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
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.
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:
The viewing mound with road collapsing. Photo copyright Christian Artuso
‘Whitewater 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
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 2014 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
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.
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 mound
- 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 migrated
- 468 gulls and terns
- 1050 blackbirds
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