Chapter 6. Southeastern Manitoba
(Bert) Since our drive time today is not long, we take a lazy start this morning and start birding at 7:30 at the St. Martin Junction pull-out where we stopped for the night. Bug suits and mosquito repellant are in order today, as we have reached southeastern Manitoba in prime bug season. Insects rarely bother me, so two quick squirts of repellent are enough for me. Others are donned in foot to crown bug gear, but even with that Barbara retreats early. Those that stick with me get to see a nice array of birds and the best is when I hear a Sedge Wren. With patience, the singing wren gets closer and in view, a life bird for many. It is a favorite bird of mine. I don’t know why, because it is quite drab and its call is not something to write home about. Maybe it is because it one of the harder wrens to find and I am always delighted when I locate one.
We get separated when we continue our drive toward Winnipeg and check into our campsite at Birds Hill. We gather together again around my campfire. We have become a close knit group and really enjoy each other’s company. It will be hard when we soon part our ways.
(Shari) I notice a lot of pick-up trucks in the parking lot in front of the small restaurant that was closed last night. I go inside and introduce myself to the owner. I ask him what happened to Dianne. He tells me she was not the owner and did not pay her rent so she was evicted. Apparently she never told him about the arrival of our group. As compensation for the misunderstanding, he offers me a free breakfast. This has got to be a first as I refuse because I am on a diet. I figure I gained between 1 and 3 lb. in Churchill. That is good since on other trips it was 7 lb. I go back to R-Tent-III and eat my low cal cereal and wait for Bert and the birders to return. When Bert comes back, I hear stories about the tics and when Bert finds seven of them on his person, I suggest he take a shower.
We finally get on our way at about 9:45 AM. Our drive is not too bad and we arrive at our last campground 1 hr. before last night’s campers must depart. Someone is in our reserved site and we must wait until they vacate, which they do within 20 min. The site is a hard one for our 40 ft. to negotiate. We find a new way to do this, I drive and Bert directs. It works slick and we are nicely in the crazy spot. Hookups were built on the wrong side and Bert must thread the hoses underneath the rig. No sooner have we settled in when John and Marilyn arrive and say they have been assigned site 15. That is the same one we are in. I think to myself, I hope that is wrong because no way is Bert going to want to move. I go to the office and they tell me John never checked in. I come back and John shows me the map the lady gave him. We both go to the office and get it all straightened out. John is assigned a different site and we stay put.
Our last social is tonight and already I am getting into a funk. I sure will miss this special group. I have coined them the “Happy Group” since that is what they are. They easily accept change with no complaints ever. Even during the rainstorms early in our trip, they were upbeat. I wish I could travel with each and every one of them all summer. Doug brings me a margarita. It comes already made up including tequila and Gran Manier. Yum! Richard brings his ukulele and we sing the birder song one more time. Georgia, Richard and Kay stay longer and no one really wants to call it a night. But alas they remember the 4:45 AM start on birding in the morning and depart with lawn chairs and empty glasses in hand.
(Bert) As we are getting ready to leave, Bev tells me she heard a Whip-poor-will this morning at 4:15. Wish I had heard one, but I’m not sure I want to get up that early again tomorrow morning. We drive to Oak Hammock Marsh and the sun is just piercing the horizon, a sharp red dagger into clear blue skies. I stick to the perimeter road, crawling at 5-10 mph as all eyes are turned to the flat grassy fields on both sides. We took the early start on the hopes of seeing a Short-eared Owl hunting low over the fields. I’ve done this before with good success, though having more trouble with slippery mud roads. This morning it is the reverse: good roads, no owls.
We reach the end of the road at a parking lot and continue on foot in the North Mound Area. A distant mammal catches my attention. Some think badger; others skunk. It’s a Striped Skunk and soon we see two others much closer. I try for a photo, but they retreat into tall grass. In one of the few large cottonwoods, a pair of Western Kingbirds is gathering nesting material and the start of a nest appears in the crouch of the tree. Seems a bit late for nest building and I wonder if it is a second try.
We return on the perimeter road, this time stopping for singing birds. As always, Bobolinks hold my attention, reminding me of my grandfather and his stories about seeing and hearing them on his farm. I hear another song, this one not melodious, but insect like and I’m pretty sure it is a Nelson’s Sparrow. I ask Dale to play its recording and it seems to be a match. Fortunately, all of us are wearing our high topped rubber boots and Georgia finds the shallowest spot to cross the water-filled ditch and gain access to the grassy field, although Bev gets one boot filled with water. I follow the song and in a couple of minutes I locate the singer perched on a short wispy bush. We can clearly see the sparrow but not quite good enough to see the color of the crown stripe. Is it white or cream-colored? I remember that look-alike Le Conte’s Sparrow also has a sound-alike song. Dale plays the Nelson’s song and the bird ignores it. Dale plays the Le Conte’s song and the sparrow immediately flies in our direction and ducks into the grass. We follow it and attempt to surround the bird, but it escapes between us. We haven’t gotten a better look, except in flight, but the behavior tells us it is a Le Conte’s.
(Shari) I travel with the late group to one of my favorite marshes. Doug is not with us as he is playing “where is it now” with Kay’s pillow, which she left on the train. I love marshes when they have boardwalks, informational signs, and smooth gravel paths. I must have known this before, but the ground squirrel already starts its hibernation in mid-July. First the male hibernates, then two weeks later the female and the young need to fatten up so they do not hibernate until autumn. How weird! It seems that summer is just starting when they hibernate. Today is cool and it almost wants to rain, but holds off. Kay does not have her phone and so I call Doug wondering where he is. I get the answering machine, and tell him I will buy him lunch if he gets here within the next 15 min. I figure that is a safe bet. But lo and behold, in he strolls just as we are about to start to eat, so I have to spring for his lunch. I hope all he wants to eat is a pickle. We have a nice lunch at the visitor center’s cafeteria before heading back.
(Bert) We stop a few more times for photographs of a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel and later, at the marsh, for a Richardson’s Ground Squirrel and a cooperative Marsh Wren. Georgia has heard of good birds at Cell A because it is being drained so we stop at that site before leaving the marsh. When we get there it does not look drained and we see more of the same, although a larger number of American Avocets then before. A Killdeer is throwing a tantrum about our close proximity to its nest, if that is what you can call a tiny depression in the gravel pathway. You would think they would learn not to lay their eggs in driveways, roads and walkways where people are constantly in motion. This time the Killdeer is so intent on sitting on her four eggs that she lets us pass by only 10 ft. from her.
When we return to our campground, we pause for a roadside Wild Turkey, the last species to be added to our trip list. At our farewell dinner tonight I hear exuberant birders announce the number of lifers they got on this Manitoba trip. Dale and Bev have between 11 and 13, Georgia has 23, much to her surprise, and Marilyn, who is newer to birding has added 42 to her list. John, whose list derives from a merit award as a Boy Scout and hasn’t been added to since, must have the largest number of additions. Although I’m not sure he keeps track, I ask him if he has doubled his list. He answers he has tripled it. Although we started dinner at 6:30, conversation is so lively and the facilities are so pleasant, our group is the last to leave the restaurant and it is nearly 10 PM as we walk the short distance back to our campsites. In the floral gardens surrounding the restaurant a White-tailed Deer browses on the flowers and then stretches its neck, giraffe-like, and nibbles on tree leaves.
(Shari) I make muffins for tomorrow’s send-off and then squeeze in a nap before we walk the short distance to the restaurant. The grounds of this restaurant are beautiful and we admire all the flowers. Big purple and yellow irises border the lawns while huge purple and white lilacs perfume the entrance porch. We are ushered upstairs to start our meal. We have a great time and eat and chatter for 3˝ hours. We did not realize how much time had passed. Still no one really wants to break up the group but I think everyone else is out of the restaurant. I tell all that I am going to go into a funk tomorrow and that have to call me or e-mail me to cheer me up.
(Shari) I do not sleep well and seem to be awake from midnight to 4. Then Bert wakes me up at 6:30 saying that “EVERYONE” is up and about. I just hate when he extrapolates facts to make them work out to what he wants. In reality maybe he heard Doug and Kay but more likely a neighbor. No one is expected for muffins until 7:30. I get up now anyway and sit outside by the campfire until our first guests arrive. We say goodbye to all our friends during the next two hours. I get sadder by the minute. This group is a special one and I think we all bonded closer to each other than any group I have had in the past. I miss them already and reiterate the fact that they should write me next week to prevent my depression. Bert knows I am down and suggests a bike ride through the park. I put the boring caravan paperwork aside for later and we head off towards the paved bike path through a portion of the park I have never seen. We digress from the path periodically to search for geocaches and get 4 for 4. Tired and exhausted, we pedal home 3˝ hours after we departed. I am in bed and asleep by 8:30.