New Landowners Guide to Grassland Birds in Manitoba

Since June 2013 the Manitoba Important Bird Areas Program have been working on the Manitoba Grassland Conservation Initiative. This program was established with the aim of engaging landowners and communities in Manitoba about the fast declining populations of grassland birds. Over the intervening period, the program has delivered the objectives of the program. This has included attendance at local fairs, giving talks promoting the program, finding out about how landowners view grassland birds in a stakeholder survey, involving volunteers in monitoring the grassland IBAs and providing workshops on the birds of the prairies. At the culmination of funding from Environment Canada’s EcoAction Community Funding Program, we have produced a ‘Landowners’ Guide to Grassland Bird Conservation in Manitoba’. This guide provides an overview of the issues which cause bird populations to thrive and those which cause them to decline. It gives a brief overview of the added activities, in addition to farming livestock, which might benefit birds. Finally it describes some of the threatened species that might be found on each parcel of land. Designed by Carrie-Anne Lander and based on a literature review from Marshall Birch, we hope it will be a valuable addition to bird conservation in Manitoba.

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Image of the front cover of the guide

A copy of the guide can be downloaded at the bottom of this page: https://importantbirdareasmb.ca/manitoba-grassland-bird-initiative/. If you would like a hard copy of the guide, please contact Tim Poole at iba@naturemanitoba.ca or (204) 943-9029.

IBA Monitoring Priorities – Oak Hammock Marsh IBA

With a seemingly early spring jolting the world around us to life, it seems like the time has come to get ready for annual monitoring of Manitoba’s 38 IBAs. Over the next month or so, I am going to attempt to post some quick reviews of monitoring and caretaker opportunities for individual IBAs. This will help anyone going out to these places to consider entering their data under the IBA protocol. Today, I am going to start with the most well-known and well-visited IBA in Manitoba, Oak Hammock Marsh.

Oak Hammock Marsh is the most well visited IBA in Manitoba. Funnily enough I suspect it has the least entries under the IBA Protocol of all the most well known Manitoban IBAs. It would be fantastic if people would consider entering all their checklists in eBird (or send them to me to enter them), so to build a more accurate reflection of bird populations in this IBA. For anyone interested in learning a bit more about how to do this, there will be a short walk and talk on May 14th as part of the International Migratory Bird Day (see here).

If you don’t know, Oak Hammock Marsh is a 20 minute drive north of the Winnipeg perimeter between highways 7 and 8 (see directions). You can see a pdf of the IBA boundary by clicking on the link below:

MB010 Oak Hammock Marsh WMA

Originally designated for large populations of waterbirds, including waterfowl, shorebirds and other marsh birds, Oak Hammock Marsh is especially important during migration season. There are globally important populations of Canada Goose in spring and fall and Snow Goose during fall. Being a hemi-marsh, the water levels are human-controlled. Currently most of the marsh is not in drawdown and therefore the habitats are more suitable for waterfowl than shorebirds. The sod fields north of Oak Hammock, although not in the IBA are the best place currently for the globally Near-threatened Buff-breasted Sandpiper. The original trigger species were:

  1. American Coot
  2. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  3. Canada Goose
  4. Franklin’s Gulls
  5. Hudsonian Godwit
  6. Lesser Snow Goose
  7. Mallard
  8. Short-billed Dowitcher
  9. Tundra Swan
  10. White-rumped Sandpiper

Other key species to look out for are:

  1. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  2. Rusty Blackbird

The monitoring priorities for 2016 are:

  • Complete checklists to be entered into eBird. If possible these checklists should follow the IBA Protocol.
  • Prioritise counting large flocks of waterbirds.
  • Although not in the IBA, enter Buff-breasted Sandpiper data from the sod fields to the north under the IBA Protocol.
  • Participate in the Oak Hammock Marsh Summer Breeding Census (watch the Manitoba Birds Yahoo Group for details.
  • Participate in the fall goose counts (more details will appear on http://www.oakhammockmarsh.ca/).

IBA Protocol routes exist and follow the Oak Hammock Marsh Summer Census zones. If possible enter your checklists under the zones used in this map:

MB010 Oak Hammock Marsh IBA monitoring route map

Any questions please let me know  on the contact details provided on this website.

Southern Cone Grassland Alliance – an Inspiration

I thought I would share a link to a story I received this morning from Birdlife International about Birdlife Americas Southern Cone Grassland Alliance. The alliance has just received an award for ‘International Cooperation’ from the prestigious U.S. Forest Service’s 2016 Wings Across the Americas Awards for outstanding conservation achievement. See Birdlife America’s Southern Cone Grassland Partnership.

Late last year, Bird Studies Canada’s (and MB IBA steering committee chair), Christian Artuso, presented a talk, together with Audubon, on North American grassland bird conservation at a gathering of ranchers, NGOs, government officials and academics in Brazil. This gathering was arranged by an inspirational partnership for conservation involving ranchers from four countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay), conserving native grasslands and in return receiving a grassland bird-friendly beef certification. This certification provides ranchers with a higher price for their beef.

Why is this of interest to the Manitoba IBA Program? For starters, cattle producers, especially in the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-grass Prairie IBA, face many of the same challenges as those in South America. In both Manitoba and the Southern Cone, almost all grasslands are privately owned. Retaining cattle production is vital to retaining the remaining patches of native grassland, especially given the loss of native bison in Manitoba. Conserving native grasslands is also key to conserving our special grassland birds such as Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur and Ferruginous Hawk. In both cases, cattle production is beneficial to birds.

Landowners must also turn a profit to retain cattle on the landscape. Across the Americas native grassland have been converted to crops or in some cases in the north, areas of grassland are given over to energy extraction due to financial pressures. This has meant that in North and South America, entire grassland ecosystems have become endangered, leading to declines of well-known grassland birds such as Bobolink and Loggerhead Shrike.

Also of interest is how this type of initiative might influence migratory birds from Manitoba. Birds of the Manitoba grassland like the Upland Sandpiper and Swainson’s Hawk spend the winter on South American grassland. What’s more, some open tundra species of the high Arctic, think Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and those of the Hudson Bay lowlands, say, Hudsonian Godwit, also winter on the grasslands of the Southern Cone. This demonstrates the importance of a fully functioning network of sites for conservation, such as IBAs, across borders and continents. It also presents a challenge to decision-makers and stakeholders in North America in responding to such a positive initiative.

Could a similar certification award and partnership could work in North America? Maybe in a few years there will be an option of purchasing grassland bird-friendly beef from the native prairies of southwestern Manitoba. That would certainly be a step in the right direction for threatened grassland birds!Upland Sandpiper