Some Things to Keep You Going Over Winter

Our volunteers are still getting out to IBAs before the final geese, warblers and shorebirds pack up for warm winter feeding in the south. There are a few opportunities over the coming months to get out and bird, to do some citizen science activities and enjoy hearing about birds (and IBAs). We will be keeping the Manitoba IBA Upcoming Events page on the website updated with anything of interest. For now though, here are a few activities to consider:

Nature Manitoba Birding Events

Saturday 5th November – Lake Winnipeg Beaches

Saturday 3rd November – Winnipeg River Outing

Sunday 18th December – Winnipeg Christmas Bird Count

Nature Manitoba Indoor Events

Nature Manitoba organises a number of terrific workshops and discovery evenings as part of its indoor program over the winter. There are a couple of IBA-related Discovery Evenings worth checking out:

Monday, February 6, 2017, Birds of the Hudson Bay Lowlands (incl. Seal River IBA) by Dr, Christian Artuso

Monday, February 27, 2017, Restoration of two large, coastal wetlands in Manitoba: Delta Marsh and Netley-Libau Marsh by Dr. Gordon Gainsborough

Christmas Bird Counts

Apart from the Winnipeg Christmas Bird Count, there are a number of events across Manitoba, including Oak Hammock Marsh, Portage La Prairie, Delta Marsh, Selkirk, Carman, Brandon, Glenboro, Riding Mountain and Inglis). You can find details about each one on the Bird Studies Canada map.

Nocturnal Owl Surveys

The Nocturnal Owl Surveys is in progress from mid-March to mid-April every year. The Manitoban version has been operating since 1991 thanks to Jim and Patsy Duncan.

The Final Blitz @ Oak Hammock Marsh – Geese Galore

Having awaken to the first flecks of snow on the ground today, it comes apparent that with the slow changing of the weather comes the demise of the monitoring season for Manitoba’s IBAs. And what a year it’s been! I will, in the next month or so, publish a review of some of the monitoring achievements for 2016 but for the moment we can satisfy ourselves with another review, that of the October 1st IBA blitz at Oak Hammock Marsh IBA.

We chose Oak Hammock Marsh for a few reasons: it is easily accessed and easily accessible compared to most IBAs; it is a protected site and therefore volunteers and hunters would not need to spend the day avoiding each other; there is already fall monitoring areas for counting waterfowl identified; and of course, it has a cafe.

This blitz would also turn out to be a wee bit different as we would be monitoring birds in two separate stages. The first would be an early morning count of the waterfowl departing the marsh, and the second, a count of all birds identified on walks across different parts of the Oak Hammock trails.


Ducks such as this Green-winged Teal, were going to be a large part of our day. Photo copyright Josie Brendle

As is often the way with bird surveys, we began in the gloom of early morning, meeting in the parking lot at the Interpretive Centre. Resident Naturalist, IBA Steering Committee member and bander extraordinaire, Paula Grieef was on hand to greet and to brief each group on the mornings work. Each group would start by taking up position on a vantage point at the corner of the marsh, a surefire way to get the chills. What’s more, some of us had day-old coffee in our flask, a horrendously poor decision in the circumstances.

Group A with regular IBA monitors Jo Swartz and Betsy Thorsteinson, along with first timers Emily Hanuschuk and Neil Balchan, were to be positioned in the northeast corner and walked the trail towards the middle mound (see here for trail guide). This area had the largest movement of Canada Geese, 10967 in total, plus 1222 Mallards. They also counted an impressive 19 Northern Harriers.


A single Pied-billed Grebe was observed in the Central Mound area. This speies was pretty scarce on the day of the blitz. Photo copyright Josie Brendle

Group B were directed to the northwest corner and headed to the northern mound. Bonnie Chartier, Emily McIntosh and John Hays. They counted fewer Canada Geese but 2256 Mallard and 42 Snow Goose, the largest count of the day for this species. Speaking with older hands, it is apparent that the number of Snow Goose in eastern Manitoba is far lower than in previous years. In 2008, 153,800 Snow and Ross’s Geese were counted  on October 8th at the marsh, so 42 was really pretty low! They also had a Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Golden Plover (congratulations to Emily on the lifer) and 31 Rusty Blackbirds.


Emily, Bonnie and John did count 7 Greater Yellowlegs. Photo copyright Josie Brendle


Group C consisted of Christian Artuso, Sabina Mastrolonardo and Amélie Roberto-Charron. This group headed to the southeast corner close to the Oak Bluff. They managed to see the most species from their goose observation spot, including Wilson’s Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs, 7 Hooded Merganser and a globally significant, 574 Rusty Blackbird. This made up to 28 species. On their walk, they did find a Great Egret along the perimeter dike.


Great Egrets were still present in low numbers. Photo copyright Josie Brendle

The final group consisted of Tim Poole, Cameron McNabb and Josie Brendle. This group were responsible for counting the southwest corner. An (exhausting) 6772 Canada Geese later, they took to the trails near the centre and were fortunate to see a number of shorebirds including American Avocet, Black-bellied Plover, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher and Wilson’s Snipe.


Black-bellied PLover on the front pond with American Avocet. Photo copyright Josie Brendle

We also managed to add the banding data form the Delta Bird Observatory (on tour at Oak Hammock) and could include Lincoln’s Sparrow, Harris’s Sparrow, Winter Wren, American Tree Sparrow and Fox Sparrow to the total.


Myrtle Warbler, one of the songbirds present at Oak Hammock and one of the laer migrating warblers. Photo copyright Josie Brendle

Lunch followed with great views of a Peregrine from the Oak Hammock cafe and a feeding Great Egret.

I also forgot to ention a very late season Osprey at the marsh seen by two groups.

One final thing, it is often noticeable when attending birding events and Christmas Bird Counts that there are a lack of younger people participating in citizen science programs. So it was great to see five University of Manitoba students and 16 year old Emily involved in the blitz. Hopefully will get involved in the future….

Here are the final scores:

Snow Goose 105
Cackling Goose 50
Canada Goose 27898
Cackling/Canada Goose 5
Wood Duck 24
Gadwall 44
American Wigeon 3
Mallard 6120
Blue-winged Teal 269
Northern Shoveler 40
Northern Pintail 28
Green-winged Teal (American) 63
Canvasback 14
Redhead 20
Greater Scaup 5
Lesser Scaup 3
Common Goldeneye 1
Bufflehead 1
Ruddy Duck 5
Hooded Merganser 8
duck sp. 448
Pied-billed Grebe 4
Western Grebe 2
Double-crested Cormorant 2
American White Pelican 27
American Bittern 3
Great Blue Heron 3
Great Egret 3
Black-crowned Night Heron 1
Osprey 1
Northern Harrier 38
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 2
Red-tailed Hawk 4
American Coot (Red-shielded) 23
Sandhill Crane 1
American Avocet 2
Black-bellied Plover 5
American Golden-Plover 21
Least Sandpiper 5
Pectoral Sandpiper 10
Long-billed Dowitcher 19
Wilson’s Snipe 54
Greater Yellowlegs 37
Lesser Yellowlegs 3
large shorebird sp. 13
Bonaparte’s Gull 2
Ring-billed Gull 93
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 2
Mourning Dove 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 2
Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Blue Jay 2
Black-billed Magpie 5
American Crow 6
Common Raven 11
Black-capped Chickadee 3
Winter Wren 1
Marsh Wren 14
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
American Robin 4
European Starling 63
American Pipit 76
Lapland Longspur 485
Tennessee Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 7
Palm Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 11
American Tree Sparrow 1
Fox Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 16
White-crowned Sparrow 9
Harris’s Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 6
Savannah Sparrow 72
Song Sparrow 32
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
Swamp Sparrow 46
sparrow sp. 7
Red-winged Blackbird 2853
Western Meadowlark 20
Yellow-headed Blackbird 3
Rusty Blackbird 609
Common Grackle 1
Brewer’s Blackbird 3
Blackbird sp 4865
American Goldfinch 22
passerine sp. 2
TOTAL 44809

Weeding Away the Day at Riverton Sandy Bar IBA

“I don’t think weed pulling is a very exciting thing for most people. It is just like a carpet out there, but it’s actually really easy to pull.”

Joanne Smith, IBA Caretaker, CBC News

Thus spoke the voice of wisdom! However, I have to confess something. Weed pulling can be hard work at times, but it can also be very rewarding, being a great way to enjoy a beautiful fall day, hang out with some fine company, see some fun birds and experience fantastic home baking. What better way to spend the final day in September!


Volunteers making their way to the end of the sandbar. Photo copyright Joanne Smith

Firstly, a wee bit of background information. Caretaker Joanne Smith had been exploring options for removing white sweet clover, an invasive species taking over large areas of the Riverton sandbar. In addition, increased (illegal) ATV traffic has disturbed soils which provides ideal conditions for plants to colonise sandy soils.The increased vegetation has reduced habitat for Piping Plover and other nesting species. Joanne, a true champion of the IBA, wished to start the process of rectifying this, culminating in Fridays event.


She tried to avoid appearing in any photos, but this time she was caught out. IBA Caretaker and all round champion, Joanne Smith. Copyright Christian Artuso

We arrived at the parking lot in good spirit. The IBA Program had taken on the great responsibility of providing the garden waste sacks for which we would remove the weeds of our labour. Proudly showing off my bundle of 20 bags, Joanne immediately informed us that we would need at least 10 times as many to remove the vegetation from the bar. What’s more, the target area was about 1km from the parking lot. Original plans to drive the weeds to the landfill at Gimli were shelved and a new plan hatched which would involve a permit and a bonfire.

That though would be a task for other organisations on another day. Our plan was simple, we would need to get pulling. Stage 1 was to select an area in which to remove the vegetation. In any walk of life it is important to adapt plans to the circumstances. Although many of the plants had still not gone to seed, some unfortunately had and it was clear that already large amounts of seed had dispersed on the sand. Lesson 1 then was to ensure we did any weed pulling earlier in the fall in repeat workparties in 2017 (for there will be repeats).


A rare opportunity to get hands away from the binoculars for IBAs! Most of the clover was easy to pull away in bunches. However in one or two cases, two people were required to pull out weeds which were seemingly set in cement. Copyright Joanne Smith

Lesson number 2 of the day was to focus on one area and not spread ourselves too thinly. Following a first hour spread over a wide area, we decided latterly to focus all effort on a smaller area, clearing just enough habitat to create a single Piping Plover territory.


Phase 2 photo – pulling great handfuls of weeds into large piles to be bagged. Note the open habitat – much better for Piping Plover. Copyright Joanne Smith

The final lesson was to make sure we could have a controlled burn on the day next time, ridding the area of any remaining seed to prevent greater encroachment. That said, the bagging team, led ably by Nature Manitoba member Jeff Bruce, did a great job.


Jeff Bruce busy stuffing weeds into bags. Copyright Joanne Smith

Twenty full bags seemed like an achievement until you notice the very large pile of weeds on the right side of the photo below


Enough of the hands on hips and get on with some work! Copyright Joanne Smith

On completing our days weed pulling, we couldn’t resist a short walk to the end of the bar to look for some birds. After all, we were in an IBA. The highlight had to be a Smith’s Longspur, lifer for at least 3 observers. Another highlight were the Rusty Blackbirds, numerous enough to hit the trigger for globally important concentrations on the day.


One of the globally important concentration of Rusty Blackbirds at Riverton. Copyright Linda Curtis

Other species encountered included a group of American Golden Plovers, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover, Harris Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Horned Lark, Ring-billed Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, Common Merganser, Green-winged Teal, Pectoral Sandpiper and American Pipit, a pretty good day list. Special mention to Jock McCracken here as well, having secured I believe 6 lifers during the morning.


More elegant-looking than the similar Black-bellied Plover, the American Golden Plover was a nice addition to our daily bird list.

While we were out at the tip of the sandbar, Manitoba Sustainable Development had put up the below new signs. These are partly aimed at restricting vehicle access to the Special Conservation Area during the summer. ATV use is an increasing pastime seemingly in some of these rural areas and can cause disturbance to breeding birds and their habitats.


New signs for Riverton Sandy Bar SCA (and IBA). Copyright Joanne Smith

Thank you to all our volunteers, the East Interlake Conservation District and Manitoba Sustainable Development. These were:

Christian Artuso, Tim Poole, Bonnie Chartier, Dave Roberts, Audrey Boitson, Heather Alexander, Jeff Bruce, Patricia Barrett, Thor Johannson, Jock McCracken, Linda Curtis and Peter and Elsie Douglas.


Most of all, thank you to Joanne, a great champion for Riverton Sandy Bar, for organising a great day. We will be doing this again in 2017, so please watch this space and consider joining us.


Pretty much everyone apart from the photographer. Copyright Joanne Smith