Southwestern Manitoba IBA blitz, the last article I promise

We were obviously very happy with our efforts in Southwestern Manitoba earlier this summer. After a bountiful number of blogs, Facebook and forum posts we have also managed to make the front cover of the latest newsletter from Nature Manitoba. So click here to read the last article from the summers adventure. I promise.

Of course, after Saturday we will turn our attention to bountiful articles and blogs describing our Shoal Lake Bird Blitz.

Post Banana Split IBA visits

Tim Poole, Manitoba IBA Coordinator, gives us the rundown on happenings post Melita Banana Day.

Once the banana split had been consumed, the table put away, what else could we do but find some birds! There are 2 IBA’s in this part of southwestern Manitoba, one being the grassland IBA which includes the town of Melita and the other is the famous birding hotspot at Whitewater Lake.

At this junction it is worth noting that the Southwestern Mixed-grass Prairie IBA is also a great place for migrating wetland birds. It is after all part of the prairie potholes region of Manitoba with abundant small wetlands scattered across the area. Early August is also the height of the shorebird migration season where the summer breeding shorebirds (Marbled Godwit, Willet, Killdeer, American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Upland Sandpiper) have already moulted and began their migration. These are gradually being replaced by boreal and Hudson Bay shorebirds. Early August is a good time to catch both groups of shorebirds and over the course of the afternoon Christian and I certainly managed to do this.

American Golden Plover. Photo by Christian Artuso

American Golden Plover. Photo by Christian Artuso

As I mentioned previously, there are many great wetlands within this IBA and most species recorded within the IBA boundary are birds more associated with wetlands than grasslands. My personal highlight was seeing the American Golden Plovers, a lifer! It was great to finally see this species in the flesh having encountered many a Eurasian Golden Plover when out and about in the uplands of Scotland in my former life. If you take some time to check out the excellent Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas website (here) you will see that this species breeds on the soft tundra of the Hudson Bay lowlands.

In total we encountered 81 species within this IBA and counted a whopping 1960 individuals. This included 9 species of waterfowl (386 individuals), a disappointing 160 American Coots (see later as to why this figure is deemed disappointing), 45 Pied-billed Grebes, 19 species of shorebird (389 individuals), 272 Black Terns and 250 blackbirds.

Onward towards Whitewater Lake. One thing that struck us even just outside Melita were the number of White-faced Ibis encountered. This species is a relatively recent arrival in Manitoba (see the fantastic ‘The Birds of Manitoba‘ for history of this species in Manitoba prior to 2003). In fact prior to this date there had not been a confirmed breeding record in Manitoba.

White-faced Ibis flock. Copyright Christian Artuso

There are a few things you should read ahead of visiting Whitewater Lake. The first is an excellent trip report from Christian Artuso from a trip taken to Jo Swartz a couple of weeks ago (see see here). There is also an excellent piece in the Manitoba Cooperator (here). To give a bit of background, back to Christians blogpost and here is a great extract describing the background to the booming population of White-faced Ibis:

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The viewing mound with road collapsing. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

00_Artuso_Whitewater Lake flooded house_7563Whitewater Lake is a closed basin and has alternated from periods of being bone dry (a few decades ago) to being flooded well past its former shoreline as is the current situation. When I arrived in Manitoba in the early 2000s, the lake was slowly filling back up again and was very shallow at that time. I remember when the whole basin had a shallow layer of water, that the shorebird flocks numbered in the tens of thousands. I recall watching with friends as a Prairie Falcon put up a massive and dense cloud of shorebirds. Then by the mid 2000s, as the lake was getting deeper and the emergent vegetation growing tall in many areas, the lake seemed transformed from a shorebirding destination to a site for rare long-

Broken dyke wall at Whitewater Lake. Photo copyright by Christian Artuso

Broken dyke wall at Whitewater Lake. Photo copyright by Christian Artuso

legged waders. In 2006, Ron Bazin and I confirmed breeding of White-faced Ibis in Manitoba for the first time and many rare herons began appearing more and more regularly. In addition to the White-faced Ibis, Great Egrets and Cattle Egrets established colonies and Snowy Egrets were eventually confirmed breeding by Ken De Smet in 2011. All this high water and the great fetch of the prairie winds eventually breached the dyke structures that were built to create cells in the southeastern corner of the lake, such that by 200_Artuso_Whitewater Lake flooding_7550_old road014 they were “united” with the lake and the cattail beds largely drowned out. The road to the main viewing mound is collapsing and is not currently safe to drive. The shorebirds are no longer as concentrated as they used to be and water logged fields one or two miles from the lake are mow the best places to look for them. Although these areas are not currently within the IBA, some of the wetland-upland complexes around the lake represent important ephemeral habitats that host great diversity and concentrations, as well as high productivity.’

Eurasian Collared Doves in, er, Deloraine Manitoba. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Eurasian Collared Doves in, er, Deloraine Manitoba. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Before hitting Whitewater we stopped in the nearby town of Deloraine for gas and food and for what felt to me like the daftest bird of the day. Eurasian Collared Dove is something I have seen my entire life in Europe where I was born and raised. To see it in the middle of Manitoba sitting on the top of a street lamp was a pretty surreal experience. Even more surreal was hearing that they were originally introduced to North America via the Bahamas of all places.

Finally Whitewater Lake and not much introduction needed to the situation regarding high water levels after Christians great background piece. The highlight ironically of this part of the day was not even a wetland bird. Prairie Falcons breed in the badlands of Saskatchewan and Alberta and head over to Manitoba post breeding. 07b_Artuso_Prairie Falcon_8678

The reminder of the afternoon was cut short by the need to get home at a decent time but it would be worth pointing out the numbers recorded in a rushed effort to see as much as possible. Unfortunately many of the birds we encountered are no longer in the IBA because the current high water levels extend way beyond the IBA boundary. This is unfortunately a by-product of setting up our IBA boundaries for wetland sites when water levels across the province are much lower than they are currently. However in total we were able to count 11726 birds representing 82 species. Of these we encountered the following:

  • 5672 waterfowl representing 13 species incl. 1820 Mallards and 1179 Gadwall
  • 540 grebes representing 5 species incl. 2 Clark’s Grebe near the viewing mound18_Artuso_Western Grebe_7872_adult and juv
  • 61 herons and allies incl. 36 White-face Ibis
  • 3026 American Coot
  • 550 shorebirds representing 17 species including northern breeders
    Red-necked Phalarope and Hudsonian Godwit. This paled into insignificance against Christians previous week total of 3123 American Avocets, indicating that a) we covered a lot less ground and b) many of these birds have already migrated12_Artuso_American Avocet 2
  • 468 gulls and terns
  • 1050 blackbirds
Cabbage White Butterflies were an abundant food source for birds including Black Terns. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Cabbage White Butterflies were an abundant food source for birds including Black Terns. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

It’s also worth noting that Birdlife International have changed the name to ‘Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas’ and an emergence of Cabbage White Butterflies was providing great entertainment for insectivorous birds, especially the acrobatic Black Terns. Although Cabbage Whites are an introduced species, it was still a great example of how birds rely so much on the whole ecosystem for resources.

Finally a massive thanks to Christian for the company and guiding on a long day on Saturday.

Christian Artuso, Whitewater Lake. Photo by Tim Poole

Christian Artuso, Whitewater Lake. Photo by Tim Poole

Fruitful Morning in Melita

Another day, another trip to the southwest corner of Manitoba for some Banana-themed fun. Tim gives the lowdown on the morning

Saturday saw Christian and I take another trip to the Manitoba banana belt, a rather a-peeling place to be. Apart from the world’s largest banana statue right in the heart of Melita, there are not really many bananas to be seen but the climate is relatively warmer in summer than the rest of Manitoba, hence the name ‘banana belt’.

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View of the Sunny and Breezy from our table. Photo by Tim Poole

Now Melita has a very joyful looking Banana in the centre of the town called Sunny. Sunny is joined by his friend Breezy the Blue Jay. And what does it say on Breezy’s t-shirt? IBA! Because this is an Important Bird Area and the town itself cherry-ishes this not just with the statue but also with banners on Main Street proclaiming it as the ‘Grassland Bird Capital’ of Manitoba. This is of a course a peach of an area when it comes to birds and, well we could not manage a trip to the southwest without seeing a few birds on the way.

Melita Legion Hall chimney where Chimney Swifts have been recorded breeding for the very first time in Melita. Hopefully swifts have also bred in the other 2 chimneys in Melita which were being used by birds earlier in the season. Photo by Christian Artuso

Melita Legion Hall chimney where Chimney Swifts have been recorded breeding for the very first time. Photo by Christian Artuso

The most important record for the day came from Christian who managed to confirm the first ever successful breeding of a pear of Chimney Swifts in Melita (an entry/exit cycle was observed in the Legion Memorial Hall  chimney and young were heard calling). A second plum bird sighting from the Banana Days was of a Swainson’s Hawk swooping at a Golden Eagle, some sighting at this time of year! The journey down also did not disappoint, with a sub-lime combination of birds from the Pectoral and Baird’s Sandpipers, Grasshopper Sparrow, berry large flocks of blackbirds and good number of Mourning Doves.

Anyhow, I digress and it should be made clear that birdwatching was not our priority on this occasion. We had a grape morning speaking with a number of people, both young and old from from Melita out to Boissevain (and probably further than that). People came for the family fun (bouncers, games, crafts) and probably in a fair few cases, the free banana split! The guys over at the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program were great company on the adjacent table especially Koko the Burrowing Owl, a star attraction if ever there were one (http://www.mborp.ca/).

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Tim Poole at the IBA stand before people arrived. Photo by Christian Artuso

Our aim was to promote the Grassland Bird Initiative and the IBA Program in this area. As we blogged earlier this summer (see here; here; here), this area is important for its areas of native mixed-grass prairie and associated bird species. We believe that landowners and local communities are vital to conserving both this habitat and the special birds. Our presence on a Saturday morning is a reflection of this view and we hope in the future to increase our efforts in this regard. Apple-y, it would seem that many people agree with this view by the stream of visitors to our table.

On a separate note, Marshall Birch our summer Green Team Program Assistant has now left the program after his funding ended. We would like to thank Marshall for his enthusiasm, great blog writing and terrific work ethic over the past few months and wish him also all the best with his future plans.

Next we made a trip to Whitewater Lake but that is a story for another blog.

Migration Bird Blitz at North, West and East Shoal Lakes IBA

If you are peruse these pages back far enough you will see some fantastic photos in a post about Least Bitterns at the North, West and East Shoal Lakes IBA from Donna Martin (see Least Bittern). Donna is our Caretaker for the IBA and spends many hours each year monitoring, putting up signs, building nestboxes and watching out for the site.

Donna and I are planning a couple of fall migration bird blitzes in August and October across the Shoal Lakes. Essentially groups of birders will be counting birds early morning in sections of the IBA. We might even have a boat available for some nautical counting in areas which are less accessible from the land. Below is a summary of the plan:

  • Early Migration Count: August 29th (reserve day is the 30th). Sunrise is around 6:39 so expect to begin 30 minutes before this time
  • Late Migration Count: October 3rd (4th reserve). Sunrise is at 7:42 so again expect to begin 30 minutes beforehand
  • Number of teams: 5-6 cars. Each car to have 1 scope and a GPS (IBA Program will provide GPS if required)
  • All data to be added to eBird under the IBA Protocol. I am happy to enter data and share with you if this makes things easier for you

We will meet up for breakfast after each count. I was planning to go to Rosie’s Cafe in Inwood as this is one of the closest available places in the area. The North, West and East Shoal Lakes IBA received a generous donation via Donna which means we can pay for breakfast to thank everyone plus provide some remuneration for fuel.

Please email me at iba@naturemanitoba.ca if you are interested in coming along for the fun on either date

All the best and happy birding!

Tim

Trip Report from Christian Artuso – Whitewater Lake IBA

Christian Artuso is the chair of the Manitoba Important Bird Area Steering Committee, Coordinator of the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas and all Bird Studies Canada Projects in Manitoba. On Sunday, Christian visited Whitewater Lake with Jo Swartz, another of our IBA volunteers, and has produced a terrific blog on his personal website – http://artusobirds.blogspot.ca/2015/08/surveying-whitewater-lake-iba.html.

Enjoy!