On Saturday October 3rd we returned to the scene of our first fall bird blitz, deciding to give it another go! The first blitz was a great success revealing healthy numbers of birds and a good diversity of species. If you have not read the blog why not take a look here. Tim Poole gives us the lowdown on a good morning out.
Big sky over Erinview on the morning of the blitz. Photo copyright Jo Swartz
Having arrived at the IBA on the 29th August in thick mist, I have to confess to being slightly apprehensive at what might greet us. Fortunately we had nothing to worry about. We were greeted by clear skies, even though the outside temperature was 1 degree celsius. This time I had decided to bring some support along in the shape of Frank and Jacqui Machovec and Callie Bowman.
Our team birding away. Photo copyright Christian Artuso
Our first job was to visit a spot south of West Shoal Lake where Jo, Liis and Betsy had counted in August. I had decided an 8am start should be ok. Unfortunately the birds had other ideas and large flocks of Canada Geese were on the move as we drove towards the count point. Not deterred, we counted the geese from the car. Beforehand we came up with a counting plan. Jacqui was responsible for recording non-water birds, Callie recorded waterbirds, Frank drove and I yelled out numbers of birds from the front seat while the others desperately tried to make sense of the nonsensical gibberish emanating from my mouth. Arriving at the first spot, we counted a plethora of waterbirds moving out of the lake area including over 2000 Canada Geese. This area seems so key for waterfowl that next time we will post someone here from first light to count geese leaving. It is obviously important to continue to learn how to improve things as we go along.
Open wetlands like this are great for roosting waterfowl. Photo copyright Garry Budyk
After completing our count, we headed towards our main area for the morning, Bluff Road between North and West Shoal Lakes. This area had been absolutely teeming with waterbirds last time and given the time of year, I was expecting good numbers today. The first sign that it might not work out the way I hoped were the 2 cars parked halfway down the road. As we exited our car, a couple of guys headed towards us on quad bikes with their hunting gear. Hmm, lesson number 2, don’t organise a bird counting event in an area open for hunting during hunting season.
A few gunshots were not going to prevent us getting a count of the birds and there were a few although not many compared to August. The highlight were a group of 3 Long-billed Dowitchers, a long-billed shorebird. Callie and I came prepared with rubber boots to ford as area of water to get to the lake shore. There were a few Pied-billed Grebes, Blue-winged Teal and a nice groups of American Widgeon but the Red-necked Grebe family had moved on.
Greater Yellowlegs were the most abundant shorebird for the second blitz in a row. Photo copyright Donna Martin
Returning to the car we caught up with Christian Artuso who had walked across the old 415 again. A lineup of hunters limited Christians capacity to ferret birds out from all corners. In fact the fear of acting as a ‘beater’, flushing birds into the waiting guns suppressed any desire to move from the track.
Shock of the day, Christian forgot to bring his tripod on a birding trip. Photo copyright Jo Swartz
Still Christians numbers were very impressive, 2605 birds in total, including 115 Rusty Blackbirds. The last figure is important as it would make the IBA a globally significant site for this species which has been designated by IUCN as Vulnerable. He had also met with Matt Gasner, Jillian Detwiler and Dana Schroeder who had been covering the ground on the other side of the 415. Apparently Jillian, Matt’s wife, has made past visits to Shoal Lakes as a parasitologist at the University of Manitoba. This reminds me of those distant university labs dissecting Sticklebacks in the search for parasites……
The internationally threatened Rusty Blackbird in all its rusty glory. Photo copyright Donna Martin
Our group moved towards Inward and lunch to see how everyone else had got along. The general consensus was that numbers were down on last time but this might be mitigated by the fact that hunters were present along most of the routes. Obviously a few hunters are not going to have a massive impact on the number of birds but the disturbance will move birds to less accessible ‘refuges’ and reduce ther total counts.
The other groups had it seemed enjoyed a productive morning. Two groups had been fortunate enough to spy White-winged and Surf Scoter on the lake. The first group to do this was that of Joanne Smith, Bill Rideout and Sabina Mastrolonardo. Their job was to survey the area west of North Shoal Lake. This time Joanne failed to record a single bovine-bear but the scoters (at least one person had a lifer) more than made up for this. They also recorded the sole Mourning Dove of the day in a total of 363 birds, a big drop on last time.
No one caught a great photo of the White-winged Scoters on the day but here is a photo from Seal River Estuary IBA with a couple of Eider Ducks in northern Manitoba. Photo copyright Christian Artuso
Further south at East Shoal Lake, the combination of Jo Swartz, Betsy Thorsteinson and Rob Parsons had also recorded both scoter species. This group seemed to run the monopoly on finding species that no other group were able to locate; Ruffed Grouse, Common Loon, Western Grebe, Osprey and Yellow-headed Blackbird were on their daily checklist. Other highlights were 13 Tundra Swans and 1577 Canada Geese.
Tundra Swans in flight. Photo copyright Donna Martin
Across from them on the western side of West Shoal Lake, were John Weier, Garry Budyk and John Hays, ‘the dream team’. A couple of Hooded Merganser, Horned Grebe, a Peregrine Falcon and a House Wren were among their total of 1665 birds and 61 species they recorded.
Horned Grebe copyright Garry Budyk
Lapland Longspur numbers were starting to build up by this point. Photo copyright Donna Martin
That was a quick summary of all the different groups. Well almost all the different groups. We planned to meet for lunch around 1:30 but by 2pm there was still no sign of our final group Donna Martin and Ray Methot. As I was dialing for the rescue helicopter, they appeared having birded the backtracks in Ray’s quad. Stylish! I must get myself one of those for the IBA Program! This groups seemed to be the best for winkling out the teals, with 252 Green-winged and 102 Blue-winged Teal as well as a good mix of other species.
Another of the wetlands surrounding the lakes. Photo copyright Garry Budyk
After lunch and an unsavory incident which we shall studiously avoid mentioning involving a piece of pumpkin pie, a candle and some very bad singing, a few of us went looking for the scoters along North Shoal Lake. We managed to find the White-winged Scoters but had to leave before the others had located Surf Scoters, completing a very successful day.
From left to right: Donna, Ray, John H and John Weier. Photo copyright Garry Budyk
Thanks again to everyone for coming along and giving up your time on a beautiful Saturday morning. To finish this blog, I learnt 2 important lessons. These were:
- Don’t organise a bird blitz during hunting season as the birds will shift around the area
- Never joke to Donna about birthday cake
North, West and East Shoal Lake sign below the RM of Armstrong sign. Note the bullet holes in the RM sign. Classy! Photo copyright Christian Artuso