Day 1: Arrival
Our Churchill and Southern Manitoba birding tour begins with arrival in Winnipeg and check-in at our hotel. We meet for dinner to discuss the adventure ahead and perhaps go birding for a couple of hours before retiring. Night in Winnipeg.
Day 2: St. Ambroise Park and the Douglas Marsh
Early in the morning we head west from Winnipeg, birding on route to St. Ambroise Provincial Park on the south shore of Lake Manitoba. This is a very rich area for birds, and we have a chance of finding a large number of species, including Western, Red-necked and Eared Grebes, rails, American Avocet, Willet, Upland Sandpiper, Forster’s Tern, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Le Conte’s and Nelson’s Sparrows. Astonishingly high numbers of local breeding species such as Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Warbling Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, Gray Catbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee and Least Flycatcher occur along the ridges. Scarcer species include Orchard Oriole and Red-headed Woodpecker.
We then head west to our location for the night, at Brandon. After settling into our accommodations, after supper, we head for the Douglas Marsh, famous in the past for its Yellow Rails. Recently, however, the marsh has become less reliable for this enigmatic bird. We will try to induce one to sing, although there will be other species here to note, such as Soras, Wilson’s Snipe, Nelson’s Sparrows and Sedge Wrens. If the weather is not conducive for listening for Yellow Rails (such as windy conditions) then we will visit other locations in the area. Night in Brandon.
Day 3: Brandon Hills and Whitewater Lake
Today we drive south through the Brandon Hills, watching for Gray Partridge and Mountain Bluebirds, and stopping at wildlife management areas to look for Sharp-tailed Grouse, Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Vireo and Indigo Bunting. At the Souris River Bend we look for Lark Sparrow, Broad-winged Hawk, Yellow-throated Vireo and towhees – mainly Eastern but always the possibility of Spotted. We then visit Whitewater Lake and other shallow lakes in the area, looking for migrant shorebirds and waterbirds not yet located. These lakes can teem with birds - grebes, shorebirds, waterfowl, pelicans, terns, herons, with a patrolling Peregrine or two. White-faced Ibis are here, as are Great and Cattle Egrets, and possibly the world’s largest Franklin’s Gull colony. Night in Melita
Day 4: Prairie Birding
Today we head for the southwest corner of the province, in search of mixed-grass prairie specialties such as Sprague’s Pipit, Vesper, Baird’s and Grasshopper Sparrows, and Chestnut-collared Longspur. Swainson’s Hawks are widespread here, and Ferruginous Hawk is regularly seen. We watch the overhead powerlines for Loggerhead Shrikes and we will catch up with species requiring a second look, perhaps Sharp-tailed Grouse, Upland Sandpiper and Marbled Godwit. Time permitting, we may head for the Lauder Sandhills, an area of sand dunes and rolling forested hills. At day’s end we will have seen an impressive, wide and diverse array of species. Night in Melita.
Day 5: Whitewater Lake and transfer to Riding Mountain NP
We plan on revisiting Whitewater Lake, always worth a second exploration, and then drive north through the Oak Lake/Plum Marshes region and the Minnedosa Pothole country. This area consists of native rolling mixed-grass prairie dotted with shallow and very productive ponds and small lakes (“potholes”) and the area is home to at least 12 species of nesting waterfowl. Prairie shorebirds include American Avocet and Wilson’s Phalarope, and the potholes should provide good opportunities to view grebes, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and many other wetland species. We then head for Riding Mountain National Park, arriving in the late afternoon. Night at Riding Mountain National Park.
Days 6 - 7: Riding Mountain National Park
On these two days we bird 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. Warblers abound, and we will look for many of so-called eastern species including Blackburnian, Mourning, Cape May, Magnolia, Black-throated Green and Golden-winged. Western species include Western Wood-Pewee, and boreal species include Spruce Grouse, Great Gray Owl, Gray Jay and both Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers. As always, we will be on the lookout for mammals such as Black Bear, Elk and Moose. Nights in Riding Mountain National Park.
Day 8: Transfer to Winnipeg
Today we spend the morning searching for species not yet found, perhaps Evening Grosbeak or Olive-sided Flycatcher, and then we leave the park and head south to Neepawa, where Wild Turkeys are a possibility and where a huge Purple Martin colony occurs. Time permitting, we make a brief stop at the Portage la Prairie dump, looking for California Gull. Night in Winnipeg.
Days 9 - 11: Churchill
On Day 9, we fly to Churchill, and settle into our accommodations before heading out in search of specialties. Our days will be organized around weather conditions and reports of target birds. On one or more days we explore the Cape Merry area, where the Churchill River flows out into Hudson Bay. Depending upon ice conditions in the river, groups of Pacific and Red-throated Loons and waterfowl should be present including such possible delights as Harlequin Duck. Jaegers hitch rides on ice-flows, and among the Parasitics may be a superb adult Long-tailed Jaeger.
Along with the frenetic bird activity, we may have the opportunity to watch Beluga Whales riding the rising tide. Shorebirds destined for the high arctic mix with newly arrived locally breeding species. At high water we check the Granary Ponds for roosting shorebirds, Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs. We may revisit this spectacular area, looking for Sabine’s Gull among the throngs of birds, and maybe an Arctic Hare among the ancient lichen encrusted rocks of the Cape.
We visit Akudlik Marsh, where Ross’s Gulls were first found nesting, and then head east along the road passing through both wet and dry tundra. Nesting shorebirds will be in full cry. Stilt Sandpipers hee-haw overhead, Whimbrels, Short-billed Dowitchers and Lesser Yellowlegs will be in display flights, while other species such as Hudsonian Godwit and Dunlin abound. The Churchill dump may host an unusual gull or two, and Sandhill Cranes nest close by.
We visit the Goose Creek Road area alongside the Churchill River. In a variety of habitats, we search for Three-toed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing, Pine Grosbeak, Fox and Harris’s Sparrows, and some of the commoner wood warblers such as Tennessee, Blackpoll and Orange-crowned. Along the river itself shorebirds can be numerous, and Little Gulls sometimes occur at the end of the road.
In the Twin Lakes area, we search for boreal and tundra species such as Rough-legged Hawk, Spruce Grouse, Smith’s Longspur and White-winged Crossbill. As usual, shorebirds are abundant, including breeding American Golden-Plovers. Willow Ptarmigan will be seen alongside the gravel road. There is always the chance of Northern Hawk Owl, which has nested in this area. Also we take a look around Town, providing an opportunity to purchase souvenirs and to visit the Eskimo Museum. Nights in Churchill.
Day 12: Return to Winnipeg
We spend our last day in the north searching for species which we may have missed and then catch our return flight in the evening to Winnipeg. Night in Winnipeg.
Day 13: Departure
Our Churchill and Southern Manitoba birding tour ends today, you can transfer to the airport for flights home anytime today.