Masses Turn Up To Pull Weeds at Riverton Sandy Bar IBA

In 2016, IBA Caretaker for MB91 Riverton Sandy Bar, Joanne Smith, instigated our first ever IBA habitat work party, pulling weeds for plovers (see here, here and here). Earlier this month Joanne and a number of volunteers came back for round 2. Here Joanne gives her take on the days activities.


Volunteers making their way to the start of the weed pulling area. Copyright Joanne Smith

Hmm, the phrase “weed at the bar,” may conjure up some odd, possibly illegal, images, but August 17th was all about pulling invasive sweet clover and burdock at Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) Riverton Sandy Bar. In fact, 36 volunteers filled 66 bags of the stuff, with the hopes of creating a habitat more appealing to the Endangered Piping Plover. The last time Sandy Bar had nesting Piping Plover was in 2004. With two pairs being seen elsewhere in Manitoba this summer, there is always a possibility that Piping Plovers may once again make an appearance at Sandy Bar IBA MB091. Having annual groups pull invasive sweet clover and other weeds that are choking out the sandbar will hopefully further this cause.


Hoards of people moving across the car. Copyright Patricia Rosa

On Thursday August 17th, residents from such Interlake communities as Riverton, Arborg, Hnausa and Hodgson; volunteers from Winnipeg; and staff from the East Interlake Conservation District, Manitoba Sustainable Development, Nature Manitoba and Bird Studies Canada met at the Sandy Bar parking area at 9:00 am to participate in this work-bee organised by the Manitoba IBA program. Coffee, donuts and muffins were shared while introductions were given. Water was handed out, sun-screen splashed on, and then the real work began.

Sandy Bar Weed Picking Volunteers (1)

No sweat, although this photo was taken before anyone had pulled a single weed. Pretty much everyone is here. Copyright Dries Desender

The fifteen-minute walk to the sand bar was followed by hours of weed pulling. Larger, older sweet clover, new young plants, burdock and even young willow were pulled up and carefully bagged. The Piping Plover prefers an open sandy/pebble area with little or no vegetation so the goal was to pull the weeds up from the roots to try to prevent them from taking over the sandbar. This year was ‘reinforcement” following last year’s weed pull and the encouraging results we saw with the areas cleared in 2016 remaining relatively open sand.

A selection of photos of people in action. Copyright for all to Joanne Smith

On September 30th, 2016, we were delighted to have 14 people share in the weed-pulling activity, so having 36 volunteers this year was above and beyond our hopes. Not only did we learn about Piping Plovers and the habitat that they prefer, we had individuals from different areas of expertise who shared information on the different bird species seen and heard, as well as the importance of Riverton Sandy Bar, designated as both an IBA and a Special Conservation Area.


Maybe next year we will get Rona to pay for all the free advertising! Bags and bags and bags of weeds. Copyright Joanne Smith

While the goal of the event was to pull invasive sweet clover, there were numerous sightings of birds. Along with the local summer nesting birds such as Sora, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow Warbler, Marsh Wren, Bald Eagle and Herring Gull, there was an appearance by a Great Blue Heron and shorebird species such as American Golden Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Sanderling and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Many of these migratory shorebirds are benefiting from the weed pulling activity because it gives them safe, open foraging areas as well as potential roost sites.


Black-bellied plovers on the open sand. As pointed out above, this type of species would avoid dense vegetation.  Copyright Joanne Smith


Any guesses for the number of Least and Semipalmated sandpiper in this photo? Answers to Copyright Joanne Smith


Ring billed, Herring, and Franklins Gulls,  Caspian, Common, and Forster’s Terns and Black-bellied Plovers. Copyright Joanne Smith


Another invasive species that cannot be rid so easily, the zebra mussels are increasingly prevalent on Lake Winnipeg’s beaches. These seem to be spelling out a ‘z’, backwards though. Copyright Joanne Smith

Sandy Bar volunteer pulling weeds (1)

Busy weed puller on the go. Copyright Dries Desender

While pulling weeds in sunny 26°C temperatures was a little tiring, the event was a great success. Filling 66 bags of weeds, seeing numerous bird species and having local residents as well as individuals from various groups all come together to help create a more suitable habitat for Piping Plover was well worth the miles traveled and the effort expended.

There will be more follow-up too, because it will take several more years of effort to “get ahead” of the sweet clover and we are determined to make a difference. So stay tuned to the Manitoba IBA webpage or blog ( and join the fun of our annual “weed at the bar” event!



Sandy Bar pile of pulled weeds (1)

A glimpse of the full yard waste bags. Copyright Dries Desender

Here is the most important thing, the days full bird list:

Canada Goose  125
Green-winged Teal  18
Common Goldeneye  5
American White Pelican  2
Great Blue Heron  1
Northern Harrier  1
Bald Eagle  2
Sora  1
Black-bellied Plover  6
American Golden-Plover  1
Semipalmated Plover  2
Killdeer  1
Sanderling  3
Baird’s Sandpiper  1
Least Sandpiper  8
Pectoral Sandpiper  1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  7
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Lesser Yellowlegs  5
Franklin’s Gull  4
Ring-billed Gull  33
Herring Gull  26
Caspian Tern  6
Common Tern  9
Forster’s Tern  7
Common Raven  4
Barn Swallow  6
Marsh Wren  3
Yellow Warbler  7
Song Sparrow  2
Yellow-headed Blackbird  1
Red-winged Blackbird  28

From a Manitoba IBA Program perspective, we are obviously extremely grateful to everyone for turning up to help with special thanks to Christian and Patricia for bringing along refreshments and equipment, Thor for getting together a large group of local volunteers, East Interlake Conservation District, Manitoba Sustainable Development, Bird Studies Canada and Nature Manitoba for their support! However we cannot get by without a special note of thanks to Joanne for her amazing dedication in bringing this together. We will be back because this is a project worth pursuing!