IBA MB091 Riverton Sandy Bar 2015 (The Year of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.)

Joanne Smith, Caretaker for Riverton Sandy Bar IBA shares her experiences and photos from 2015 in this blogpost.

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Bonnie Chartier, Willet, spring sky, Snow Buntings. Copyright Joanne Smith

It’s amazing how an IBA such as Sandy Bar can change its appearance from one summer to the next.  In 2014, the main sand bar (Sandy Bar) was completely separated from the main land during the breeding season and was only accessible by boat, canoe or kayak.  However, this past 2015 breeding season provided a kilometer long sand bar that was easily accessible by both foot and ATV. As usual, Hecla Bar was only accessible by boat as it is on the Hecla Island portion of this Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.

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Lapland Longspur, erosion, American Goldfinch, Lynda Baker. Copyright Joanne Smith

Despite the winter of 2014/15 being normal as far a snowfall amounts, there were still 4 to 5 foot snow drifts at the southwest end of Sandy Bar on April 16th. The lake was beginning to open up by April 9th and was a warm welcome to some 300 Herring Gulls. Despite a small snow drift lingering on May 5th, there were hundreds of ladybugs on the sand bar and the lake within the IBA was ice free. Unlike the high water levels in Lake Winnipeg in 2014, this past year proved to have much lower levels and no major wind/rain storms played havoc on Common Tern, Ring-billed Gull or Herring Gull colonies.  However, 2014 and 2015 were similar in that by mid to late August the lake on the north side of the sand bar was thick with algae. The algae that washed ashore would leave interesting designs in the sand a few weeks later.

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Algae, ladybugs, zebra mussel. Copyright Joanne Smith

There were a few good bird highlights as well as a few disappointments during the 2015 birding season at Sandy Bar.  On May 11th the Herring Gulls had established their colony.  With approximately 180 adult gulls and 70 nests, there was hope that 2015 would be a far better year for the Herring Gull chicks than 2014 was.  By June 8th, 15 young could be seen from a distance so things were looking up.  Surely there would be more young in the next week or two but by July 6th, only 4 young Herring Gulls remained.

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Herring Gull colony and Sandy bar marsh with Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon. Copyright Joanne Smith

Things were also rather dismal for the Ring-billed colony.  On June 8th approximately 170 Ring-billed Gull adults had set up their colony of 30 nests within 300 meters of the Herring Gull colony.  However, on June 18th no occupied nests remained.  The Ring-billed colony no longer existed. No Common Terns nested on this main sand bar in 2015 either.

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Common Term, Double-crested Cormorant, Herring Gull, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone

On July 7th, Manitoba IBA coordinator Tim Poole, summer student Green Team employee Marshall Birch, my husband Dave and I launched the boat at the dock in Riverton, drove down the Icelandic River into Lake Winnipeg and then over to Hecla Bar.  This was to be our first IBA visit to this portion of IBA MB091.  The lake was rather rough and we could see that there were at least 16 nests on this Hecla sand bar along with a few young (which proved to be Common Tern after checking photos) so we decided to remain in the boat rather than get out and disturb the birds.  Four people trying to count and photograph birds from a rocking, rolling 16 foot boat proved to be quite interesting.  However, the view did provide decent looks at American White Pelican, Common Tern, Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Franklin’s Gulls, and Bonaparte’s Gulls.

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herring gull with chick, Marshall Birch, Dave Smith, Tim Poole, Ring-billed Gull colony, Herring Gull. Copyright Joanne Smith

Some of the more positive sightings on the Sandy Bar portion of the IBA in 2015 included a Whimbrel on May 15th (when Bonnie Chartier and I were setting up “Caution Ground Nesting Birds” signs), three Whimbrel on June 18th and another lone Whimbrel sighting on August 25th.  This Whimbrel stayed around long enough to be seen by Bob Shettler on August 26th and by Donna Martin on August 27th.

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American Robin, Whimbrel, Forster’s and Ring-billed Gulls. Copyright Joanne Smith


On May 14th Randy Mooi had a Virginia Rail in the marsh area of Sandy Bar and on May 23rd John Gordon, Donna Martin and Ray Methot added two Red Knot to the species list. Many other species were seen during the summer months including Bald Eagles, Sanderling, Merlin, Black-bellied Plover, American Golden Plover, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Rusty Blackbird, Yellow Warbler, Marsh Wren, Barn Swallow (nesting at the old fish shed near the parking area), and Spotted Sandpiper, just to name a few. The target species Snow Goose, Canada Goose, American White Pelican, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Tern, and Forster’s Tern (some mentioned previously) were all seen.  The only target species not seen was the Piping Plover.


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Marsh Wren, Common Grackle, Common Yellowthroat, American Tree Sparrow. Copyright Joanne Smith


Sanderling, Killdeer, ATV tracks, fall sky. Copyright Joanne Smith

Fall visitors to Sandy Bar included Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, American Tree Sparrow and American Pipit.  On October 18th, Riverton resident Marvin Hamm emailed me to tell me that he had seen two beautiful Snowy Owls on the main sand bar that afternoon.  On October 22nd, Lynda Baker and I would also be fortunate enough to see these two owls.  However, on a sad note, we also found what turned out to be the first of several zebra mussel shells.  On an October 29th visit one Snowy Owl remained but we were to find two more zebra mussel shells on the beach near the parking area.

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Red Admiral, Red-necked Phalarope, American Pipit, sand islands. Photo copyright Joanne Smith

On November 12th, winter could definitely be felt in the air at Sandy Bar as the NW 19km/h winds made it feel like -3 and the snow began to fall.  The walk out to the end of Sandy Bar was snow free but the return walk included a brief whiteout which left enough snow to show the footprints of one crazy human who had ventured out amongst the handful of remaining birds in this mini blizzard.

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Snowy poo is big! Like gummy worms! Joanne didn’t sample them unfortunately(:, the sand bar in the snow and Snowy Owls on the bar. Photo copyright Joanne Smith

The 2015 season had provided views of good birds (I guess all birds are good) like Red Knot and Whimbrel, the sad disappearance of the Ring-billed Gull colony, the bad zebra mussel findings and the ugly algae concentrations.  It’ll be interesting to see what 2016 holds in store for IBA MB091 Riverton Sandy Bar.

Joanne Smith

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Horned Lark, Linda Curtis & Lynda Baker, Black-bellied Plover. Photo copyright Joanne Smith