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