Flock to Oak Hammock Marsh for interactive group tours
Close encounters with birds, wetland hikes and canoe adventures all part of marsh experience
While you won’t find a murder (of crows) at Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre, we guarantee you there is plenty of fowl play to be had, as this exceptional avian sanctuary takes the Portlandia phrase, “put a bird on it” to a whole new level.
On a recent visit our Tourism Winnipeg staff spent the day on water, land, and marsh, partaking in numerous activities that demonstrated how hands-on learning makes this the place to be in Manitoba when it comes to ornithological action.
For starters, the day started with an encounter with birds no bigger than the palm of a child’s hand. These striking songbirds had gently flown into nets and were quickly gathered up to be weighed in envelopes (admittedly a surreal sight), had their bellies blown on, wings measured, feet banded, then put into our hands so we could feel the gentle flutter before releasing them back in the wild.
This was all done under the supervision of Paula Grieef, Oak Hammock and Ducks Unlimited Canada’s resident naturalist (Ducks Unlimited Canada’s national headquarters is located inside Oak Hammock’s Interpretive Centre), who along with a summer student recorded all the data on these little feathered wonders.
There were all manner of finches, sparrows, perhaps even a wren, and the ones that we held for fleeting moments may soon be found this winter in Mexico, the southern United States, or perhaps even the coasts of Costa Rica.
Tourism Winnipeg staff learn about the many species of birds at Oak Hammock Marsh (Karen Allen / Tourism Winnipeg)
At another point, while nearly waste-deep in the water of the wetlands (we were wearing hip waders) Jaques Bourgeois, our French Canadian guide who has been working at Oak Hammock for nearly 20 years, pulled up one cattail from the muddy waters and started to peel back its root. From inside the reed, he produced a chalky white stalk that was like the inside of a leek.
We broke it into pieces, then began to eat it, finding a taste and texture like a heart of palm. Bourgeois would go on to explain that you could grind this up to make a flat bread out of it, and that Oak Hammock’s chef recently held a multi-course dinner featuring dishes utilizing nearly every part of the cattail (because farm-to-table is so last year compared to marsh-to-table).
As we continued to traverse the wetlands by foot, Bourgeois continued to point out marvels. There were tiny crustaceans like shrimps, exuvia -- which is the Alien-like casing that a dragonfly leaves behind when it turns from a nymph (which can take up to four years, all while the soon-to-be dragonfly lives underwater, even under the winter ice) to a fully winged adult, amphibians and all manner of bird species. During this, we were given addictive little details about these species while the rest of our group -- all eight of them -- paddle by in a voyageur canoe.
A waste-deep water adventure into the wetland (Karen Allen / Tourism Winnipeg)
Dusty Molinski, the captain of their canoe who is also the resident snowshoe guide at Oak Hammock Marsh come winter, was telling them about the over 300 species of bird (which accounts for 50 per cent of bird species you can find in Canada) who call the marshland home throughout summer, all while steering the canoe around bullrushes and cattails that towered overhead.
Touring by canoe offers unique perspectives of the marsh and interpretative centre (Oak Hammock Marsh photo)
All of this was part of the Canadian Signature Experience Bird in Hand Tour, which is ideal for groups, and is available throughout the summer months and into fall.
But that is not all that is enticing about Oak Hammock.
As sad as we will all be to see the end of summer, autumn is in fact the best part of the year for birders at the wetlands.
During this time, visitors can be treated to the spectacle of over 400 thousand birds descending on the marsh on a daily basis, as large swaths of these fowl prepare to fly south.
To celebrate, Oak Hammock hosts a variety of migration diners in their excellent restaurant, along with all manner of events that enhance the birdwatching experience.
As winter hits, the marsh transforms into a frosty wonderland, as the visitor experience can include skating on the rink (while underneath dragonflies wait their turn to enter the air), the aforementioned snowshoe tours, and so much more.
Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre is located at 1 Goose Bay on Highway 220, about a 20 min drive from downtown Winnipeg. It is open year-round from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with extended hours from September 16 to October 22 until dusk for migration viewings. Cost is $8 for adults, $6 for kids (3 to 17), and $26 for families up to six people.
For more information on specific upcoming events visit their website at oakhammockmarsh.ca or call toll-free, 888-50-MARSH.