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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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).
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
Of most interest was the towhee find, what appeared at first to be a rare Spotted Towhee.
Here is Christian Artuso’s thoughts on the photos from Bill:
- 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)
- 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…
- 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!
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|
|American White Pelican||5|
|Great Blue Heron||4|
|Great Horned Owl||1|
|Great Crested Flycatcher||7|