The beautiful Canadian landscape has provided Hollywood with lasting images of wilderness and wildlife for many years. A low human population density has ensured that the open prairie portrayed in “Dances with Wolves” is still the perfect home for Bison and their attendant flocks of cowbirds and longspurs. The haunting sound of the loon that preceded an ambush in “The Last of the Mohicans” still echoes across pools dammed by the Beaver. A Raven’s ‘kronk’ warns of the arrival of a Black Bear bringing her cubs into the unfolding spring, where Bald Eagles nest and Spruce Grouse display. Churchill is a Mecca for Arctic birds and is also famous for Beluga Whales, providing an outstanding Arctic experience, even though it lies at the same latitude as John O’Groats!
From north to south, Manitoba screams wilderness. It is blessed with a great diversity of habitat that provides non-stop highlights. We spend time on the Great Plains that are home to some of North America’s most sought-after birds. These include Yellow Rail, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Le Conte’s Sparrow and Sharp-tailed Grouse. Countless prairie wetlands provide both important migration corridors and breeding habitat for numerous waterfowl. Warblers, now in their finest party dress, feed up on migration and even the Common Nighthawk may come out in the daytime. The third part of our tour takes us deep into the woods where the ‘Phantom of the Forest’, the Great Grey Owl, dwells. Woodpeckers share a birch sap drink with refuelling hummingbirds. The elusive Connecticut Warbler and the rare Golden-winged Warbler are among the highlights. Leaving the lakes and big trees behind, we then fly to the shores of Hudson Bay. Churchill is famous for its Polar Bears, but it is also one of the most accessible places to see Arctic wildlife. Summer comes quickly here as the sea-ice breaks up and Arctic shorebirds and wildfowl gather in preparation for breeding. Tundra pools are home to brick-red Hudsonian Godwits and Short-billed Dowitchers, while the dapper American Golden Plovers strut through heather with Willow Ptarmigan. Bald Eagles hunt Long-tailed Ducks, Pacific Divers and Sandhill Cranes by the Churchill River.
Our tour begins with two nights in Winnipeg. We will search for lingering migrants that pass through the aspen forests and cattail marshes beside Lake Winnipeg, the world’s 13th largest freshwater lake. A Chestnut-sided Warbler, Baltimore Oriole or American Redstart could be sheltering in bushes while the marshes are home to American Bittern, Virginia Rail and Wilson’s Snipe.
A night at Portage la Prairie allows time to visit Oak Hammock and the renowned Delta Marshes. Killdeer and Pied-billed Grebe nest alongside American White Pelicans and Forster’s Terns. Purple Martins mix with Cliff and Tree Swallows, and we will watch the skies for passing Franklin’s or Bonaparte’s Gulls. This is the best place to check for Le Conte’s Sparrow too.
On day four we head towards Brandon. The Shilo Plains hold several desirable species such as Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur and Grasshopper Sparrow. After dinner we will visit Douglas Marsh in the hope of locating one of the most elusive of North America’s birds, the Yellow Rail.
Several Western species occur in the vicinity of Melita and we will search the wide open landscape for specialities such as Ferruginous Hawk, Upland Sandpiper, Willow Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe and Baird’s Sparrow. Prairie wetlands hold American Avocet and White-faced Ibis.
On day six, we will transfer to Wasagming for three nights. Passing through Minnedosa Pothole Region the prairies are pitted with water-filled sinkholes. These are the main breeding grounds for many of Canada’s wildfowl: American Wigeon, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, and Blue and Green-winged Teal. Extensive grasslands provide home for Burrowing Owl and dancing Sharp-tailed Grouse.
RIDING MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
At Wasagming in Riding Mountain National Park, we will try to locate Manitoba’s state bird, the Great Grey Owl. The small meadows beside stands of tall spruces provide the perfect place for the ghost of the forest to hunt. A large frosty-plumaged morph of Great Horned Owl also occurs here. Either would certainly be a highlight.
Our next two days will be spent exploring this beautiful park. Seeing the American wood warblers singing in their forest home is something quite special. Resplendent Magnolia Warblers are joined by Cape May, Black-throated Green, Nashville, Tennessee, Canada, Mourning, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided and the tree-creeping Black-and-White Warbler. Ovenbirds and Northern Waterthrush sing from mid-storey. Black-backed Woodpecker, American Three-toed Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers all nest. In fact we could see eight species of woodpecker on this trip! The canopy provides a place for sentinels like Evening Grosbeak and Cedar Waxwing, while Black-capped Chickadee, Philadelphia Vireo and Brown Creeper feed closer to the ground.
Along the scenic east escarpment of the park, open oak woods are the home of the Golden-winged Warbler which has been declining for half a century. Researchers will help us try locate one, and perhaps also a Connecticut Warbler which has also suffered recent declines.
Black Bear, Moose and White-tailed Deer can cross the road at any time so we will not ignore the excitement that large mammals can bring. A Bison herd at Lake Audy grazes woodland clearings, attended by flocks of Brown-headed Cowbirds. In ponds created by Beavers, Great Northern Diver, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser and Trumpeter Swan all nest.
Situated on the shores of Hudson Bay, where the Churchill River enters the sea, the town of Churchill is famous as the Polar Bear capital of North America. As the sea ice breaks up in spring they should have departed in search of seals. This means that we can enjoy the beautiful spring colours of the tundra in safety.
By covering a small area thoroughly we can hope to watch Red-necked Phalaropes spinning next to Baird’s, White-rumped, Least and Semi-palmated Sandpipers. Moss-covered spruce bogs hide nesting American Golden Plover, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit and Short-billed Dowitcher. Yelping Pacific Divers display beside the golden-horned Slavonian Grebe, while Long-tailed Ducks yodel to attract a mate. Of course everything is in glorious breeding plumage.
Geese pass through early but we may see the last few Snow and Ross’s Geese along with Cackling Canada Geese. Feeding stations beside the forest attract Pine Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee, Grey Jay (known locally as Whiskey Jack), Mealy Redpoll, and various smart sparrows. These include White-throated, White-crowned, Fox and Harris’s Sparrow. Deeper into the forest we can try to find a displaying Spruce Grouse.
Reaching the coast we find masses of gulls, mostly Ring-billed, but with the prospect of rarer Arctic species including the handsome Sabine’s Gull. On our recce we found the first Glaucous-winged Gull for the region and we will keep our fingers crossed for a Ross’s Gull that nests further up the coast.
In town, Snow Buntings may be joined by a lingering Lapland Bunting. Bushes will already hold Grey-cheeked Thrushes and Yellow Warblers, all eager to breed. Foxes are relatively confiding and Ravens steal food from husky dogs.
All too soon the time comes to return to Winnipeg with a return flight over the tundra before flying back to the UK.
Basic fitness is all that is required. Breakfast will be at about 6.30am. Walking is on level ground at a sensible pace, but it can be boggy and uneven at times. Early starts will allow us to take advantage of the best birding conditions and there may be a late evening search for Great Grey Owl.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided, with two nights at the Country Inn in Winnipeg, one night at the Super 8 in Portage la Prairie, two nights at the Comfort Inn in Brandon, three nights at the McTavish’s Motel at Wasagming and three nights at the Tundra Inn in Churchill. All hotels are of a good standard and all rooms are en suite. Packed lunches will be taken every day.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 1st, ending with breakfast on 12th), soft drinks, local transport by minibus, domestic flights, international flights and airport taxes.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from London Heathrow to Winnipeg (via Toronto) using the scheduled services of Air Canada. Outbound flight departs midday, return flight arrives back late morning. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are available on this tour. See booking form for details.
click here to see the photographs in our Manitoba Album
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