While I was meandering up the road from Lester Beach on Lake Winnipeg last July I came across an unusual bird casually sitting on a branch. It was startling in its sleek appearance: a black face mask with a feather tuft pointed behind the head; a shiny brown body with a short dark tail with yellow edging. What was this masked creature of the woods? Then I peered around. This one bird was not alone; there were upwards of a couple of dozen in neighbouring trees! Seeing these cedar waxwings was a surprise highlight of my vacation, except for the whole morning I quietly watched a representative of Manitoba’s only hummingbird, the Ruby-throated, feed outside our cabin’s front door.
You first hear him before you see him, again and again. And before you know it, you can’t help but be enamored with this tiny creature and its challenging life. Note: having access to a camera with a telephoto lens helps with sharing the experience with others.
If you do get into the joy of birding this year, having good book resources around you is a must to deepen your understanding and appreciation. Here are a few options for your birding explorations:
Happiness is a Rare Bird: Living the Birding Life by Gene Walz
A well-written gem by an experienced Manitoba birder. Answers the question: why be a birder? The publisher’s website says: “Gene Walz affords an insider’s look into the hobbyist’s passionate drive and quirky lingo. Learn of vagabonds, endemics, fall-out, jinx birds, and lifers. Just as colourful as the birds they seek, Walz sketches endearing and hilarious portraits of the many birders he meets out in the field. Birders are indeed a special breed. Happiness is a Rare Bird makes a compelling argument for the pursuit of birding, combining an opportunity to enjoy nature with the chance to come together with generous, kindred spirits.”
Finding Birds in Southern Manitoba by Brad Carey
“Complemented by maps and colour photographs, Finding Birds In Southern Manitoba is the only up-to-date birding guide for southern Manitoba… This book draws on the collective knowledge of dozens of birders, as well as data used to publish The Birds of Manitoba, to describe approximately 75 sites and routes and the birds that one can expect to find there. It also contains a list of Manitoba bird specialties and where to find them, bar charts of month-by-month abundance for all species, and the basic logistical information needed for a safe and enjoyable birding experience in Manitoba.” (Nature Manitoba website)
The Birds of Manitoba by the Manitoba Avian Research Society (edited by Peter Taylor, illustrations by Rudolf Koes)
This excellent coffee table book more than 20 years in the making includes color illustrations, maps, tables, bibliography, and check list. Apparently hard to find to purchase, but at your public library!
Manitoba Birds by Andy Bezener
A good starter book. Limited in scope, due to the fact that not all birds who visit Manitoba, especially during migration season, are listed here. Yet still a handy resource. “Manitoba’s 145 most commonly seen birds are profiled in this beautifully illustrated book. Each account includes a description of the bird’s key features for quick identification in the field, as well as the bird’s song, habitat, nesting and feeding habits and best locations for viewing. Ken De Smet, of the Manitoba Wildlife branch, is a biologist specializing in endangered species.” (Publisher Summary)
“From a well-known outdoors and nature writer comes a narrative that explores a lifelong obsession with competitive birding. What drives a man to travel to sixty countries and spend a fortune to count birds? And what if that man is your father?” (Publisher summary)
Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile
This is a biography of super birder, Phoebe Snetsinger, who had a life list of seeing 8,398 different bird species!
It’s interesting to read about extremes and obsessions, but it’s also good to be reminded that we don’t need to go that far to enjoy the company of our avian friends. It may mean as little as looking outside your window with curiosity!
Here are additional titles suggested by avid birders on the Manitoba Birders Yahoo Group: the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America; The Big Year, A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik; Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds by Trevor Herriot; The Bird Detective: investigating the secret lives of birds and Silence of the Songbirds by Bridget Stutchbery.
Happy birding this year.