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