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/Lake Manitoba to Brandon
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 upland, marsh, riparian corridor and lake shore edge can be teeming with birds including Western & possibly Clark’s Grebes, a large offshore pelican and cormorant colony, American Bittern, Sora & Virginia rails, Marbled Godwit, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willet, Common, Forster’s & Caspian Tern, Franklin’s Gull, Marsh & Sedge Wrens, Yellow-headed & Brewers Blackbird, Bobolink, Baltimore & Orchard Oriole, as well as LeConte’s & Nelson’s Sparrows. We’ll make a few more stops between here in the Delta Marsh area for species like Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, California Gull, Black-billed Cuckoo, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, and maybe even a Northern Saw-whet Owl, before carrying on to Portage la Prairie for lunch.
We then head west to our location for the night, at Brandon. After settling into our accommodations, after supper, we'll take a couple hours to follow up some local leads or check out some particularly good birding spots within town or on the outskirts of Brandon before retiring for the night. Alternatively, if Yellow Rail have been reported close to the road east of Brandon in the Douglas Marsh, we may rest up for a few hours after dinner, and head to the marsh at dusk to try for this difficult species. Night in Brandon.
Day 3: Souris River Ben and Whitewater Lake to Melita
Today we proceed southeast of Brandon to a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) along the Souris River known as the Souris River Bend WMA. This wooded riparian area can be particularly productive for raptors and forest songbirds including Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Yellow-throated, Warbling & Philadelphia Vireo, Veery, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee, and a variety of warblers including Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Orange-crowned & American Redstart. Carrying on to our lunch spot in Boissevain, we’ll remain vigilant for Gray Partridge, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Swainson’s Hawk.
In the afternoon we’ll make numerous stops to check out any accessible vantage points along Whitewater Lake. This lake is usually teeming with shorebirds, waterfowl, gulls, terns, and various other waterbirds. It is one of the only spots in the province where species like White-faced Ibis, and various egrets including Cattle, Great and Snowy Egrets may be found. Six species of grebes including Red-necked, Western and Clark’s nest here regularly. The last of the large migrant mixed flocks of shorebirds that pass through here in May will likely still be present, and nesting shorebirds include numerous American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, and rarely Black-necked Stilt or Piping Plover. Eventually we’ll get to the west end of this lake and proceed on to Melita where we’ll check into our accommodation. In the evening, we may head out for a couple hours checking out extensive pasturelands in a broad valley south of town known locally as the “Blind Souris” for specialty grassland birds, and maybe spot a Gray Partridge, mule deer or a hunting badger. Night in Melita
Day 4: The Mixed-grass Prairies
Today is our big day for prairie birds and the winds can really play havoc in this open country, so we will want an early start. Equipped with a bag breakfast, we’ll head straight to the best mixed-grass prairies in the extreme southwest corner of the province west of Lyleton with the main targets being Sprague’s Pipit, Baird’s & Grasshopper Sparrow, and Chestnut-collared Longspur. If some Sharp-tailed Grouse are still on their leks, we’ll have our breakfast in the van while partaking in this spectacle. This corner (abutting Saskatchewan and North Dakota) is also about the only spot in the province where one can find the endangered Ferruginous Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike, and with luck maybe even a Burrowing Owl. Other prairie or southwestern specialties we’ll look for that morning and early afternoon include Ring-necked Pheasant, Swainson’s Hawk, Upland Sandpiper, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Willow Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Mountain Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, and various other grassland and/or marshland sparrows. We’ll have lunch in Pierson, then mop up on some of the southwestern specialties before heading north through extensive largely uninhabited grasslands known locally as the Poverty Plains. After a couple hours rest and dinner in Melita, we may do an optional outing south of town traversing other sections of the Blind Souris or check out some productive riparian woodlots along the Souris River. Night in Melita.
Day 5: Whitewater Lake to Riding Mountain National Park
Depending on how we made out in the prairies yesterday, we may go back to try for some species we needed better looks at, or check riparian woodlots along the Souris and some smaller creeks looking for woodland species we may have missed earlier or for southwestern riparian rarities like Black-headed Grosbeak or Lazuli Bunting. Heading east and north to Souris for lunch, we may revisit a couple spots along Whitewater Lake or make one or two stops in the Lauder Sandhills.
After lunch, we’ll look briefly in Souris for Chimney Swifts, and perhaps add a couple of recent invaders in our province, House Finch and Eurasian Collared-Dove, before beating it to Riding Mountain National Park. After settling into our accommodations for the next few days and having dinner, we’ll make plans for our evening’s excursion. One evening option includes driving through the spacious Lake Audy bison enclosure - a particularly good area for Great Gray Owls, with the possibility of Barred & Long-eared, or maybe even a Northern Hawk Owl, and we’ll try to find a few of the Plain’s Bison and maybe some Elk roaming in their native semi-open habitat. Another evening option is driving roads along the southern edge of the park, an area that can be productive for Connecticut Warblers, Great Gray & other owls, and where deer, Elk, Coyote, or Black Bear often come out near dusk. We may also check out a spot near the park where Yellow Rail are sometimes found, however the rails generally do not start calling until well after dark so this can sometimes be a waiting game and a rather late evening. Or, we may head out at dusk for deer, Elk or Moose, stopping at a couple openings where woodcock often display. Night in Riding Mountain National Park.
Days 6 - 7: Riding Mountain National Park
This superb National Park rises out of the surrounding parklands and farmlands to an elevation of 450 meters, and the boreal-like habitats here are rich and varied, with over 260 species of birds recorded. It has been described as one of the premier 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 here, including a rich array of eastern (Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, Canada, Magnolia, Golden-winged) and northern warblers (Orange-crowned, Tennessee, Connecticut, Mourning, Cape May, Bay-breasted, Northern Waterthrush). The park also supports an array of boreal specialties including Spruce Grouse, Great Gray Owl, Canada Jay, Boreal Chickadee, as well as Black-backed, Three-toed & Pileated Woodpeckers. Other northern residents that we’ll search for include Ruffed Grouse, Osprey, Northern Goshawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Philadelphia & Blue-headed Vireo, Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Veery, Hermit & Swainson’s Thrush, Purple Finch, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Indigo Bunting. During daytime excursions, we’ll walk a couple of the better short trails and 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 8: Transfer to Winnipeg
Today we spend the morning in Riding Mountain searching for any highlight species that we have not yet found, or if we haven’t already done so, head out to the east escarpment of the park. This area can be particularly good area for a variety of warblers including Black-and-white, Golden-winged & Mourning, as well as Broad-winged Hawk, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Towhee, Philadelphia & Yellow-throated Vireo, Veery, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern & Western Wood-Pewee, Lark Sparrow, and others. 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 & 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 & 13-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 9 - 11: Churchill
On Day 9, we catch an early flight into Churchill, and settle into our accommodations before eagerly heading out in search of arctic birds and mammals. Our days will be organized around weather conditions, reports of target birds, rechecking some of the best sites several times, and venturing further afield as far as the trails and road systems will safely take us.
In town, we will make frequent excursions to the nearby granery ponds, the Churchill River docks, and Cape Merry (where the Churchill River flows out into Hudson Bay) as these sites are readily accessible and superb spots to witness the constant changeover in bird composition. In years when Ross’s Gull were more readily seen, they were often seen here. Hundreds of Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling often hang out at the docks, and this is always a good spot to check for Red Knot or Black-bellied Plover as they pass through, or to find a few lingering Lapland Longspur, Snow Buntings or maybe even a recently arrived Smith’s Longspur feeding along the railroad tracks or rocky shorelines.
Standing on the elevated rock outcrops at Cape Merry offers a paramount viewpoint for observing gulls, jaegers, loons, waterfowl, and a rich assortment of other waterbirds within and along the Churchill River and Hudson’s Bay shorelines below. Certainly, this is one of the best areas for Sabine’s, Thayer’s, Glaucous, Iceland, or for less expected gulls that funnel along the coast. It is also where rarities like King Eider, Harlequin Duck, Black Guillemot, Pomarine & Long-tailed Jaeger and numerous other less expected birds generally show up. The high outcrops of the Cape are also a great vantage point for 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 regularly seen here as well; those on the river generally being Harbour Seals, while Ringed Seals (a favored food of the Polar Bears), tend to frequent the bay shorelines. The ancient lichen encrusted rocks at the Cape are also a typical American Pipit nesting area, and this is one of a handful of areas frequented by Arctic Hare or the dark “cross fox” color phase of the Red Fox.
The road systems around Churchill are not terribly extensive, but get us out to all of the best areas for finding unique birds and other 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, American Tree & Harris’s, Canada Jay, Pine Grosbeak, Common & Hoary Redpolls, Rusty Blackbirds, and who knows what else – Merlin and even Boreal Owl have been seen here on occasion. Goose Creek Road is also littered with roadside mudflats and river overlooks where a rich assortment of shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors, and various songbirds may be found. It is also a great area to spot Thayer’s, Little & Sabine’s Gulls among flocks of Bonaparte’s and Ring-bills, and where the extremely rare Ross’ Gull may show up at any time as there are still indications that a few nest further inland or downstream.
The various roads east of town and along the coast will also be explored, including the Twin Lakes road beyond the Northern Studies Centre. This area can be particularly productive for nesting shorebirds, including Stilt Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Short-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, American Golden Plover, Hudsonian Godwit and others adorned in full breeding plumage and frequently observed displaying from treetops or performing acrobatic aerial manoeuvers. A large fen near Twin Lakes is often among the most productive for various breeding shorebirds, and it is one of the best spots for finding Golden Eagle, Short-eared Owl, Northern Shrike, and Smith’s Longspur. Displaying Willow Ptarmigan or males decked out in full breeding attire are always a treat to observe and they become more common further from the town site.
In a variety of wooded and shrubby habitats along Goose Creek Road and near Twin Lakes, we’ll search for specialty boreal and tundra species such as Three-toed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing, Pine Grosbeak, Harris’s Sparrow, White-winged Crossbill, as well as Blackpoll, Orange-crowned, Wilson’s & Palm Warblers. In years when vole and small mammal prey are more abundant, nesting Rough-legged Hawk, Parasitic Jaeger, Northern Hawk and Boreal Owls may be found. Medium-sized or larger lakes in these areas are usually worth a look for Tundra Swan, Pacific Loon, Long-tailed Duck, or maybe even a nesting scoter. Nights in Churchill.
Day 12: Return to Winnipeg
We spend our last full day in the north mopping up on species and areas that we may have missed. If you haven’t already done so, we’ll make sure you have ample time to walk the main street, where several shops offer locally made handicrafts, and a must is a visit to the Itsanitaq Museum which has artifacts collected from centuries of local habitation. Our last dinner together that evening gives us a chance to reminisce about all the trip highlights and the adventures we’ve had on this trip, before catching an late evening flight back 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.