Belugas, Bears & Birds

  1. 2020
    Friday, July 10, 2020 to Sunday, July 19, 2020
    Tour Duration: 
    10 days
    Tour Starts/Ends: 
    Winnipeg
    + 5% GST for Canadians, + 2.5% GST for non-Canadians. Flights are additional.
    Guide: 
    Number of Persons Limit: 
    12
Highlights

• Explore the readily-accessible tundra in and around Churchill -- a world-renowned hotspot for viewing and photographing arctic birds and mammals. 

• Traverse the diverse and productive prairies, aspen parkland, and wetlands of southern Manitoba, but especially the boreal and mixed forest and wetlands of Riding Mountain National Park.

• Relatively easy and productive bird and mammal viewing and photographic opportunities.

Overview

Manitoba has become one of the premier locations on the continent for seeing and photographing iconic northern birds and mammals. This tour takes in two incredibly diverse wildlife-viewing sites in Manitoba – the aspen parklands and boreal forest of southern Manitoba and the taiga/tundra and arctic environment of Churchill.

Our first destination is the boreal and mixed forests in and around Riding Mountain National Park.  This boreal island is superb for a variety of warblers and numerous other boreal and parkland birds including some highly sought after species like Spruce Grouse, Great Gray Owl, Connecticut and Golden-winged Warbler, plus Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker.  Other bird species we will be hoping to find here include Black-billed Cuckoo, Boreal Chickadee, Canada Warbler, Gray Jay, and depending on the cone crop Evening Grosbeak and crossbills may be found.  The park is also particularly productive for mammals including Black Bear, Elk, Moose, Beaver, Lynx have been seen with some frequency, and maybe even a Wolf, Cougar, Pine Martin or Fisher. 

Next we fly north to Churchill, a world-renowned hotspot for birding and mammal viewing and photography opportunities.  Here we will hope to see both of great white northern icons - polar bears and beluga whales.  We will be taking two organized boat trips to observe the hundreds of beluga whales that gather in the waters of the Churchill River and Hudson Bay and use hydrophones to hear their vocalizations.  Although polar bears are just coming off the last of the ice in Hudson Bay in mid-July, we expect that in some years there might be a few around in spots that are visible from the boats or as we drive around exploring the arctic tundra.  Other arctic wildlife that we might encounter include Red and Arctic Fox, Arctic Hare, Ringed and Harbour Seals, and Barren Ground Caribou.  This is also prime time for arctic breeding birds.  Pacific and Red-throated Loons, Common Eider, scoters, as well as numerous shorebirds are in superb breeding plumages.  We will also search for Willow Ptarmigan, and various arctic passerines including highly sought after northern specialties like Gray-cheeked Thrush, Harris’s Sparrow and Smith’s Longspur. 

Itinerary View Short Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival

Our Belugas, Bears and Birds tour begins with arrival in Winnipeg and check-in at our hotel. We meet for dinner to discuss the adventure ahead and might even go birding for a couple of hours before retiring. Night in Winnipeg.

Day 2: St. Ambroise Park to Riding Mountain National Park

We’ll head west from Winnipeg, checking out St. Ambroise Provincial Park on the south shore of Lake Manitoba on route.  This upland, marsh, riparian woodlot and lake shore edge can be teeming with birds including Western and possibly Clark’s Grebes, a huge offshore pelican and cormorant colony, American Bittern, Sora and Virginia rails, Marbled Godwit, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willet, Common, Forster’s and Caspian Tern, Franklin’s Gull, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, Yellow-headed & Brewers Blackbird, Bobolink, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole, and Le Conte’s and Nelson’s Sparrows.  We may make one or two other stops in the Delta Marsh area for species like Black-billed Cuckoo, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, and maybe even a Northern Saw-whet Owl, before carrying on to Riding Mountain.

Time and weather permitting, we may check out the Aggasiz ski hill area that afternoon on the way into Riding Mountain or defer that until later in the week.  This area along the east escarpment of the park is particularly good for a variety of warblers including Black-and-white, Golden-winged and Mourning, as well as Broad-winged Hawk, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Towhee, Philadelphia and Yellow-throated Vireo, Veery, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Lark Sparrow, and others.  After settling into our rather luxurious accommodations for the next few days at the Mooswa Resort, and having dinner at a local restaurant in Wasagaming, we’ll make plans for our evening’s excursion.  One evening option includes driving through the spacious Lake Audy Bison Enclosure (this area is among the best in the park for Great Gray Owls, with the possibility of Barred and Long-eared, or maybe even a Northern Hawk Owl, and we should see a few Plain’s Bison and maybe some Elk roaming in their native semi-open habitat).   Another evening option is driving the roads along the southern edge of the park, an area good for Connecticut Warblers and Great Gray or Short-eared Owls, and where deer, Elk, Coyote, or Black Bear are often seen at dusk. Or we may stick to driving the park roads including Hwy 10 which can be especially productive after dusk for deer, Elk or Moose, and explore nearby PR 19 (where Great Gray Owl, Spruce Grouse, American Woodcock, Snowshoe Hare, and even Lynx are found with some frequency).  Night in Riding Mountain National Park

 Days 3-4: Riding Mountain National Park

This superb National Park rises out of the prairie to an elevation of 450 meters, and the habitats here are rich and varied, with over 260 species of birds recorded.  It has been described as among the best of birding hotspots in all of Canada, but the park and surroundings are also superlative for mammal viewing and photography.  Warblers abound as more than 20 species are can be found on this trip, including a rich array of eastern (Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, Canada, Magnolia, Golden-winged & others) and northern representatives (Orange-crowned, Tennessee, Connecticut, Mourning, Cape May, Bay-breasted, Northern Waterthrush).   This area is also superb for a variety of boreal specialties including Spruce Grouse, Great Gray Owl, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Evening Grosbeak, crossbills, and both Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers. Other northern residents that we’ll hope to find include Ruffed Grouse, Osprey, Northern Goshawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo, Olive-sided & Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Ruby & Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit & Swainson’s Thrush, Purple Finch, and Pine Siskin.  During daytime excursions, we’ll be ever vigilant for a variety of boreal and parkland mammals which may be seen in and around the Park.  Nights in Riding Mountain National Park.

Day 5: Transfer to Winnipeg

Today we spend the morning in Riding Mountain searching for any highlight species that we have not yet found, or head out to the east escarpment at Aggasiz, a great area for deciduous inhabitants not commonly found elsewhere in the park.  Outside the park and in transit to Winnipeg, species like Gray Partridge, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Swainson’s Hawk, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Turkey Vulture, and Mountain or Eastern Bluebirds are always a possibility, as are open country mammals such as White-tailed Jack Rabbit, Red Fox, Coyote, plus Richardson’s, Franklin’s and Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels.  Time permitting, we might make a brief stop at the Portage la Prairie dump, looking for California and other unusual gulls or spend a couple hours after dinner checking out some potential Eastern Screech Owl or Chimney Swift nesting spots in Winnipeg.  Night in Winnipeg.

Days 6-8: Churchill

On Day 6, we catch an early flight into Churchill, and settle into our accommodations at the Polar Inn before heading out in search of arctic birds and mammals. Our days will be organized around weather conditions, reports of target species, and partaking in a couple boat rides out to see the Belugas and other Churchill River/Hudson Bay sights and specialties.  We will make frequent excursions to the grainery ponds, Churchill River docks, and Cape Churchill (where the Churchill River flows out into Hudson Bay) as these sites are readily accessible and superb spots to view unique birds and mammals. 

Standing on the elevated rock outcrops at the Cape is a great viewpoint for observing gulls and various waterfowl and other waterbirds along the rocky Churchill River and Hudson’s Bay shoreline below, watching the frenetic gull, jaeger and other waterbird feeding frenzies on the river below, or observing the rhythmic surfacing of Beluga Whales as they cruise up and down the Churchill River feeding on schools of Capelin and other larger fish.  Seals are often viewed from this vantage point as well, those on the river usually being Harbour Seals, while Ringed Seals (a favored food of the Polar Bears), tend to frequent the bay shorelines.  The rocky Cape uplands are also a favored American Pipit nesting area, and this is one of a handful of areas frequented by the Arctic Hare or the dark “cross fox” color phase of the Red Fox. 

During our stay at Churchill, we will venture onto the Churchill River on a couple occasions with a locally owned whale watching company, Sea North Tours, getting up close and personal with the friendly Belugas, often called the “canaries of the sea”.  We will use hydrophones to listen to the strange high-pitched whistles, clicking, chirping and other underwater vocalizations of the Belugas.  Depending on the year and the timing of ice-off on the bay, there is a distinct possibility of finding a Polar Bear walking along the shore and swimming in the water while on our boat tours.  Although they are quite hit and miss to find during mid-July, this time of year is becoming increasingly popular for bear viewing as the bears venture ashore earlier as the last of the bay ice melts. 

The road systems around Churchill are not terribly extensive, but get us out to all of the best areas for finding Polar Bears and other unique wildlife in the area.  We’ll make frequent excursions down Goose Creek road alongside the Churchill River checking out some productive feeders for various sparrows including Fox & Harris’, Gray Jay, Pine Grosbeak, Common & Hoary Redpolls, Rusty Blackbirds, and who knows what else – Merlin and Boreal Owls have even been seen in this area on occasion.  Goose Creek Road is also great for numerous roadside wet and partially dry mudflats, and the weir and other river overlooks where shorebirds, scoters, various other waterfowl and raptors, and Thayer’s & Little Gulls are possibilities. Even the extremely rare Ross’ Gull is a possibility here.

The various roads east of town and along the coast will also be explored, including the Twin Lakes road beyond the Northern Studies Centre.  Churchill is also ablaze with arctic wildflowers and butterflies in the summer, so if you’re into that sort of experience, this trip offers you the opportunity to see and photograph all that this gateway to the arctic has to offer.

The Churchill area can be particularly productive during the summer for nesting shorebirds. Adorned in their full breeding plumage, Stilt Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Short-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs and Hudsonian Godwit may be found calling from treetops or performing acrobatic aerial displays.  The fens near Twin Lakes are often among the most productive for these as well as American Golden-Plover, Dunlin, Golden Eagle, Short-eared Owl, and Smith’s Longspur. Willow Ptarmigan are also more plentiful as one gets out further from town alongside the gravel roads.

In a variety of wooded and shrubby habitats along Goose Creek Road and near Twin Lakes, we’ll search for boreal and tundra species such as Three-toed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing, Pine Grosbeak, Fox and Harris’s Sparrows, White-winged Crossbill, and warblers such as Blackpoll, Orange-crowned, Wilson’s and Palm.  In years when vole and small mammal food supplies are abundant, nesting Rough-legged Hawk, Parasitic Jaeger, Northern Hawk and Boreal Owls may be found.  We’ll also make sure you have some time to take a look around town, providing an opportunity to purchase souvenirs and to visit the Eskimo Museum. Nights in Churchill.

Day 9: Churchill & Return to Winnipeg

We spend our last day in the north mopping up on species which we may have missed and then catch our return flight in the evening to Winnipeg. Night in Winnipeg.

Day 10: Departure

Our Belugas, Bears and Birds tour ends today, you can transfer to the airport for flights home anytime today.

 

Map
Featured Wildlife