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.