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Birding bliss: Visiting Oak Hammock Marsh

Did you know that birds have growth bars? Or, that you can determine a bird’s gender by blowing on its private bits?

Determining the birds sex Oak Hammock Marsh

Yep, that’s what we are looking at here – private bits.

That is, if it’s over a year old. And, that you can tell if it’s first year or ‘hatch year’ bird by looking at the contrast between the primary and greater coverts?

IMG_3524

Examining the coverts help determine the age of the bird.

Neither did I.

There is a place that exists however where you learn loads of bird facts and more.

My visit to Oak Hammock Marsh, just 20 minutes outside of Winnipeg, left my head spinning with all sorts of new found details and even greater curiosity about birds. I didn’t even know that was possible. But its true, my obsession is even more magnified than before.

Jenn Smith Nelson getting her wingspan measured at Oak Hammock Marsh

Getting my wingspan measured. Guess what I would be if I were a bird?

Image of a rough legged hawk Oak Hammock Marsh

Damn straight – a raptor!

Oak Hammock is home to 36 square kilometers of reclaimed wetlands, making it a serious oasis for birds and hotspot for bird lovers. If you can believe it, during the migration season the number of waterfowl using the marsh can exceed 200,000 daily!

Oak Hammock Marsh Landscape

All this reclaimed wetlands is put to amazing use!

On top of that, 300 or so birds travel through and nest around the area — that is about half the bird species found in Canada!

The marsh is also home to 20 species of mammals, various reptiles, invertebrates and amphibians. I will never forget the amphibians.

**Word of warning – there are frogs and toads everywhere. You literally have to watch every step, as they will find themselves under your feet!

There is ample opportunity for those who want to learn all about birds and other marsh resident’s onsite, at the Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre. There you will find a good mix of seasonal educational programming for all ages that range from day programs, such as guided walks and canoeing, to workshops, such as bird banding, available year around.

Boys catching frogs Oak Hammock Marsh

I mean what is more fun for kids than catching critters? P.S. They actually get to learn stuff without knowing their learning stuff. BONUS!

Canoeing at Oak Hammock Marsh

I highly recommend doing some bird watching via canoe in the marsh. Not only is it peaceful, it gives you another vantage point. These canoes are large and steady – I even took my DSLR out on it and felt pretty confident it wouldn’t tip. And, we didn’t.

For me though, it was all about the banding. I just wanted to hold the birds and have the ability to look closely at them, and then release them. I am so fascinated by the minute differences between birds, especially withing the same families, such as sparrows for instance.

Jenn Smith Nelson and a Barn Swallow at Oak Hammock Marsh
Me and a sweet little barn swallow I got to examine, hold and release. No I am not choking him. This is just one of the ‘hold’s’ used in order to not hurt the bird or have it escape.

If you want to be up close and personal with birds … this is your place. Band a bird. Oh yeah.

Banding tools oak hammock marsh

Different sized bands for different sized birds.

Scale to weigh the birds Oack Hammock Marsh

The birds must be weighed before releasing them back into the marsh. All of the data – species, sex, measurement, weight and age determination are all recorded.

Common Yellowthroat caught in a net for banding Oak Hammock Marsh

Common Yellowthroat caught in a net for banding.

While there I was able to check out how they catch the birds, identify them, weigh and measure them and then release them again back into the marsh. It was ENTHRALLING. I had the opportunity to hold and release three species: a common yellow throat, a song sparrow and a barn swallow.

Photographer's grip of a common yellowthroat Oak Hammock Marsh

The ‘pretty grip’, more commonly known as the ‘photographer’s grip’. Bird pictured is a common yellowthroat.

I was so thoroughly absorbed in the experience that it was actually hard for me to leave. Really hard. Knowing all of these great little birds were there, quite a few that would have been new species for me, made it extremely difficult to walk away. I did manage to add a few to the list before leaving though.

Oak Hammock Marsh made a huge impression on me.

I am already planning my return back. This time though, with my kids. They will love the hands-on approach to many of the activities like critter dipping or counting frogs for that matter. And, I am sure they are certain to learn a thing or two.

I will never forget how great it was to do this. It has actually inspired me to pitch in more at home and become more involved with local banding and counts.

You must go birding at Oak Hammock Marsh.

GO and visit this centre if you are the least bit into birding. Even, if you aren’t, there will be something there that peaks your interest. I guarantee it.

Admission Rates for Oak Hammock Marsh

  • Adults – $7
  • Youth (3 to 17) – $5
  • Seniors (55+) – $6
  • Family (2 adults and their children) $24

For more information, visit http://www.oakhammockmarsh.ca.

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