Riverton Sandy Bar Piping Plover Habitat Work Party

Joanne Smith, IBA Caretaker for Riverton Sandy Bar has for a long while been exploring the possibility of improving habitat for nesting Piping Plovers via the removal of invasive sweet clover. By removing the sweet clover we hope that the increased areas of exposed sand will encourage Piping Plovers to nest again here as they did elsewhere in Manitoba in 2016. The arrangements are:

  1. Meet Friday September 30th, at 9:00 am at the Sandy Bar SAC Parking Lot. Sandy Bar is at the east end of PR329. Take HWY 8 to Riverton, turn east into the town of Riverton on PR 329 (this is the most southerly entrance into Riverton). Stay on this road until you end up at Sandy Bar. It will take you through the town, across the Icelandic River, onto gravel road, into the marsh area of this IBA and to the edge of the lake. Simply put, keep heading east on PR 329 and you’ll be there.
  2. Please bring gloves, food, drinks, long pants and extra layers. If it’s windy, the temperature could easily be 5 degrees or more colder out on the sand bar. This event will also require a mile walk in the sand and a short walk through thick bush.
  3. We will endeavour to bring some additional snacks and coffee
  4. If you know of any students who are working on volunteer credit hours, this may also be of interest.

Manitoba Conservation will also be putting up new boundary signs for this Special Conservation Area at this time.

According to Joanne ‘maybe you’ll have a chance at seeing horned larks, American pipits, Lapland longspurs, black-bellied plover or American golden plover as all of these species were seen on Oct. 1st of last year’.

Piping Plover_1

Maybe we can help bring this guy back. Copyright Christian Artuso



Oak Hammock Marsh IBA Blitz – October 1st 2016

For the first time in many months, this morning I had cold fingers as I cycled to work. To make matters worse, the building heating is not on yet and it’s been a pretty cold day in the office as well. We must be in the midst of fall!

So alas, winter is on its way but we still have ample opportunities to get out to Manitoba’s 38 IBAs. The program is doing its bit still to try to encourage folk to enjoy the final opportunities for citizen science bird monitoring ahead of winter and we have teamed up with our friends at Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre to undertake a final blitz of the season. This time we go out on Saturday October 1st to Oak Hammock to count as many birds as possible. We plan to start early, meeting at the centre at 7am and then setting out as four teams to begin with. Each team will set up at a corner of the IBA with the task of counting ducks and geese as they depart at sunrise to feed in the surrounding countryside. Around 10am, the teams will monitor different areas of the marsh to count the number of birds remaining. This is a great way of trying to gauge an accurate idea of the number of birds to be found at one of Manitoba’s top birding hotspots in early October.

Donna TUSW

Tundra Swans taken at the Shoal Lakes IBA October blitz in 2015. Counting birds flying from the marsh can be really fun! Photo copyright Donna Martin

Once we are finished, we will return to the centre at 1pm and shout volunteers a warm cup of coffee and lunch. you can’t get much better than that!

If you are interested in joining us, please contact Tim Poole, Manitoba IBA Program Coordinator at iba@naturemanitoba.ca or 204-943-9029

Donna RUBL

Hopefully there will be plenty of Rusty Blackbirdsin addition to what promises to be a spectacle of waterfowl. Photo copyright Donna Martin

Delta Marsh Blitz – The Final Tally

Following a day where groups of volunteers counting from vehicles and on foot and a second day of boat monitoring, we had recorded an impressive 32,070 birds across the IBA. If you were to visit parts of Delta in the coming weeks there is likely to be even more birds as waterfowl gather in larger numbers. The total species count was an equally impressive 145 species. Of these 59 species of songbird, 24 species of shorebird and an impressive 13 species of bird of prey. Impressively, shorebirds were the most numerous of all groups of birds counted, a total of 8199 across the 2 days with around half counted in one spot by Colin Blyth, Louanne Reid and Erica Alex.


Just a snapshot but almost half of all shorebirds counted during the blitz were counted with these shorebirds. Copyright Erica Alex

Total species Total individuals
Blackbirds 8 1210
Cormorants and Pelicans 2 2444
Grebe 4 479
Gulls and terns 8 7712
Long-legged Wader 4 270
Other – non-songbird 11 267
Other – songbird 46 946
Rails 3 2956
Raptor 13 264
Shorebirds 24 8199
Swallows 5 2446
Waterfowl 17 4883
 TOTAL 145 32076

Now to individual species. The most numerous species over 2 days was the Ring-billed Gull at 5367 individuals, over half counted by Christian and Matt at Ambroise Beach before they headed in different directions. The next most numerous species was the Semipalmated Sandpiper. On the Semipalmated theme, the Semipalmated Plover came in at 1936 individuals. This is a key figure as we are pretty sure this is greater than 1% of the global population of this species, thus this would have been a globally significant concentration of this species.


The star of the show, a Semipalmated Plover at Delta Marsh IBA. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Finally, before posting the complete species lists, I thought it would be worth reflecting for a moment on what all this means. The large concentrations of shorebirds seen by Cam and the other Manitoba Sustainable Development staff, although apparently historically not unusual, has become a rare sight in recent years. There are some excellent resources available out there if you are interested in learning more about the history and management of the marsh, not least a new book published in 2015 called Delta: A Prairie Marsh and Its People by Glen Suggett, Gordon Goldsborough & the Delta History Group. For a quick reference, there is a synopsis on the web of a presentation given by Dr Jennifer Shay to Nature Manitoba in 1998 on the subject of Resource Management which includes some excellent information on Delta Marsh. Cal Cuthbert, someone raised in the shadow of Delta Marsh and with a background in wetland management was of the opinion that these larger concentrations present at Delta was a temporary phenomenon driven by declining water levels which have exposed suitable habitat. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming years.

Anyway, posted below are the results from the Delta Marsh IBA Blitz.

Species Day 1 Day 2 Blitz Total
Canada Goose 930 23 953
Wood Duck 15 0 15
Gadwall 59 55 114
American Wigeon 194 27 221
Mallard 874 759 1633
Blue-winged Teal 875 385 1260
Northern Shoveler 13 13 26
Northern Pintail 128 1 129
Green-winged Teal 224 13 237
dabbling duck sp. 4 0 4
Canvasback 10 2 12
Redhead 6 14 20
Ring-necked Duck 7 4 11
Bufflehead 1 1 2
Common Goldeneye 6 0 6
Harlequin Duck 1 0 1
Hooded Merganser 5 3 8
Ruddy Duck 4 7 11
duck sp. 0 220 220
Pied-billed Grebe 58 10 68
Red-necked Grebe 2 0 2
Eared Grebe 2 2 4
Western Grebe 315 90 405
Double-crested Cormorant 1525 108 1633
American White Pelican 321 490 811
American Bittern 5 2 7
Great Blue Heron 60 91 151
Great Egret 24 14 38
Black-crowned Night-Heron 4 70 74
Turkey Vulture 13 0 13
Northern Harrier 45 9 54
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 0 1
Cooper’s Hawk 2 0 2
Northern Goshawk 2 0 2
Bald Eagle 40 17 57
Broad-winged Hawk 1 0 1
Swainson’s Hawk 3 0 3
Red-tailed Hawk 83 3 86
hawk sp. 4 0 4
Virginia Rail 2 1 3
Sora 2 0 2
American Coot 249 2702 2951
Sandhill Crane 132 0 132
American Avocet 9 5 14
Black-bellied Plover 54 8 62
Semipalmated Plover 1905 31 1936
Killdeer 71 38 109
Marbled Godwit 18 6 24
Ruddy Turnstone 3 3 6
Red Knot 1 0 1
Stilt Sandpiper 10 1 11
Sanderling 190 1 191
Baird’s Sandpiper 15 4 19
Least Sandpiper 1168 253 1421
White-rumped Sandpiper 26 0 26
Pectoral Sandpiper 107 0 107
Semipalmated Sandpiper 3598 56 3654
peep sp. 28 41 69
Short-billed Dowitcher 27 0 27
Long-billed Dowitcher 0 1 1
Wilson’s Snipe 10 8 18
Wilson’s Phalarope 12 4 16
Red-necked Phalarope 1 0 1
Spotted Sandpiper 29 11 40
Solitary Sandpiper 2 0 2
Greater Yellowlegs 151 84 235
Willet 4 7 11
Lesser Yellowlegs 163 35 198
Bonaparte’s Gull 436 5 441
Franklin’s Gull 1230 47 1277
Ring-billed Gull 5153 214 5367
Herring Gull 129 0 129
Caspian Tern 47 54 101
Black Tern 6 3 9
Common Tern 128 0 128
Forster’s Tern 144 72 216
Sterna sp. 44 0 44
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 33 0 33
Mourning Dove 53 1 54
Great Horned Owl 1 0 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 15 2 17
Belted Kingfisher 6 0 6
Red-headed Woodpecker 3 0 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1 0 1
Downy Woodpecker 4 0 4
Hairy Woodpecker 2 0 2
Northern Flicker 14 0 14
American Kestrel 14 0 14
Merlin 20 3 23
Peregrine Falcon 3 0 3
Prairie Falcon 1 0 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1 0 1
Alder Flycatcher 1 0 1
Least Flycatcher 2 0 2
Eastern Phoebe 14 0 14
Eastern Kingbird 43 0 43
Blue-headed Vireo 1 0 1
Warbling Vireo 13 0 13
Red-eyed Vireo 1 0 1
Blue Jay 1 0 1
Black-billed Magpie 19 0 19
American Crow 15 4 19
Common Raven 18 2 20
Purple Martin 26 0 26
Tree Swallow 851 0 851
Bank Swallow 349 1 350
Barn Swallow 993 24 1017
Cliff Swallow 0 2 2
Swallow sp. 200 0 200
Black-capped Chickadee 1 0 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 0 2
House Wren 11 0 11
Marsh Wren 14 1 15
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 0 1
Eastern Bluebird 13 0 13
American Robin 8 0 8
Gray Catbird 11 1 12
European Starling 213 0 213
Cedar Waxwing 87 0 87
Tennessee Warbler 19 0 19
Orange-crowned Warbler 2 0 2
Nashville Warbler 4 0 4
Mourning Warbler 1 0 1
Common Yellowthroat 33 0 33
American Redstart 31 0 31
Cape May Warbler 1 0 1
Magnolia Warbler 2 0 2
Blackburnian Warbler 1 0 1
Yellow Warbler 28 1 29
Chestnut-sided Warbler 2 0 2
Blackpoll Warbler 9 0 9
Palm Warbler 10 0 10
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 10 0 10
Black-throated Green Warbler 0 2 2
Chipping Sparrow 5 0 5
Clay-colored Sparrow 61 0 61
Vesper Sparrow 5 0 5
Savannah Sparrow 58 0 58
Song Sparrow 41 1 42
Swamp Sparrow 6 0 6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 13 0 13
Bobolink 2 0 2
Red-winged Blackbird 136 27 163
Western Meadowlark 9 0 9
Yellow-headed Blackbird 363 8 371
Brewer’s Blackbird 33 0 33
Common Grackle 3 2 5
Brown-headed Cowbird 1 0 1
Baltimore Oriole 11 0 11
Blackbird sp 615 0 615
American Goldfinch 99 2 101
House Sparrow 1 0 1
25863 6207 32070

Thanks again to all volunteers over the two days, as ever very much appreciated!


Delta Marsh Blitz Day 2

Back to Delta on Monday morning and this time I’m if anything a little more dreary thanks to the 3am wake-up from my daughter. But the show goes on. A quick detour en-route to Marquette and the Buff-breasted Sandpipers appeared to have gone.

Arriving at the Delta Waterfowl Centre near Delta Beach, we got to watch a number of warblers on the ridge as we waited for people to arrive. Black-throated Green, Cape May, Magnolia, Orange-crowned, Tennessee, Blackpoll, Myrtle (I’m convinced) and American Redstart were all present. In addition to the road and foot patrols of Sunday, we had agreed to get two teams to survey the marsh interior on boats provided by Manitoba Sustainable Development. In addition to our excellent guides and boaters Matt Tower and Riley Bartel, we had Christian Artuso, Cal Cuthbert, Bonnie Chartier and Joanne Smith ready and willing to get their feet wet in the interest of bird conservation.

The interior of Delta Marsh, at least on the east of the access road to Delta Beach, consists of a series of channels and areas of open water interspersed with small islands and areas of cattail marsh. To survey this entire area in just 4 hours would not be possible, and with a focus on shorebirds and the wind coming from a north-westerly direction, it was only ever going to make sense monitoring the marsh along the northern bays. As mentioned in the previous blog, the focus of this shorebird monitoring were areas where the water levels had dropped sufficiently to expose cattails and the surrounding mud. This created a unique habitat of dead cattails and wet mud, ideal for foraging shorebirds. Again, as mentioned on the previous blog, the water levels dropped during August which may have reduced the area of available foraging habitat. This pattern was noticeable in some of the sheltered bays we accessed by boat and our guides confirmed that they had previously seen higher densities of shorebirds earlier in August.

We split into two boats, Riley taking Christian and Joanne and Matt taking Bonnie, Cal and myself. The first boat (group 1 on the below map) surveyed the northern edges of Simpson, Blackfox and Bay 22 and the second (group 2) focused on Clair, Gadwell, Waterhen and the surrounding areas.

Delta boat areas.jpg

Approximate monitoring areas. Map adapted from map on page 5 from the following link http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~ggoldsb/deltamarsh/occasional/02/op2.pdf

Surveying by boat possesses a number of unique challenges compared to land-based surveys, not least the challenge of watching birds through binoculars on moving water. Fortunately being on the sheltered side of the wetland, this was not a big issue. Another challenge is that a moving boat tends to flush and move birds which are either on the water or feeding close to the shore. This raised issues of double-counting. Interestingly, the shorebirds appeared to be the least jumpy birds on the day which was obviously good for us but pelicans on the otherhand do not appear to appreciate fast moving boats….

As with our previous blitz at Whitewater Lake, I came to the conclusion that we must have missed a peak of migrating shorebirds on this survey. The reports given by both Matt and Riley were of larger concentrations in the preceding weeks. This is one of the dangers of any monitoring program for migratory birds but alas there is little we can do apart from get ore boots on the ground across the season and hope to pick up the peaks and troughs of migratory bird movements. Overnight, the wind had turned from a southerly to a brisk northerly, the perfect conditions for shorebirds on the move. More on that later! The other identifiable difference was that much of the dead cattail habitat had dried out which probably reduced the availability of foraging habitat for shorebirds.


Tipsy photo, we’ll blame the boat! But look carefully and it’s possible to see lots of exposed dry mud. Shorebirds could often be found at the edges where the mud was still damp. Copyright Tim Poole

While making our ways around the various headlands and through the channels, it became obvious that there were a large number of herons using the marsh interior, no surprises there. Our boat on the eastern side of the marsh recorded good numbers of Black-crowned Night Herons, 60 in total. There were also 97 Great Blue Herons. American Bittern and Great Egret were also present, plus over 2000 American Coot.


Taken the day before and used in the previous blog, but was this one of the 97 Great Blue Herons observed on the boats? Copyright Josie Brendle

Caspian Terns were one of 6 species of gull and tern present as Cal Cuthbert shows us below…..

Shorebirds were our primary target and between both groups we counted 17 species. Numbers, something I previously alluded to, were, anecdotally, fewer than previously seen in these areas. The most numerous was Least Sandpiper with 255 individuals. There were also reasonable numbers of Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs. My personal highlight was my first Ruddy Turnstone for Manitoba which we only discovered thanks to the driver running us aground on a mudflat.


Semipalmated Plover (left) and Least Sandpiper (right) on dead cattails at Delta Marsh IBA. Photo copyright Christian Artuso.

Returning to the boat launch, we had Mr Cal Cuthbert offering a new exercise regime of boat yoga


Following our arrival on dry land, Cal offered to take us to the spot in the west of the IBA where Colin Blyth et al had observed large concentrations of shorebirds. The previous day there was an image like this:


Shorebirds in abundance. Copyright Erica Alex

By Monday afternoon, this was a picture of the same area:


Copyright Tim Poole

A quick perusal of the data, showed that Colin’s group counted 4,237 shorebirds across their area but almost all being in this single area. That was on Sunday. On Monday we counted in the same area 16 shorebirds, a dramatic drop which indicated a large movement of migrating shorebirds during the previous night. 20 species on Sunday, 5 on Monday. Here’s a quick comparison of numbers:

Day 1 Day 2
American Avocet 3 1
Black-bellied Plover 1
Semipalmated Plover 1045 7
Killdeer 1
Ruddy Turnstone 2
Red Knot 1 1
Stilt Sandpiper 10
Sanderling 10
Baird’s Sandpiper 5
Least Sandpiper 227
White-rumped Sandpiper 25
Pectoral Sandpiper 102
Semipalmated Sandpiper 2735 3
Short-billed Dowitcher 24
Wilson’s Snipe 2
Wilson’s Phalarope 10
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Greater Yellowlegs 2 4
Willet 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 29
4237 16

Interestingly one of the few remaining shorebirds was the juvenile Red Knot.


Red Knot hanging around Delta on Monday afternoon, apparently abandoned by everyone else. Copyright Christian Artuso

The final totals for both days will be posted later. Watch this space


Delta Marsh Blitz Day 1

Tim here with an overview of our recent blitz at the world famous Delta Marsh. Firstly, a bit of a disclaimer. Due to severe jetlag, I am unable to remember very much of what happened on the morning at Delta Marsh. Fortunately, thanks to a collection of photos and records from elsewhere, we can fit together a story of endeavor and skill from our fantastic volunteers.

To begin with let us start with some background to the Delta blitz. Boat surveys over the previous couple of years by staff at Manitoba Sustainable Development revealed that there were large concentrations of migrating shorebirds using areas of the marshes interior. Although historically a good place for shorebirds, changes in water levels and the impacts of invasive carp had altered the marsh habitats. The Province of Manitoba have in the last few years worked with partners to exclude the carp from the marsh. As bottom-dwelling fish, carp disturb sediments and uproot plants, leading to deteriorating water quality and loss of aquatic plants and wildlife. Manitoba Sustainable Development have been monitoring the impacts of the carp exclusion on the marsh and the indications are that water quality has improved, emergent vegetation is beginning to establish and wildlife is returning.

See Carp Exclusion Project and the video below for more information on this project.

Cam Meuckon from Manitoba Sustainable Development had originally asked the IBA Program to arrange this blitz in May or June but unfortunately we had to postpone this on three occasions due to poor weather. A late summer/early fall blitz was the only option. Cam had been monitoring the marsh and noticed that there were large concentrations of shorebirds on exposed mud around floating dead cattails. I saw this phenomenon myself when dropping by near Delta Beach one day and spotting several hundred shorebirds in these dead cattails west of the access road.


Dead cattail marsh at Delta in late July. If you look very carefully, those small dark blobs are shorebirds. Interestingly, this area of marsh had dried out by late August, something we will return to later on. Photo copyright Tim Poole

Again we were fortunate to have great numbers joining us for the blitz. We eventually ended up with around 8 groups and about 23 people including Manitoba Sustainable Development staff Matt Tower and Riley Bartel who guided a couple of our groups along some privately owned areas.

I kind of slumbered through my group with the ever cheerful Marshall Birch, Pat and Dave Wally and new volunteer Stephanie Connell. We were tasked with monitoring the area around Lake Francis and the east end of Twin Lakes Beach. We had difficulty with accessing Lake Francis itself but still managed to pick up some shorebirds on the beach. Raptors were probably among the most numerous birds in our area.

More interesting was the Harlequin Duck found by Matt Gasner on the point where Twin Lake and Ambroise Beaches meet. Matt also had some great luck on the shorebird species count with 13 species.


A northern rarity at this time of year, a Harlequin Duck, bird of the day! Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Closeby, Christian Artuso walked along a private track (with kind permission) to access some bays on the marsh interior. What is it with this guy? A shorebird magnet! In addition to 11 species of migratory wood warbler, Christian found some of the best shorebird numbers on the blitz (but possibly not the best, more to come on that). The following photo captions summarise some of these numbers:


110 Sanderlings. Copyright Christian Artuso


735 Semipalmated Plover. Photo copyright Christian Artuso


542 Semipalmated Sandpiper and 903 Least Sandpiper (photo also includes Semipalmated Plovers). Copyright Christian Artuso

Further south, Jo Swartz, Betsy Thorsteinson and another new volunteer, Josie Brendle, drove the roads monitoring bird numbers. Shorebirds were thin on the ground but still managed to pick up handy numbers.


Great Egret at Delta. Copyright Josie Brendle

Two groups, Carrie Braden and Luc Blanchette and Bonnie Chartier, Katharine Schulz and Emily McIntosh monitored along Delta Beach and an area north of the marsh interiro with kind permission from Delta Waterfowl. One group had a large flock of Black-bellied Plover and there were very good numbers of herons.


Great Blue Heron, one of the species present on the marshes interior. Photo copyright Josie Brendle


Carrie and Luc also counted good numbers of Sandhill Crane. Photo copyright Josie Brendle

Cal Cuthbert, Janice Madill and Gord Ogilvie, the Portage team walked along the diversion and on Delta Beach. Bird numbers were low on the diversion but better on the beach. Highlight? A Prairie Falcon! They counted over 1000 Franklin’s Gulls and 320 Semipalmated Sandpipers.

Our final group hit the jackpot. Colin Blyth, Louanne Reid and Erica Alex were able to count around 4000 shorebirds at a single point on an opening in a creek.


Shorebirds in abundance. Copyright Erica Alex


Semipalmated Plover among a plethora of shorebirds. Copyright Erica Alex

This group had an unusual personal highlight. A Red Knot is not an unusual shorebird at this time of year in Delta but usually one would expect to see it on the beach rather than an internal waterway. The group found this first winter Red Knot among the other shorebirds.

A second blog will follow later this week with a second day of monitoring and then the final blog with the IBA totals. Watch this space. But to finish, Jo, Matt, Betsy and Christian really lucked out on the way home near Marquette seeing 34 Buff-breasted Sandpipers outside the IBA (boo). See Christian’s personal website for the story.


Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs)

As the leaves begin to turn to vivid shades of yellow and red, an array of warblers tumble through the streets of Winnipeg and the days become ever shorter, it appears that change is in the air. Birdlife International have launched a new system of designation, the KBA or Key Biodiversity Areas.

Thus far, Birdlife International and its partners have identified 18,000 different sites, including all globally and continentally significant IBAs (not nationally significant IBAs) as KBAs. We currently do not know what the implications this has for the IBA Program, whether we will eventually become a KBA program or whether IBAs will remain. However it will not have any bearing on the day to day program here in Manitoba. Perhaps we will even end up with some more sites to work with as KBAs are identified here in Manitoba. After all, there are significant areas of habitat in Manitoba important for rare invertebrates and plants. We will look forward to seeing how the program develops.

For more information see:

What are Key Biodiversity Areas?

Top conservation players partner to identify the most vital places for life on earth

World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas