Delta Marsh Field Station,ridge birding
Access is off PR 227 going north on the west dike of the Diversion, follow signs. Travel time is approximately 25 minutes from Portage.
The Delta beach ridge formation dates back approximately 2,500 years ago. Sand deposits were transported by the Assiniboine River prior to this date. The counter-clockwise currents of Lake Manitoba distributed these sand deposits along the southern basin of the lake. Forest vegetation existing today is a result of a typical dune ridge succession. The majority of trees existing today consist of Manitoba Maple, Green Ash, Eastern Cottonwood, Peachleaf Willow and the occasional Hackberry. American Elm is interspersed along the thin 50 km band of woods, although Dutch Elm disease has caused a die-off of this species in many areas. Shrubs consist of Sandbar Willow, Dogwood, Elderberry, Wild Cherry and Wild Rose.
It is within this beach ridge habitat, adjacent beach and marsh habitat that so many birds come every Spring to nest. Delta is renowned for its abundance of midges, mosquitoes and other insects as well as birds. Due to this super abundance of insect fauna, bird nesting densities for some species such as the Yellow Warbler are the highest to be found in North America. Combine migrating birds with the birds arriving to nest and the beach ridge forest becomes alive with bird activity from May through September.
The 21,870 hectare Delta Marsh, situated behind the shore of Lake Manitoba, is renowned as one of the largest and most investigated in North America. It represents one of the few remaining extensive marshes in North America and presents a wide and unique diversity of habitats and biota for research. Mallard Lodge, built in 1932 on the 932-hectare estate of Winnipeg businessman Donald Bain, remains as one of the finest lodges on the marsh. Originally used as a hunting lodge, it now provides accommodation and meeting space at the Field Station.
The Delta Marsh Field Station property is part of a designated game-bird refuge and wildlife protection area. Most of the property was designated in 1987 as an ecologically significant area. The station was established as a research and teaching facility in 1966; it is operated through the Faculty of Science, University of Manitoba and is a member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations. The primary purpose of the Station is a long-range research program aimed at increasing our understanding of the dynamics of marsh ecosystems. Areas of study include: population dynamics of birds, mammals and fish; parasitology; freshwater and invertebrate ecology; toxicological studies; population and community studies of marsh and terrestrial plants. To date, over 100 student theses have been published as well as over 300 publications in a variety of scientific journals.
Sharp-tailed Grouse leks
At least 12 dancing grounds where male Sharp-tailed Grouse perform their ritual courtship have been located along the south edge of the Delta Marsh. The trip leader will take you to one of these activity centres. We will attempt to drive the observers as close to the leks as possible without disturbing the birds.
Sharptails have an elaborate performance on the courtship lek. This plain brown bird, slightly smaller than the barnyard chicken, changes its appearance and character on the dancing ground. A bright yellow flash appears above the eyes, the sharp white triangle of a tail is elevated and the bird advances on his nearest rival like a wind-up toy. His advance is met by similar behaviour from the male in the adjoining territory. Sounds heard are the patter of the feet from the advancing males (this is accompanied by a tail twitch). During this activity a penetrating “squeak” can be heard; this is the loudest and most far-carrying noise to be heard on the lek and the sound we use to find the dancing birds. If the birds are alarmed you will hear a cackle that both male and female use to warn the flock of danger. You can be assured that they will soon fly from the grounds.
Some of the leks at the edge of the marsh have been under observation for better than 50 years, having been discovered by Manitoba Conservation Officers in the 1950s during their patrols of the marsh. While observations have not been continuous, some of the leks have remained in the vicinity of the early observations. Only land use changes and aspen encroachment have forced them to move from the area.
St.Ambroise Provincial Recreation Park
Two interpretive trails lead from the day use area. The first is a short trail that leads to a tower overlooking Sioux Pass Marsh. As you walk to this tower you pass through the wooded ridge, and at this time of the year, warblers should be moving along this wooded beach ridge from East to West. Then through a stretch of wet meadow vegetation where Le Conte’s, Savannah and Sharp-tailed Sparrows can be heard and seen. From the tower one can observe Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Forester’s Tern and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. A second trail follows the beach ridge to the West. This is the primary route of migrating birds and should be excellent at this time of the year to see warblers at their best. Watch for the migrating Sharp-shinned Hawk that move with the warblers and other migrants along the beach ridge.
The trails lead to and along side the Sioux Pass Marsh, a part of the Delta Marsh. It is a Ducks Unlimited Project and if you proceed far enough west you will encounter a dyke leading to the south that separates the Sioux Pass Marsh from the rest of the Delta Marsh. The “Sioux” in the name of the marsh is a reference to part of a Sioux tribe that took refuge in Canada after the Minnesota Uprising in 1862. Sioux living on the edge of the marsh were attacked in May of 1864 by a group of Saulteaux warriors that surrounded their encampment South of the marsh, killing eight Sioux and wounding 18 others. From then on the survivors built entrenchments against further surprise attacks. One such entrenchment may still be seen about 4 km south of the day use area. The “Pass” part of the name comes from a traditional pattern of movement of ducks from one part of the marsh to another. Hunters called these areas of movement, “passes” and shot at birds moving through each pass.
This event will be a demonstration of bird banding at the Delta Marsh Bird Observatory (DMBO) with the Executive Director Heidi den Haan. DMBO is a member of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network. As the only station in Manitoba, it plays a critical role in addressing the paucity of information regarding the status of populations of songbirds in the central prairie provinces.
Traditionally noted for its abundance of waterfowl, the Delta Marsh is also a primary stopover site for migrating songbirds. The narrow strip of trees growing on the dune ridge between the lake and the marsh provides a natural migration pathway making it an ideal place to situate a monitoring station. In addition, food sources from the marsh and lake make possible large numbers of migrating passerines to be funneled through the narrow forest ridge. These “huge quantities” of birds have earned DMBO the reputation of being the busiest monitoring station in Canada.
Naegele’s Cherry Ridge & Marsh Development
Located 3 miles (5 kilometers) north of Ogilvie’s Portage Creek Gardens is Naegele’s Mallard Lodge (not to be confused with the lodge of the same name at the Delta Marsh Field Station). Located on Cherry Ridge this area has provided waterfowl hunting for many years. The lodge itself was once the property of Sports Afield writer and waterfowl hunter Jimmy Robinson during the 1930s. The Mallard Lodge and property is located on a peninsula between Cadham Bay and Simpson Bay, two of the largest bodies of water that make up the Delta Marsh. The property has been developed to maximize its use by waterfowl. The site has three impoundments which can be pumped full of water to attract ducks and shorebirds. A very low ridge of trees leads birds from the fields and prairies to the edge of the marsh and finally to the East Marsh beach ridge. Birders can expect to see a good migration of Yellow Warblers, Myrtle Warblers, Common Yellowthroat as well as many other warblers. The wetlands should yield numbers of Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers and perhaps even a Canvasback pair.
Portage Sandhills and the Floodway Reservoir
The Portage Floodway Reservoir and Spillway Park are good birding areas. The first stop of this venue is the Spillway Park, primarily established as a fishing area, the park has a small wetland with a good population of rails, coots, and blackbirds. The woodlands on the north side of the pond are often full of warblers at this time of the year, while breeding Brown Thrashers and House Wrens should be present. The 3,000-acre reservoir on the other side of the access road often has large numbers of geese and swans as well as other birds.
We will then visit the last stabilized dune site at the Portage Sandhills Wildlife Management Area (WMA). This will require some walking and climbing in mixed grass prairie characteristic of this site. The prairie in this area is dominated by blue grama and sand dropseed, underneath which a mat of lichens, mosses, and the occasional horizontal juniper can be noted. Scattered about, the prickly pear cactus is easily found.
Much of the WMA has become a young aspen forest, but this area is closer to the original aspen parkland landscape. Some of the bird species that can be encountered are the Sharp-tailed Grouse, Western Meadowlark, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Eastern Towhee.
Oxbow Woods Walking Tour
This beautiful wooded area is a fine example of relic deciduous gallery forest. The wide oxbow channel, locally know as the “Blind Channel” and surrounding much of the forest, is largely responsible for its existence today. Between 4,500 and 3,000 years ago this channel, which is now filled with marsh vegetation, was actually part of the Assiniboine River itself before it entered Lake Manitoba. Centuries of flooding deposited layers of rich soil throughout the area. That in combination with a lengthy growing season and good moisture conditions is responsible for the myriad of plant species present today.
Over 150 years ago the Homestead Act brought settlers and their farming practises into the region. Gallery forests such as this with their numerous large Manitoba Maple, White Elm, Green Ash and Bur Oak trees were favoured for logging. Fortunately, while some logging occurred here many century old trees remain. In more recent decades endangered forests such as this one have been subjected to agriculture, parks and the like. The University of Manitoba acquired the Oxbow Woods property in 1966 for research and teaching purposes and in 1988 the site was recognized as an Ecologically Significant Area.
From open, partially shrub filled meadows to the dense wetland vegetation of the oxbow channel to the tall, majestic oak canopies with their under story shrubs – there is a wide array of habitats for many bird species. The north grass filled meadow supporting snowberry and raspberry growth provides habitat for Northern Harrier, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Clay-colored, Vesper, Savannah and LeConte’s Sparrows. Transition areas or those areas where open meadows become replaced with taller shrubs and small trees are suitable for nesting Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler and American Goldfinch. The wetland vegetation of the oxbow channel and associated willow edges provides opportunities to see such species as Pied-billed Grebe, Wood Duck, Sora, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Swamp Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Red-winged Blackbird. The mature, heavily wooded areas are suitable for nesting Cooper’s Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Great-crested Flycatcher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-throated Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Baltimore Oriole.