It may sound like a bird-brained idea, but people are flocking to southwestern Manitoba’s new "birding trails". These trails are attracting bird watchers and other nature enthusiasts.
They are proving to be quite popular all year round for walking, bird watching, hunting and cross-country skiing, according to Tanis Chalmers, the Town of Melita’s economic development officer.
"It’s a true asset for our community," she said.
The Manitoba Grasslands Birding Trail is an opportunity to experience remnants of the once great grasslands, according to the trail brochure. It is a photographer’s paradise — rare birds and wildlife, grassland flowers and huge prairie skies.
The brochure, produced by Manitoba’s Watchable Wildlife Committee, provides maps showing good locations for viewing grassland birds.
These maps describe two separate birding routes originating at the Gerald W. Malaher Wildlife Management Area located about two miles west of Melita.
Melita lays claim to the title of "Grasslands Bird Capital of Manitoba," and this entire region is attractive to birders. This is due to the abundance of grassland habitat and a number of Crown-owned Wildlife Management Areas (WMA).
"Bird watchers come to Melita area from all over North America and Europe to view many rare prairie species," according to the Town of Melita’s website.
The new trail brochure states that, "the southwest corner of Manitoba is the best place in the province to see grassland birds. You will have the opportunity to hear the rarest of the grasslands birds’ sweet songs and see many threatened species — the burrowing owl, chestnut-collared longspur, Baird’s sparrow, loggerhead shrike, ferruginous hawk, Sprague’s pipit and more."
The northern route heads from the Malaher WMA to the Broomhill WMA, through the Broomhill and to the mixed-grass Prairie Preserve. (For more reading on this area, refer to the book "Manitoba Wild".) It passes through a bird-rich area known as the Poverty Plains before returning to the starting point.
The southern route is longer. It passes through the Pierson WMA, Coulter Park and the Blind Souris Region (for further reading see the book "Manitoba Naturally"), along the Souris River and back to the starting point.
As word slowly spreads, more people are beginning to take advantage of these birding routes.
"Now that the guides are completed and the signage is in place, I am sure we will see an increase (in tourism traffic)", said Chalmers.
This is a great birding region, but this is only one of the fabulous birding opportunities found in western and southwestern Manitoba.
Equally great opportunities are found at Sexton’s Island on Whitewater Lake, along the Birdtail River in Birtle, Highway 19 in Riding Mountain National Park and at Lake Irwin in Neepawa.
These are just a few of the unlimited birding opportunities awaiting visitors to the region.