With so many incredible open spaces in both prairie and forest ecosystems, Sunrise Corner truly is an outdoor paradise with so many natural areas to enjoy.
Sandilands Provincial Forest
The Sandilands Provincial Forest is located within the southeastern area of Manitoba and consists of thousands of acres of sand hills, forest, wetlands, and mostly unpopulated crown lands. Sandilands Provincial Forest covers close to 3,000 sq km. The area has been logged for decades, and it is popular for hiking, hunting, and camping. The large sand eskers and hills were left behind by the last ice age as the glaciers retreated and deposited large rocks, boulders, and vast amounts of sand. These sand ridges sometimes called the Bedford Hills or Cyprus Hills, are the second highest point in Manitoba, behind Baldy Mountain.
Watson P. Davidson Wildlife Management Area
Manitoba’s first WMA, Watson P. Davidson WMA was established in 1961 to commemorate Watson Davidson and his love of wildlife. The WMA protects a diversity of habitat, primarily aspen forest, interspersed with small bogs lined with spruce, tamarack and white cedar.
The WMA protects important breeding and migration habitat for several northern forest owls. Watch for the great gray owl, Manitoba’s provincial bird, silently gliding through the trees. The great gray is our largest owl. You might also see the small northern saw-whet owl. These little brown owls stand only 18 to 20 centimetres tall. Bring along a bird book to help you identify the owls, you could easily mistake the saw-whet for the boreal owl that is also found in the WMA. The boreal owl is slightly larger, from 23 to 25 centimetres tall.
You can find many species of neo-tropical birds throughout the WMA. Watch too for upland game birds, deer and the occasional moose feeding in the wetlands. It is excellent habitat for big game.
Rat River Wildlife Management Area
The Rat River WMA protects a managed marshland as well as a surrounding upland of aspen and oak forest with scattered meadows of native tall grass prairie. The marsh provides flood protection for the area by absorbing spring melt waters destined for the Rat River. The wetland in turn becomes an attractive breeding and staging area for waterfowl in spring.
Look for moose tracks in the moist soil around the wetland. The aspen cover, with nearby water, makes this good deer habitat. You will also find grouse nesting in the WMA.
Some of the bird species to look for in the Rat River WMA are black and Forester’s terns, marsh wren, Wilson’s snipe, red-winded and yellow-headed blackbirds and swamp sparrow. The rare least bittern is often found here, for those who know how to look. It is a small secretive member of the heron family. To catch sight of one, listen first for its call – coo-coo-coo, then scan the reeds. It is so well camouflaged that it is difficult to find even when you hear it call.
On the uplands, ovenbirds and red-eyed vireos are common. On the edge of the meadows listen for the common yellowthroat, clay-coloured sparrow and the cat-like mewing of the grey catbird, which are nesting here.
Stuartburn Wildlife Management Area
The Stuartburn WMA protects one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America – tall grass prairie. With less than one per cent of tallgrass prairie remaining, it is vital to protect any remaining habitat. The Stuartburn WMA is part of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve owned by several conservation groups dedicated to protecting this rare ecosystem.
A visit to the WMA offers a glimpse into the past when the tallgrass prairie stretched from the Red River Valley to Texas. You would have been dwarfed by the height of grasses in mid-summer, in rich reds, blues, purples and golds. Wildflowers large and small would have provided a riot of colour, texture and smell, a feast for the senses from early spring to late fall. Butterflies and pollinating insects, busy on their rounds, move from flower to flower with the grace of a grand dance.
While not as lush and diverse as it once was, you can still find many rare species in the WMA, like the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid and Dakota skipper. Bring along a grasslands field guide to help you identify the rare species you will find. A photograph is the best way to capture the rare species; removal of plants is strictly prohibited.
The Stuartburn WMA is an excellent spot to look for prairie birds you won’t see elsewhere. The combination of tall grass prairie, aspen parkland and sedge meadows provide habitat to migrating neo-tropical birds. Breeding species you can find here include upland sandpiper, sandhill crane, black-billed cuckoo, whip-poor-will, sharp-tailed grouse, sedge wren, Nelson’s sharp-tailed and Le Conte’s sparrows and the bobolink. You will also find deer, grouse, coyotes, fox and the occasional black bear and wild turkey. Check your hunting guide for hunting seasons.
Spur Woods Wildlife Management Area
The Spur Woods WMA was established to protect old growth red pine and eastern white cedar stands that are on the western fringe of their natural range. The mature forests provide excellent habitat for breeding and migrating forest owls. Some species to watch for are the large great gray owl and the tiny northern saw-whet and boreal owls. You might also find the pine warbler in Spur Woods.
These forests are also good habitat for the large pileated woodpecker and the rare pine marten. You are likely to see an abundance of deer and grouse, which makes this WMA a popular hunting spot.
Several trails crisscross the WMA. Be sure to bring a compass or GPS unit so you don’t lose your way. The trails are popular year-round – walking, biking, hunting snowshoeing and sledding. For first time users, try the old railway spur line. It provides a nice raised trail that gives you a view of surrounding forest.