constructed at the end of the road. We saw numerous ducks, Ruddy Turnstones, a Killdeer protecting four eggs, and a distant, but nice, group of shorebirds with White-rumped, Baird’s, Semipalmated, and Least sandpipers. Later, Sedge Wren and Le Conte's Sparrow gave us superb views in the grassy fields, and the wooded area produced Clay-colored Sparrow, Least Flycatcher, and other eastern species. From here we drove past the Interpretive Center on the west side of the marsh to one of the few remaining patches of tall grass prairie where many Bobolinks displayed for us. Returning to the Interpretive Center, we looped around to an area where we heard Sora and had great looks at a Virginia Rail. We also added Richardson's ground squirrel and watched many Bank Swallows flying around the holes in which they nest.
Day 3, June 8: Riding Mountain National Park — After our 5 a.m. breakfast and before leaving McTavish's, we added a gorgeous male Blackburnian Warbler in the trees by the SUVs and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nearby. A breeding pair of Common Loons was in a large pond on our way to Onanole. On this pond, we also observed a surprising interaction between a beaver and a Red-necked Grebe that had gotten too close to the beaver's lodge. It was cold (9° Celsius) and windy, but sunny as we drove to the road going east from Onanole. This has been my best place to see Mourning and Connecticut warblers over the last five years. Our first stop was at a marsh where we saw Bald Eagle, Alder Flycatcher, Swamp Sparrow, and a winnowing Wilson's Snipe. We had an interesting adventure searching for a Ruffed Grouse we'd heard drumming in the woods, and had very good luck with Mourning Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, Nashville Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Tennessee Warbler, Ovenbird, and many more. Before we returned to Wasagaming for lunch, a Cape May Warbler cooperated like never before, coming within ten feet and mostly seen actively feeding lower than eye level, allowing superb photos by Ann. We also had great looks at Evening Grosbeak and Blue-headed Vireo.
At 2:00 p.m. we headed for Highway 10 and up toward Moon Lake, making a quick visit to Lake Katherine, on Route 19, the road we normally spend most of our visits birding and the road we would normally use to leave the park tomorrow. However, the road was closed beyond Lake Katherine due to the recent rains, washouts, and flooding. On the way north, we did stop at Beade Trail. My target Canada Warbler sang back to my playing of its songs, but would not come in to see us. We did get great looks at Magnolia and Black-throated Green warblers, and saw some fresh moose tracks and scat. Our major destination this afternoon was the Boreal Island Trail loop. Bruce and I are still smiling from ear-to-ear about our incredible luck. First, it was a Ruffed Grouse seen by all but one of you, and then the real miracle began. A pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers put on a show for us, followed by Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Blue-headed Vireo. Ever the optimist, I started to play Black-backed Woodpecker and as we approached the long walking bridge, Paula spotted a dark woodpecker that flew across from the other side. Eventually I pulled out a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers that flew back and forth from one side of the large clearing to the other. The smiles on all our faces could not have been matched! Driving back to Wasagaming, those of you in Bruce's SUV saw a black bear slink into the forest bordering the road. This would be a day to remember for a long time!
Day 4, June 9: Riding Mountain to Brandon — …We added Veery and Canada Warbler on this loop before heading north on Highway 10 towards Dauphin. The tower that I had planned for you to climb was closed down for repair. But as we drove out, Bruce saw a female Ruffed Grouse fly across the road. We relocated it high in an aspen so Karen finally was able to see one well and thus get us to 100% for that species…In the forest near McCreary Ski area, we added Swainson's Thrush, a beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Great Crested Flycatcher, and heard an Eastern Wood-Pewee. At the bathroom stop, we got wonderful looks at a male Indigo Bunting and many of you saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler on its nest…
Day 5, June 10: SW Manitoba Prairie Birding — …We zoomed south and west on various roads until Laurie brought us to a stop by spotting a Sharp-tailed Grouse in an open field. We got great photos and watched it fly to a perch in branches of a fallen tree. The road to Broomhill produced lots of singing Soras, a calling Common Bittern, Willow Flycatcher, Le Conte's Sparrow and more. We then followed Bruce to his Burrowing Owl location, and there Terry spotted our first Horned Grebe. Then it was off to the far southwest corner of the Province. Bruce and I were really worried because we were not hearing any of the usual birds we hear singing or see perched in these fields or on fence lines. However, we did eventually get Chestnut-collared Longspurs flying around me and within twenty minutes had also picked up Grasshopper Sparrow and Sprague's Pipit displaying in the sky above us. At one point I think we had three pipits flying around us. Bruce and I have never had such a great encounter with that species. Then it was on to Lyleton, picking up Loggerhead Shrike on the way…
Day 6, June 11: Brandon to Douglas Marsh to Brandon Hills to Winnipeg — I decided this morning to change my attack plan and go to Douglas Marsh first since Bruce had heard a Nelson's Sparrow there when he scouted. We stopped at a willow/aspen patch near the town of Douglas and had good looks at Veery and Black-and-white Warbler. At the marsh, we were both a little panicked when the Nelson's Sparrow failed to sing. However, I called in several other birds and kept trying Nelson's until Bruce and I both heard a response. Luck was with us as first a Sedge Wren perched in the open and then the Nelson's not only gave us scope views out in the marsh, but later came right to the bushes near the road. I then decided to drive down to the edge of the river, something I had not done since the short grass prairies in this area were tilled under for cropland. As we neared the river area, I spotted two of Laurie's "mythical" Gray Partridges running down the road. Both SUVs got great looks and then we made a line and flushed them so we could see the rufous in their tails that shows when they fly…In the Brandon Hills, we received a wonderful surprise with three non-singing Black-billed Cuckoos, and ended our morning with a stunning male Scarlet Tanager that never sang or called back. It was a very colorful way to end our wonderful Southern Manitoba tour.