Manitoba

Oak Hammock Marsh hosts International Migratory Bird Day bash

Spring is anything but silent at Oak Hammock Marsh thanks in large part to the rush of migratory birds that fill the air with a cacophony of squeaks, peeps and whistles. That's something worth celebrating, according to birders in Manitoba.

Birders the world over to celebrate spring migration with annual event

Saturday, May 14, is International Migratory Bird Day. (The Canadian Press)

Spring is anything but silent at Oak Hammock Marsh thanks in large part to the rush of migratory birds that fill the air with a cacophony of squeaks, peeps and whistles. That's something worth celebrating, according to birders in Manitoba.

May 14 is International Migratory Bird Day and Oak Hammock has a day of events planned that organizers hope will draw flocks of birders down to the marsh.

"We are in a very excited period in the northern hemisphere with spring migrants moving through," said Tim Poole, Manitoba Important Bird Areas program co-ordinator.

"This is one of the best times of year to see birds. I live along the Red River and in the next few weeks I could go out walking on the Red River and hopefully see a huge number of birds."
Red wing blackbirds, like this agitated male, will be singing up a storm Saturday at Oak Hammock Marsh. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, Poole and Christian Artuso, Manitoba program director with Bird Studies Canada, led a birding tour through the marsh, demonstrating the art of counting and identifying species while imparting their guru-level bird knowledge to tour members along the way.

"There's a lot going on to raise awareness for migratory birds right now," Artuso said. "May is the time of the year when this is really on our conscience."

Important Bird Areas

After the birding walk, the duo will give a few talks on Manitoba's Important Bird Areas (IBA). The international program, run locally by Nature Manitoba, is designed to protect and highlight special bird habitats, with roughly 12,000 such spaces in 200 countries identified across the world. Some, like Oak Hammock, are important stopovers for migratory birds heading north or south; others are important summer breeding or over-wintering grounds.
A pair of Tree Swallows, summer 2011. (Garry Budyk)

Grant's Lake, a marsh about half a kilometre off a gravel road near Rosser, Man., is the closest IBA to Winnipeg. It and Oak Hammock are among 38 Important Bird Areas scattered across the province.

Grant's Lake was designated an important area due to the thousands of geese that stop by in the fall en route for their southern wintering grounds. It's pretty hard to access, unlike Oak Hammock.

Following the bird walk early Saturday, Artuso is giving a presentation at 11 a.m. on Manitoba's returning songbirds, when he'll talk about where the wee ones spend their winters and how they time their "amazing" migration north. Paula Grieef with Oak Hammock is giving a birding-by-ear crash course in the afternoon, where she'll teach the basics of how to identify the distinctive melodies of different chirpy species.

We are connected by these very small birds- Christian Artuso

A pair of high-end binoculars will also be given out to one lucky birder in the bunch.

"If nothing else, it's a wonderful time of year to be at a place like Oak Hammock. It's really hopping with activity in mid-May," Artuso said.

"What I particularly like about these things is people down in Mexico or South America are celebrating the migration of the birds that we share between us. And we are connected by these very small birds that are travelling sometimes incredibly long distances."

Events run from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Oak Hammock. On Sunday, Grieef will be leading a bird banding tutorial open to the public.

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