Tag Archives: birds

Quest for Manitoba Birds

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)

to-see-every-birdTo See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, A Son, and a Lifelong Obsession by Dan Koeppel

“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 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.


Hope is the thing with feathers


“Hope is the thing with feathers.
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson

Emily the poet is speaking metaphorically about the enigmatic lightness of hope, but isn’t it also true that birds themselves inspire? Maybe it’s because they break the spell of gravity in ways we just can’t. Or maybe it’s their colourful plumage

duckiesthat is, sometimes, almost too beautiful to describe? Whatever is the hook for you, birding can be a rewarding way of engaging with our world.

Lydia and I have several bird feeders (and a bird bath) in our backyard, and spend a lot of time marvelling at our frequent winged visitors: downy woodpeckers, blue jays, baltimore orioles, chickadees, nuthatches and all manner of sparrows (of course). At the lake this summer I was taken by a pair of territorial loons (with their awesome calls) greatgreyowland a female common merganser whose squawk didn’t quite match the birds he shared the lake with. Earlier in the year I was lucky enough to take this snapshot of a Great Grey Owl on Highway 59 that swooped down toward me earlier. (Okay, I was in a car at the time.)

For years I’ve been on the lookout for the all-brilliant-red scarlet tanager. I haven’t found him or her yet, although some do make their home in Manitoba in summer. It was only last year that I spotted my second favourite ‘target’, the indigo bunting. A few make their home in the Assiniboine Park’s English Gardens. Here is a picture of one male below, making his presence known. Did you know they fly each fall to Central America and come back to Winnipeg in the spring?SafariScreenSnapz001 What birds are you on the lookout for?

Gratefully, the public library has a wealth of resources for birders.

A good place to start ismanitobabirds the book Manitoba Birds by Andy Bezener & Ken De Smet. What’s great is that it describes in detail almost all of the birds – from eagles to house sparrows – you will encounter around the province. No flipping through hundreds of pages of ‘foreign’ birds when you want to find the species you are looking at through your living room window, or on a trip to the park.

StokesFieldGuideA more comprehensive encyclopedia of birds is this gem:
Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Donald & Lillian Stokes. There is also a Western Region-only version of the book.

For younger folk, the library has this:

BirdGuideBird guide of North America: the best birding book for kids from National Geographic’s bird experts edited by Jonathan Alderfer: “Featuring 100 species of birds from coast to coast this colorful guide helps kids identify and understand birds…Features includes how to build a birdhouse and a birdfeeder.” For ages 7 – 9.

greenbirdingOther interesting books to borrow include
Green Birding
by Richard Gregson Unknownand Best-Ever Backyard Birding Tips by Deborah L. Martin.

For an amazing series of photographs and stories about birds, why not try Between the Wingtips: The Secret Life of Birds by Brutus wingtimsOstling and Magnus Ullman.

Ullman makes the illuminating point that you can enjoy birds even without a particular interest: “There are so many intriguing connections and remarkable facts to consider about birds that you do not necessarily have to be in the least bit interested in them to be fascinated by them. All you need is a curiosity about life and an open mind. After all, the migration of the arctic tern from pole to pole and the reflection of the sun in a dewdrop are both equally fascinating and equally wonderful to behold.” Yeah, that says it.

– Lyle