Churchill, Canada
Polar bears, birds and bison

Sunday 24 October - Thursday 4 November 2004

Tim Earl

Local guides:
Jim Irwin
David Hatch

Highlights: Seeing two of our five Snowy owls on the first day of this holiday was an indication of what was to come. We enjoyed amazing experiences with bears – Black and Polar – and birds.
The Black bears could have been hibernating but due to relatively high temperatures were not. Polar bears venture out onto the ice after it has formed but the temperatures again acted in our favour and we enjoyed more than 100 sightings in two days. We also witnessed flying bears as three were airlifted from Churchill’s gaol to freedom.
Huge numbers of Snow geese had moved into Oak Hammock marsh and we saw blizzards of them lifting into the air and wheeling around. They were the highest numbers recorded in the sanctuary for several years.
A male Spruce grouse believed we were opposition for his would-be mate and allowed us to approach and photograph him at close range. One the mammal side, a tame Arctic fox responded to a mitten offered for its interest, shaking and worrying the glove before running away with it altogether. Arctic foxes were present in good numbers due to this being a year of high Lemming populations and we all enjoyed the non-stop running action of the animals.
An American marten was one of the most beautiful creatures we saw as it ferreted around the houses of Churchill looking for rodents.
The Elk and Moose seen in Riding Mountain National Park we most impressive, as was an inquisitive Coyote which watched us on one stop. A stag Elk with 14 hinds looked harassed as it tried to keep them together while herding them away from the proximity of our vehicle.
Rough-legged buzzards were numerous on the prairies and even one or two Red-tailed hawks were found, lingering before heading south.
In the north Rock ptarmigan had just moved in to the Churchill area and we had great views of a pair, both showing the pink wash which was described to us by our guide David Hatch, an undocumented feature of this species.

Trip Diary

Sunday 24 October
>We all arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 long before the check-in opened at 5.45am. At least that took us to the front of the line for only a short wait.
Boarding our Air Canada flight was interesting with a stroppy old gentleman and his two wives demanding squatters’ rights to three bulkhead seats and eventually being manhandled into places in front of Tim and Wim. They were close to being taken off the flight altogether, we learned later.
The flight to Toronto was otherwise uneventful but the surprise bird of the day was, sadly, waiting for us in the baggage hall – a Hermit thrush. It was fluttering around but we could see no way of relieving its plight.
A few Ring-billed and Herring gulls, Starlings and House sparrows were seen before we transferred onto the Winnipeg flight arriving at 5pm local. Dinner was taken in a steak-house and we retired for an early night.

Monday 25 October
Tens of thousands of Snow geese, several parties of Snow buntings… and two Snowy owls gave our first day’s birding a wintry feel. So too did the weather which was clear, bright but decidedly parky first thing.
We met Jim Irwin just before 9am and were on our way to Oak Hammock marshes with rather glum thoughts. Jim’s last trip there had been more than disappointing.
How things can change.
We soon located a huge flock of Canada geese which had a few of the tiny Richardson’s subspecies among them. We were to see the intermediate sub-species, Lesser Canada goose, at Crescent Lake later in the afternoon.
Our next vast flock was mixed – Snow geese of the blue and white forms in with Canada geese. This gave us all great pleasure and we used the viewing platform on the roof of the minibus with delight.
It soon became apparent that there were thousands of Snow geese in the area. Huge flocks kept rising and dropping back into the fields or lakes they were occupying. We were told later that the sightings were more numerous than any other period in the last 10 years. Our guesstimate was between 50,000 and 100,000 Snow geese seen.
One eruption of geese drew our attention to three Bald eagles which were quartering the area looking for birds injured by hunters. We were to see seven during the day.
Small birds were present too as we toured and tasted the tantalising vistas before us. There were several flocks of Red-winged blackbirds while Snow buntings passed overhead occasionally.
Best find of the morning was a Snowy owl which posed on a post for several minutes before flying off to a hay-bale where it joined a second. What a brilliant sight. We were told later that their early presence might have been due to a poor ‘lemming-summer’, part of the four-year cycle of rodent numbers in the Arctic. Tim had experienced the same phenomenon watching owls in Finland during the spring.
Lunch was taken watching Snipe, Short-billed and Long-billed dowitchers. A Richardson’s ground squirrel colony entertained us while Jim found a Pied-billed grebe and a Blue-winged teal.
The long journey to Riding Mountain Reserve was a terrific trip with many stops along the way. Find of the afternoon was three stunning Western grebes on Lake Manitoba.
A sandy beach nearby produced Pectoral and White-rumped sandpipers, a group of American avocets feeding frantically, lots of tiny Bonaparte’s gulls and a big flock of Sanderlings which seemed to be operated by clockwork mechanisms, judging from the way they trotted around the beach.
Lots of Hen harriers and Rough-legged buzzards were seen from the bus as we crossed the beautiful flat prairies which are the grain basket of Canada.
Geese still dominated the scene and as we stopped to watch a vast sky-full of Canada goose skeins they decided to drop into a field a few hundred metres away looking like a huge blizzard. They were still pouring in minutes later when we left by which time there were several thousand already landed.
A throw-away comment by Wim about a flock of domestic turkeys had us turning the vehicle around – a flock of 15 Wild turkeys is not a common sight. We made our thanksgivings and left them in peace.
The journey across the prairies was fascinating and we arrived at the Riding Mountain Farm guesthouse pleased with our day. The pleasure continued as we enjoyed Jim and Candy’s hospitality.

Tuesday 26 October
We went to school today to learn about Black bears. To be precise, we sat in a school bus but the lesson was the same. Two were seen and watched for some time as part of an unfolding drama based on a bear feeding station.
We had started early, leaving the guesthouse at 7.45, just as day was breaking. The prompt get-away was rewarded with a female Moose and her calf which crossed the road in front of us. We cruised the best parts of Riding Mountain NP hoping for more large mammals and eventually found three White-tailed deer, a doe with two calves.
A walk around part of Moon Lake gave good views of Great northern divers, Buffleheads, Hooded mergansers which were raising their hoods in display, and a few other species of wildfowl. Golden-crowned kinglets were found on a walk along the Boreal Trail while a Greater yellowlegs and a Bald eagle were found when we stopped to photograph one of the many American beaver lodges in the park.
Lunch was accompanied by Evening Grosbeaks, Black-capped chickadees, a Hairy woodpecker and several White-breasted nuthatches.
After a snooze for some and a stroll around the nearby woods for the rest, we set off for the makeshift bear hide. The old school bus had been bought and converted by Jim. We sat in the children’s seats gazing out of the windows watching a narrow strip of grass bordering a dense wood. Several scoops of balanced dog food were scattered around the area by Jim and we settled back to wait.
Like much mammal-watching, it took patience. The first Black bear kept us waiting nearly an hour before he ambled in to scoff the pellets. He was within a few metres of us, quite an unnerving experience for some, but paid us little attention.
Finally, he ambled off back into the wood, disappearing almost immediately. We waited 90 minutes for the next bear to appear but the stage was filled in the interim with Red squirrels which stole the bears’ food, running away with scores of pellets to be stashed for the winter. A Blue jay or two joined in, doing the same thing except that they had a number of caches which were being stocked up, while Black-capped chickadees, Black-billed magpies and a Downy woodpecker all played their individual cameo parts.
Suddenly a second bear appeared – this was a female – and also tucked into a free meal, albeit with a bit more timidity than the male. Her fear of something in the wood got the better of her and she shuffled off.
Within a minute or two the original male returned, accompanied soon after by the female, and both enjoyed a second course. When they finally went their separate ways, so did we returning to the house in time for a bath before an excellent supper.

Wednesday 27 October
We concentrated on mammals today, looking for and finding all the species we hoped for.
Elk (Red deer) were most obliging with a group of two stags and two does to start the batting and a wonderful group of 14 does led by a magnificent stag a little later.
Jim’s policy of hitting the road at first light paid dividends with great views of a stag Moose (Elk) which we were admiring when a Coyote came out onto the road about 50 metres away and stood watching us for a couple of minutes.
White-tailed deer were common with six in the morning and a further 13 when we went out Beaver-watching in the evening. The Beaver was seen at a beautiful pool we had stopped at yesterday to photograph the lodge. It surfaced within seconds of our arrival and proceeded to collect small branches which it stashed in its underwater store for the winter.
The lodge was also occupied by Muskrats one of which was busily taking plant material into its home, again to be consumed during the winter. We saw two more in the pool.
Highlight for several of us was a herd of about 40 Bison which were grazing the prairie grassland like contented cows. Our first close encounter was with two magnificent bulls but we learned later that they were past their prime and no longer ran with the herd. There were bulls, cows and calves in the main herd and we climbed onto the van roof to get pictures and better views. It was a terrific experience.
Our return to the school-bus bear hide again had us enjoying visits from the same male and female Black bears.
Peanut butter spread into crevices in nearby trees and stumps attracted Hairy woodpeckers, Black-capped chickadees, Blue jays and American red squirrels. The bears were quite keen on it too, climbing to scoop a nail-full from the crevices.
We had planned to leave at 5pm to search for beavers and at 4.55 the second bear shuffled off into the woods and we left too.
Our visit to get pictures of a scenic lodge at Deep Bay had been appreciated by the photographers so we returned in the hope of seeing the occupants. As we arrived three Red-necked grebes were spotted and before we could admire them George informed us that an American beaver had surfaced. What to look at?
The beaver won as its lodge was also occupied by a beautiful Muskrat. As it gathered food for a larder deep in the sticks, the beaver dived repeatedly as it took branches down to its underwater winter larder. Two other Muskrats also put in an appearance, leaving V-shaped wakes on the glassy surface.
It was a great end to a super mammal-watching day and we thanked Jim for his skill and knowledge.

Thursday 28 October
Spruce grouse are well known for their lack of timidity but the bird we came across close to Whirlpool Lake was so tame it almost asked to join the group. The bird was displaying to a rather reluctant looking female – the day length in mid-October is about the same as early April and the male’s hormones had kicked in.
We watched and took photos from the bus. George got out and took a few from the side when Jim suggested he tried the ‘moose trick’.
Tim got close to George so that the bird could see four legs but not two separate bodies, and they walked at a tangent to the bird getting closer at every step. George held his camera in position to one eye.
Slowly the one-eyed pantomime moose approached the male Spruce grouse which looked on (was it a smile on the bird’s beak?). The ploy failed. The bird mistook our intrepid pair for another grouse and flew up to them to display. Many pictures were taken as it flew between them and a low branch of a fir tree.
The rest of the group and the female grouse looked on in amazement. The pair turned their attention onto the female but as they approached she moved off a little way.
‘It’s behind you,’ the group called.
‘Oh no it’s not,’ the moose replied.
‘Oh yes it is.’
The pantomime moose turned around slowly and, sure enough, the male was chasing them up the road.
The scene disintegrated into a photo farce. By this time the bird had worked out that we were not dangerous and everyone approached it for pictures. Even a pair of Grey jay clowns came down and joined the fun. Only the female left, stage right.
It had been a delightful encounter.
We had been exploring the area since leaving the guest ranch. A short walk produced views in the mist of Bald eagle, Rough-legged buzzard and our first Red-tailed hawk. Our friendly Beaver and Muskrat were still active at Deep Bay as were a pair of juvenile Great northern divers.
A search for Black-backed woodpecker was unsuccessful but we did see a flock of Snow buntings as we dropped off the escarpment and left the park.
Our journey to Delta Marsh was broken by many stops – American kestrel was found by Wim on a post, the flock of Wild turkeys had increased to 62 and the Rough-legged buzzard count rose to 14 very quickly.
The productive beach at the marsh was empty of waders this time – perhaps they had all migrated south, the mild weather could not last long. A Winter wren, Red-breasted nuthatch and a Golden-crowned kinglet were recorded with a Dark-eyed junco at the car park.
A walk around a nature trail produced very little, a couple of Snipe, a few Red-winged blackbirds and a Hairy woodpecker.
We rescued a Leopard frog which was hopping across a road, only to find it was attempting to get to a nearby lake before it froze and we had returned the poor creature to its starting point.
Paul had opted out of the birding and was at least 4km down the road to Winnipeg when we picked him up.
A huge roost of Red-winged blackbirds, possibly 1,000 strong, was observed dropping into a marsh but otherwise the rest of the journey was uneventful and we were at the hotel by 6.30. Jim met us at 7.30 and we all went for a farewell dinner in The Forks, a famous shopping area.

Friday 29 October
Fox hunting was the highlight of a relaxing travel day. Our dinner in Churchill was peppered with information about the area’s wildlife from David Hatch and we were tempted to go out hunting for Arctic fox and the silver form of Red fox. We were successful in seeing the latter but not the Arctic.
The day started at leisure and we all met for the first time at 11.30 for an alfresco lunch in Winnipeg’s Forks Market. Here we could choose from the cuisines of a number of countries – most appropriate as the Forks was the site of Winnipeg’s first settlement by people from all over the world.
It was off to the airport and our flight to Churchill where the temperature was -4°C. By the time we had eaten and donned warm clothing it was -10°C. This was more like it.
The Red fox was a beautiful animal, a stunning black with white streaks giving it a silver appearance. The tail was jet-black with a bold white tip.
Predictions for tomorrow’s tundra buggy outing were good and we retired excited about the day ahead.

Saturday 30 October
It all started quietly enough… trundling along frozen tracks in a huge bus mounted on enormous wheels, the well-named tundra buggy. We shared the experience with American, Canadian, Dutch and English visitors to Churchill.
There was little to see, Lots of ice and snow, stunted willows and lichen-covered ground. A call by David Hatch for a Polar bear came to nothing. The animal had popped up and down again after seeing the buggy. It was not a good start.
Angela called out after spotting six Willow grouse moving in a nearby clump of bushes and the buggy ground to a halt. We competed with enthusiastic photographers for a view of the all-white birds feeding on willow buds in an all-white snow field. Eventually all were satisfied and the buggy moved off.
Our first Polar bear was some distance away but we had great views as the young animal walked steadily across a frozen pond. The sun was slightly behind it and the bear’s off-white fur appeared to have a white halo. It was a beautiful sight.
Our next bears were wrestling with each other and the buggy tipped slightly to one side as 40 people crowded around 10 windows to get a view. Patience paid, however, and we soon realised that the first views of an animal would be followed by others, often more exciting.
In any case, with more than 40 Polar bears watched during the course of the next eight hours there was little need to panic.
We watched some dig scrapes into which they settled to sleep, others lumbered in from further south exercising their ancestral right to hike across the Churchill tundra, still more investigated the smells coming from ours and other buggies, standing nine-feet tall to sniff the scents.
All did a great deal of sniffing. Those marching across the tundra were constantly raising their heads to test the air. Others were clearly investigating the bears around them, again with their noses.
It was an amazing day, one of the best in a terrific bear season this year. The weather was perfect: bright, fairly calm and sunny but cold at minus 7°C. An Arctic fox was spotted by George and our group began to earn a reputation for sharp eyes and observation.
Lunch of soup and a huge sandwich was followed by yet more bears with a Common scoter and an immature Glaucous gull for variety. A Ringed seal was spotted by Tim at a huge distance, made up for by a Snow bunting just a short way from the buggy tracks.
Our departure was delayed by the sight of a huge male bear with feet the size of big soup plates, marching out of the wilderness. Two sleeping bears jumped up and cautiously got out of the big male’s way while we watched in awe. We stopped a second time for a big flock of Willow grouse numbering almost 50 birds.
A day in the buggy left us all in need of a short walk and we set off towards the town’s huge grain silos. We had walked far enough as the road crossed the railway tracks… it was bitter in the cold wind which had sprung up.
A quick scan of the river and ice-bound banks revealed… nothing, until Tim suddenly leapt to the ’scope and trained it on a black smudge.
‘Female Snowy owl,’ he said in triumph and we all enjoyed the view, made better when she halved the distance between us.
It should have been the finale to a great day but as we came out of the restaurant after dinner, David pointed out an American (pine) marten hunting rodents under the raised houses, and also where we should stand to get the best views of an aurora borealis which was developing. It turned into a cracker lasting 45 minutes and was one of the highlights of the trip for some who stayed out watching the ethereal lights coming and going across the sky.

Sunday 31 October
We do not include sightseeing tours in Travelling Naturalist holidays very often. But the one we did today turned into a cracking wildlife excursion which included flying bears.
A post-breakfast walk had produced little of interest until the American marten popped out from under the hotel, ran across the street and led us a merry dance as it hunted up the road opposite.
The bus tour started by heading up the coast towards Fort Prince of Wales. We stopped for pictures of the ‘do not walk here – polar bears’ signs and then stopped as two young Arctic foxes came into view and started wrestling. They were in exceptionally good numbers this year due to the abundance of rodents.
Our next bus-tick was a pair of Rock ptarmigan which were stripping the willows of buds. They breed further north and these were the first seen in Churchill this winter. An Arctic hare sheltering behind a rock was the next to be spotted and we began to realise that this was no ordinary sightseeing tour.
A few Eider were seen on the cold waters of Hudson Bay but other sea ducks were absent. Attempts to find some were cut short by the order to return to the bus – otherwise we would be late for an air-lift of Polar bears which had been caught in or around the town and were being flown out to liberated about 30km away.
The bus, driven by a Halloween witch named Caroline whose attire was an outfit designed to make her appear to be riding on the back of a pink flamingo, trundled through town towards the ‘bear gaol’.
Suddenly, Tim (mine’s a Snowy owl) shouted stop. He had spotted a bird on a rock. We all got out and admired another immature Snowy. We were sharing the tour with 30 other people all of whom were thrilled to get exceptional views of the bird.
Three bears were lying anaesthetised in nets when we arrived at the ex-Army hut used to hold nuisance animals. A couple of helicopters were spotted flying our way and these landed while the nets were connected to a rope under one of the machines. It soon took off carrying the three bears which would soon be recovering in the tundra way away from Churchill.
It had been an exceptional tour and after lunch David attempted to continue it but with little luck. A feeding site for Pine grosbeaks was empty of birds and we saw little else. Our second excursion finished with a drive along the coast road on which we admired a beautiful Red fox which sported a black tail with white tip.
David had organised a minibus for us and after a tea-break we went out towards the fort once more. Once again there was little of note until Tim spotted another immature Snowy owl sitting on a shed roof. It flew onto an Inuit monument and then disappeared into the rocky terrain.
A search for roosting Gyrfalcons was unsuccessful and we called it a day at 5pm. David joined us for dinner and we celebrated a most enjoyable day, anticipating our second tundra buggy ride on the morrow.

Monday 1 November
We had seen two Polar bears before even reaching the tundra buggy launch site. And moments after setting off the buggy pulled up so that we could see a female with two small cubs walking in single files across the ice. It was a brilliant start to what was to be a great day’s bear watching. In total we had more than 60 sightings, brining the total for the two buggy days to well over 100 sightings. This is quite exceptional for the Churchill bear experience and we were all thrilled to see so many Great white bears.
Birding was less productive with a flock of Snow buntings, a few Ravens and a flurry of white Willow grouse the only sightings.
The day ended with a celebratory dinner at the hotel and an optional slide show about Churchill’s bear phenomenon.
Stop Press
A juvenile fox stole one of Tim’s snow mittens and ran off with it this evening. The glove was never found.
‘This delinquent animal should be caught and locked in the fox gaol, if there is one,’ an angry tour leader said later.
The inquisitive fox had responded to the mitten which was thrown to see if it would come closer to some of the group out for an evening stroll. The animal pounced upon it, shook the glove as if it were a Lemming and then ran off with it, to the delight of all except Tim.

Tuesday 2 November
We awoke to a cold clear day with a strong wind. Tim and Wim volunteered to check the town’s granary silo, a popular roost-site for Gyrfalcons, sadly without finding one. The early morning cold was intense, especially walking into the wind. We all saw ice crystals in the air and an ice-bow around the rising sun.
We visited the Eskimo Museum before catching a mid-morning flight to Winnipeg. The afternoon was free but little of note was seen despite the group splitting up and scouring the adjacent riverside and parks. Our final dinner was back at The Keg where the visit to Manitoba had started. We celebrated the success of the tour and enjoyed new friendships.

Wednesday 3 November
Some slept before the flight, others watched the final results from the US presidential elections while Tim and Pam persevered with birding the parks and riverside. Their efforts paid off with the first White-crowned sparrow, a free Hermit thrush (if only it had been the same bird we saw in Toronto) three Downy and one Hairy woodpeckers, White-bellied nuthatch and Black-capped chickadees. Grey and Red squirrels were also recorded.
Many of these birds were seen again when we walked as a group via the river, to the Forks market where we again enjoyed an alfresco lunch.
A trip to the Museum of Mankind was great fun and gave us much to think about as we started for the airport and our journey home.


DIVERS Gaviiformes Gaviidae
1 Great northern diver Gavia immer
Four flew over us while fuelling the van on the outskirts of Winnipeg on the 25th; a total of nine in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th;
GREBES Podicipediformes Podicipedidae
2 Pied-billed grebe Podilymbus podiceps
One in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; one at Moon Lake, Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; one or two daily in the south.
3 Red-necked grebe Podiceps grisegena
Two adults and a juvelie, Deep Bay, Riding Mountain NP on the 27th.
4 Western grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis
Three at Lake Manitoba on the 25th.
CORMORANTS Pelecaniformes Phalacrocoracidae
5 Double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
A few most days in the south.
HERONS, EGRETS & BITTERNS Ciconiiformes Ardeidae
6 Great blue heron Ardea herodias
One at Lake Manitoba on the 25th.
SWANS, GEESE & DUCKS Anseriformes Anatidae
7 Tundra (Bewick's) swan Cygnus columbianus
About 20 in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; four in Riding Mountain NP 27th.

8 Snow goose Chen caerulescens
Tens of thousands, possibly 100,000, in Oak Hammock marsh 25th, an astounding sight.
9 Canada goose Branta canadensis
Thousands in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; a flock of 100 in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; a few near Winnipeg 28th.
10 American wigeon Anas americana
About 20 in Oak Hammock marsh 25th; 200 on Lake Audy, Riding Mountain NP 27th.
11 Gadwall Anas strepera
Ten in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; about 50 in various parts of Riding Mountain NP on the 27th; 15 on a beaver pond 28th.
12 Green-winged teal Anas crecca
More than 100 in Oak Hammock marsh 25th;
13 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Common daily in the south.
14 Northern pintail Anas acuta
One flock of about 30 in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th.
15 Blue-winged teal Anas discors
One in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th.
16 Northern shoveler Anas clypeata
A few in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th.
17 Canvasback Aythya valisineria
Eight in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; one on Moon Lake in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th.
18 Redhead Aythya americana
About 1,000 on Lake Audy, Riding Mountain NP on the 27th.
19 Ring-necked duck Aythya collaris
One in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th.
20 Lesser scaup Aythya affinis
Six in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; 10 on Moon Lake in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; a few most days in the south thereafter.
21 Common eider Somateria mollissima
Four in the bay and one in the Churchill River on the 31st.

22 Black scoter Melanitta nigra
One from the tundra buggy on 30th.
23 Common goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Six in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; six on Moon Lake in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; 20 on the 27th.
24 Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
About 10 in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; six on Moon Lake in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; 50 on the 27th.
25 Hooded merganser Lophodytes cucullatus
Six in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; about six, including some displaying males, in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; 30 27th.
26 Goosander Mergus merganser
About 20 on Lake Audy, Riding Mountain NP on the 27th.
HAWKS, EAGLES & KITES Falconiformes Accipitridae
27 Bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Seven in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; one in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; six on the 27th; one on the 28th.
28 Northern harrier Circus cyaneus
A total of 15 in Oak Hammock marsh and on the journey on the 25th; one in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; three on the journey on the 28th.
29 Red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis
One in Riding Mountain NP, one on the journey 28th.
30 Rough-legged buzzard Buteo lagopus
One at Toronto airport as we taxied in to the terminal; at least 15 while travelling on the 25th; one in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; common daily in the south.
FALCONS & CARACARAS Falconiformes Falconidae
31 American kestrel Falco sparverius
One on the journey 28th.
32 Merlin Falco columbarius
One at Delta Marsh on the 28th.
TURKEYS Galliformes Meleagrididae
33 Wild turkey Meleagris gallopavo
A flock of 14 near Delta Marsh on the 25th had risen to 62 on the way back 28th.
GROUSE & PTARMIGAN Galliformes Tetraonidae
34 Spruce grouse Falcipennis canadensis
The male of a displaying pair became a star bird near Whirlpool Lake in Riding Mountain NP on the 28th.
35 Willow ptarmigan (Red grouse) Lagopus lagopus
Three flocks of six, 14 and about 50 from the tundra buggy on 30th, about 21 from the tundra buggy on 1st.
36 Rock ptarmigan Lagopus mutus
A pair in Churchill on the 31st;
37 Ruffed grouse Bonasa umbellus
Several in Riding Mountain NP daily.
38 Sharp-tailed grouse Tympanuchus phasianellus
One in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th.
RAILS, GALLINULES & COOTS Gruiformes Rallidae
39 American coot Fulica americana
About 50 in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; one in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; two on the 27th and 28th.
AVOCETS & STILTS Charadriiformes Recurvirostridae
40 American avocet Recurvirostra americana
A flock of eight at Delta Marsh, Lake Manitoba, on the 25th.
SANDPIPERS Charadriiformes Scolopacidae
41 Common snipe Gallinago gallinago
At least 50 in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; two at Delta Marsh on the 28th.
42 Short-billed dowitcher Limnodromus griseus
A mixed flock of six Short-billed and six Long-billed dowichers in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th.
43 Long-billed dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus
As for Short-billed above.
44 Greater yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
About 12 in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; one in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th; two at Delta Marsh on the 28th.
45 Sanderling Calidris alba
About 20 on the beach at Delta Marsh on the 25th.
46 White-rumped sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis
Two on the beach at Delta Marsh on the 25th.
47 Pectoral sandpiper Calidris melanotos
Five on the beach at Delta Marsh on the 25th.
GULLS Charadriiformes Laridae
48 Ring-billed gull Larus delawarensis
A few at Toronto and Winnipeg airports; a few elsewhere in the south, common in Winnipeg,
49 Glaucous gull Larus hyperboreus
Immature from the tundra buggy on 30th; two adults and two immatures on the 1st.
50 Herring gull plus Heuglin's gull Larus argentatus
A few at Toronto and Winnipeg airports; 10 at Oak Hammock Marsh on the 25th; a few in Winnipeg on the 3rd.
51 Bonaparte's gull Larus philadelphia
A flock of about 20 on the beach at Delta Marsh on the 25th.
PIGEONS & DOVES Columbiformes Columbidae
52 Rock dove (feral pigeon) Columba livia
A few at Toronto airport; a few in towns, not common.
OWLS Strigiformes Strigidae
53 Snowy owl Nyctea scandiaca
Two at Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; immature at the Churchill river on the 30th; immatures near the airport and in Churchill on the 31st.
KINGFISHERS Coraciiformes Alcedinidae
54 Belted kingfisher Ceryle alcyon
One at Lake Audy, Riding Mountain NP, on the 27th.
WOODPECKERS Piciformes Picidae
55 Downy woodpecker Picoides pubescens
Singles at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch on the 26th and 27th; three along the river in Winnipeg on the 3rd.
56 Hairy woodpecker Picoides villosus
One or two daily in Riding Mountain NP; one along the river in Winnipeg on the 3rd.

KINGLETS Passeriformes Regulidae
57 Golden-crowned kinglet Regulus satrapa
One or two daily in Riding Mountain NP.
THRUSHES Passeriformes Turdidae
58 Hermit thrush Catharus guttatus
One poor bird trapped in the baggage hall at Toronto airport; one at Fort Garry in Winnipeg on the 3rd.
59 American robin Turdus migratorius
One at Lake Audy, Riding Mountain NP, on the 27th.
CHICKADEES & TITS Passeriformes Paridae
60 Black-capped chickadee Poecile atricapillus
Common daily in Riding Mountain NP and along the river in Winnipeg.
NUTHATCHES Passeriformes Sittidae
61 Red-breasted nuthatch Sitta canadensis
One at Delta Marsh on the 28th.
62 White-breasted nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
One or two daily at the Riding Mountain Guest Ranch feeder; one along the river in Winnipeg on the 3rd.
SHRIKES Passeriformes Laniidae
63 Loggerhead shrike Lanius ludovicianus
One near the Buffalo prairie in Riding Mountain NP on the 27th.
JAYS & CROWS Passeriformes Corvidae
64 Gray jay Perisoreus canadensis
Several daily in Riding Mountain NP.
65 Blue jay Cyanocitta cristata
One or two daily in Riding Mountain NP.
66 Black-billed magpie Pica hudsonia
One or two daily in Riding Mountain NP.
67 American crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
A few on the outskirts of Winnipeg on the 25th and 28th; two along the river in Winnipeg on the 3rd.
68 Common raven Corvus corax
Common daily in Riding Mountain NP and the Churchill area.
STARLINGS Passeriformes Sturnidae
69 European starling Sturnus vulgaris
A few at Toronto airport; a few on the journey 28th; six in Churchill around the grain silos; two in Winnipeg on the 3rd.
OLD WORLD SPARROWS Passeriformes Passeridae
70 House sparrow Passer domesticus
A few at Toronto airport; a small flock flushed by a Merlin at Delta Marsh on the 28th; common in Churchill and Winnipeg.
FINCHES Passeriformes Fringillidae
71 Pine siskin Carduelis pinus
Two at the Riding Mountain Guest Ranch feeder and 12 in the park on the 27th.

72 American goldfinch Carduelis tristis
Two at the Riding Mountain Guest Ranch feeder on the 27th.
73 Evening grosbeak Coccothraustes vespertinus
About 14 at the bird table outside Riding Mountain Guest Ranch.

TRUE BUNTINGS & SEEDEATERS Passeriformes Emberizidae
74 Chipping sparrow Spizella passerina
A few at Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th.
75 Song sparrow Melospiza melodia
Two at Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th.
76 White-crowned sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
One in Fort Garry on our last morning.

77 Dark-eyed junco Junco hyemalis
Singles on most days in the south; a few in Winnipeg on the 3rd.
78 Snow bunting Plectrophenax nivalis
Twelve in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; three in Riding Mountain NP on the 27th; about 20 on the 28th; six from the tundra buggy on 30th; one from the minibus on the 31st; about 10 from the tundra buggy 1st.
TROUPIALS & ALLIES Passeriformes Icteridae
79 Red-winged blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
About 100 in Oak Hammock marsh on the 25th; a roost of 1,000 or so outside Winnipeg on the 28th.


RABBITS & HARES Lagomorpha Leporida
1 Arctic hare Lepus arcticus
One in Churchill on the 31st.
SQUIRRELS Rodentia Scuridae
2 Eastern grey squirrel Sciurus carolinensis
Six at Crescent Lake on the 25th; several in Winnipeg on the 2nd and 3rd.
3 Richardson's ground squirrel Spermophilus richardsonii
About 20 in Oak Hammock marsh 25th.
4 American red squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
Common daily in Riding Mountain NP. Two males watched holding territorial disputes at the bear hide. Several seen in Winnipeg.
BEAVERS Rodentia Castoridae
5 American beaver Castor canadensis
Lots of dams and lodges plus singles at Deep Bay, Riding Mountain NP 27th & 28th.
MICE, RATS, VOLES & GERBILS Rodentia Muridae
6 Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus
A few seen daily in Riding Mountain NP.
POCKET GOPHERS Rodentia Geomyid
7 Plains pocket gopher Geomys bursarius
Numerous hills in Riding Mountain NP daily. No animals seen as they are nocturnal.
DOGS & FOXES Carnivora Canidae
8 Arctic fox Vulpes lagopus
Eleven in Churchill on the 29th; one from the tundra buggy 30th; five on the morning drive, two in the afternoon of 31st; an immature ran off with one of Tim's snow mittens on the 1st.
9 Red fox Vulpes vulpes
Two 'silver foxes' in Churchill on the 29th; one 'red fox' on the 31st.
10 Coyote Canis latrans
Singles in Riding Mountain NP on the 26th and particularly well on the 27th.

BEARS Carnivora Ursidae
11 American black bear Ursus americanus
A male and a female seen from the bear hide on 26th and 27th. On one occasion they were at the hide together - a trip highlight for many of us.
12 Polar Bear Thalarctos maritimus
At least 50 on 30th; possibly 60, including at least three females with cubs, on the 1st. This brought the total of sightings to more than 100 in two days, an exceptional figure even by Churchill standards.
OTTERS, WEASELS & BADGERS Carnivora Mustelid
13 American marten Martes americana
One outside the restaurant in Churchill after dinner on the 30th; one (the same animal, perhaps) at the hotel on the 31st and two other sightings on our last morning.
14 American mink Mustela vison
One seen by Tim only at Delta Marsh 25th.
DEER Artiodactyla Cervidae
15 Red deer (Elk) Cervus elaphus
A party of two stags and two hinds; a huge stag shepherding 14 hinds near the Bison prairie in Riding Mountain NP on 27th - another trip highlight.
16 Elk (Moose) Alces alces
A female with calf on the 26th and a big male on the 27th in Riding Mountain NP.
17 White-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus
Common daily in Riding Mountain NP, maximum of 19 on the 27th.
CATTLE, ANTELOPE, SHEEP & GOATS Artiodactyla Bovidae
18 American bison (Buffalo) Bison bison
A mixed herd of 40 plus a couple of lone bulls on the prairie in Riding Mountain NP 27th - a trip highlight.


1 Leopard frog Rana pipiens
The one ‘helped’ to the wrong side of the road it was crossing wished it could fly.


1 Milbert’s tortoishell Nymphalis millberti
One at Riding Mountain Guest Ranch 26th.


1 Fire-carrying bracket fungus Used by aboriginal natives to carry fire for days when they are on the move. Pointed out to us in Riding Mountain NP on the 27th.


1 Saturn Seen well in Winnipeg on the 24th.
2 Aurora borealis Wonderful light show for 45 minutes in Churchill on the 30th.

Tim Earl
Principal Leader

© The Travelling Naturalist 2004