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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.