A Visit to Oak Hammock Marsh

My Hibiscus and the Vermillionaires for the hummingbirds continue to think it is summer. And why wouldn’t they with blue skies, sun, and 24 degrees C. The only things that seem to be on track for autumn are the trees and Virginia Creepers that are changing colour daily.

Today was a bit of an outing. Located about 20 km north of Winnipeg, the Oak Hammock Marsh is home to an Interpretative Centre, third floor viewing area, a marsh boardwalk and several trails through the marshes. Oak Hammock Marsh is a joint project between the Province of Manitoba and Ducks Unlimited Canada. The marsh covers a 3600 hectare restored wetland area in the Interlake (between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba) area of our province. The marsh supports 300 species of birds as well as a myriad of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. My interest is, of course, in the birds.

There are daily tours of the grounds, special education programmes for schools, early bird breakfast and migration fests, and a Goose Flight dinner which is completely sold out.

It was a wonderful day – short sleeve weather with plenty of birds and lots of places to stop and catch your breath along the trails.

Tip: If you were going to visit Oak Hammock Marsh and you just want to walk the trails and not go inside the building, you do not pay the entrance fee.

One of the things that I like about Oak Hammock is that at each trail there is information on the wildlife that you ‘might’ see there. Of course, there are no promises that the Yellow-headed or Red Winged Blackbirds will be there when you are but, in general, these are areas where certain birds congregate if at the marsh.

These are a great help to me – I am a raptor person who is just beginning to learn about waterfowl and shorebirds! I would have loved having Ferris Akel with me telling me which was the Greater Yellow Legs and which was the Spotted Sandpiper. There are a stack of books open surrounding me right now and the images are disappointing. That said, let’s give it a try and see if some of these bird identifications work – and if you spot an error, tell me! Do not be shy about it.

The images are not great. This beautiful raptor soared for so long in the warm thermals coming off the prairie landscape. She was obviously hunting. She would come down and bank and then go so high she was like a speck of dirt. You wanted to rub the lens of your camera to see if she was real. This is an adult female Northern Harrier. Notice how slim the body is with the long tapered wings and tail.

In the image below she is gliding – holding her wing tips higher than the body. Northern Harriers is one of the easiest members of the hawk family to identify because they glide so close to the ground. They have excellent vision but are known to also hunt by sound

She has soared above the marsh and glided down for a closer look for her prey. In the image below she was banking but also pulling up. You can see that distinct white upper covert.

It was simply mesmerizing watching her hunt and then go back to soaring in the thermals of a beautiful fall day.

Did you know that Northern Harriers were once called Marsh Hawks? In Europe they are often called Hen Hawks. This marsh is a perfect place for our Northern Harrier female to have her nest. She will build it on the ground usually in long grasses or cattails. These hawks line their nest with cattails – and all over the marsh were cattails and other soft prairie grass.

It was quite difficult to actually hear any of the other bird voices (or calls). The Canada Geese were flying overhead, landing on the ponds, and in the fields surround the marsh.

This adult male Yellow Headed Blackbird paid no attention to me. He was foraging for insects, seeds, beetles, on the ground. They apparently also eat dragonflies and there were a lot of those on my walk today. Here he is with his distinctive yellow head and chest with white patches on his black wings. He has a black bill.

There is an understanding that if Yellow-headed Blackbirds are in the same area as Red-winged Blackbirds then the Yellow-heads will be dominant. I do not know if that is the case at Oak Hammock Marsh because the numbers of Red-winged Blackbirds seem to really outnumber the Yellows.

It’s a male Red-winged Blackbird, below. I think it is a juvenile male because the red patch above the yellow is faint. They are covered by thousands of the most beautiful ebony feathers. Their black eye and beak disappear in all the dark plumage.

The Red-winged Blackbirds also have their nests on the ground which they line with dried cattail leaves, reeds, and grasses. The marsh is a perfect place for them to nest, too, with all those cattails!

This Greater Yellowlegs was quite busy foraging in the mud. Because of its streaked neck, this should be a juvenile. The Greater Yellowlegs is larger than the Lesser and has a longer bill with longer legs and noticeable knees. These birds also nest on the ground near water making Oak Hammock Marsh a perfect nesting area.

It looked so small walking along the soft mud of the marsh.

Two female Blue-winged Teals. We have Blue-winged teals throughout our province but they prefer, like so many of these birds, the marshes. Sadly, many marshes have been drained for farming over the past 60 years and then turned into housing estates leaving the Teals to have to adapt to living in ditches and dugout ponds. Their dark beaks are quite wide and flat. The females are a mottled brown.

Aren’t they gorgeous?

A pair of American coots diving and dabbling like ducks in the waters of the marsh today. American Coots can forage for food on land as well. Some people call them ‘Mud Hens.’ They eat insects, worms, tadpoles and fish as well as land and water plants. Their white bill with the black plumage helps to identify them.

As I was leaving, more and more Canada Geese were arriving in their typical ‘V’ formation. The fields were filling up and so were the ponds. It was 15:00. Must go back out closer to dusk! There is something energizing about seeing all of those geese flying in – and the only sound being heard was not the noise of the city but the honk of the goose. Just lovely.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I know that most of my readers live in places around the world far away from Manitoba. Please do check out your local nature centres. There are wonderful surprises awaiting you. Take care everyone. See you soon.

3 Comments

    1. Oh, I am glad you enjoyed them. There were sooooo many more but many were hard to identify. They have it fixed really nice for walking with covered pavilions spaced out and nice strong benches – plus water and washrooms. I was very impressed and realized that I could easily get my walking in there without noticing how far I had gone! It is so nice to get out of our City! Plan on returning next week.

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