Oak Lake and Routledge Sandhills BioBlitz – July 15, 2017

by Patricia Rosa 

On Saturday July 15, a total of 18 volunteer BioBlitzers surveyed Oak Lake/Plum Lakes IBA (MB011). The following blog includes highlights of the large-scale bird survey, and NCC’s Rebekah Neufeld’s account of the Routledge Sandhills portion of the blitz accompanied by entomology experts.


Tim, Linda and Devon were tasked with surveying the western portion of the IBA. They encountered, Sprague’s Pipit and Grasshopper Sparrow. They made it all the way to the west of the lake, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself!

At the start of our survey, Glennis and I saw a Grasshopper Sparrow belting out a tune on a fence post. A few of the species we were able to spot during our visit to NCC’s Jiggin’s Bluff included Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Say’s Phoebe, and Cedar Waxwing. Plum Lakes hosted a large diversity of shorebirds, ducks, and gulls with one notable visitor: a juvenile Bald Eagle!

Christian, Delaney, and Wally surveyed the East. Their efforts were rewarded as they were able to get a good look at this beautiful Red-headed Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpecker_9136_Artuso

Red-headed Woodpecker ©Christian Artuso

Bonnie and Lynnea took on the North! They not only heard Sprague’s Pipit but also Baird’s Sparrow. After lunch, Bonnie and Lynnea brought a group of us to the location where they heard them, and we were able to hear a couple Baird’s counter-singing in the field.


Searching for the Western Wood-Pewee ©Patricia Rosa

While the day was filled with exciting sightings, nothing gets in the way of motivated birders! Several eager individuals made their way to a more populated area of the IBA to search for Western Wood-Pewee. Although some of us were initially fooled by an Eastern Wood-Pewee, we were finally able to see it. What a great way to end the day!

Western Wood-Pewee_5970

Western Wood-Pewee ©Christian Artuso

Routledge Sandhills BioBlitz by Rebekah Neufeld

We had 8 volunteers join us for the sandhills portion of the BioBlitz, which took place in the Routledge Sandhills complex on Nature Conservancy of Canada property and adjacent lands, including entomology experts Dr. Terry Galloway and Dr. Bob Wrigley. Unfortunately we did not spot Prairie Skink or Plains Hog-nosed Snakes as we had hoped (or any reptiles for that matter – which is a bit unusual). But the insects were much more forthcoming. Of particular interest were a number of species associated with early-successional and open sand habitats – areas where natural disturbance maintains sparse vegetation and open sand habitat that many plants and animals rely on.


Located just south of the Trans-Canada Highway near the town of Oak Lake, these inactive (vegetated) sand dunes support a mosaic of prairie ridges, patches of open sand, and Aspen-Oak Woodlands. (Photo by ©Lee Fehler)

Between them Bob and Terry spotted three species of Tiger Beetles: Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa), Blowout Tiger Beetle (Cicindela lengi), and Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata). Known for their distinct, colourful patterns and fast speed, tiger beetles are a treat to watch as they appear to almost float across the ground. The first two species are generally associated with very sandy, loose soils that the beetles burrow into. The third species is not restricted to sand, and occurs on dry, open ground, often along packed trails (like the cattle trails these were found on).


Big Sand Tiger Beetle. The odd discolouration on this individual makes it look like a burn mark, how or why this occurs is unknown. (Photo by ©NCC)

Terry also spotted the aptly named sandhill or sand dune ant Formica bradleyi. This species is only observed in loose, very sandy soil, generally where the vegetation is somewhat sparse. This brightly coloured ant can be distinguished from other similar-looking red ants you may find in sandy areas by their very aggressive behaviour. This species will swarm and attack when disturbed, while the other species will scatter and run off.

Take a look at the highlights from our July Oak Lake/Plum Lakes BioBlitz and total count: