Saturday, June 27, 2009

Riding Mountain in spring

We were very privileged to be able to conduct spring training for our Golden-winged Warbler survey crew in Riding Mountain National Park (thanx Wybo!) again this year. A truly fantastic place to learn about nature. Better late than never, I’m organizing a few photos to make an account of our two weeks in the park.

Things got off to a fantastic start with a Burrowing Owl en route. Distant views in the rain and no photography prizes but always a huge delight to see this rare species in the province!

As we drove toward the park we noticed the vehicles coming the other way were covered in snow.. sure enough over a foot of snow had fallen (typical mid May weather) and our training would get off to a cold start as it did last year!

The snow makes it tough on some of the birds but for the viewer it can mean they are close to the ground and easy to see. Many species were hopping around at our feet like American Robins

and this Swainson's Thrush (seemingly drained of colour by the snow)

At the water’s edge several sparrow species probed for food under ice overhangs or at the edge of melt water. This is a Swamp Sparrow, looking a little timid of the cold water…

And here a Song Sparrow braves the open water

This Lincoln's Sparrow sticks to puddles on "drier" land

Warblers also employed a similar feeding strategy close to the ground, especially the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers

And how often do you get views of Blackpoll Warbler like this? This male hopped right up to us along the snow-covered trail by South Beach.

Cape May Warblers put on a real show, feeding on the snow-laden conifer needles. On one morning with a fierce northeasterly wind, we stood on the northern shore of Waasagaming (Clear Lake or in Anishinaabemowin “At the place where the lake is clear”) and watched a huge fall out of birds who had fought against the wind as they crossed the large water body and were dropping down on the north shore in waves, small flock after large flock after mixed flock. I estimated 300 Cape May Warblers crossed the lake that morning (a good year to see Cape Mays actually, perhaps because of spruce bud worm)

Like the Cape Mays, some warbler species were less likely to be seen on the ground like this Tennessee Warbler, who had found a sun-dried corner

Even after the snow cleared, there were many cold mornings with strong northerly winds. Under these conditions migrants were flying low to the ground, presumably to minimize the effect of the head wind. Some migrants stopped to refuel right on the ground in roadside ditches that provided shelter from the wind. I don’t often get views of Blackburnian Warbler like this – a stunning male feeding in the grass by the highway on just such a morning…

Least Flycatchers arrive quite early, at least earlier than many other flycatchers like Alder, and under these conditions they too were feeding very low to the ground offering superb views…

Some of the bigger fruit-eaters like the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks probably had it a little easier than the warblers

And others like this Wilson’s Snipe seemed quite at home in the snow, calling and displaying as usual

This delightful pair of Common Mergansers posed for a portrait for us

As did this handsome Bonaparte’s Gull by the Lake Audy dam

A Peregrine Falcon was a daily sight around the lake and a most welcome sight at that!

and there's more but this will have to be all for now... to be continued...


  1. I am looking forward to seeing more pictures.These are great.

  2. Wonderful Christian. I've looked forward to this, my sister had forwarded your report of the fall out to me from the Manitoba list serve. And the photo of the Peregrine reminds me that it is time to go visit their aerie up here. This week I guess, when I actually get a day off.

  3. thanx so much folks - that's real encouragement to try to get some more stuff uploaded! c


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