A Small Gadget on a Single Sandpiper Reveals Why IBA’s are Critical for Birds

Why do we need IBAs? It’s a fair question and Christian Artuso gives a brilliant real-life example involving a Pectoral Sandpiper, a satellite transmitter, some German researchers, Alaska, Hudson Bay, Delta Marsh and Whitewater Lake. Check out this link for the full story.


Find out the significance of this Pectoral Sandpiper by visiting Christians blog. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Southwestern Mixed-Grass Prairie IBA Total Counts

Thanks again to all our volunteers. Here are the final totals for the event

Species Jo, Betsy & Christian Gillian & Glennis Bonnie, Pat & Dave Christian Tim, Luc, Bill, Betty, Donna & Joan Garry & John Alex Total for species
Canada Goose 8 13 21
Gadwall 11 2 4 17
Mallard 8 1 37 9 6 20 81
Blue-winged Teal 10 1 2 3 16
Northern Shoveler 1 1 1 3
Northern Pintail 12 12
Green-winged Teal 8 4 13 2 27
Canvasback 6 6
Ring-necked Pheasant 1 1 2
Sharp-tailed Grouse 9 2 1 12
Pied-billed Grebe 1 2 3
Great Blue Heron 1 2 1 4
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1 2 3
Turkey Vulture 3 1 4 8
Northern Harrier 1 1 1 1 2 6
Bald Eagle 1 1 2
Swainson’s Hawk 3 1 7 5 16
Red-tailed Hawk 6 8 8 5 8 6 41
Ferruginous Hawk 2 2
Sora 1 7 5 1 1 4 19
American Coot 4 4
Killdeer 84 19 28 8 15 25 179
Spotted Sandpiper 1 1
Greater Yellowlegs 4 4
Willet 7 2 1 10
Lesser Yellowlegs 20 1 6 27
Upland Sandpiper 49 27 20 21 20 25 162
Marbled Godwit 2 2
Wilson’s Snipe 8 15 20 6 23 24 96
Wilson’s Phalarope 2 3 8 8 21
Franklin’s Gull 10 4 1 1 16
Ring-billed Gull 1 2 2 5
Black Tern 6 11 8 9 3 27 64
Common Tern 1 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 10 3 4 3 20 40
Mourning Dove 68 31 29 20 39 87 274
Black-billed Cuckoo 1 1
Great Horned Owl 2 2 4
Belted Kingfisher 1 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1 1
Downy Woodpecker 1 1 2
Hairy Woodpecker 2 2
Northern Flicker 2 1 4 3 3 8 21
American Kestrel 2 1 2 5
Willow Flycatcher 1 1
Least Flycatcher 4 1 8 2 5 23 43
Eastern Phoebe 3 3
Say’s Phoebe 2 2
Western Kingbird 13 12 2 2 17 16 62
Eastern Kingbird 22 26 30 9 61 59 207
Loggerhead Shrike 2 1 1 4
Warbling Vireo 1 10 11
Black-billed Magpie 4 11 1 3 7 9 35
American Crow 1 2 10 2 4 4 23
Common Raven 1 1 3 11 16
Horned Lark 39 7 6 7 9 14 82
Purple Martin 7 7
Tree Swallow 15 30 4 1 50
Bank Swallow 20 2 22
Barn Swallow 68 5 32 4 5 49 23 186
Cliff Swallow 70 64 20 20 174
Black-capped Chickadee 1 1 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1 1
House Wren 3 1 1 9 15 29
Sedge Wren 11 4 20 12 17 46 110
Marsh Wren 2 1 6 7 12 28
American Robin 14 3 4 8 7 22 58
Gray Catbird 2 4 2 1 4 13
Brown Thrasher 1 3 2 1 5 1 13
European Starling 5 1 8 14
Sprague’s Pipit 14 3 2 26 1 10 2 58
Cedar Waxwing 2 2 4
Chestnut-collared Longspur 27 1 13 44 30 14 51 180
Common Yellowthroat 11 2 1 3 3 9 29
Yellow Warbler 3 5 13 21
Grasshopper Sparrow 11 2 27 22 21 2 85
Baird’s Sparrow 2 1 13 5 21
Le Conte’s Sparrow 5 2 4 5 29 45
Nelson’s Sparrow 1 2 6 9
Chipping Sparrow 1 1 4 4 10
Clay-colored Sparrow 38 11 30 9 27 40 155
Lark Sparrow 1 3 4
Vesper Sparrow 8 10 2 8 5 44 4 81
Savannah Sparrow 53 12 5 25 37 99 231
Song Sparrow 9 1 6 3 10 29
Dickcissel 1 1
Bobolink 31 13 3 14 12 5 78
Red-winged Blackbird 300 39 900 15 212 139 1605
Western Meadowlark 73 28 32 50 60 83 21 347
Yellow-headed Blackbird 6 21 2 12 41
Brewer’s Blackbird 200 3 30 30 17 88 368
Common Grackle 8 32 23 6 13 82
Brown-headed Cowbird 39 17 45 45 65 54 265
Orchard Oriole 6 2 3 13 24
Baltimore Oriole 6 1 1 8
blackbird sp. 10 295 305
American Goldfinch 4 18 8 4 13 27 74
House Sparrow 15 7 22
TOTAL NUMBER OF SPECIES 59 63 60 47 60 76 8 98
TOTAL NUMBER OF INDIVIDUALS 1348 543 1496 484 954 1672 125 6622

That clown, the Upland Sandpiper standing in the mist. Photo copyright Donna Martin

Southwestern Mixed-Grass Prairie IBA Blitz – Searching for Grassland Species-At-Risk

It’s 4am and someones alarm in the house is ringing. Slowly a house of blitzers awake and get ready for a fun morning of birding that lies ahead. We have six groups ready to go in the morning to monitor all the birds of the Southwestern Mixed-Grass Prairie IBA. Rather than drive around an area in random order, we have distributed maps to each team with historic sightings of Sprague’s Pipit and Chestnut-collared Longspur which will help teams locate grasslands and make searching efficient. What could possibly go wrong? Ah, the now traditional thick mist which seems to follow IBA blitzes around, that’s what could go wrong (see here and here).

Well, we were in place and ready to go, and what’s a bit of mist to keep us from a morning of blitzing this fine corner of Manitoba. So instead bundled into different vehicles, we went on our merry way. The map below gives an idea of where we were with a sixth team, consisting of one individual, surveying private land with abundant grassland birds.

SW bird blitz census routes.jpg

The drive from Reston to the IBA was therefore slightly fraught, not helped when I took the road to Melita rather Pierson and started a bit late. However once further east an incredible sunrise was developing and thankfully, unlike the old saying, the weather for the remainder of the day once the mist broke was perfect.

sunrise by Betsy Thorsteinson_small

Stunning sunrise. Photo copyright Betsy Thorsteinson


Brooding sunrise over the prairies in the east. Our eastern groups had much better birding conditions early on than the western groups. Photo copyright Donna Martin

For those groups in the west, the mist eventually began to lift….


You can just about see the fenceposts at the rear of this patch of grassland. note also how lush the grassland is, something you probably would not normally associate with somewhere know as the Poverty Plains, or indeed, the Banana Belt. Photo copyright to Garry Budyk

Christian Artuso was first out, the keener, and off to the Melita area. He would be meeting Jo Swartz and Betsy Thorsteinson in Melita (they eschewed the luxury of a house with no beds and spent the weekend in a hotel, crazy). Christian had a large walking section and would be meeting his team at regular spots over the route. They counted a very impressive 1832 individual birds representing 65 species. A great effort! They also found incredible numbers of grassland specialists including Baird’s Sparrow (15), Grasshopper Sparrow (38), Sprague’s Pipit (40) and Chestnut-collared Longspur (71).

Jo and Christian by Betsy Thorsteinson_small

Lost and the sun is still rising! Christian and Jo planning their escape. Photo copyright Betsy Thorsteinson

They also managed to re-find the Dickcissel



Echinacea. Photo copyright Christian Artuso


It goes without saying that IBA’s are wonderful places for birds. But what about other wildlife? Well, in the previous post I had already alluded to the flora and there is plenty on native grasslands.

When we think of grassland mammals native prairies, the most likely to come to mind would be the bison of the open plains. Another herbivore of the native prairies is the Mule Deer, a provincial Species At Risk. Our group were able to see a Mule Deer north of Lyleton. In the mist we could also see White-tailed Deer. Christian, Jo and Betsy had the mammalian highlight of the blitz with this amazing view of an American Badger.



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An American Badger peering out of the grass. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Garry Budyk and John Weier took on the central area and recorded 75 species. They had a good sweep of Sprague’s Pipit (10),a Loggerhead Shrike and a great mix of other species such as Savanna Sparrow (99), Le Conte’s Sparrow (29) and Orchard Oriole (13). Garry and John are both long-term volunteers for bird monitoring programs in Manitoba and a terrific help to the IBA Program.

Sprague's Pipit_4796

Not his finest, but the Sprague’s Pipit is one of the most difficult species to see in Manitoba. This species can only usually be detected when it is singing high in the sky and is often not seen at all. This is a threatened species and has been designated as Vulnerable by IUCN and Threatened under the Canadian Species At Risk Act. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Everyone detected Bobolink. This species has been designated as threatened in Canada by COSEWIC but is currently not listed as a Species At Risk. Bobolink are less sensitive to loss of native grassland habitats as other species and can readily be found in places like alfalfa fields. It is widespread in Manitoba but declining in the east, hence its current designation as threatened.

Bobolink_4947_pair calling_Artuso

Female Bobolinks are sometimes difficult to pick out from the crowd of blackbirds whereas the males are possibly the most distinctive birds of the prairies bar the Western Meadowlark. This photo sums this fact up nicely, with the handsome male in the foreground and the indistinct female behind. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

The group in the northwest corner with Bonnie Chartier and new volunteers Pat and Dave Wally unfortunately ran into major issues with the roads. Very heavy rain in the previous week had effectively wiped out access to large parts of their area in the Poverty Plains. They still managed to find a Loggerhead Shrike and an elusive Baird’s Sparrow, plus 13 Chestnut-collared Longspur.

Baird's Sparrow_4764_singing_Artuso

Christian Artuso had a thrilling moment when two elusive Baird’s Sparrow were singing either side of him. This little guy is obviously singing his heart out! Photo copyright Christian Artuso

The northwest team were Brandon locals Glennis Lewis and Gillian Richards. They were tasked with monitoring around the Broomhill WMA. They were the only group to catch a Ferruginous Hawk, two in fact. This was probably a pair which had already bred and were on territory preparing for 2017. Hope to see them then!

Ferruginous Hawk is obviously the prize species in southern Manitoba, but it’s not the sole raptor recorded on the blitz. Both Red-tailed Hawk (total=41) and Swainson’s Hawk (total=17) were picked up in good numbers. The agile, graceful Northern Harrier soared over wetlands seeking prey. Also Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture and American Kestrel graced the IBA.


Another bird of prey which is easy to spot in southwestern Manitoba is the Great Horned Owl. If you are ever visiting this area in summer look around the outside of old barns for these night time hunters as they seem to select these sites for nesting.


A Great Horned Owl perched in the window of an old barn. Photo copyright Garry Budyk

Alex Froese from the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program surveyed an extra area in the IBA on foot and found 51 Chestnut-collared Longspur and 2 Sprague’s Pipit. Thanks Alex!

Chestnut-collared Longspur_4819_m_flight over prairie_Artuso

A male Chestnut-collared Longspur in flight. This species is known for its fabulous display flights. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Finally to the southeast group. Luc and I drove to Pierson where we were joined by locals Bill and Betty Warren. Starting out a wee bit later than expected thanks to my detour to Melita, we headed south towards Lyleton, checking out some longspur spots en route. The mist was, as previously stated, an issue and we struggled to pick up birds at our stops. It was pretty obvious that the longspurs would need a helping hand, and the conditions justified use of playback (playing the song on a portable speaker via bluetooth and a phone app). Fortunately for us, it did not take much enticing for the longspurs to begin singing. Interestingly, the Grasshopper Sparrows needed no such encouragement.


Grasshopper Sparrow on a wire with caterpillar in its mouth, presumably en route to feeding its young. We managed to pick up all Ammodramus sparrows in Manitoba (Grasshopper, Baird’s, Le Conte’s and Nelson’s). The Ammodramus sparrows are all typical of grassland and marshes and have relatively flat heads compared to other North American sparrows. Photo copyright Donna Martin

Reaching Lyleton, we met up with Joan Murray and at this point Donna Martin caught up with us. With a small convoy, we set off, picking up some more longspurs en route to Section 29. Luc also managed to pick up a faint, distant Sprague’s Pipit before we turned off. This area always proves to be a successful for finding grassland birds and today was no different, with good numbers of longspurs (although fewer than 2015), Grasshopper Sparrows galore and even 4 Baird’s Sparrow. Interestingly there were also Nelson’s Sparrow calling in a pasture, a good indication of wetland habitat and possibly revealing how much some of this area has changed in this wet cycle. Our return to Melita also took in Joan Murrays legendary yard, rich in songbirds.

Overall this blitz was a tremendous success. I will post a summary of the total number of birds encountered later today but for the meantime, here are the totals of the Species-At-Risk:

Ferruginous Hawk – 2

Loggerhead Shrike – 4

Spragues Pipit – 58

Chestnut-collared Longspur – 180

Grasshopper Sparrow – 88

Baird’s Sparrow – 21

Bobolink – 78

Baird's Sparrow_4680_singing_Artuso

Go on then, one final Baird’s Sparrow – just it’s so hard to find these guys in Manitoba. Copyright Christian Artuso

Thank you to all our volunteers (in no particular order): Jo, Betsy, Dave and Pat, Bonnie, Garry, John, Glennis, Gillian, Luc, Donna, Bill, Betty, Joan, Alex and Christian.

Southwestern Mixed-Grass Prairie Part 1 – species totals

For anyone interested in these types of things, here are the summary species lists of the Friday and Saturday travels ahead of the blitz (where we will provide a separate list)

Species Name 08-Jul 09-Jul
Species Count Species Count
Canada Goose 102 10
Gadwall 10 5
Mallard 115 44
Blue-winged Teal 45 3
Northern Shoveler 23 5
Northern Pintail 6
Green-winged Teal 6 9
Canvasback 6
Ruddy Duck 52 8
Ring-necked Pheasant 1
Gray Partridge 2
Sharp-tailed Grouse 3
Wild Turkey 9
Pied-billed Grebe 6 1
Red-necked Grebe 2
Eared Grebe 16
Double-crested Cormorant 25
American White Pelican 10
American Bittern 1
Great Blue Heron 8 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 2
White-faced Ibis 15
Turkey Vulture 12 8
Northern Harrier 2 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 2 2
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Swainson’s Hawk 2 9
Red-tailed Hawk 8 8
Sora 2 1
American Coot 50 25
American Avocet 7
Killdeer 16 8
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Greater Yellowlegs 9 2
Willet 12 13
Lesser Yellowlegs 8
Upland Sandpiper 16 41
Marbled Godwit 1
Wilson’s Snipe 6 15
Wilson’s Phalarope 7 4
Franklin’s Gull 85 24
Ring-billed Gull 2 1
Black Tern 22 42
Forster’s Tern 1
Mourning Dove 20 83
Black-billed Cuckoo 2
Great Horned Owl 2 1
Belted Kingfisher 1 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3
Downy Woodpecker 2 1
Northern Flicker 5 9
American Kestrel 4 5
Merlin 1 1
Willow Flycatcher 1
Least Flycatcher 14 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
Say’s Phoebe 5
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Western Kingbird 13 27
Eastern Kingbird 22 45
Loggerhead Shrike 1
Warbling Vireo 11 2
Red-eyed Vireo 3
Blue Jay 5
Black-billed Magpie 12 23
American Crow 23 7
Common Raven 2 6
Horned Lark 12
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 10
Purple Martin 36 49
Tree Swallow 46 37
Bank Swallow 50
Barn Swallow 38 38
Cliff Swallow 55 40
Black-capped Chickadee 1
House Wren 4 8
Sedge Wren 2 24
Marsh Wren 1
Eastern Bluebird 7 1
American Robin 34 37
Gray Catbird 5 17
Brown Thrasher 2 4
European Starling 34
Sprague’s Pipit 4
Cedar Waxwing 17 20
Chestnut-collared Longspur 2 8
Ovenbird 1
Common Yellowthroat 8 7
Yellow Warbler 3 5
Grasshopper Sparrow 2
Baird’s Sparrow 4
Le Conte’s Sparrow 2 10
Nelson’s Sparrow 1
Chipping Sparrow 3 2
Clay-colored Sparrow 17 7
Field Sparrow 1
Lark Sparrow 7 10
Vesper Sparrow 14 26
Savannah Sparrow 28 53
Song Sparrow 11 5
Swamp Sparrow 2
Eastern Towhee 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1 1
Indigo Bunting 1
Dickcissel 1
Bobolink 16
Red-winged Blackbird 70 55
Western Meadowlark 29 66
Yellow-headed Blackbird 30 25
Brewer’s Blackbird 33 45
Common Grackle 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 20 31
Orchard Oriole 2 9
Baltimore Oriole 7 5
American Goldfinch 48 26
House Sparrow 26 12

Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-Grass Prairie IBA Blitz – Scouting Trip

On the weekend of the 9th and 10th July, 2016, a group of IBA volunteers blitzed the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-Grass Prairie IBA in search of threatened grassland birds. In our first of two blogs, IBA Coordinator, Tim Poole describes the scouting trip ahead of the big day.

It’s Saturday morning and its raining. Quel surprise! Christian and I have been forced from the field and are having breakfast with local landowner Margaret Macrae and southwestern Manitoba bird conservation legend, Joan Murray. On Friday we had headed to Reston via Spruce Woods (failed Lark Bunting search, long story but I won’t go into it now as it’s rather a sore point for Christian), NCC office in Brandon and some good birding south of Oak Lake and Plum Lake IBA. Travelling with Christian is always an adventure and the species list always better than if I were travelling alone. Here are a few photographic highlights of the journey (click on photos for caption):

Loggerhead Shrike_4220_calling_Artuso

Loggerhead Shrike calling from a powerline north of the IBA. A Sprague’s Pipit was also calling in this area and carrying food and a Grasshopper Sparrow was lurking somewhere as well. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

An early light breakfast and Christian and I headed out into the IBA from Reston. For those who do not know, the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-Grass Prairie IBA was designated as a site with nationally important populations of Ferruginous Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike and Burrowing Owl. It encompasses some of the best examples of native mixed-grass prairie remaining in Manitoba, including the Lyleton, Blind Souris and Poverty Plains areas. In 2015 it became apparent to us that there were a few issues with the IBA designation. For one, it did not include a large part of the Blind Souris, some of the most extensive grasslands remaining, the last place for Long-billed Curlew in Manitoba and the place to find Buffalograss, a Species At Risk. This was easy enough to solve. W e also discovered that contrary to our original assumptions, the IBA was not considered a globally important area for grassland birds. This was because the populations of the original trigger species were below 1% of global populations and none of these species had a global conservation listing. Two species, the Sprague’s Pipit and Chestnut-collared Longspur, would meet this criteria and it was our intention to locate sufficient numbers of each to have the IBA considered as globally important, something which gladly managed to achieve. Our aim this year was to provide consecutive figures to support this, plus locate a wider list of species present in the IBA.

Just south of Reston, and north of the IBA, we had our first bird of the day was an early morning Great Horned Owl. Driving early in the morning presents its risks, with animals, especially mammals darting into the road. Deer are especially at risk for us and them. We picked up an early calling Baird’s Sparrow, the first of five for the day, a very good number for this elusive and rare species. We were heading to the area just north of Pierson to meet local landowner Margaret McRae. Margaret is a local landowner who has a small area of native prairie and wetland for which she has signed an easement with NCC in memory of her late husband Scotty. You can read more about here.

Mammatus clouds_4233_Artuso

Mammatus clouds building over the prairies on Saturday morning. A storm followed. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

People like Margaret who set aside their land for conservation benefit are the heroes in modern conservation. Another hero in my view is Joan Murray, a local from Lyleton who has done so much to raise the profile and the plight of grassland birds. Joan and her late husband John, along with another landowning couple Ralph and Mary Wang, were instrumental in building nestboxes along fences for Mountain Bluebirds, providing an oasis for migratory birds in their yards and for engaging the wider birding community in grassland bird conservation at a time before the more dramatic declines of recent times occurred. They also supported the likes of Ken De Smet and Christian Artuso in their work in the area.

Margaret’s property certainly provides habitat for a number of bird species. The current wet cycle means the grasslands provide habitat for Le Conte’s and Nelson’s Sparrow rather than Chestnut-collared Longspurs but we could also detect Baltimore Oriole, Clay-coloured Sparrow, Sora, a number of duck species, Bobolink and Least Flycatcher, and that’s all my memory can draw upon. But it was also a place for wild flowers, and boy do the prairies have some stunning flora.

Later that day we continued to look for likely spots where we might find birds for the blitz. We were to target the species listed as Species-at-Risk, especially Chestnut-collared Longspur and Sprague’s Pipit as these species have global conservation listings. more on that in the next blog. Passing by the Wang’s old place near the Saskatchewan border (they have now retired and moved to Saskatchewan), we were impressed that this area still provided an oasis for songbirds. The fences along the prairie were also a place for Mountain Bluebird boxes, although we saw none of these stunning birds. These boxes ere also a Murray-Wang legacy. We did spot a female Sharp-tailed Grouse on the road. Watching her for some minutes, it was pretty obvious that she had a brood with her as she moved nervously around and continuously called. A grouse without a brood would not have stayed in the same place for long – they are too sensitive to disturbance for that.

Next, the comical and resident ‘daft’ invasive bird of the day, a Ring-necked Pheasant. Ok, I think ridiculous bird is more appropriate. This male bird, originally from China but arriving in North America via the UK, is in my view, both beautiful and annoying having recorded them calling at the dancing grounds of threatened grouse. However, this individual was comical, running along the side of the road into the vegetation to get away from us. Looking for photos, Christian looked to drive ahead of it, only to find the bird rather than take the expected route parallel to the road, it suddenly ran across the roa behind us and away into the undergrowth. It did though provide a photo for Christian.

Ring-necked Pheasant_4547_m_Artuso

Daft laddie pheasant. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Next up, we encountered some flycatchers. First up, the southwest specialty, the Willow Flycatcher. This species is found along creeks in willow shrub and looks completely alike to the closely related Alder Flycatcher. They can only be split by most mortals via their distinct calls.

Willow Flycatcher_4329_singing_Artuso

We heard it, definitely a Willow Flycatcher. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Next up, the Western Kingbird, a widespread species in southern Manitoba where there is open ground to forage.


Western Kingbird. Photo copyright Tim Poole

We tried for Lazuli Bunting and Black-headed Grosbeak at historic sites, but to no avail. We did decided we should do some work though and checked a few grassland areas for our target species. We found a couple of Baird’s Sparrow in a new spot in the southwest corner and heard a Sprague’s Pipit. We were not really detecting may longspurs which was a concern. At one spot where I remembered having longspurs in 2015, I decided to try playback as I was concerned for the Sunday morning. To my relief, a couple of males responded – so they were still in situ. 

Baird's Sparrow_4362_singing_Artuso

The elusive Baird’s Sparrow might not look much but it’s song is enough to lift your spirits on a damp day. A real prairie treasure. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

The morning had disappeared and early afternoon came. Either the early morning was catching up or the Mediterranean heritage was calling as Christian needed a siesta. While taking a nap in the truck near Coulter, I went for a walk along the ridge above the Souris River. There were some birds around, Vesper Sparrow, Bald Eagle, Bobolink, Swainson’s Hawk to name a few but the wind was picking up and seemed like a storm was brewing. Lightning began striking the prairie towards Saskatchewan and North Dakota and Christian came to bail me out as the rain started to fall. Fortunately, the storm seemed to swing north and west and passed up by.


Willet over the prairies. Note the Wilson’s Phalarope to the left. These are both typical shorebirds of southern Manitoba’s prairie wetlands.  Photo copyright Tim Poole

Instead we headed across the Souris towards the Blind Souris. This area of prairie seemed more extensive than others, but still there are the telltale signs of till breaking up the last vestiges of native habitat. Will it ever stop or are we destined to lose all remaining native prairie in this area?

On our way came the days biggest and best surprise. Passing an alfalfa field, Christian thought he heard a Dickcissel calling from the window. Reversing back we were thrilled to see a male calling from an overhead powerline. Dickcissel are usually rare in Manitoba, being known only as an irruptive species, that is that it is a rarity in most years but there are sudden dramatic population rises. This grassland bird is usually found further south and prefers tallgrass prairies. Volunteers who visited the site later heard a second bird.


Dickcissel, what a beauty! Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Heading back to Reston to meet our group, we picked up our fifth Baird’s Sparrow and had some good intelligence for volunteers for the following day. We met up with volunteers in the Rest’n Inn later that evening and planned for the morning. A Eurasian Collared Dove before bed (ridiculous) and we were ready for the morning. What could possibly go wrong….


Upland Sandpiper, the clown prince of the prairies. Photo copyright Tim Poole

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Barn Swallow brood. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Oak Lake Blitz Summary Results

Finally, following the trip blogs (blog 1 and blog 2). Thanks to Gillian, Glennis, Louanne, Marshall, Katharine, Luc and Sabina for their terrific efforts. Here are the final blitz scores:

Species Name Species Count
Western Group Eastern Group Additional records TOTAL
Canada Goose 46 19 25 90
Gadwall 43 24 5 72
American Wigeon 2 7 9
Mallard 78 82 15 175
Blue-winged Teal 38 67 105
Northern Shoveler 30 52 82
Green-winged Teal 7 2 9
dabbling duck sp. 19 5 24
Canvasback 8 1 9
Redhead 8 58 66
Lesser Scaup 8 37 3 48
Bufflehead 1 2 3
Ruddy Duck 11 8 19
Pied-billed Grebe 3 3
Red-necked Grebe 1 2 3
Eared Grebe 11 60 10 81
Great Blue Heron 1 2 3
Black-crowned Night-Heron 2 2
Turkey Vulture 2 2
Northern Harrier 3 5 8
Red-tailed Hawk 3 8 11
Virginia Rail 2 2
Sora 11 11
American Coot 26 18 1 45
American Avocet 2 9 11
Killdeer 18 23 2 43
Greater Yellowlegs 1 1
Willet 1 2 3
Lesser Yellowlegs 1 1
Upland Sandpiper 4 1 5
Marbled Godwit 2 3 5
Wilson’s Snipe 19 3 22
Wilson’s Phalarope 2 5 7
Franklin’s Gull 35 65 100
Black Tern 63 43 2 108
Rock Pigeon 6 6
Mourning Dove 16 27 43
Black-billed Cuckoo 2 2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1 2 3
Hairy Woodpecker 1 1
Northern Flicker 1 1 2
American Kestrel 1 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2 2
Western Wood-Pewee 1 1
Least Flycatcher 16 8 24
Eastern Phoebe 1 1
Western Kingbird 4 5 9
Eastern Kingbird 21 30 51
Warbling Vireo 8 6 14
Black-billed Magpie 5 3 8
American Crow 4 4
Common Raven 7 10 17
Purple Martin 2 30 32
Tree Swallow 10 37 4 51
Barn Swallow 18 52 70
Cliff Swallow 335 335
Black-capped Chickadee 3 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 6 6
House Wren 3 7 10
Sedge Wren 3 2 5
Marsh Wren 78 2 80
Eastern Bluebird 1 1 2
Mountain Bluebird 2 2
American Robin 18 40 58
Gray Catbird 1 6 7
European Starling 5 2 7
Sprague’s Pipit 1 1
Cedar Waxwing 8 8
Black-and-white Warbler 3 3
Common Yellowthroat 7 6 13
Yellow Warbler 14 35 49
Grasshopper Sparrow 1 1 2
Le Conte’s Sparrow 13 1 14
Nelson’s Sparrow 1 1
Chipping Sparrow 8 8
Clay-colored Sparrow 9 7 16
Lark Sparrow 1 1
Vesper Sparrow 7 7
Savannah Sparrow 66 16 82
Song Sparrow 7 7
Swamp Sparrow 3 3
Bobolink 22 13 35
Red-winged Blackbird 310 135 7 452
Western Meadowlark 32 20 52
Yellow-headed Blackbird 76 129 3 208
Brewer’s Blackbird 20 3 23
Common Grackle 5 29 34
Brown-headed Cowbird 17 45 62
Baltimore Oriole 7 4 11
American Goldfinch 2 5 7
House Sparrow 8 3 11
TOTAL 1701 1372 82 3155

And the area covered

Oak Lake full routes

And just because I really like it, here is Gillian’s photo of the Black-crowned Night Heron again!


Copyright Gillian Richards

Oak Lake – Group 2 trip report

Tim here and coming up with the long awaited report for the Oak Lake blitz and the 2nd group. Our team consisted of Katharine Schulz, Luc Blanchette, Sabina Mastrolonardo and me. We were tasked with surveying the western side of Oak Lake, which considering the time limitations was a tall order.

Firstly, a little on the IBA. This is primarily an open water and wetland IBA but with significant areas of grassland and even some small deciduous forests. This gave us the possibility of locating birds typical of the parkland, wetlands, grasslands and open water habitats and a rather large species list. Of course the IBA is centred on a lake and it would have been fantastic to locate where the gull colony(ies) were located and whether there are colonies of herons, but time and access were against us. Instead we focused on wetlands for the most part, picking up a few grassland species as we finished.

The day did not start especially well judging by the photos below courtesy of Sabina. We began in a thunderstorm at 4am and drove to Oak Lake through rain and  latterly a dense mist which could only be described as dreich if one were Scottish.

Fortunately the mist had cleared by the time we reached Oak Lake and met with the other blitzers. The sun was beginning to peak and we were looking forward to a glorious morning of birding.

Our group began by striking west, picking up common species which we would associate with open habitats such as American Kestrel, Eastern Kingbird, Mourning Dove and Western Meadowlark.


Eastern Kingbird on the hunt. Photo copyright Sabina Mastrolonardo

The first exciting bird of the day was the prairie jester, and a personal favorite, the Upland Sandpiper. This one could be heard delivering its unusual whistle. It was around about now that we realised Luc had an exceptional pair of ears when it comes to hearing bird calls. Even while driving he would deliver a constant commentary of species he could hear above the engine outside his window. While driving along we also developed a game of Red-winged Blackbird bingo, in honour of these incredibly abundant marsh dwellers.


A Red-winged Blackbird, an abundant part of the mixed wetland and prairie landscape. Photo copyright Sabina Mastrolonardo

It must be the low key season for ducks in the IBA. Although we located a good number of species, and all the typical species at that, it is likely that there were a lot more in hidden potholes. The duck highlight was probably a female Bufflehead. Bufflehead breed around lakes in the boreal forest, although a quick perusal of the Breeding Bird Atlas show that they are present here during summer.

Shorebirds are also present in these wetlands during the breeding season, including Wilson’s Snipe and American Avocet. An early Greater Yellowlegs flashed by at one point but this species is still predominantly on its breeding groups in the boreal. Marbled Godwit were also glimpsed on a pasture.


Wilson’s Snipe. Photo copyright Sabina Mastrolonardo

The small marshes were alive with songbirds, Le Conte’s and Nelson’s Sparrow sung, Marsh Wren were fully abundant and Sedge Wren made the occasional foray into earshot. Sora, that laughing rail would regularly pierce in the morning peace and the witchety-witchety-witchety-witch of Common Yellowthroat was a rare but welcome sound. Parkland species were also abundant with the threatened Eastern Wood Pewee being heard on one occasion. Other more common woodland species such as House Wren, Warbling Vireo and Baltimore Oriole were also present.


Katharine, Sabina and Luc. Photo by Tim Poole

One of our biggest interests is grassland birds and we were not to be disappointed here. Firstly, there were very good numbers of generalist grassland birds such as Wetern Meadowlark (32), Savanna Sparrow (66) and Bobolink (22). The there was the Grasshopper Sparrow and Sprague’s Pipit, two declining species of the Manitoba prairies. The grassland birds were certainly most numerous on the western side of Oak Lake.

The highlight came from a tip from a local landowner. He directed us to a spot along a sluice where apparently each year an American visitor would return because it was the best place he had seen for birds. Following his instructions we found the sluice opening up into a wide shallow area of open water with ducks, coots, Eared Grebe and more. You could imagine it would be even better in fall. If the landowner ever reads this, thanks for the tip!


Eared Grebe at Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA. Photo copyright Tim Poole

Finally, I have to mention the Cliff Swallows. There were two large colonies, one with approximately 70 and the other 300. Each were feeding around the bridge under which they were nesting. These are incredible sights to behold and I would encourage anyone to visit such places (while obviously keeping your distance). All photos below copyright Tim Poole.

Tomorrow I will post the results of the blitz and then post the findings of our visit to the southwest corner next week.

Manitoba IBA Program in the Media

Couple of bits of news to catch up on. Firstly the Federal Government has added several species to the Species At Risk Act. This has relevance to the Manitoba IBA Program as included in this list are Horned Grebe, Baird’s Sparrow and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Christian Artuso was interviewed by CBC about this and gave the IBA Program some useful publicity! See CBC article.

We were also delighted to find ourselves on the front cover of the latest Eco-Journal from the Manitoba Eco-Network. The piece on grassland birds of Manitoba can be read either by following the link or downloaded Eco_Journal-Summer-16_online. If you have never read the Eco-Journal before, it is well worth your time, covering a range of issues from parks to recycling and climate change. And you can even subscribe online!

Eco Journal cover

Oak Lake/Plum Lakes IBA Trip Report

by Marshall Birch

I was picked up by Tim at the wee hour of 4 am to head out for our Bio Blitz of Oak Lake. Despite the pouring rain, we had high hopes for the day as we collected Sabina and Luc, who would be joining in our efforts. Confirming our optimistic outlook, the rain began to clear as we pulled out of Winnipeg, heading West on the Number 1, discussing birds and the nuances of driving various vehicles in various situations, and occasionally crashing said vehicles. Today was to go off without a hitch, though.

Oak Lake Map

Oak Lake location – the IBA surrounds the lake to the Southwest of the town, and extends slightly above the Number 1 Highway.

Not far from the town of Oak Lake, we met our cohorts for the day, split up into two teams, and tackled the West and East sides of the IBA separately in order to maximize our time. My team included Gillian Richards, Glennis Lewis, and Louanne Reid, skilled birders from Brandon, and we took the East route. Though I had a few decent spottings for the day, it was definitely my three partners who caught the majority of species, with me in back tallying down all sightings and inputting any threatened species into the GPS.


A Black-crowned Night Heron, which the Brandonites spotted before meeting up with the Winnipeggers. Photo by Gillian Richards.

We started things off by heading straight to the cabin/camping/beach area, a pleasantly forested section of the IBA which rewarded us with many songbirds, including Warbling Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-and-white Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Least Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Black-billed Magpie, and American Robin, and which included a busy Purple Martin feeder showing signs of breeding. Heading out of this section of the IBA, we were greeted by two foxes, one crouched in the long grass alongside the road, and one mangy looking fella strolling about. Neat!


Upland Sandpiper resting of a fence post, as they’re known to do. Photo by Gillian Richards.

The rest of the IBA was spotted with many small wetlands throughout which were many species common throughout the IBA, including Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Eared Grebe, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, American Coot, and Killdeer. Less common sightings that day included American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Marbled Godwit, Lesser Yellowlegs, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, and Northern Harrier. A couple highlights of the day for myself were a pair of Great Blue Herons creeping through the reeds, and a coyote mingling about with a pack of assorted waterfowl, seemingly uninterested in the potential food supply.


Calling Bobolink – one of our threatened species for the day. Photo by Gillian Richards.

The rest of the IBA was largely comprised of grasslands (some of which were quite well preserved), the powerlines, fenceposts, and meadows of which afforded us sightings of Willet, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Western Kingbird, American Crow, Common Raven, House Wren, Gray Catbird, European Starling, Tree and Barn Swallows, Common Yellowthroat, Le Conte’s, Chipping, Clay-coloured, Savannah, and Lark Sparrows, Western Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Brewer’s Blackbird, and a pile of Mourning Doves and Eastern Kingbirds. Above we caught a couple Turkey Vultures, plenty of Franklin’s Gulls and Black Terns, and a few Red-tailed Hawks – including one juvenile sitting in a nest in a woody thicket, and one angry parent ushering us away.


Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk peeking out from its nest. Photo by Gillian Richards.

A couple other highlights included: a nice little thicket that was home to a few Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Northern Flickers, and Baltimore Orioles; a fine sighting of an Eastern Bluebird and a pair of Mountain Bluebirds, one of which seemed to be carrying lunch home for their young; thirteen Bobolinks and one Grasshopper Sparrow – a couple threatened species for the old GPS.


Mountain Bluebird couple – the lil lady’s got a lil worm. Photo by Gillian Richards.

There was only so much time, however, and despite a great day (72 species for our team), there was only so much we could do. Tim and his team covered a similar amount of space as ourselves, which he’ll give you the low-down on in an upcoming blog, but there’s still a lot more to see out at Oak Lake, including an entire section north of the Number 1 – this is somewhere where a caretaker could really help out, but we’ll definitely be back. The day was rounded out with fine dining at Gold’n’Embers in the town Oak Lake, and then I proceeded to sleep through most of the drive home, the fine company I am.