Gaggles of geese flock to Oak Hammock Marsh for fall migration
Weekend visitors will get a chance to set banded, migrating songbirds free from palm of their hands
The leaves are changing and the geese are gathering at Oak Hammock Marsh again to bulk up before heading south for the winter.
The marsh's annual migration festival is underway. It gives birders a chance to bid farewell to huge flocks of honkers and songbirds escaping to places in the southern U.S. and South America.
Jacques Bourgeois, events coordinator at Oak Hammock Marsh, said wagon rides on offer help Manitobans explore the 36-square kilometres of marsh land.
Bourgeois said it's a great place to get out and enjoy the changing seasons — especially right now.
"In every direction you see clouds flying back," Bourgeois said, estimating there was probably about 100,000 Canada and snow geese at the marsh on Thursday.
"I'm sure their numbers will be building up over the weekend."
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Many of the geese spend the days foraging in nearby fields during the day before circling back to the marsh and bedding down at sunset, Bourgeois said.
'It's just a magical feeling'
Thousands of small songbirds are also buzzing by currently, too. Oak Hammock staff has set up mist nets used to safely snag small songbirds in flight that are then banded and released. Those in attendance will get a chance to see the entire process up close.
Because "their legs look kind of like little toothpicks," the resident naturalist takes care of all the delicate aspects of banding before handing the little guys off to people, who get to let them take off from the palm of their hands.
"They get to hold the birds and let them go as well," said Bourgeois. "This is a really cool connection with nature…. It's just a magical feeling, it's awesome."
The marsh is also hosting a Migration Medallist Challenge this year that will see three professional athletes on hand engaging in fun activities with the public this weekend.
Janine Stephens, a rower who took home a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics; three-time wheelchair rugby Paralympic medallist Jared Funk; and 2014 Canadian University National golf champion Josh Wytinck will be interacting with the public and helping them understand challenges birds face in migration.
These "impact ambassadors" will be at the marsh from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. There will be giveaways for the first 300 people in attendance that include kids' binoculars, packages of bird seeds and plants.
Oak Hammock Marsh is about 40 kilometres north of Winnipeg.