Blast from the past: Historical observations and fall birding in southern Manitoba

In Manitoba, birding in the fall can be either be an exciting time or a drab experience depending on what your goals are. As September draws closer, the soundscape steadily becomes hushed except for the occasional call note or song. While the dawn chorus we all love has become rather muted of late, there is still much to be seen with a keen eye and some spare time.

Fall warblers are currently migrating through southern Manitoba, providing many excellent opportunities to see species which you may have missed in the short window of spring migration. Although, I must admit that identifying fall warblers is much more challenging than in the spring. If you are like me, you will need a refresher on how to ID warblers in their fall plumage. A great resource can be found here, by the McGill Bird Observatory. Great places to visit for fall warblers include forested areas along the Assiniboine River in Brandon, Portage la Prairie, and Winnipeg. In Winnipeg, visiting the English Gardens at Assiniboine Park is a must!

  • Other great places to search for fall warblers in Winnipeg:
    • English Gardens at Assiniboine Park
    • Bruce Park
    • Kings Park
    • La Barriere Park
    • Kildonan Park
    • Bunn’s Creek Centennial Park

If warblers do not peak your interest, maybe migratory waterfowl and cranes will. As the evenings begin to get cooler, you may have noticed the slight return of cranes, geese, and ducks in larger numbers. Numbers will continue to build until October-November, when massive flocks can be seen in the air, agricultural fields, and wetland areas. Good places to witness these magnificent congregations of birds for yourself include:

Oak Hammock Marsh

The South Interlake region of Manitoba includes Oak Hammock Marsh, a well-known and appreciated birding destination. Huge numbers of migratory birds have been recorded here in the past. Some noteworthy historical observations from Oak Hammock Marsh include:

  • 210,000 Snow Geese and 150,000 Canada Geese on October 19th, 1985 (R. Parsons)
  • 585 Tundra Swan on November 11th, 1978 (W. Neily)
  • 10,000 Mallard on November 1st, 1993 (R. Parsons)
  • 1,500 Blue-winged Teal on August 30th, 2010 (K. Jensen)
  • 51,000 Red-winged Blackbirds on September 20th, 2016 (E. Jenkins)

Large flocks of Snow Goose, photo by Tim Poole.

North, East, & West Shoal Lakes IBA

This Important Bird Area is located an hour northwest of Winnipeg. These three lakes support large numbers of migratory waterbirds including grebes, pelicans, geese, swans, and ducks. While viewing access can be limited, a good birding scope and some pointers on where to look are sure to be rewarding. If you need advice on how to access good birding locations at Shoal Lakes IBA, please email a request for information to our program coordinator Tim Poole.

On Sunday August 27th, we led a Bioblitz to this IBA with 20 birders, enabling us to get coverage of the whole IBA. This event will be detailed in an upcoming blog post.

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Three American White Pelicans at West Shoal Lake, early morning. Photo by Lynnea Parker.

Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA

Like clockwork, large flocks of Sandhill Cranes arrive in southwestern Manitoba each fall. Stubble fields around Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA are a good place to look for these prehistoric sounding birds. Amazingly, Tim Poole and Christian Artuso stumbled upon 7,363 cranes within the IBA, on the western side of Oak Lake on October 24th, 2017. Other notable historic counts include:

  • 863 Tundra Swan on October 27th, 2017 (T. Poole)
  • 815 Canvasback on October 26th, 2017 (C. Artuso)
  • 900 Ruddy Duck on September 13th, 2015 (G. Richards)
  • 400 American Golden Plover on October 8th, 1990 (Birds of Manitoba Archive)

Flock of Sandhill Cranes by Oak Lake, photo by Linda Boys.

Whitewater Lake IBA

Whitewater Lake is arguably one of Manitoba’s top birding destinations. Despite its claim to fame, it is one of the less well known IBAs in southern Manitoba. While Whitewater Lake is a worthy destination in spring and summer, it is also worth taking a trip in the fall. Just last week Lynnea Parker and Tim Poole attended this IBA to conduct a series of shorebird surveys.

Exceptional counts from Whitewater include:

  • 1,884 Eared Grebe and 963 Stilt Sandpiper on August 6th, 2017 (C. Artuso)
  • 20,000 Bank Swallow on August 7th, 2018 (R. Parsons)
  • 1,900 Western Grebe on August 6th, 2017 (Manitoba IBA)
  • 3,133 American Avocet on August 7th, 2016 (C. Artuso)
  • 1,640 Tundra Swan on November 14th, 2016 (C. Artuso)
  • 50,000 Snow Geese and 10,000 Canada Geese on October 26th, 2006 (D.M. Bell)
  • 270 Cattle Egret on September 14th, 2005 (R. Parsons)
  • 3,000 Lapland Longspur on September 23rd, 2002 (R. Parsons)
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Large gatherings of Bank Swallows at White Water Lake, photo by Lynnea Parker