Misty beginnings to the Shoal Lakes IBA Bird Blitz

Saturday 29th August 2015 was our first bird migration blitz at the North, West and East Shoal Lakes IBA. 14 people made their way from WInnipeg, Gimli and further afield to take part. Tim Poole shares some memories and photos from the mornings birding. 

A perfect morning for counting birds. Photo copyright Garry Budyk

Mist. Oh dear! Not the most auspicious start to the mornings birding activities. Surely things will improve soon?

Driving along West Shoal Lake, the mist hovering over the water, a Belted Kingfisher flies across the front and as the organizer, I am getting a wee bit concerned. Soon Garry Budyk and John Weier will be here to start counting and I haven’t got a didgeridoo (clue) how things are going to go. Apparently it took about an hour after our 7am start for Garry and John to get going. But things did improve (as evidenced below).

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John Weier thinking of lunch? Photo copyright Garry Budyk

John and Garry would eventually be able to count good numbers or birds. in fact they managed to record 78 species and almost 1600 individuals. The section of West Shoal Lakes is a fantastic place for seeing ducks and shorebirds, even more-so in spring than fall.

Good duck habitat. Note the trees at the back of the photo. This is the boundary of the lake when water levels were a wee bit lower. Photo copyright Garry Budyk.

Good duck habitat. Note the trees at the back of the photo. This is the boundary of the lake when water levels were a wee bit lower. Photo copyright Garry Budyk.

The IBA was split into 7 survey sections, 4 to be accessed by vehicle, 1 by boat and 2 on foot.

The IBA was split into 7 survey sections, 4 to be accessed by vehicle, 1 by boat and 2 on foot.

14 people scattered in cars, foot, even a boat across the area. Optics galore and (from the evidence of the photos here), some rather good photographic gear. For anyone unfamiliar with the area, the Shoal Lakes IBA is in the Interlake area near Inwood. Originally this was a great place for Piping Plover but high water levels make it currently unsuitable for these rare birds. instead there are waterfowl aplenty, blackbirds, shorebirds and even the occasional Least Bittern (see here). Donna Martin is caretaker for this IBA and was also responsible for gaining the two donations which are funding these fall blitzes. Beforehand the big job was to recruit volunteers and provide maps of the survey sections which you can see to the left.

Donna was teamed up with Ray Methot and covered the north and west sides of North Shoal Lake. There were a fair few shorebirds in the area and another Least Bittern darted away.

I dropped Matt Gasner in rubber boots to walk across the washed out parts of Provincial Road 415, where he would meet Christian Artuso halfway. The following photos and captions are all from Christian and along with the captions tell the story of their birding highlights and endeavors along the flooded highway.

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Common Yellowthroat: There were many migratory warblers counted, presumably some migrants mixed with local-born Common Yellowthroats in the 54 I counted (before I joined up with Matt and there were many more after that).

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Greater Yellowlegs: we are deeply grateful to team yellowlegs for assisting in assessing the depth of water over the flooded road! No incidents occurred, other than a few wet pairs of socks.

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One of 18 Virginia rails seen or heard, including many juveniles

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One of 51 Soras seen or heard, including many juveniles trotting about in the open (plus more after I joined up with Matt)

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The marsh seemed to be teeming with Northern Waterthrushes (this is one of 38 I counted by myself plus more again after I joined up with Matt)

Matt Gasner surveying IBA_9758

Matt Gasner counting egrets, waterfowl and shorebirds along the flooded PR 415

While Christian and Matt were wading across an old highway, I was exploring another nearby road which might disappear at any moment. Needless to say, the mist reappeared before the road disappeared! I did manage one major achievemnet; that of getting the wettest feet of the day while trying to wade across a flooded section of road. I still managed to find 419 American Coots and 400+ ducks in the surrounding wetlands. Unbelievably, even though I eventually waded to the lake shore, I failed to enter the IBA! Later I would meet up with Christian and Matt counting another section with Semipalmated Plovers (37), Semipalmated Sandpiper (3), Least Sandpiper (2) and a single calling Long-billed Dowitcher.

While all this was going on, we had Bonnie Chartier roaming East Shoal Lake with Cam Meuckon from Manitoba Conservation on a boat. Special thanks to Cam for offering his time and the boat for the morning. Birding highlight? Scoters, ’nuff’ said!

Map of Cam's and Bonnie's route. Note how they seemed to spend most of their 'boat trip' on land especially to the north and east! This goes to show how much greater the water levels are now compared to where they were in the past.

Map of Cam’s and Bonnie’s route. Note how they seemed to spend most of their ‘boat trip’ on land especially to the north and east! This goes to show how much greater the water levels are now compared to where they were in the past.

Joanne Smith, Bill Rideout and Peter Douglas surveyed the eastern side of North Shoal Lake. They had the distinction of seeing a rather special couple of waterbirds….

Yes, that's right Trumpeter Swans. No, er, Tundra Swans, er, Tumpeter or is Trundra Swans? Ok, final they were Trumpeter Swans. Note the size difference with the adjacent Canada Geese, the long straight beak and lack of yellow on the lores below the eye. Photo copyright Bill Rideout

Yes, that’s right Trumpeter Swans. No, er, Tundra Swans, er, Tumpeter or is it Trundra Swans? Ok, they were Trumpeter Swans. Note the size difference with the adjacent Canada Geese, the long straight beak and lack of yellow on the lores below the eye. Photo copyright Bill Rideout

Apparently these guys must have started really early judging by this photo of the moon.

Bit ate for Yellow Rail surveys? Photo copyright Bill Rideout

August is not known as a good time to do nocturnal owl surveys but that didn’t stop our intrepid surveyors from trying. Photo copyright Bill Rideout

One nameless member of the group spotted a Big Black Bear (new acronym BBB). Stoooooooooooooooooooop’ he/she yelled, ‘I see a bear’. The other group members turn to look but only see a field of cows. Admit it, we’ve all managed to confuse a cow and a bear!

BBB doesn’t just mean big black bear according to this group. It also means, big black blob (whatever that is) and big black bird (presumably the one below).
Big black bird aka Common Raven. Photo copyright Bill Rideout

Big black bird aka Common Raven. Photo copyright Bill Rideout

Again there were hosts of birds and much confusion to be found; yellowlegs, terns, ravens and warblers among a host of others.

Bill claims that he would have 'bet the farm' on his identification of this Cooper's Hawk. Er, it's a Merlin. Photo copyright Bill Rideout

Bill claims that he would have ‘bet the farm’ on his identification of this Cooper’s Hawk. Er, it’s a Merlin. Photo copyright Bill Rideout

Yellow Warbler hiding in the bushes. Photo copyright Bill Rideout.

A Yellow Warbler with half a face. Photo copyright Bill Rideout.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs and the close resembling Lesser Yellowlegs were the most abundant shorebird on the day. Photo copyright Bill Rideout.

Forester's Tern

Unfortunately this Forster’s Tern is displaying winter plumage. Is it trying to tell us something? Photo copyright Bill Rideout

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte’s Gull were the more numerous gull species on the day. The prairie breeding Franklin’s Gulls have long left leaving more northern breeding gulls in their stead. Photo copyright Bill Rideout.

Belted Kingfisher

Everyone loves a kingfisher! Photo copyright Bill Rideout

Another fantastic shot showing the eerie damp, misty start to the day. Photo copyright Jo Swartz

Another fantastic shot showing the eerie damp, misty start to the day. Photo copyright Jo Swartz

Jo Swartz, Liis Veelma and Betsy Thorsteinson were our East Shoal Lake road team. They managed to achieve another birding highlight by hearing the secretive Yellow Rail calling very early on. Other birding highlights were Pectoral Sandpiper and American Pipit, the only group to locate these species on the blitz. I should apologise for sending this group up some pretty ropey roads looking for access points to the southern end of the lakes. Sorry!

Just before 1pm, a trail of us began to turn up at Rosie’s Cafe in Inwood for a late breakfast/brunch/lunch to share experiences and locations for a couple of species (the Trumpeter Swans were certainly revisited).

Thanks to everyone mentioned above for giving up your weekend to help out. The next blitz is on Saturday October 3rd. If you are interested in coming along for the ride please let me know at iba@naturemanitoba.ca.