TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Churchill & Manitoba

18 - 28 October 2001



Leaders:- Graham Hearl, Mallorca

David Hatch, Churchill

Jim & Candy Irwin, Riding Mountain

Trip Diary

Thursday 18th October Travel Day

We all met up at London Heathrow except Peter and Sara Mason as they had arrived at Winnipeg on 15th.

Our flight was excellent, leaving at nine o'clock in the morning and we got through Toronto at immigration and collecting our luggage for only a few minutes - I was worried because of the possible delay but Canadians are good at what they do!

We arrived at Winnipeg a bit late but we were met at arrivals by two good drivers with stretch limos!

We arrived at the Fort Garry Hotel all a bit tired but we ate at seven o'clock and then headed for bed.

Friday 19th October Winnipeg & Churchill

The weather at Winnipeg was fine and sunny but a bit chilly. A morning in Winnipeg visiting the 'Museum of Man and Nature' which was absolutely wonderful - in fact we did not have too much time to see it all.

We had lunch at Branigans which was superb. We then had a short walk to the river and saw many Ring-billed Gulls, and then walked back to the Fort Garry Hotel to catch our bus to the airport. Some of the party saw Bonaparte's Gulls flying overhead. We arrived in time and the customs were somewhat catchy as they certainly looked in to all our hand luggage.

We arrived at Churchill at about six o'clock and got to the Churchill Motel at about half past six. We ate at seven o'clock and again the food was wonderful and we then went to bed in our rooms for a good night's sleep.

Saturday 20th October Churchill Tundra buggy Ride

The weather was rain and snow, cloudy and cold.

We breakfasted early and caught the bus for half an hour to get to the Tundra Buggy Site and to get out on to the tundra. The tundra was clear of snow but some ice on the small lakes and ponds

Our first sightings were lots of Snow Buntings but we saw a female and two large cubs of POLAR BEAR - JUST WHAT WE WANTED TO SEE. However they were kipping against the wind so we just saw them sleeping.

We carried on and saw a Long-tailed Duck and, just afterwards, another female and one cub - Polar Bears of course. These were just wonderful to see as they got up and approached the vehicle and then the mother started to scratch in the low willow bushes and her cub joined her. We watched for about half an hour with them playing and biting - David Hatch said they were in wonderful condition so they were playing well.

We continued on and saw quite a few waders and joined other tundra buggies for lunch when two males started playing, biting, standing up and just rough-housing - they were mates. In fact we saw three young males, and in total we saw twelve Polar Bears including three mothers with cubs.

The day was getting away from us so we returned to the stand for the tundra buggies but did not see an Arctic Fox. We returned just about at five o'clock so that the tour members could relax. We dined at Churchill Motel and again the food was good.

Sunday 21st October Churchill Town Tour

Weather was cold,just 25 degrees Fahrenheit or minus four centigrade, very windy and snow blowing most of the day.

We breakfasted between seven and eight o'clock and left at nine thirty in a bus just to see Churchill town. The driver was excellent giving us all a good experience of various happenings in Churchill seeing 'The Polar Bear Jail', the port and lots of things including quite a lot of sled dogs which were wonderfully cuddly.

The weather was foul so we did not see that many birds. However we did see Black Scoter and, of course, lots of Snow Buntings with a few House Sparrows, European Starling and quite a few Raven.

We returned about two o'clock, did some shopping, had lunch at Gypsy's Café and dined back at the Churchill Motel.

Monday 22nd October Churchill Tundra Buggy Ride

Another tundra ride and again another goody. The weather was very cold with snow blowing and the tundra covered in snow.

We saw another twelve Polar Bears, but all in the afternoon except for two at lunch time. However we did see a male Snowy Owl in the morning and a female Snowy Owl in the afternoon and a lot closer. We also saw a Ringed Seal at the coast giving excellent views plus of course waders including Purple Sandpiper and White-tailed Sandpiper plus again lots of Snow Buntings.

On our way home we stopped for some action by Polar Bears, there was a large male near the coast and he obviously was dispersing the females with cubs. Two cubs with a female came towards us in the buggy and walked right underneath us and getting away from the big male. Another female with one cub started walking on the ice which was getting to a depth as on our first day most of the water was not iced.

We started off for home to the Churchill Motel and everyone was looking for Arctic Fox but there were none around, or perhaps they were, but not in sight.

The evening dinner was at Traders Bar just across the road from The Churchill Motel when everyone had a really good time including wine plus Caribou steaks and a wonderful chocolate pudding.

Tuesday 23rd October Back to Winnipeg

Our collection was at ten fifteen so after breakfast we all went to the Post Office to get a polar bear stamp in our passports and then went to the Eskimo Museum which was fantastic.

We arrived at the airport with of course lots of snow and we headed for the plane to take us to Winnipeg. The runway was quite snowy and icy but the plane, a propeller- driven one, took off very nicely.

On arrival at Winnipeg we were taken to Fort Garry Hotel, we booked into our rooms and some of us went for a short walk to the park. We saw lots of Ring-billed Gulls, two White-throated Sparrows and a party of Black-capped Chickadees. On the way back I spotted a Downy Woodpecker, a female, and a male White-breasted Nuthatch

Some of us dined at Fort Garry whilst others went out.

Wednesday 24th October Winnipeg to Riding Mountain

We breakfasted and then went out at various times. Joy saw two Dark-eyed Juncos and we saw yet another White-throated Sparrow plus of course, Ring-billed Gulls. Candy Irwin phoned me and our pick up was going to be at one o'clock but by the time the porters had loaded our luggage we left at two o'clock. Due to snow and icy rain we went straight to Riding Mountain Guest Ranch. In fact it took us five hours to get to Riding Mountain Guest Ranch and we arrived at seven o'clock . Just about a third of the way to Riding Mountain on large fields we saw at least a thousand Snow Geese with three quarters of the total Blue Snow Geese.

We also saw quite a few Red-tailed Hawks and lots of Ring-necked Duck on lakes or as they call them sloughs (slews) as we approached Riding Mountain. We dined at about eight o'clock and the dinner was excellent.

Thursday 25th October Tours around Riding Mountain

The weather was very snowy, cold and cloudy. We started off after breakfast with Jim Irwin and Candy driving at seven thirty ish and drove into Riding Mountain N.P. For a start off we saw Bald Eagle a juvenile and an adult and then thirty odd Bison plus a female Moose. We carried on and saw three more female Moose and young. We continued on to Lake Audy and saw Red-necked Grebe, Bufflehead, a female and Goldeneye females. This took some time so we went back for lunch, incredible soup plus sandwiches etc. However when we arrived at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch for lunch we saw Evening Grosbeak, Chipping Sparrow, Gray Jay plus two female Hairy Woodpeckers who were having a go at each other. We also saw a Downy Woodpecker and Harris' Sparrow.

For the afternoon we walked from Riding Mountain Guest Ranch and saw very little but it was a good walk through the snow.

At three o'clock we then went on yet another drive to see Moose and we saw quite a few duck including a flock of Bufflehead and including males and three Common Loons. We also saw on the way back a Fisher (a large marten) which Jim had only seen once before in Riding Mountain N.P., so we were all very happy.

Friday 26th October Riding Mountain driving tours

The weather was very sunny but cold in the morning so we saw a fabulous scenic display of snow and ice on trees with lots of snow on the ground. We left at seven thirty and saw female moose and of course ducks.

We then had lunch which was, of course, fabulous and went on a small walk with the dogs hoping they would spring some Ruffed Grouse. However we saw none.

We then left for another drive at three o'clock and went for a walk for one km seeing very little except Red-breasted Nuthatch, in fact quite a few.

On the way back we saw five female moose, four beaver very close to the road where everyone got good photo shots. Joy spotted TWO Black Bears (and they were black!) including one large cub very close to the road, Jim Irwin said that they had just got out of their den as they were very sleepy so we did not stay too long so they could get back to their den.

Saturday 27th October Travel Day

We started off at six o'clock after breakfast and it took us four hours to get to Winnipeg for the three-hour flight to Toronto. Peter and Sara had caught a flight to Montreal where they were then headed for London. At Toronto we caught the evening seven thirty flight to London Heathrow, arriving on Sunday 28th October.

Acknowledgements

To all the party for being such good company. To David Hatch for being a wonderful guide at Churchill and Corrine frrom The Great Canadian Travel Company who looked after us well. To Jim and Candy Irwin for looking after us very well and making us so welcome at Riding Mountain.

Graham Hearl, Mallorca

Species Lists

Mammals

Polar Bear Ursus maritimus

Twelve near Churchill on 20th including three females and two cubs plus one each. Twelve on 22nd from lunchtime, including a big male dispersing females from the beach

Black Bear Ursus amercianus

A female with large cub by the side of the road at Riding Mountain N.P. on 26th

Fisher Martes pennanti

One seen by side of road at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th

Red Fox Vulpes fulva

One by side of road at Churchill on 22nd

Eastern Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis

One and three at Winnipeg on 19th and 23rd and three plus at Riding Mountain N.P. on 24th

American Beaver Castor canadensis

Five on each day at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th and 26th

Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus

Ten plus at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th and 26th

Elk Cervus canadensis

Three females on 25th at Riding Mountain N.P.

Moose Alces alces

Three females and five females at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th and 26th

White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus

Six plus and small flocks of three plus at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th and 26th

American Bison Bison bison

Twenty plus at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th

Ringed Seal Pusa hispida

One at Hudson Bay on 22nd

Birds

DIVERS Gaviidae

Pacific Loon (Diver) Gavia pacifica

One seen flying near Churchill on 20th

Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) Gavia immer

One seen on 25th and six on 26th at Riding Mountain N.P.

GREBES Podicipedidae

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena

One seen on a lake at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th

WILDFOWL Anatidae

Snow Goose Anser caerulescens

About a thousand seen on the way to Riding Mountain from Winnipeg on 24th and at least three thousand on the way back to Winnipeg on 27th

Canada Goose Branta canadensis

Many spotted from 24th to 27th

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Seen at Winnipeg on 19th and 23rd to 26th from Winnipeg to Riding Mountain N.P.

Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris

Many seen on 24th to 26th at Riding Mountain N.P.

Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis

Three on 25th and a flock on 26th at Riding Mountain N.P.

Common Eider Somateria mollissima

Eight plus on 20th and forty plus on 21st near Churchill

Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis

One female near Churchill on 20th

Black Scoter Melanitta nigra

Six plus at Churchill on 21st

Bufflehead Bucephala albeola

Six plus and twenty plus on 25th and a big flock on 26th at Riding Mountain N.P.

Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula

Many seen at riding Mountain on 25th and 26th

Common Merganser (Goosander) Mergus merganser

Three plus seen on 25th and 26th at Riding Mountain N.P.

HAWKS Accipitridae

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

A juvenile and an adult seen at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th

Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus

Joy Lyman saw a male at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th

Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis

Four seen on the way to Riding Mountain on 24th and two at Riding Mountain N.P. on 26th

Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus

Three and one at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th and 26th and one on the way to Winnipeg on 27th

FALCONS & CARACARAS Falconidae

American Kestrel Falco sparverius

Seen at Winnipeg on18th and on 23rd

GROUSE Tetraonidae

Willow Ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus

Forty plus seen near Churchill on 20th and again on 22nd

SANDPIPERS Scolopacidae

Black-bellied Plover (Grey Plover) Pluvialis squatarola

Four seen near Churchill on 20th and 22nd

Lesser Golden Plover (American Golden Plover) Pluvialis dominica

Up to five seen near Churchill on 20th and 22nd

Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima

Sixteen plus near Churchill on 20th and 22nd

Dunlin Calidris alpina

Thirty plus near Churchill on 20th

Sanderling Calidris alba

Four plus near Churchill on 20th

White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis

Twenty plus near Churchill on 20th and 22nd

GULLS Laridae

Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus

One seen at Churchill on 20th

Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis

Twelve plus seen at Winnipeg on 19th and 23rd and at Riding Mountain N.P. on 24th and 26th

Herring Gull Larus argentatus

Seen at Churchill on 20th and 21st

Bonaparte's Gull Larus philadelphia

Six seen at Winnipeg on 19th and six at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th

TYPICAL OWLS Strigidae

Snowy Owl Nyctea scandiaca

One male and one female near Churchill on 22nd

WOODPECKERS Picidae

Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens

One female at Winnipeg on 19th and one female at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch on 25th and 26th

Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus

Two females at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch on 25th

TITS & CHICKADEES Paridae

Black-capped Chickadee Parus atricapillus

Two and twenty plus at Winnipeg on 19th and 23rd, and flocks seen at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch and Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th and 26th

NUTHATCHES Sittidae

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis

One male at Winnipeg on 23rd and two at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch on 25th and 26th

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis

One seen at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch and six plus seen at Boreal Wood, on 26th

JAYS & CROWS Corvidae

Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata

Two seen at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th

(Black-billed) Magpie Pica pica

Two at Winnipeg on 19th and two at Riding Mountain N.P. on 25th

Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis

Two plus at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch on 25th and 26th

American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos

Two at Winnipeg on 19th

Common Raven Corvus corax

Seen on six days from 20th at Churchill to Riding Mountain to 26th

STARLINGS Sturnidae

Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris

Six and twenty plus seen at Churchill on 21st and 23rd

BUNTINGS Emberizidae

Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis

Lots of flocks of this species at Churchill and the tundra from 20th to the morning of 23rd

Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis

Two seen at Winnipeg on 24th and many at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch on 25th and 26th

FINCHES Fringillidae

Pine Grosbeak Pinicola enucleator

Two seen at Boreal Walk, Riding Mountain N.P. on 26th

Evening Grosbeak Coccothraustes vespertinus

Twelve plus seen at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch on 25th and 26th

SPARROWS Passeridae

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Twenty plus at Winnipeg on 19th and 23rd the same at Churchill from 20th to 23rd

Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina

Seen at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch and N.P. on 25th and 26th

Harris' Sparrow Zonotrichia querula

A singleton seen at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch on 25th and 26th

White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis

Two at Winnipeg on 19th and 23rd and one on 24th


© The Travelling Naturalist 2001