Announcing a new habitat workparty – Manitoba IBA ‘Clear Your Gear’ Beach Cleanup at St Ambroise and Twin Lake Beaches

The Manitoba IBA Program is delighted to announce our first ever beach cleanup, to take place at the Delta Marsh IBA on Wednesday July 11th.


Last week, Manitoba IBA Program Coordinator, Tim Poole, was delighted to be invited to join Wildlife Haven, TransCanada, Manitoba Sustainable Development and Minister for Sustainable Development, Rochelle Squires at the launch of the ‘Clear Your Gear’ Program. This program was established in Florida, with the aim of encouraging anglers to recycle their discarded fishing line (monofilament line). Wildlife Haven’s founder, Judy Robertson took this idea forward, and has with the help and funding from TransCanada and the Province of Manitoba, launched the program here in Manitoba (the official website is here). Many birds, including gulls, pelicans and grebes, are caught up in fishing line each year, whether in the water, on beaches, or even in landfill. We are now able to send this material off to the USA for recycling, and boxes will be provided to local volunteer coordinators, as well as fishing line receptacles, to rid the beaches of Manitoba of this material (on this note, if anyone lives near a beach, and is interested in taking such a role on, please let me know).

The Plan

The community and stewardship aspect of such an endeavour is naturally of interest to the Manitoba IBA Program, given the large number of lakeside IBAs in our province. We have been in discussion with the ‘Clear Your Gear’ partnership regarding our own beach cleanup at an IBA in Manitoba. We have selected Delta Marsh IBA as our 2018 first beach cleanup, because it is close to some larger communities and easily accessible. Our current plan is to set groups up around Twin Lakes Beach and Ambroise Beach, although if there is clear interest, we would love to also include Delta Beach itself. We will meet at the IBA and set groups out, equipping them with everything they need, including receptacles and safety equipment for the safe disposal of any discarded angling material.

If you are interested in joining us for this first beach cleanup, please email Tim at There are more details on the poster below.

There are also a number of other beaches and waterfronts in Manitoba’s IBAs, including: Chalet and Patricia Beaches (Netley-Libau IBA); Hollywood, Big Point and Amaranth Beaches (Sandy Bay Marshes IBA); Riverton Sandy Bar; Lundar Beach (Marshy Point IBA); Oak Lake Beach and; the Shoal Lakes. If you have any interest in being a local steward for these areas, please let me know at the above.

Event poster_Beach Cleanup Ambroise and Twin Lakes_2

Announcing a new blitz – Seeking out Red-headed Woodpeckers in the Kinosota-Leifur IBA

We are delighted to announce a new upcoming IBA Blitz, this time to look for Red-headed Woodpeckers in the Kinosota-Leifur IBA, an area on the west side of Lake Manitoba. Our planned date is Sunday July 15th.


The Kinosota-Leifur IBA was identified as one of the most important sites in Manitoba for the threatened Red-headed Woodpecker. In 2017 we organised our first search for this species in this area, coming up with a total of 23. Since then, we have used information from the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas, Harry Harris, the former Manager of the Alonsa Conservation District, and our own blitz, to reevaluate the IBA boundary. This is due to be uploaded to the IBA Canada website soon. The new area is more extensive, and covers the town of Alonsa, an area close to where several pairs of woodpecker are known to breed.

The Plan

We would like to split the IBA into at least 4 areas, and ask volunteers to target particular areas looking for the woodpeckers. As with 2017, we would like to meet after we finish for lunch on either Hollywood or Amaranth Beaches.

If you are interested in joining us for the fun, please let me know as soon as you can at

Event Poster_RHWO Blitz Kinosota_1 (1)

Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA Blitz on June 3rd 2018

On June 3rd, 2018, the IBA Program organised a bird blitz at the Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA in southwestern Manitoba. Our objective was to identify and count as many shorebirds, grassland birds, Franklin’s Gulls and Red-headed Woodpeckers as possible, as well as finding the multitudes of other birds in this wonderful place for birds. Here is our report in three parts.

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Early morning in the PIpestone area. Southwestern Manitoba does not look too shabby in the dawn! Copyright Christian Artuso

Sabina Mastrolonardo

On June 3rd 2018, The Important Bird Area (IBA) of the Oak-Plum Lakes area were divided into 5 zones and Katharine Schultz and myself (Sabina Mastrolonardo) were in charge of surveying birds in the northwest side of the IBA (named Zone 1). We began heading south on Highway 1 at 7AM, now entering our zone of the IBA and beginning to listen and look for all bird species. Over 60 Least Flycatchers, 37 Warbling Vireos, 27 Clay-colored Sparrows, 23 Marsh Wrens, and 21 Yellow Warblers wanted to be heard as they were the most frequent singing birds around all day. In addition, 15 Baltimore Orioles, 3 Great Crested Flycatchers, 1 Vesper Sparrow, and 3 Le Conte’s Sparrows were often heard during the survey before spotting them through binoculars.

Sedge Wren ready for song lr_copyright Randall D. Mooi

Sedge Wren perched on a post; a songbird often detected first by song. Copyright Randall D. Mooi.

Zone 1 included large numbers of swallow colonies, with an estimated 100 Cliff Swallows under a bridge (130 total in Zone 1 of the IBA), 23 Barn Swallows, 4 Tree Swallows, and even 41 Bank Swallows. The Bank Swallow colony was a surprising discovery near the end of a gravel road with Veeries and American Goldfinches singing in the distance.



Despite Brandon and the southwest part of the province receiving quite a bit of rain over the last couple days, the gravel roads were in pretty good shape, making accessibility to the lake achievable! Shorebird highlights were 4 White-faced Ibis with some feeding and some in flight, 2 Great Blue Herons, and 1 Marbled Godwit and 1 Wilson’s Snipe next to each other showcasing a great example of size and bill length differences (not photographed – but photos of species separate below).



By noon it was time to wrap up the bird monitoring and meet the other groups for a picnic lunch at Cherry Point near Oak Lake Resort, allowing us to be around a flock of Cedar Waxwings, many Western Kingbirds and even a pair of Orchard Orioles. A fine Sunday indeed out at the Oak-Plum Lakes area with more to come about the entire IBA totals and other groups successes!  Stay tuned….

Oak_Lake_IBA_Blitz_Orchard_Oriole_sighting_OakPlum Lakes_June 32018_copyright Cam Nikkel

Birders flocked together while spotting an Orchard Oriole pair just before the picnic lunch. Copyright Cam Nikkel.

Lynnea Parker

Glennis Lewis and I (Lynnea Parker) took charge of zone 3 which covered the area from Jiggins Bluff (located off road 43N) south to HWY 2 (by Deleau) and west to road 150W. This area is characterized by a mosaic of wetlands, deciduous woodlands, grasslands, and agricultural fields. With such a diversity of habitats, it was no surprise to us that we detected 77 species (zone 3 checklist).

Most species detected were local breeders as the bulk of migratory shorebirds and warblers had already passed through. Our highlights included a single Horned Grebe which is currently ranked as Special Concern by COSEWIC. You can learn more about Horned Grebes in Manitoba by visiting this species account published by the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas. Other Species At Risk (SAR) included 1 Eastern Wood-Pewee, 12 Bank Swallow, 69 Barn Swallow, 1 Grasshopper Sparrow, and 10 Bobolink.


Stunning Swainson’s Hawk. Photo copyright Cam Nikkel

All in all, it was a fantastic morning to get out and document the rich bird diversity the area had to offer. The day before the event a series of rainstorms swept through the area. Despite this, road conditions were quite good and we were able to get decent coverage of our zone.


Almost statuesque elegance of the Forster’s Tern captured magnificently here by Cam Nikkel.

Tim Poole

A group of Jen and her 7 year old daughter, Anna, Matt and Tim headed to the southeast extension of the IBA. This area covered the northern parts of the Lauder Sandhills, and the eastern part of Maple Lake. The habitats in this area varied: tame and native pastures; alfalfa hay meadows and occasional crop fields; shallow lakes with emergent vegetation and; large areas of sandhill with broadleaf woodland. The mix of bird species was therefore expected to be slightly different to the other areas.

The torrential downpours of Saturday meant that the original intention of starting with the wetland areas was delayed. instead the group forged into some of the eastern grassland habitats, quickly detecting Grasshopper Sparrows and Bobolink. Excitement levels raised when finding an extensive area of open woodland, ideal for the threatened Red-headed Woodpecker. It wasn’t long before Matt spotted the first woodpecker, and although it is likely that multiple pairs were present, only 2 individuals could be confirmed. A few minutes later, a stray call in another area, confirmed a third woodpecker – unfortunately this was it for the morning for this species (I’m sure there were more out there).


One of only a handful of Red-headed Woodpecker detected during the blitz. Photo copyright Tim Poole

With the roads drying out, a decision was made to go for the Maple Lake area. Tim had previously visited these areas, and had re-found the Franklin’s Gull colony discovered by Ken De Smet in 2017. The area was full of White-faced Ibis, a magnificent species! There were fewer gulls than Tim’s 10,000 from the previous week, but we still put down a cool 5,000 for the day. There were also Eared Grebes in good numbers, White-rumped Sandpipers and Redhead and Canvasback. Nelson’s Sparrow were calling from the sedges, a lifer for Jen, and Black and Forster’s Tern risked the wrath of the superabundant gulls.


Franklin’s Gulls, White-faced Ibis and Yellow-headed Blackbird on the washed out road. Copyright Tim Poole

Tim then decided to try to drive the car through the Lauder Sandhills. This would have been an immense drive – if the roads were a bit drier, but even the most pushy of drivers decided to turn and flee for harder tracks. On that note, it was interesting that the Provincial Road condition was significantly worse than the RM gravel roads. Some of them almost needed an amphibious vehicle to get through the damage caused by heavy vehicles.

On a final note, it was fantastic to be joined by Jen and Anna. Enthusing young people about nature is incredibly important. As a parent of young children, this is something close to my own heart. Unfortunately, there is a great need to have some more formal nature groups for young people in Manitoba to support and encourage young people to learn about nature, and to start a lifelong interest in wildlife. Food for thought….


Jen and Anna watching the Eared Grebes in the Maple Lake area (thanks Jen for permission to use the image). Photo copyright Tim Poole

Here is a summary of our remaining two or three groups (depending on whether Christian decides he was part of a group, or a singular man on a mission).

The handsome Loggerhead Shrike feeding in the IBA later on the same day. Photos all copyright Katharine Schulz.

Randy and Peter birded the southwest corner around Pipestone. There were some grassland birds in this area, including Loggerhead Shrike, Chestnut-collared Longspur and Sprague’s Pipit. Christian added some species from grassland bird surveys in this area, and we had a nice total here. The total of 11 Sprague’s Pipit and 7 Chestnut-collared Longspur’s is a really good result for this area in 2018.

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A Chestnut-collared Longspur just posing to be photographed! Copyright Christian Artuso

Christian, in addition to helping out with some of the above, also found several thousand Franklin’s Gulls feeding in fields, and the largest group of shorebirds for the day, mainly White-rumped Sandpipers, and a rarely seen spring migrant, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper. All these birds turned up in a muddy, flooded field.

White-rumped Sandpiper_8887__BASA_SESA_flock in flight

Those brown dots are a multitude of shorebirds! Cpyright Christian Artuso

Bonnie, Cam and Bill hit the northeast, and added Mountain Bluebird straight away (Bonnie was determined to swell her year list). They also found a number of interesting birds, not least one of the days better hauls of shorebirds.


Mountain Bluebird taking flight. Copyright Tim Poole

Of most interest was the towhee find, what appeared at first to be a rare Spotted Towhee.

Spotted x Eastern Towhee Bill Rideout

A Spotted Towhee – or is it? Copyright Bill Rideout

Here is Christian Artuso’s thoughts on the photos from Bill:

  1. obviously perfect rows of spots on wing coverts and mantle plus thick white edge to tertials immediately rules out Eastern Towhee (Eastern shows no white in any of these places but instead show a small pocket hanky of white at the base of the primaries and white along the edge of the outer primary)
  2. The problem with calling this a spotted is that it shows a TINY amount of white at the base of the primaries (despite all their spots elsewhere, this area should be black in Spotted Towhee) the mix of this white pocket hanky plus spots elsewhere is usually attributable to hybridisation… in this bird though the amount of white is the key area is miniscule and only noticeable when the primaries and slightly apart… it is so little white it is tempting to write it off but…
  3. The eye is clearly red as expected in both species but it is usually a bit deeper red in Eastern and this bird seems to have a dark red eye (sadly there is no photo where the eye is in good sunlight to really judge this)

So, this is why I say MOSTLY Spotted Towhee – almost everything looks right for Spotted except two tiny tiny details… as for their song, all I can say is those two are extremely similar and it takes practices to separate them with confidence! 

hyrbird towhee Bill Rideot

The offending blemish – only a very careful eye could pull this out. Copyright Bill Rideout

Thank you to everyone for coming along, it was a fantastic day, and we had some very valuable data collected. Of most note, was the excess of 10,000 Franklin’s Gulls. This would trigger the 1% global population of this species.

Here is our total list:

Species Name Species Count
Snow Goose 4
Canada Goose 786
Wood Duck 4
Blue-winged Teal 133
Northern Shoveler 123
Gadwall 59
American Wigeon 3
Mallard 241
Northern Pintail 1
Green-winged Teal 15
Canvasback 87
Redhead 35
Ring-necked Duck 15
Greater Scaup 4
Lesser Scaup 19
Bufflehead 3
Hooded Merganser 9
Ruddy Duck 29
Gray Partridge 2
Ruffed Grouse 1
Sharp-tailed Grouse 4
Pied-billed Grebe 2
Horned Grebe 1
Red-necked Grebe 11
Eared Grebe 70
Western Grebe 12
Double-crested Cormorant 14
American White Pelican 5
American Bittern 2
Great Blue Heron 4
Great Egret 1
Cattle Egret 3
Black-crowned Night-Heron 10
White-faced Ibis 33
Turkey Vulture 2
Northern Harrier 8
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Swainson’s Hawk 13
Red-tailed Hawk 30
Virginia Rail 3
Sora 9
American Coot 12
Sandhill Crane 10
American Avocet 19
Killdeer 68
Upland Sandpiper 9
Marbled Godwit 15
Baird’s Sandpiper 46
White-rumped Sandpiper 377
Buff-breasted Sandpiper 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper 11
Wilson’s Snipe 58
Wilson’s Phalarope 36
Spotted Sandpiper 3
Willet 25
Franklin’s Gull 10,127
Ring-billed Gull 5
Black Tern 54
Common Tern 1
Forster’s Tern 7
Rock Pigeon 44
Mourning Dove 131
Black-billed Cuckoo 1
Great Horned Owl 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 13
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 9
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 10
Eastern Wood-Pewee 4
Alder Flycatcher 3
Least Flycatcher 181
Eastern Phoebe 12
Great Crested Flycatcher 7
Western Kingbird 28
Eastern Kingbird 175
Loggerhead Shrike 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo 141
Red-eyed Vireo 21
Black-billed Magpie 30
American Crow 45
Common Raven 34
Horned Lark 15
Purple Martin 39
Tree Swallow 126
Bank Swallow 53
Barn Swallow 247
Cliff Swallow 448
Black-capped Chickadee 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 57
Sedge Wren 48
Marsh Wren 97
Eastern Bluebird 8
Mountain Bluebird 2
Veery 2
Swainson’s Thrush 1
American Robin 118
Gray Catbird 20
Brown Thrasher 2
European Starling 29
American Pipit 1
Sprague’s Pipit 11
Cedar Waxwing 61
Chestnut-collared Longspur 7
Ovenbird 2
Black-and-white Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 23
American Redstart 13
Yellow Warbler 174
Grasshopper Sparrow 20
LeConte’s Sparrow 23
Nelson’s Sparrow 6
Chipping Sparrow 15
Clay-colored Sparrow 195
Lark Sparrow 3
Vesper Sparrow 39
Savannah Sparrow 206
Song Sparrow 55
Swamp Sparrow 2
Eastern Towhee 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1
Yellow-headed Blackbird 329
Bobolink 81
Western Meadowlark 227
Orchard Oriole 8
Baltimore Oriole 95
Red-winged Blackbird 796
Brown-headed Cowbird 107
Brewer’s Blackbird 204
Common Grackle 81
American Goldfinch 115
House Sparrow 84

Eastern Kingbird looking alert. Copyright Cam Nikkel

Manitoba Shorebird Conservation, Management, and Monitoring Workshop Day 2

On Thursday May 24th 2018, organizations, biologists, and volunteers met on an impressive Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) property named Jiggen’s Bluff to start the second day of the Shorebird workshop. If you missed our blog post featuring the first day of the workshop, you can read it here. The MB Shorebird Conservation, Management, and Monitoring Workshop was organized by the Manitoba Important Bird Area (IBA) program, Manomet Shorebird Recovery Program and NCC, bringing together around 25 participants. A few main objectives of the workshop were to work on shorebird identification, connect shorebirds migrating/using the Central Flyway, address threats, and establish a long-term International Shorebird Survey (ISS) in Manitoba.

The schedule for the second day of the workshop was modified due to changes in the weather forecast. The original order of events would have had us watching presentations in the morning, with a trip to Whitewater Lake in the afternoon. To avoid the impending rain we all met at Jiggin’s Bluff at 8:30AM for a presentation by Brian Harrington on Flock Estimation. After discovering how terrible we could be at estimating flock sizes (and realizing why continuous practice is so important), everyone hopped on the bus and headed to Whitewater Lake.

Waterwater Lake IBA provided excellent opportunities to ID Shorebirds in the field, count species numbers, and estimate flock sizes.

At our first stop we had 13 species of Shorebirds including: American Avocet, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Stilt Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, and Willet (complete checklist). Everyone split into groups to ID and count. After everyone had finished their tally, results were compared. Aside from slight variation, which can be due to a difference in detection as birds come and go, results were quite even across the groups. A challenging species to count was the 160 Red-necked Phalarope which flushed regularly and were actively feeding in a large groups with new individuals arriving throughout our observation period. The 20 Ruddy Turnstone were well camouflaged where they were foraging in the bare agricultural field, with some groups not noticing their presence until the very end!


American Avocet (Left), Red-necked Phalarope (Top-right), Ruddy Turnstone (Bottom-right), Photos by C. Artuso

At our second stop we had 12 species of Shorebird, with 3 additional species: Hudsonian Godwit, Dunlin, and Lesser Yellowlegs (complete checklist). We were also quick to note the 2 Greater White-fronted Geese present. This location was not the best for learning opportunities due to the harsh glare of the sun and the distance of the birds, so after taking account of the species we moved on to stop 3.


Workshop attendees straddled along the road looking for shorebirds. Copyright Tim Poole

At the third stop we had 15 species of Shorebird, with 2 additional species: Black-bellied Plover and Long-billed Dowitcher (complete checklist). The Long-billed Dowitcher was a fantastic find, and we spent a good amount of time examining this bird which was foraging with 6 Marbled Godwit and a single Hudsonian Godwit. The close-up scope views of the Marbled Godwit and Hudsonian Godwit provided a unique opportunity to compare these species.

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3 Marbled Godwit (Left), 1 Long-billed Dowitcher standing in front of 1 Hudsonian Godwit (Right), Photo by Lynnea Parker

Our last stop landed us at Sexton’s Point, an area known for Western Grebe, Clark’s Grebe, and Great Egret. We were rewarded with 2 Clarke’s Grebe which are considered uncommon in Manitoba. Although uncommon, Clarke’s Grebe are known to breed at Whitewater Lake and sometimes even hybridize with the locally abundant Western Grebe. At this location we had 1 additional species of Shorebird: American Golden-Plover (Complete Checklist). Out on a distant spit of gravel, 20 American Golden-Plover were resting with a flock of 180 Black-bellied Plover. It is always a treat to see these two species in spring migration.


Additional species seen throughout the morning can be found on this checklist

In the early afternoon we found ourselves back at the Jiggin’s Bluff house for lunch and continued presentations. Monica Iglecia started off the afternoon talking about threats to Shorebirds and the status of Shorebird populations. It was alarming to learn that 40% of Shorebirds globally are experiencing declines. In North America, 40% of our Shorebird species are in decline, highlighting the need for a central flyway Shorebird monitoring program. Manitoba is located in the central flyway, and our establishment of an International Shorebird Survey (ISS) will fill a gap in regional, continental, and global monitoring efforts.

Monica’s presentation highlighted several challenges with Shorebird conservation, including:

  • Shorebirds tend to have low fecundity (small number of eggs per breeding pair)
  • Shorebirds face habitat loss and/or degradation at migratory stop-over locations and on breeding grounds
  • Climate change is an unknown variable what will undoubtedly affect Shorebirds in various ways
  • Unregulated hunting of Shorebird populations still exists in South America and the Caribbean.

20180524_143245During the presentation a considerable hail storm descended upon the area, which captured everyone’s attention. As it turns out, we were correct in changing our schedule to do field observations in the morning!

Rebecca Neufeld presented next on Threats and Habitat Priorities in Oak Lake and Sandhill Conservation Plan. Issues that were identified for this area included the threat of Zebra Mussels establishing in the lake, invasive species management (focus on plants), fire suppression, and the encroachment of woody species in grassland areas.

Management of the Oak Lake and Sandhill conservation areas is directed towards grassland birds, mixed-grass prairie, sandhill blowouts, and riparian areas.

Our third presentation of the afternoon was an Introduction to Shorebird Management by Brad Winn. Brad explained that Shorebirds often respond rapidly to beneficial management. The three core needs of a migrating Shorebird were identified as:

  1. Food
  2. Staging areas to rest at stop-over locations
  3. Night roosting areas

Conservation of Shorebirds means addressing these needs, and ensuring that they can be met. Brad explained how Manomet works with local communities around the globe to establish Shorebird conservation initiatives. An important take-home message from this presentation was that managing for wildlife frequently means changing human behaviour, attitudes, and policy. It is a long process that one must be prepared for!

Christian Artuso was the last presenter of the day, speaking on the need for ISS monitoring in Manitoba. Christian explained why southwestern Manitoba was an exceptional location for migratory Shorebirds. He described how Manitoba’s current wet cycle and numerous ephemeral wetlands provided reliable (but constantly changing) habitat. Whitewater Lake itself is a vital stop-over location in the central flyway. Christian further highlighted that most of the Shorebird research in the province has been conducted in Churchill (northeastern Manitoba), with little attention being given to the southwestern region.