Start of spring migration has Manitoba birdwatchers flocking together

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Manitoba bird watching enthusiasts
For bird enthusiasts, it's a special time of year that has many stepping outside and looking up, hoping to get a glimpse of birds passing through on their spring migration. Marney Blunt reports. – Apr 16, 2024

It’s the start of a special time of year for many birders in Manitoba: spring migration season.

“This time of year, a lot of the colourful warblers and summer birds are coming back from their winter nesting grounds,” Walter Potrebka told Global News.

“And the other nice thing about this time of year is there’s no leaves on the trees yet so you can actually find the little tiny warblers and wrens and finches and things like that.”

Potrebka has been photographing birds and wildlife for years, fully submersing himself in the activity after he retired.

“I’ll find an area with the bird I want to capture and I’ll find an area with a nice perch with a good background, and I’ll just sit and wait for the bird,” he said.

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“Just the peace and quiet and setting the goal, researching the animal and the bird, finding out what territory it’s in, its habits, learning about it so then you can capture it in its natural environment.”

Walter Potrebka captured this image of two bald eagles fighting over the remnants of a deer killed by wolves. Courtesy / Walter Potrebka

The time spent waiting in the woods and researching the species has paid off for Potrebka, who has captured countless stunning images of birds, specializing in owl photography. He donates his time to work with and support the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program, an organization working to help the species survive in the province. He also is a licensed photography guide for snowy owls and great grey owls.

Potrebka says great grey owls are one of his favourite species to capture. Courtesy / Walter Potrebka
Courtesy / Walter Potrebka
A snowy owl captured by Potrebka. Potrebka is a licensed photography guide for both snowy owls and great grey owls. Courtesy / Walter Potrebka

“Great grey owls are Manitoba’s provincial bird and they’re such a majestic bird,” Potrebka said.

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“And they’re usually really calm once you learn their behaviour and things like that, so you can spend some time with them and watch them hunt and feed.”

It’s also the start of Paula Grieef’s favourite time of year.

“Spring is my favourite time of year from a bird perspective because often we’ve been through a long winter; ours wasn’t too snowy this winter, but often we are and (there) is just so many birds coming back and so many different species and so many bright colours,” Grieef told Global News.

“That’s why I love spring. There’s so much bright, new, exciting (birds). Every day something new is coming back and you can see something different.”

Grieef, who is the resident naturalist at Oak Hammock Marsh, will be hosting birdwatching tours again starting this week. She says anyone can get involved, and recommends getting a decent pair of binoculars and a birding book or birding app like Merlin Bird ID. Soon, she’ll also begin the annual program of tagging and tracking songbirds at Oak Hammock Marsh.

“My thing really are the small ones. Things like some of the warblers, I get really excited when the yellow warblers come back, we see some of the migrating warblers like redstarts and Blackburnian warblers,” she said.

“Those are just so colourful and so exciting. That, to me, that is the sure sign that spring is well underway and we can really enjoy going out birding.”


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