Before Friday of last week, Sandy Bay Marshes was one of those places which was familiar merely as a name and a mark on a map. Last Friday while heading north to a meeting near Winnipegosis (more to follow in another blog on that subject), I stopped off for a while to discover what it was about.
Sandy Bay was designated due to significant breeding concentrations of Western Grebe (see the IBA Canada profile for more info). It is a relatively unknown spot on the western shore of Lake Manitoba south of the Sandy Bay First Nation and near Langruth. Access to much of the marsh interior is difficult due to the road network hence the fact that there is very little information generated from this IBA in the past. Part of the IBA is in the Sandy Bay First Nation Reserve and any access taken by volunteers would need prior approval granted by the Band Council, something I had not sought beforehand, hence I did not stray into the First Nation part of the IBA.
The surrounding area is primarily tilled agricultural land. However just on the southeastern boundary of the IBA, a few more hayfields and wetlands begin to make an appearance. It was here that I encountered a couple of Marbled Godwit and a number of ducks. The first major stop was at Big Point on the shores of Lake Manitoba. Here I turned up 25 Horned Grebe, Bonaparte’s Gull, pelicans, cormorants and Common Merganser in addition to a number of other gulls, waterfowl and wetland birds.
Already it was apparent that this was a special spot for Western Grebe, 94 counted in the waters of Lake Manitoba – and likely more given that there were certainly a number of distant specks in the wider area.
Criss-crossing north, the next stop would be at Stony Point where the only other folk enjoying the sunshine were the RCMP! Before that there was a cracking wetland pool next to the road with 107 Western Grebe. Also present were 2 Eared Grebe. Already it was apparent that if this one pool had upwards of a hundred birds, how many more would be hidden in the inaccessible parts of the marsh?
Finally to the small beach at Stony Point. There were a couple of American Bittern in the adjacent marsh, White-throated Sparrow, Hermit Thrush and juncos in the trees and a huge abundance of Western Grebes bobbing around in the water. In fact there 522 floating around the bay. This is around 0.25% of the global breeding population of this species – not bad for a single point count. There were also 10 Common Merganser and the usual pelicans and cormorants.
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On leaving the IBA, I headed across towards Langruth and Big Grass Marsh, skirting the edge of that IBA. This is another interesting area if only you can get into it, and I plan to find a way to do just that later in the season, so please watch this space. The one thing that did pop up was a Black Bear loitering at the back of a field.
The Sandy Bay trip makes me realise that we still need to explore some of these areas more fully. I have attached a copy of may route through the IBA below to help anyone else exploring this area. I wonder if monitoring post breeding populations is possible given that we located over 2000 Western Grebes gathered around Whitewater Lake in early August 2016. Food for thought!