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