Sandy Bay Marshes IBA – A Haven for Western Grebes with the Odd Bear Thrown In

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.


Double-crested Cormorants were fairly abundant around Sandy Bay. Copyright Tim Poole

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.


A Bonaparte’s Gull off of Big Point with an American White Pelican relaxing in the water behind. Closer inspection with a scope revealed large numbers of Western Grebe and Horned Grebe in the water around this gull. Copyright Tim Poole

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.


Panoramic view of Big Point. Copyright Tim Poole

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?


Unfortunately all the grebes, although plentiful, seemed to avoid getting too close to the road restricting photographic possibilities. This is the best I could manage! Copyright Tim Poole

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.


There’s probably over a hundred Western Grebes here somewhere. Copyright Tim Poole

Canada Goose 2
Gadwall 4
American Wigeon 2
Mallard 32
Blue-winged Teal 21
Northern Shoveler 2
Canvasback 12
Redhead 29
Greater Scaup 5
Lesser Scaup 4
Greater/Lesser Scaup 53
Bufflehead 3
Common Goldeneye 32
Common Merganser 11
Ruddy Duck 2
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Horned Grebe 25
Eared Grebe 2
Western Grebe 723
Double-crested Cormorant 106
American White Pelican 35
American Bittern 2
Northern Harrier 4
Red-tailed Hawk 3
American Coot 3
Killdeer 4
Marbled Godwit 4
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Willet 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 10
Franklin’s Gull 48
Ring-billed Gull 49
Forster’s Tern 4
Rock Pigeon 4
Mourning Dove 1
Northern Flicker 1
Black-billed Magpie 3
Common Raven 1
Tree Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 1
Hermit Thrush 1
Dark-eyed Junco 10
White-throated Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 10
Red-winged Blackbird 53
Western Meadowlark 1
Yellow-headed Blackbird 14
Brewer’s Blackbird 69
Common Grackle 20
Brown-headed Cowbird 1

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.


Immediately after checking me out, this bear ran off into the bush. Obviously knows who is boss! Copyright Tim Poole 

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!