Bird Watching in the Red River North Region

an article by Heather Bailey

As winter turns to spring, before the snow and the cold retreat the sky becomes filled with skeins of geese and each day brings more and more. Spring is coming!

Then as fall starts to creep in and the weather turns cooler first the nights, then the days, the sky again fills with skeins of geese ready to return back south.

Other birds appear in the spring as well and soon their cheerful sounds fill the air. This is how most of us notice birds; unaware of what species they are, other than perhaps a few of the more common ones. But not all of us.

A group of birdwatchers meets at the Gordon Howard Centre approximately six times a year. This group first came together in the early 1990’s. They plan bird-watching outings throughout the year and participate in a Christmas Bird Count. Near the end of May, a combination picnic and birding excursion is held, coinciding with spring migration.

The Christmas Bird Count is held in late December. Christmas Bird Counts are organized in countries all over the globe and have been popular in North America for over 100 years. Here, participants select a date and record all avian sightings within a 24-hour period. Bird counts provide critical information to conservationists and professional natural resource practitioners. The data collected is used to assist with monitoring of bird populations and flight patterns. Counts from locations across the continent are amassed to provide an annual snapshot of the range, health, and strength of various species. In this way fluctuations in avian populations can be tracked and areas of concern such as habitat loss, urban expansion, the effects of weather patterns, and other environmental factors, can be assessed.

Just over 300 bird species breed in Manitoba and half to two thirds of those can be seen within the Red River North region at various times of year. Due to our proximity to rivers and an abundance of marshes and lakes, this region in general, and Oak Hammock Marsh in particular, is one of the top birding locations in the Americas. Birders from around the world come here to add to their life lists.

The Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas is an illustrated encyclopedia that defines the abundance, distribution, habitats, and conservation details of hundreds of Manitoba birds. Data collected over a five-year period by more than 700 volunteers was first published in 2014 and has been continuously updated since. This extraordinary resource is available on line at https://www.birdatlas.mb.ca/index_en.jsp.

Birdwatching is a personal activity, enjoyable when pursued alone or with other enthusiasts. For some, it is simply observing what comes to visit in their backyard; for others, it can involve customized excursions to specific locations around the globe, geared to adding another species to their life list. There are even competition bird counts: one group in Manitoba holds a record of seeing 200 different birds in one day.

The Selkirk group of recreational birders offers informative presentations on where to find birds, how to identify them by sight and by song, along with tips on feeding birds. Day outings and longer jaunts to various locales are planned. These may be a stroll along the pathways of Selkirk Park, a visit to Oak Hammock Marsh, or forays to other “hot spots” in the hopes of catching sight of a special bird. Spring and fall migrations can be exciting times as more rarely seen birds pass through. An active “rare bird” alert network reports the locations of unusual visitors.

Birding doesn’t require a lot of fancy gear: good binoculars help, and a guide book with range maps is most useful. All you really need is an interest in learning more about the colourful feathered friends that share our world.

So, if you have an interest in birdwatching, consider joining the flock at the Gordon Howard Centre!