Thursday, June 8: I had a very early start as I needed to be at the airport around 4:30am. The flight via O'Hare was uneventful. The gates were nowhere near one another, so it was a long walk at O'Hare (not a surprise). Two of our group were on the same flight from O'Hare to Winnipeg and we took the same van to the hotel. It was quite close. If we hadn't had luggage, it would have quicker to walk than to wait for the van!
It was some time before our meeting time, so I looked for birds around the hotel. Some American Crows seemed to be behaving oddly. On closer inspection, they were feeding their young. I went back into the hotel for my camera so I could photographed the young crows.
The group met at 6. Jeri Langham and Steve Hilty are the leaders. I've traveled twice before with Jeri and it was good to see him again. During dinner, it was revealed that Gray Partridge could found near the hotel. Several of us went in search of them after dinner (without the leaders). I eventually flushed one. Then another flushed. A bit later, 2 flushed (perhaps the same birds). One sat in open after its flight and some of us got a nice prolonged look at the bird on the ground. One thing not illustrated in the field guides is a whitish spot on leading edge of wing that is apparently only visible during landing. We were off to a good start with a lifer!
While searching for the partridge, we also found a White-tailed Jackrabbit. I had also seen some Richardson's Ground-Squirrels before the rest of the group got out there. My bird triplist is currently 10, including 1 life bird and my mammal list is 2.
Oak Hammock Marsh & Pothole County
Friday, June 9: After a stop for donuts, we looked unsuccessfully for Chimney Swifts downtown. The next stop was Kildonan Park. We found Wood Ducks in the Red River (Red River of the North) and some other birds in the trees. We also added both Red and Gray Squirrels to the mammal list. Then we were off to Oak Hammock Marsh.
Birding picked up again when we made our first stops at Oak Hammock Marsh. Some Magpies put on a show. Several sparrows were present, including a Vesper Sparrow that was quite responsive to the tape. An oak tree contained a noisy Yellow Warbler and several other birds, including Least Flycatcher and Warbling Vireo were found in a hammock. White Pelican, Yellow-headed Blackbird and other birds were seen in the distance over the marsh.
|Black-billed Magpie||Vesper Sparrow|
|Le Conte's Sparrow|
We visited several locations around the marsh before heading to the visitor's center. Highlights included Eared and Western Grebe, Virginia Rail, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Le Conte's Sparrow (which had been very much a BVD bird for me), Bobolinks, Short-eared Owl, and a variety of ducks. Franklin's Gulls were abundant, sometimes appearing a clouds of birds. The pond by the visitor's center gave us great looks at American Avocet, Wilson's Phalarope, and Black Tern. After lunch, we found a White-faced Ibis and Sora near the visitor's center. Mammals were not forgotten as the group caught up with the Richardson's Ground-Squirrel and we added Muskrat.
|Black Tern||Wilson's Phalarope||Killdeer|
|Killdeer Eggs||Richardson's Ground-Squirrel||Eared Grebe|
We then headed west toward our goal of Riding Mountain National Park. But we had more stops to make before we got there. The next one was Delta Beach at the south end of Lake Manitoba. It had Hairy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern and Western Kingbirds, and Baltimore and Orchard Orioles (I missed the Baltimore), not to mention a horde of Yellow Warblers.
Before getting to Riding Mountain, we had some pothole country to traverse. Of course, that meant many short stops to look for waterfowl. We finally spotted a Red-necked near the town of Onanole (on-a-knoll). We also had to do a little pushing when Jeri pulled onto a very soft road shoulder. Could be worse. I recall a winter Arizona trip where Chris Benesh got us stuck while turning around. We couldn't push it out and ended up waiting for a tow truck to pull us out. The other group didn't get off without excitement either as they had a rather close encounter with a train in Minnedosa. We arrived at Riding Mountain around 6, right on time. We checked in at McTavish's Lodge. After being distracted by a Blackburnian Warbler, we went for dinner. It had been a long and successful day of birding.
|Blackburnian Warbler||Yellow Lady's Slipper|
|Philadelphia Vireo||Virginia Bluebells|
After dinner we took advantage of the long northern day by going out in search of more birds. Several interesting birds were added, including Common Loon and White-winged Crossbill, but the star of the evening was a Ruffed Grouse drumming on a log! I'd heard them drumming many times when I lived in New York, and had seen them on several occasions, including one walking an clucking near the Escarpment Trail in the Catskills, not far from Kaaterskill Falls. But I'd never actually seen one drumming! What a show! We also search for the Great Gray Owl, but without success. My daylist was 97 and my triplist is now 99. I added White-tailed Deer and Snowshoe Hare to my mammal triplist. With the two squirrels and Muskrat, it is now 7.
Saturday, June 10: We got an early start, with breakfast at McTavish's at 5am. The Riding Mountain area is a mixture of boreal forest and other northern habitats. We were headed to an area east of Onanole, but a Mourning Warbler was soon heard and we made a stop for it. It continued to sing and one of the group quickly found it on a horizontal branch about about 25 feet off the ground. This surprised me as I have rarely seen Mourning Warbler up that high. They are usually low. Everyone got a good look through the scope (and seconds and thirds). It was a little far for a good picture, so I didn't take one.
We then got to the target area, which shrubby rather than forested. We got good scope views of Sedge Wren. Wilson's Snipe were often heard winnowing. A Philadelphia Vireo put in an appearance on a wire and we also got a looks at Olive-sided Flycatcher and a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
We continued to drive and bird adding species such as Boreal Chickadee, American Three-toed, and a variety of warblers: Orange-crowned, Nashville, Yellow, Cape May, Myrtle, Blackburnian, Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Mourning, and Common Yellowthroat. Eventually, we heard a Connecticut singing. Of course we stopped! We search for it, first finding the right tree, then some spotted it. It was up in a tree, sometimes walking along the branches, often singing. It took a while for everyone to get on it, be we all did. No tape had been used at that point and I'd gotten several decent photos. Then the tape was played to bring it down for a better look and the picture quality improved! We weren't done with the warblers yet and found Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, and Black-and-white before returning to Wasagaming for lunch.
|Boreal Chickadee||American Three-toed Woodpecker||Connecticut Warbler|
|Connecticut Warbler||Chestnut-sided Warbler||Hoary Puccoon|
After lunch and a brief rest, we started with a Great Horned Owl on the nest. Birding was slower in the afternoon. We stopped at a spruce area to look for Spruce Grouse. As we were starting to get organized to head into the woods, another group came up. We joined forces to make a big line. We weren't far into the woods before Chuck, who was just to my left, spotted a Spruce Grouse close in front of and between us. It was less than 20 feet away, maybe 15. We quietly get everyone's attention and the grouse stays in the same area as the whole double-group comes up. Eventually, I circled around to get even better photographs. This particular spruce area shows signs for being a former bog. There was lots of sphagnum moss with lower surface water areas and higher hummocks. Interesting to walk on. The mosquitoes were definitely noticeable. Although the mosquitoes here are big, fortunately they are not as aggressive as the saltmarsh mosquito that inhabits south Florida.
|Prairie Smoke||Striped Coralroot|
|Silvery Blue?||Spruce Grouse|
After dinner, the plan was to search for a Great Gray Owl. Evidently, none of the usual spots have been reliable this year. Jeri decided to try a secret spot he has, but the property owner told us they were not around this year. Some rain curtailed the search. We thought about trying somewhere else, but needed to get more gas first. That's incredibly hard to do here on Saturday evening. The few stations were already closed, so we quit around 8pm. My triplist is now 128. Coyote was the only new mammal for the trip, bringing the list to 8.
Riding Mountain to Douglas Marsh
Sunday, June 11: Today we packed up the vans and headed to Brandon. However, we still had some of Riding Mountain to see as we left. Our first stop was a nearby burn area, where we found 3 Black-backed Woodpeckers (1 male, 2 female). I didn't bring the camera with me at first and I ended up hurrying back to the van to get it. Fortunately, the woodpeckers stayed in the area while I was doing this.
|Black-backed Woodpecker||Gray Jay||Canada Warbler|
We headed out of the park on the unpaved highway 19. On the way, we visited the same Ruffed Grouse we had seen a couple of days ago. Not everyone saw it then, so they got a chance now. Magnolia and Canada Warbler were new trip birds. We saw a mother Moose with 2 calves shortly before we got to the escarpment overlook. On the way down, we saw an odd hawk looked something like a Ferruginous. They aren't supposed to be in this habitat, but I am not convinced it was a Red-tailed. At one point a Veery called and then an odd-looking Thrush popped into view. I think it was the Veery, but it was unusually heavily spotted. It showed no sign of being a Swainson's or Gray-cheeked, but there was some speculation it might be a Hermit Thrush. However, the overall coloration was shouting "Veery". Before we left the park, we saw some Purple Finches and finally a Thirteen-lined Ground-Squirrel right at the entrance/exit.
|Park Entrance||Golden-winged Warbler||Red-necked Grebe|
A long search near the McCreary ski area eventually turned up a Golden-winged Warbler. Amusingly, we had earlier gotten a response from a Clay-colored Sparrow when playing the Golden-winged tape.
After lunch in Neepawa, we came back through Minnedosa and into the pothole area. We finally found a Horned Grebe, including one with babies on back. It was interesting to see how well-hidden they were on the back, with only their heads poking out from their parent's feathers. After we arrived at Brandon, we checked into the hotel and had dinner there.
After dinner, we visited the sewage ponds. There were a lot of birds there including a California Gull. From there, we headed to Douglas Marsh, “Home of the Yellow Rail”. We had no luck with the rail. We walked the marsh, we listened, we played a tape. No Yellow Rail. Not much luck at marsh. Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow was not particularly cooperative either. Some were heard, but none were seen. The marsh itself was rather interesting. It's a boggy wetland and walking in it was very strange. The surface bounces. In fact, when the person next to you steps, the marsh under you bounces. Mosquitoes were definitely present, but bug spray and buzz-off clothing kept them under control. My triplist ends the day at 149. There were three new mammals for the day (Eastern Cottontail was the other), so my mammal list is 11.
Monday, June 12: All who were out late last night very tired today. We headed for Melita and the southwestern corner of Manitoba to do some prairie birding. Jeri normally has a local guide, but he wasn't available this time. He did leave Jeri directions. Unfortunately, Jeri was using an old map and we had to struggle to find the right spot. While he was trying to find the way, we enjoyed birds such as Sedge Wren, Wilson's Snipe, and Upland Sandpiper.
|Marbled Godwit||Brewer's Blackbird||Ferruginous Hawk|
|Baird's Sparrow||Chestnut-collared Longspur||Wilson's Snipe|
Finally we found the spot, and it was excellent! Many of the prairie birds were there, including Baird's Sparrow, Sprague's Pipit, Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. They put on a display. Sprague's Pipits and Bobolinks did their high display flight. The longspur hovered over the field, giving us an excellent view of its spread tail, then perched on a fencepost for all to see. Baird's Sparrow perched on the wire, giving us fine scope views.
After lunch, we visited Whitewater Lake. Our first stop there had nesting Black-necked Stilts. Evidently there were not previously known to nest in Manitoba. We also got a nice view of an American Bittern in the road. We worked our way over to the Whitewater Lake WMA, with its boardwalk and pavilion where we added some more shorebirds and waders. After dinner, we had a chance to rest! My triplist is now 161.
Brandon Hills and Thompson
Tuesday, June 13: We left the motel at 5:45am, so that we would have some time to do a little birding before catching our flight to Thompson. We added a few species in the Brandon WMA, then headed for Winnipeg to catch our flight. Much of the group rested after we arrived in Thompson, but Steve took a few of us out for some birding north of town. Bird activity was pretty low. Apparently the birds around here quiet down after noon. We did find some birds on a side road, including a Hermit Thrush, several warblers, and some Spotted Sandpipers. My total for the Thompson area is currently only 16 species! We finished the day with an excellent dinner at the Mystery Lake Motor Hotel, where we are staying tonight. The day only added 5 species to my triplist, which is now 166.
Heart of the Boreal Forest
Wednesday, June 14: We left the hotel at 5am for an early breakfast. Then we headed south to bird the boreal forest. We made several roadside stops on our way to Paint Lake. Tennessee Warblers were ubiquitous and we had an excellent scope view of a perched Bald Eagle before arriving at Paint Lake Provincial Park.
We spent quite a while walking the trails at Paint Lake, and with good reason! Besides enjoying the boreal forest, we found birds such as Winter Wren, Boreal Chickadee, Magnolia, Cape May, and Bay-breasted Warblers, and Swainson's Thrush to go with the Tennessees. We also had a close encounter with a Pileated Woodpecker and got a good look at a Snowshoe Hare. Some of the group also saw a Red Fox.
|Red-breasted Nuthatch||Bay-breasted Warbler|
|Calypso Orchid||Virginia Bluebells||Pileated Woodpecker|
|Snowshoe Hare||Magnolia Warbler|
We then headed for lunch at Sasagiu Rapids Lodge. A closed sign had us worried, but it turned out to be open for us. Our leaders took a break after lunch, while we watched the swallows, ducks and loons in the river. While were there, a house was moved along the road and across the bridge. They had to take down the signs on the side of the bridge to get it across. As it was, there was barely clearance above the sides of the bridge.
Our next stop was Pisew Falls. We looked at the falls and walked across the hanging bridge. A busload of kids arrived as I returned from the bridge. Jeri caught a Wood Frog while we were waiting for the rest to return.
|Pisew Falls||Wood Frog|
The train to Churchill was late due to hot weather so we slowly birded our way back to Thompson. Instead of eating on the train, we went back to Mystery Lake Motor Hotel. It was after 8pm when the train finally left Thompson on our way to Churchill. Shortly after midnight, I noticed that an aurora was visible. It didn't stay visible long, and I went to sleep soon after. My triplist is now 175.
On the train
Train to Churchill
Thursday, June 15: When I woke up, we were still on our way to Churchill. The scenery outside had changed from full-sized boreal forest to stunted taiga, interspersed with bogs and lakes. During and after breakfast, we managed to spot a few birds, notably Tundra Swans.
Our delayed train finally arrived at Churchill around 11am. We immediately hopped into our waiting buses and headed for the dock, adding Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Eider, Bonaparte's Gulls, and Arctic Tern to our list. We also saw our first Belugas. More birds were added at the Granary Ponds. It was surprisingly hot at Churchill, 88 degrees. There wasn't anyone available to check us in at the Tundra Inn, so we ate lunch instead.
We had heard reports of a Polar Bear near the airport and set off in search of it along the Coast Road after lunch. We didn't find the bear, but found some Little Gulls on the way back. It had been a long time since I had seen a Little Gull. The last one I had seen was at Charlotte Beach (Rochester, NY) on August 8, 1998, only days before I moved to Miami.
After this, we finally checked in to the Tundra Inn. Before long, we were out again for afternoon birding. The weather had cooled considerably by then as we headed out to Cape Merry (with what would become a ritual stop at the docks on the way). We added some more birds, as well as Harbor and Bearded Seals, then went back for dinner.
After dinner we returned to Cape Merry. By then it was cold (37 degrees) and windy. What a change! We heard afterward that Churchill had recorded both the high and low temperatures for the entire province that day. There were quite a few new birds today, and my triplist is now 202. There were several new mammals today: Beluga, two seals, and Arctic Hare. My mammal list is 15.
Cape Merry and Goose Creek
Friday, June 16: It was quite foggy when we made an early visit to the docks and Cape Merry. We quickly decided to go elsewhere had headed for the Bilenduk's feeders. There were found our first Pine Grosbeaks and Fox Sparrow of the trip and an Arctic Hare. Then we headed for breakfast.
|Pine Grosbeaks||Arctic Hare||Mackenzie's Hedysarum|
The fog had not lifted yet when we finished eating. Jeri and Steve took us to Landing Lake. Here we found American Tree Sparrow, both Redpolls, Harris's Sparrow and a pair of Ptarmigans, along with some other birds. It was interesting to see how the male responded when Jeri played a tape. Rather than confronting Jeri, he concentrated on leading the female away. We also noticed a number of Tennessee Warblers, which are apparently not usually this common at Churchill (unlike Thompson, where they are all over).
|Arctic Dryad||Orange-crowned Warbler||Common Redpoll|
After lunch we headed down Goose Creek Road, stopping at the weir and the tower. Our attention was drawn by some gulls flying around well downriver. Many were Bonaparte's, with some Little Gulls mixed in, but one gull didn't fit the pattern. Jeri spotted it with the scope and pronounced it a Ross's Gull. Two of us managed to follow through binoculars. Besides being the right size, it appeared to have the field marks of Ross's Gull, with a prominent white tail, light head, and darker (but not black) underwings. After long consideration (a week) I decided to count it, but it was a most unsatisfactory look.
|Common Eiders||Arctic Tern|
After dinner, we headed back to Cape Merry, where we watched the sea ducks, gulls, jaegers, belugas, and seals among the ice floes. We were hoping for a Ross's Gull to give us a decent look, but it was not there. We did spot some pipits and a Snow Bunting.
Cape Merry itself is an interesting place. It's at the mouth of the Churchill River and much of the cape consists of ancient rocks. The ice comes into the Churchill River with the tide and then returns to Hudson Bay when the tide goes out (unless it grounds). There are numerous waterpockets in the rocks, and if I hadn't been concentrating on the birds, they would have provided many opportunities for photography, as would the sunset. My triplist is now 212.
Saturday, June 17: We started the day at Cape Merry. The pipits and Snow Bunting were there again as well as a male Lapland Longspur. We spent a lot of time studying the birds here. A couple of gulls were somewhat interesting, but too far for a definitive ID. I suspect one was a Nelson's Gull.
After lunch, we went out the Coast Road and visited Miss Piggy, the wrecked C-46. We found a nesting Pacific Loon and a nice-looking American Golden Plover. Steve found a Smith's Longspur responding to the tape. It was responding oddly and turned out to be a female. We all got good looks at it. We finally realized we were near the nest, at which point we carefully retreated. Jeri spotted the nest (with 5 eggs) as we left.
After dinner we went back out Goose Creek Road, now infested by many large mosquitoes. At one point they formed a dark cloud above one of the buses. Two of us stayed out very late looking for Yellow Rail, but without success. My triplist is now 218.
Sunday, June 18: Last new bird for the trip. My triplist finishes at 220. I also added my last new mammal for the trip, so the mammal list finishes at 16.
Flight to Winnipeg
Monday, June 19: Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow just before going to airport.
Return to Miami
Tuesday, June 20: I had a mid-day flight from Winnipeg, so I caught up on sleep some and spent some time in the morning looking over the photos I took. I ran into Patti at the airport. The flight home was uneventful. The plane from O'Hare had plenty of empty seats. We got prompt attention from the baggage handlers at MIA. Still, it was close to midnight when I left the airport and immediately ran into a traffic jam! Welcome to Miami! In this case, it was due to construction on LeJeune. Traffic was moving freely once I finally got on 836.