5 wildlife encounters in Manitoba you will never forget ·

5 wildlife encounters in Manitoba you will never forget

Aussie travellers seeking those spine-tingling wildlife encounters in Canada are spoilt for choice in Manitoba. Its diverse habitats, from grasslands to boreal forests and sub-arctic tundra, make this central-Canadian province a Mecca for bird and wildlife lovers.

While the majestic polar bears of Churchill are a huge drawcard for visitors to Manitoba, there are equally incredible wildlife experiences available for visitors who wish to stay close to the capital city of Winnipeg in the south.  Read on for five of the best.

1. Birding paradise

Calling all bird-lovers! It doesn’t get better than this. Manitoba is positioned within three migration corridors where more than 390 species of birds have been recorded. One of the best places to witness the birds and learn about these winged creatures is Oak Hammock Marsh, 20 kilometres north of Winnipeg. During peak migration season, around 100,000 waterfowl descend here per day, with a further 300 species of birds travelling through the Wildlife Management Area.

Paddle your way through the wetlands in a Voyageur canoe, or become a scientist for a day with the A Bird in the Hand tour, where you’ll learn how to attach a tiny identification band to a live bird before setting it free to continue its journey. Feel its feathers flutter in your gently closed palms a second before the moment of release.

2. Close encounters of the slithery kind

Every spring, thousands of curious people of all ages head to Manitoba’s limestone Narcisse Snake Dens to witness tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes emerge from their winter dens – the biggest gathering of its kind in the world. Watch for the spectacle to begin as the male snakes wait patiently for the larger females to surface. Once she appears, up to a hundred male snakes slither all over her, forming a ‘mating ball’ in an attempt to ‘woo’ the female.

The marshes surrounding the dens are a smorgasbord of insects, earthworms, snails and frogs, making it the ideal feeding and mating ground for these harmless snakes. Three kilometres of walking trails lead you through native grassland, aspen forests and right up to the limestone dens where you can peer over the edge and see the slithering masses. Reptile lovers can feel free to handle the snakes, but be warned, they are feisty! They may give you a nip, but they’re not dangerous. However, they do leave behind an unpleasant scent, so you may want to wash your hands.

3. Meet the bison

For the ultimate family adventure, experience a bison safari at Fort Whyte Alive, a nature preserve on the edge of Winnipeg. Encounter the striking prairie beasts in their natural habitat during this guided tour, discover how bison helped shape Canada’s history and why the bison is the symbol for ‘respect’ in the  Seven Sacred teachings of the local First Nations Anishinaabe People.

Alternatively, explore the spectacular backcountry of Riding Mountain National Park, including a self-driving tour through the Lake Audy bison enclosure, where you’re guaranteed an up-close encounter with more than 40 protected bison. Have the camera ready as these friendly beasts stroll right up to your vehicle.

4. Assiniboine Park Zoo

Assiniboine Park Zoo is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with magnificent polar bears and other arctic species, without having to leave the comfort of Manitoba’s capital city of Winnipeg. Journey to Churchill, a 10-acre exhibit, features polar bears, wolves, snow owls, muskox, Artic fox, ringed seals, harbour seals and Caribou. Prepare to be awestruck as you poise your camera while frolicking polar bears swim overhead the Sea Ice Passage, an underwater viewing tunnel.

Journey to Churchill features three distinct zones along a fascinating 10-acre route, with interactive displays and audio-visual to reinforce the key messages of biodiversity, climate change and conservation. Make sure you check out the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, a world-class research facility and interpretive gallery, where you’ll learn all about the intriguing arctic ecosystems.

5. Glorious geese

For a quintessentially Canadian birding encounter, time your visit to Manitoba for autumn, when thousands of Canada Geese converge as they prepare to migrate south for the winter. Make it an evening you’ll never forget at the Sunset Goose Flight at FortWhyte Alive, where the magnificent orange sunset glow acts as a breathtaking backdrop for up to 15,000 geese, gulls and birds that come to rest on the water.

Warm up around the bonfire and feast on s’mores and bannock – warm, flaky dough filled with sweet toppings – for the perfect end to an evening that will stay in your heart forever.

Getting there

Air Canada has direct flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne to Vancouver, with connecting services to Winnipeg.


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