by Marshall Birch, IBA Program Assistant
The North, West, and East Shoal Lakes area – not to be confused with the town of Shoal Lake in Western Manitoba, or the Shoal Lake in Western Ontario that Winnipeg receives its water supply from – is a vibrant and easily accessible Important Bird Area (IBA) located in the southern portion of the Interlake area, under an hour North-West of Winnipeg. We visited the area to meet with IBA Caretaker Donna Martin, deliver IBA signs for the site, and take a look around.
American White Pelican – Photo by Donna Martin.
The N,W and E Shoal Lakes were originally one lake. With the construction of the Wagon Creek drain in 1912, water levels fell four to five meters and separated the Lake into three distinct cells now known as the North, West, and East Shoal Lakes. All three lakes have shallow, marshy edges and provide excellent habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds alike, with American White Pelican, Cackling Goose, Snow Goose, and Piping Plover being the IBA trigger species for the area.
Kildeer – Photo by Donna Martin.
To access West Shoal Lake, we headed up Highway 6 and turned North onto PR 518 at the small town of Woodlands. The gravel road runs along the West side of West Shoal Lake, with the water coming right up to the roadside ditches. You could have a successful day of birdwatching just by driving slowly along and keeping your eyes peeled, though pulling over on this very low-traffic road to take a look is definitely worth your time. PR 518 / Ideal Road will take you all the way up to Highway 229, which runs along the North edge of North Shoal Lake. While there are a few turn-offs along the way to get in closer to the lakes in certain areas, including PR 415 which runs between the lakes, the conditions of these roads are likely to vary with weather conditions, and we found quite a few “road closed” signs. This, along with time constraints, kept us from visiting East Shoal Lake, though the West and North lakes provided us with a satisfyingly large selection of bird species.
Great Egret – Photo by Donna Martin.
American White Pelicans were definitely in abundance, whether soaring overhead in groups or resting on the lake. We were also able to spot a good number of Great Egrets as well. Other birds of special interest included a number of Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons, several Eared Grebes, many Killdeer on the road (one performing it’s “broken-wing act” rather exuberantly to distract us from its nest), a Double-Crested Cormorant, and one Least Bittern (at North Shoal Lake). Ina addition, we spotted Mallards, Blue-winged Teals, Canada Geese, Shovelers, Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, Lesser Scaups, Canvasbacks – along with numerous Franklin’s Gulls, Black Terns, Red-winged Blackbirds and Tree Swallows.
Yellow-headed Blackbird – Photo by Donna Martin.
The proximity to major centres, such as Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie, combined with the ease of access to viewing areas, make the Shoal Lakes IBA an ideal birding destination for those looking for a day trip out of the city. The diversity of birds visible from the roadside was impressive enough that any serious boating would be unnecessary for anyone but the more serious and experienced birders. Still, for those willing to go the extra mile, one could imagine a boat could allow opportunities for even more incredible birdwatching. The Shoal Lakes should definitely be a destination in mind for any Manitoban interested in birding.