Whitewater Lake IBA – July 14, 2017 (Part 1 – Grebe water dances & namesake compliance)

by Patricia Rosa

On a sunny Friday morning, Bonnie, Christian, Lynnea, Tim and I left Winnipeg for the Whitewater Lake IBA (MB015). As the official observation transcriber for this crew of top birders, my hand got quite the workout! Nothing could have prepared me for the large number of flocks and surprises we encountered throughout the day.

On the way to Whitewater Lake, we made a pit stop in St. Claude as Dickcissel were rumoured to be in the area (or to be less ambiguous, Christan knew they were there!). While Christian put me to shame with this amazing picture of a male Dickcissel mid-tune, I was never able to get the timing right and only managed to capture its derrière (#birderproblems)!


Dickcissel ©Christian Artuso

Once in the IBA, we witnessed large flocks of shorebirds, grebes, and ducks in our survey area. The shorebirds were incredibly prominent and diverse! One particular flock of Short-billed Dowitcher counted 440 individuals (total of 710 observed throughout the day!) with one juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher hidden among them. We encountered a variety of sandpipers including 240 Stilt, 21 Least and Pectoral, 13 Semipalmated, and one lonesome Baird’s. The Marbled Godwit’s cackling laugh and American Avocet’s high-pitched kweet-ing was heard throughout the day which reflected in our final count of 143 and 165 respectively.


Heads down, feeding time! ©Patricia Rosa

We were quite entertained by this Cattle Egret, standing on cattle. This would not be the last egret of the day!  We were delighted to see three Snowy Egret and 24 Great Egret.


Cattle Egret on a cow ©Patricia Rosa

Oh, the grebes! Western, Eared, Red-necked, Pied-billed and even a Clark’s! They were certainly present at Whitewater Lake, with their young in tow. During the excitement of getting a count of the large mixed-flocks, Christian was able to spot a Clark’s Grebe, seemingly paired with a Western Grebe, and their hybrid young. Although very similar to Western, Clark’s Grebe does not have black around the eye and has a brighter yellow bill (see image below for side by side comparison).


Eared Grebe with young ©Patricia Rosa

Clark's Grebe_9113_ad_juv_Artuso

Clark’s Grebe and juvenile ©Christian Artuso

Identification GREBES

Clark’s and Western Grebe. Can you spot the Ruddy Duck? ©Patricia Rosa

Debated finding:

Several research groups have found that grebes may be the flamingo’s closest living relative despite their dissimilar appearance and life-history traits (e.g. Chubb 2004; Ericson et al. 2006; Hackett et al. 2008). This finding has been the subject of debate and criticism (e.g. Livezey 2010). What do you think?

We decided to make one last stop before heading to Oak Lake in what is now designated the Tick Bush. Christian and Lynnea warned us that the walk to get to where they had previously seen a Say’s Phoebe would result in us being covered by ticks. A few ticks do not scare avid birders such as ourselves, and so, we headed towards the site. Not only did we not see the Say’s Phoebe, but Tim and I ended up sprinting towards the vehicles to get out of the tick-infested grass as soon as humanly possible! See detailed field notes below:


Observations for “Tick Bush” ©Patricia Rosa

After a pleasant afternoon in Whitewater Lake (and not so pleasant adventure in the Tick Bush), our day was far from over! We headed to Oak Lake’s Legion Hall to learn about Tiger Beetles from the great expert Dr. Robert Wrigley, followed by an evening Bird Walk on Cherry Point Educational Nature Trail. Stay tuned for part 2!


Take a look at our July count from this Whitewater Lake IBA survey:




Chubb, A. L. (2004). New nuclear evidence for the oldest divergence among neognath birds: the phylogenetic utility of ZENK (i). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution30, 140-151.

Ericson, P. G., Anderson, C. L., Britton, T., Elzanowski, A., Johansson, U. S., Källersjö, M., et al. (2006). Diversification of Neoaves: integration of molecular sequence data and fossils. Biology Letters2, 543-547.

Hackett, S. J., Kimball, R. T., Reddy, S., Bowie, R. C., Braun, E. L., Braun, M. J., et al. (2008). A phylogenomic study of birds reveals their evolutionary history. Science320, 1763-1768.

Livezey, B. C. (2011). Grebes and flamingos: standards of evidence, adjudication of disputes, and societal politics in avian systematics. Cladistics27, 391-401.