Chapter 6. Southeastern Manitoba
(Shari) At 8 AM the restaurant opens for our group so that ten of us can have breakfast. Since we must be out first, I say that we need to order first, not knowing that first to order is last to get served. Apparently the restaurant management decided to put two greenhorns on shift today and it is 90 min. before we get our food. I must admit the food is delicious even if late and I feel bad for those that are waiting for us to get on the road. I have the Ukrainian breakfast that has eggs, toast, garlic sausage and pirogues filled with mashed potatoes. It is really good. Finally 30 min. after the scheduled time we depart. Sixty miles down the road we stop at a rest area to bird. It is close to noon by the time we pull out and from then on we scatter, and Bert and I go straight to Winnipeg without a stop. I announce to the park staff that the group is on its way and they print receipts for us and check us in. Even though our sites were all reserved the process still takes over an hour before we get all but the last two stragglers in their sites.
It is almost 5 by the time I get back to R-Tent-III and Bert has it already parked, leveled and ready for guests. Tonight he is running sessions on computerizing your bird sightings and over 16 people are interested in the topic. While the first bunch sits in R-Tent-III, the rest of us socialize and snack around the fire. Then the process is repeated with the groups exchanging places. It seems like something is lacking and Jack H. wonders if I am going to run a travel meeting. I tell him that we are not going to travel to more places and I don’t have anything to say. It is strange though. It is close to 8:30 PM before the last guest departs and we begin to eat dinner.
(Bert) Breakfast orders from Shari and me are the first ones taken by the cook on her second day of work. She takes orders from ten of us and then retreats to the kitchen. Thereafter, every nine minutes or so she brings out one of the meals, eventually serving everyone except us. I’m anxious to get on the road and since we are expected to be the first to leave, others now waiting for us, I wish we had been served first. Now she picks up the menu to see what is included in the Ukrainian breakfast we ordered. I wonder if the cook knows how to make a Ukrainian breakfast. Not to worry, when the meal finally arrives it is excellent, pirogues included, and in such generous quantity that we take some of it back with us to R-Tent-III.
Finally we are on the road at about 10 AM and in an hour we stop at Devil’s Lake. Two years ago the rest stop was so overcome with mosquitoes hardly anyone wanted to bird. Today I don’t see or feel a single one, although Shari claims to have found a few. We do not find many birds, yet the ones that we do see are special: Evening Grosbeak, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Purple Finch.
Our longest driving day, the road south is comparatively uninteresting with little to report. I see several large flocks of Canada Geese flying north and come to the conclusion that these as well as the ones I saw when we traveled toward Thompson must not be breeding birds. No way could they have time to nest this late in the season. Later, when I check my e-mail I get a note from Rob P. saying the same thing. He writes, “Rather, these are non-breeding birds (mostly yearlings, some 2-year-olds) engaged in a "molt-migration". This phenomenon consists of the birds flying north to some rich feeding areas where they will molt. They will return south about the same time as the breeders and their young of the year do.”
After we arrive at our campsite I start a campfire for the upcoming social hour and then prepare my computer for the presentation I will give on birding software. Since the session is inside R-Tent-III and we have limited seating, I run the presentation twice for two sets of listeners. Later I join the others around the campfire as the sky darkens and an evening wind stirs.
(Bert) Our last bird outing of the caravan, we visit Oak Hammock Marsh, which I consider one of the jewels of the Winnipeg birding spots. We are not disappointed today. Barely having arrived, Connie spots a Gray Partridge in the grain field close to the road. Unlike other sightings, this bird freezes at the spot, merely lowering its body until only head and shoulders rise above the grass. It stares at us and we at it. Rounding the bend I stop again when I see the neck and uplifted head of an American Bittern blending in with the tall grass. I’m glad we finally got this bird and didn’t think it would take so long to do so. This one waits until everyone has had a good look and taken photographs, then takes flight immediately in front of us, putting on a great show.
The next turn brings us to a field covered with Bobolinks displaying and singing, a species I never tire of hearing. We stop at the artesian well and I hear a Sedge Wren that soon pops up for us to see. In the next grain field a Willet chases a male Northern Harrier and then a Red-winged Blackbird joins in the chase, followed quickly by a Marbled Godwit. They sure don’t want that harrier hunting in their home territory.
Eventually the gravel road becomes so slick and our tires so encased in sticky mud that we turn back and head to the ponds at the interpretative center. We find both Horned and Eared Grebes, a good comparison, and watch an Eared Grebe sitting on a nest in the marsh. Its mate swims up and the sitting grebe gets up, revealing the eggs beneath, and slips into the water. Now the other parent straddles the nest and with a few turns it settles comfortably over the eggs.
Black Terns do “touch and go” landings over the marsh, just nipping the surface presumably to snatch tiny insects. Cameras poised, Curt and I try to stop the action but the terns seem too fast for us.
Marie calls my attention to what she thinks is a coot with a red bill. She says it doesn’t look like a moorhen. I look at it with my binoculars and think it is a duck and then align my scope on the distant bird. While the odd bill certainly distracts from identifying the bird, all other features point to a male Ring-necked Duck. Through my spotting scope I am able to take a series of photos, a few of which are clear images, including several shots of the male joining a female on a mound of grass forming a tiny island. After returning to R-Tent-III I upload to my website three views of portions clipped from 180X digiscoped photos.
Blowing up one of the photos I see what might be a band on the right leg of the male. It seems the red bill would be incredibly unusual, perhaps unbelievable, aberrancy for a Ring-necked Duck. Now I wonder if this bird was banded and the bill painted for identification in a scientific research project. So I pose a question to the e-group Manitoba Birds and within an hour get several responses. The consensus is that the bill is not painted. Instead, the bill is equipped with a red saddle, probably a marker so that the duck can be identified at a distance, just as we did today.
(Shari) While the group goes off on its last bird outing I get all sorts of things done. I bake muffins for tomorrow morning goodbyes. I wash and hang out sheets. I clean off the dash board, my bedroom counter and part of the desk covered with caravan papers and other collected stuff. The house is beginning to look clean again. I start to sort papers and finish reports before it is time to depart for our farewell dinner. I could not get reservations last August for the place we used before so I was leery about the new place, although it came highly recommended by a Winnipeg resident we met in Belize in March. I need not to have worried. We arrive to find six round tables already set with linens and china in a room partitioned with etched glass. My first course consists of great bread with two kinds of spread followed by a pear salad with vinaigrette. For the main course, I order beef tornadoes with mushroom wine sauce. The dessert is delicious custard in an edible chocolate cup covered with caramel sauce served with a biscotti type cookie on the side. Our little closing program consists of a test of Manitoba trivia questions. Of course everyone passes and gets a commemorative pin and the group picture we took in Rugby and I printed and framed during the trip. Some call it the survival pin and Steve threatens to make and sell T-shirts on the Alaska trip next year that say “I survived birding with Bert.” We say he should make them for Belize where it is certainly appropriate, but that for Alaska they would not sell because that trip is comparatively laid back. It is close to 10 PM before we drive back to camp with our tummies full and laugh lines still etched in our faces. As I read on a plaque recently, “Today’s moments are tomorrow’s memories.” We all have had three weeks of good moments and are sorry the trip is ending. Some of us will see each other again next year for the trip to Alaska and/or the following year to the Maritimes or cross paths somewhere in between. So until we meet again, goodbye.
Epilogue Table of Contents