Thursday, February 25, 2016

When someone yells 'Duck!' at Oak Hammock, you don't hunker down

Canoes at Oak Hammock, waiting to be paddled.
Several years ago,  I drove across Canada from B.C., with the Divine Ms. K, literally “passing through” Manitoba on our way to Ontario. We only stopped overnight outside Winnipeg because a torrential downpour made it unsafe to drive.
The next day we were up early and gone quickly, rushing to get to Algonquin Park and experience nature during a four-day canoe trip.

While we did enjoy some wonderful encounters there, we had no idea we had been so close to another natural gem: Oak Hammock Marsh.

Having paddled in Algonquin several times, as well as several B.C. locales - including the Queen Charlotte Islands and the world-renowned Bowron Lakes - I’ve had plenty of memorable experiences in nature, seeing songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl in B.C.’s interior, on its islands, and up and down its coast.

Eventually, I did get a chance to visit Oak Hammock - and I was amazed at the variety and diversity of bird life there.

Of course, it helped that I was paddling; there’s no better way to see birds – especially wetland species – than from a canoe.
Coot family.
We set out early in the morning to escape the early July heat and give ourselves the best opportunity to see some of the 296 different bird species recorded here.

We were not disappointed. Just minutes into our journey, we spotted an American coot with babies. 

For the next two hours, we paddled through a couple of different wetland cells, spying gulls, terns, blackbirds, and several other species. 

But the highlight came as we paddled quietly toward a small island covered with American white pelicans.

When we came too close for their comfort, it was as if someone pressed a button - they took off en masse, a white cloud of flapping feathers rising up into the sky.

In addition to its wonderful bird-watching opportunities, the area offers something else many destinations I’ve visited do not: an incredibly entertaining and informative interpretive centre. 

With all of its hands-on, youth-friendly exhibits, a family could easily spend an entire day inside, saving the outdoor experiences for another day.

White pelicans hanging out on a small island.
The centre is not only a great spot for birding and environmental education; it acts as the hub for all Ducks Unlimited Canada operations, with its head offices located there.

Originally part of a marsh called St. Andrew’s Bog that covered roughly 47,000 hectares, the end of the 19th century saw the wetland area reduced to 60 hectares, most of it drained for agriculture.

Ducks Unlimited Canada became interested in restoring part of the wetland habitat as early as the 1930s, but it was not until 1973 that the area was designated as Oak Hammock Marsh Wildlife Management Area. In creating a wetland area of roughly 3600 hectares, DUC and Manitoba Conservation joined forces to build 22 kilometres of earth dikes to help resort the area.

Twenty years later the interpretive centre opened, a year after construction of the building that also houses the DUC national headquarters was completed.

Today, the building and the wetlands stand side-by-side, proud symbols of wetland conservation at its best.
And it’s also a great place to stop and visit – not just drive by on a trip heading east or west.

(A slightly different version of this story appeared in a 2007 issue of Conservator magazine.)

Fall migration at Oak Hammock.

No comments:

Post a Comment