International Shorebird Survey – Round 3

2018 has seen the launch of the International Shorebird Survey (ISS) in Manitoba. Each month from July to September, volunteers from the Manitoba IBA Program, Bird Studies Canada, and NCC, have traveled to Whitewater Lake and Oak Lake and Plum Lakes Important Bird Areas to carry out these surveys. Our third and (in theory), final trips were completed earlier this week, and here is a summary of the results.

On September 17th, Gillian Richards, Christian Artuso, Josiah Van Egmond, and Ed Jenkins, completed the two monitoring transects at Whitewater Lake IBA. The results were, to say the least, quite spectacular.

The total of 38,861 birds, and 99 species was highly impressive, although a mere 20,764 were noted on the ISS surveys themselves, the remaining birds seen while driving from point to point. The most abundant bird was the Red-winged Blackbird, a colossal total of 8,960 being recorded.


Red-winged Blackbird_0784_flock in flight

Who scared the blackbirds? Photo copyright Christian Artuso

Ducks were also abundant, 4,046 Northern Pintail being the highest individual count, but with sizable counts of Green-winged Teal and Mallard as well. A single Greater White-fronted Goose was another standout, along with the usual totals of Snow and Canada Geese exceeding a thousand individuals.


Northern Pintail_green-winged Teal_Snow Goose_0754

Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal and Snow Goose at Whitewater. Copyright Christian Artuso

Two Prairie Falcons and two Peregrines were also encountered, which segues nicely to the shorebirds (falcons are notoriously good at flushing shorebirds). The highlight was the Long-billed Dowitcher total of 3,217 individuals. An IBA trigger. This is fascinating. In ISS 1, we had a near trigger for this species, among several thousand dowitchers, but in ISS 2, dowitchers were almost absent. Therefore, large numbers of Long-billed Dowitchers migrated to Whitewater in July, moved on, and were replaced by large numbers in September. Dynamic populations or what! Of the other 21 species of shorebird, they counted a single Red Knot, 407 American Golden Plover, 562 Pectoral Sandpiper (a near trigger), and 542 Greater Yellowlegs.

Long-billed Dowitcher_0705_flock_Artuso

Distant Long-billed Dowitcher flock. Copyright Christian Artuso

Here is the total birds for the day, with a column for those recorded on the ISS transect, and a column for the total Whitewater Lake birds.

ISS Transects Total for Day
Snow Goose 1,170 1,795
Greater White-fronted Goose 0 1
Cackling Goose 0 19
Canada Goose 654 2,679
Wood Duck 2 2
Blue-winged Teal 801 923
Northern Shoveler 365 450
Gadwall 265 572
American Wigeon 276 284
Mallard 1,591 2,456
Northern Pintail 4,043 4,046
Green-winged Teal 2,310 2,422
Canvasback 6 258
Redhead 12 222
Lesser Scaup 4 22
Bufflehead 4 13
Common Goldeneye 0 3
Hooded Merganser 2 2
Ruddy Duck 21 105
Pied-billed Grebe 3 7
Eared Grebe 9 11
Western Grebe 124 167
Rock Pigeon 9 9
Mourning Dove 12 42
American Coot 602 631
Sandhill Crane 338 629
American Avocet 16 16
Black-bellied Plover 10 10
American Golden-Plover 36 407
Semipalmated Plover 38 107
Killdeer 22 53
Marbled Godwit 2 2
Red Knot 1 1
Stilt Sandpiper 360 413
Sanderling 6 6
Baird’s Sandpiper 48 48
Least Sandpiper 191 256
Buff-breasted Sandpiper 1 1
Pectoral Sandpiper 62 562
Semipalmated Sandpiper 205 225
peep sp. 740 940
Long-billed Dowitcher 2,460 3,217
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher 34 1,134
Wilson’s Snipe 4 15
Red-necked Phalarope 1 1
Solitary Sandpiper 1 1
Greater Yellowlegs 499 542
Lesser Yellowlegs 46 46
Bonaparte’s Gull 0 5
Franklin’s Gull 917 1,046
Ring-billed Gull 424 623
Forster’s Tern 0 8
Double-crested Cormorant 6 106
American White Pelican 72 90
Great Blue Heron 2 9
Great Egret 10 18
Black-crowned Night-Heron 8 8
White-faced Ibis 60 102
Turkey Vulture 1 1
Northern Harrier 12 22
Cooper’s Hawk 1 2
Bald Eagle 9 29
Swainson’s Hawk 0 2
Red-tailed Hawk 6 14
Hairy Woodpecker 0 1
Northern Flicker 1 4
American Kestrel 0 1
Merlin 1 2
Peregrine Falcon 2 2
Prairie Falcon 0 2
Blue Jay 0 1
Black-billed Magpie 4 1
American Crow 0 8
Common Raven 2 6
Horned Lark 1 2
Bank Swallow 59 59
Barn Swallow 23 79
Sedge Wren 3 4
Marsh Wren 6 9
American Robin 2 10
American Pipit 7 21
American Goldfinch 2 4
Lapland Longspur 0 10
Clay-colored Sparrow 0 1
Vesper Sparrow 1 2
LeConte’s Sparrow 0 2
Savannah Sparrow 23 114
Song Sparrow 6 11
Swamp Sparrow 7 7
Yellow-headed Blackbird 128 200
Western Meadowlark 4 10
Red-winged Blackbird 1,400 8,960
Rusty Blackbird 0 4
Brewer’s Blackbird 101 126
Common Grackle 43 333
blackbird sp. 0 1,000
Common Yellowthroat 1 1
Palm Warbler 0 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 4
American Golden-Plover_0695_fall flock in stubble_Artuso

Spot the American Golden Plover. Copyright Christian Artuso

On September 18th, Ward Christianson and Linda Boys headed to Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA. The totals here were nothing like Whitewater Lake, with only 7 species of shorebird being encountered. Numbers of American Coot, Green-winged Teal, and other dabbling ducks were beginning to build up impressively as well. There were also good numbers of Franklin’s Gulls, and Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans were noticeably beginning to appear in the area. Long-billed Dowitcher were the most abundant shorebird, followed by Pectoral Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs.


American Avocet in fall plumage at Oak Lake. Copyright Linda Boys

As the totals of non-shorebirds have not been added to eBird yet, we only include the shorebird totals below.

American Avocet 7
Killdeer 12
Stilt Sandpiper 11
Pectoral Sandpiper 32
Long-billed Dowitcher 39
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher 1
Greater Yellowlegs 30
Lesser Yellowlegs 23

Photos above – another type of wading bird, the wonderful Great Egret. Copyright Linda Boys

Thanks Ward, Linda, Gillian, Josiah, Ed and Christian for all your excellent efforts this week!

For more information on ISS, and previous reports, please see:

Maps, basic instructions and Oak Lake and Whitewater Lake first trip reports
Shorebird Workshop Report – Day 1
Shorebird Workshop Report – Day 2
Whitewater Lake Second Trip Report
Story on NCC website
Story on Manomet website

A Feature on Proven Lake IBA

Tucked in the shadow of Riding Mountain National Park, Proven Lake is the type of place which you might drive past on the road to and from the Park. But take a look, and you might find an interesting place, of Yellow Rails, Le Conte’s Sparrows, Bobolinks, and Alder Flycatchers. Beavers can be spotted here, and even the occasional River Otter. Proven Lake gives you an opportunity to find great birds from spring to fall, and even into winter.

It is fall and maybe not the best time to find some of the treasures named above, but then again, fall is often the time to get up early, visit wetlands, and watch (and count) the extraordinary numbers of waterfowl departing in search of a good meal. Others have commented that Proven Lake shelters hundreds, nee thousands, of waterfowl in fall, and we would encourage anyone staying in that area to get out, and take a look.

Manitoba Sustainable Development have in fact built a trail on Proven Lake. It is little used, and likely to be a bit overgrown, but in mid-summer, apart from the ticks, it provided a great birding walk.

Below, we share maps, and a bit of information about this little known IBA.

Proven Lake is reached by driving north on Highway 10 from Brandon. Turn to the west when Highway 10 meets number 45, and you are almost there! Rather than turn onto the 45 itself, immediately take the gravel road to the north, and head along here. The lake is to the north.

Proven Lake Location

Soon the lake appears. You can see a possible Franklin’s Gull colony on the lake in this area. Of interst to most birders, the habitat here for Yellow Rail looks superb!

Proven Lake Road Map


Sedge meadows beloved of Yellow Rail and Le Conte’s Sparrow, among others.

Continuing to head west, you come to the trail. This can be accessed on a road heading north, and you will be able to recognise it as it’s well signposted (see below).


Pull into the parking lot, and you face an information sign with an image of the IBA-designate bird, the Black-crowned Night Heron. The original designation pertained to a huge colony of over 300 nests, counted in 1966. In 1995, there were still 200 nests. This represented around 4% of the estimated Canadian population of this species.


The information sign on the way into the trail. Copyright Tim Poole

Proven Lake Trail Map

Close up of the trail track taken form a GPS.

Setting out along the trail, you come across a variety of habitats: broadleaf woodland; agricultural land, notably hay meadows; spruce bog and; wetlands including cattail marshes, sedge meadows and open water.

The hay meadows host Bobolinks, Brown Thrasher, and other generalist open ground bird species. These drop into sedge meadows closer to the lake, and this area was notable for its Yellow Rails during the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas. Le Conte’s Sparrow are also found here. The lake has hosted large colonies of Franklin’s Gull in the past, at least 800 nests (a modest 100 individuals were noted in summer 2018). Eared Grebe has bred here in significant numbers as well. Being so close to the National Park, a number of warblers can be spotted in migration, as well as some of the typical aspen parkland breeding species, such as Black-billed Cuckoo and Least Flycatcher. Areas of willow scrub, and dead conifer trees are ideal for flycatchers, Alder’s certainly breed here. The cattail marshes also host American Bitterns, and hide breeding dabbling ducks.


A female Northern Shoveler, just one of the species of duck using Proven Lake. Copyright Tim Poole


The varied habitat along the trail provides habitat for a host of species. Beaver lodges are noticeable along the channels, and muskrats are present in the cattails. The diverse habitats are also great for invertebrates (although in spring and summer, watch for ticks). Please though be Bear Smart – this is after all in the shadow of Riding Mountain, and this area is very much known for its bears.


Muskrat in the lake. Copyright Tim Poole


Canadian Swallowtail Butterfly, a species present along the woodland edge in late spring and early summer. Copyright Tim Poole

Monitoring Priorities

Although all the above were taken in June, there is a need to do more monitoring at Proven Lake. Many visiting birders drive straight by it, heading into the boreal treasure trove that is Riding Mountain National Park, and in a way, who could blame them! BUT, Proven Lake is certainly worth a look, and the area here is very much under-birded. You will find species such as Great Gray Owl in the conifer trees along the trail, and it is an ideal spot for the elusive Yellow Rail, so why not stop here next time you come by? In terms of fall priorities, if you are visiting the area, why not take an early morning trip to one of the points on the map below, and count the waterfowl as they leave the shelter of the lake and marshes, and go to feed for the day in the surrounding grain fields? If you are really adventurous, why not try to get a group of people out, and try to count from more than one spot? You might be surprised at the numbers you find!

Proven Lake Waterfowl counting


Impressive Gull Totals During a Hawk Watch at MB001 Delta Marsh IBA

Garry Budyk, John Weier and John Hays have been committed volunteers, not just for the IBA Program, but also for many of Manitoba’s avian monitoring programs, including the Breeding Bird Atlas, Chimney Swift Initiative and Breeding Bird Surveys. A recent trip by all three to Delta Marsh has given us an excellent opportunity to highlight their amazing contributions to the Manitoba IBA Program, through good old fashioned bird monitoring, and the confirmation of an IBA trigger at one of Manitoba’s most well-known IBAs.

On Saturday September 8th, the three amigos made their way to Delta Marsh to count hawks, part of the annual Nature Manitoba Fall Hawk Watch. During the day of birding, they managed to encounter some high numbers of birds. Most impressively was a total of Franklin’s Gulls of 10,500. An IBA trigger, being more than 1% of the global breeding population of this species! This was almost half the total birds encountered, with there also being 7,120 Ring-billed Gulls. The vast majority of these birds were on open flats at Lynch’s Point in the northwest corner of the IBA. They also found two Red Knot, an excellent species to find in southern Manitoba at this time of year.


Thousands of birds gathering at Lynch’s Point, dominated by Franklin’s Gulls. Copyright Garry Budyk


More gulls! Copyright Garry Budyk


Even more gulls! Copyright Garry Budyk


Pelicans and other waterbirds were also counted at Delta during the annual Hawk Watch. Copyright Garry Budyk

Here are the total birds for the day, within the IBA of course (the guys also have other lists outside the IBA).

Snow Goose 26
Canada Goose 2,570
Blue-winged Teal 160
Northern Shoveler 6
Gadwall 6
American Wigeon 3
Mallard 202
Northern Pintail 2
Green-winged Teal 17
Bufflehead 1
Hooded Merganser 2
Ruddy Duck 1
Sharp-tailed Grouse 8
Pied-billed Grebe 7
Horned Grebe 1
Western Grebe 4
Rock Pigeon 6
Mourning Dove 19
Sandhill Crane 145
Black-bellied Plover 1
Semipalmated Plover 4
Marbled Godwit 6
Red Knot 2
Sanderling 20
Baird’s Sandpiper 3
Least Sandpiper 5
Pectoral Sandpiper 5
Semipalmated Sandpiper 22
Spotted Sandpiper 3
Greater Yellowlegs 2
Lesser Yellowlegs 17
Bonaparte’s Gull 42
Franklin’s Gull 10,500
Ring-billed Gull 7,120
California Gull 1
Herring Gull 2
Common Tern 3
Forster’s Tern 44
Double-crested Cormorant 13
American White Pelican 80
Great Blue Heron 4
Great Egret 2
Osprey 1
Northern Harrier 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 1
Red-tailed Hawk 8
Belted Kingfisher 2
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 8
Merlin 3
Peregrine Falcon 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Blue Jay 2
Common Raven 3
Horned Lark 2
Barn Swallow 36
Black-capped Chickadee 4
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Marsh Wren 3
American Robin 2
European Starling 61
American Goldfinch 12
Clay-colored Sparrow 1
Vesper Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 2
Yellow-headed Blackbird 5
Red-winged Blackbird 324
Rusty Blackbird 12
Brewer’s Blackbird 100
Common Grackle 6
blackbird sp. 100
American Redstart 1
Magnolia Warbler 1
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1

A Summary of Summer IBA Magic

2018 was an eventful summer for the Manitoba IBA program, which had a full itinerary of events which included numerous bird-blitz at different IBAs, workshops, community outreach events, habitat restoration, and attendance at summer fairs. This summer’s success was driven by a huge turnout of volunteers who dedicated their time (and gas money!) to helping monitor bird diversity and abundance across the province. It is obvious that the Manitoba IBA program is growing, and we wish to thank our generous financial donors and everyone who participated in events this summer. We are already looking forward to spring of 2019!

To really appreciate how much was accomplished this year, we have put together a detailed timeline of our events below:

May 5thWe headed out to Sandy Bay IBA near Langruth to engage the local community in bird watching and monitoring. We were expecting to find high counts of Western Grebes along the shoreline, but a late spring and ice cover foiled our expectations.

Read more here.

Sandy Bay IBA Blitz-Langruth-Manitoba-000-LARGE-Lynnea A Parker2-1080645

Grebewatch attendees. Copyright Lynnea Parker

May 6thKicking off events early, the IBA program brought a multitude of volunteers out to North, West, and East Shoal Lakes IBA to survey for Western Grebes and other waterbirds. It was a brisk morning with ice still on the lake, but that didn’t stop anyone from counting a total of 766 Western Grebes!

Read more here

May 12thWe joined Oak Hammock Marsh in celebrating International Migratory Bird Day. Morning events took place at Oak Hammock Marsh with presentations by Christian Artuso and bird walk hosted by Tim, Lynnea, Paula, and Christian.


Read more here

May 23rd and 24thNature Conservancy of Canada, Manomet Shorebird Recovery Program, and the Manitoba IBA program organized and hosted an International Shorebird workshop in southwestern Manitoba. It was a fantastic workshop which laid down the groundwork for initiating ISS surveys here in Manitoba. Never heard of ISS before? Read about it here for more details.

Read more here

June – IBA intern Lynnea Parker accounts her adventures in the southwest surveying for grassland birds and species at risk. These survey efforts were apart of the SARPAL program, which is now in its second year.

Read more here

June 3rdThe breeding season kicked off with an Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA Blitz. The day was full of great sighting and high counts of birds. Some noteworthy mentions include Cattle Egret, Upland Sandpiper, Red-headed Woodpecker, Loggerhead Shrike, Mountain Bluebird, Sprague’s Pipit, and Chestnut-collared Longspur. Read all about this successful start to the summer.

Read more here

3 LOSH Pipestone June 3 2018 P1320559

Loggerhead Shrike near Oak Lake. Copyright Katharine Schulz

June 9thThe program joined forces with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to look for species at risk on their properties near East Shoal Lake.

July 11thManitoba’s brand new Clear Your Gear program was supported by the Manitoba IBA program. We hosted a shoreline cleanup event at St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park. Volunteers and event coordinators were equally surprised by the sheer quantity of commercial gill nets which were removed from 3km of shoreline (blog post Read more here

Shoreline cleanup-Lake Manitoba-MB-000-LARGE-CROP-SMALL-Lynnea A Parker-1110625

That is a lot of junk! Copyright Lynnea Parker

July 15thThe IBA program hosted its first ever species-specific blitz, which was for Red-headed Woodpeckers. This event took place at the Kinosota-Leifur IBA which great success. 51 individuals were found, and 34 breeding pairs were confirmed.

Read more here

July 26thChristian, Rebekah, Josh, and Ward conducted the first ever official International Shorebird Survey (ISS) in Manitoba at Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA! The survey revealed how important water levels are for shorebird habitat. Only 12 species of shorebirds were detected, with Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, and Wilson’s Phalarope the most abundant.

Read more here

July 29thChristian, Colin, Gillian, and Tim conducted the first ever Whitewater Lake ISS survey. 21 species of shorebirds were detected. Special highlights included 1,440 Long-billed Dowitcher and 418 American Avocet. Continue reading about this great kickoff to the fall ISS season.

Read more here

Long-billed Dowitcher_3069_mixed flock_Artuso

Shorebirds flocks. Copyright Christian Artuso

August 12thThe Delta Marsh IBA Blitz took place bright and early to beat the heat with a daytime high of 36 degrees Celsius. 5 groups covered the entire IBA area finding a total of 156 species and 19 shorebird species. Although a whopping 19,564 individual birds were counted, shorebirds were few and far between. The Least Sandpiper with 388 individuals was the most abundant shorebird species. Checkout what happened at Delta Marsh.

Read more here

August 15th and 16th – Tim Poole flew to Gillam in northern Manitoba to introduce the IBA program to Fox Lake Cree Nation. The IBA program is excited to have the opportunity to work with the Fox Lake Cree Nation in establishing a monitoring program for the remote Nelson River Estuary and Marshy Point IBA.

August 16thThe annual Weed Pull for Plovers event took place with Joanne Smith (Sandy Bar IBA Caretaker). 24 volunteers turned out for this event and significant progress was made restoring habitat for shorebirds and waterbirds.

Read more here

August 22ndTim and Lynnea conducted the 2nd fall season International Shorebird Survey (ISS) at Whitewater Lake. While most of the areas surveyed had low counts of shorebird, one particular spot along the route was a sight to behold – 6,000 to 8,000 thousand shorebirds of different species were found flocking together!

Read more here

August 26th 20 volunteers comprising 6 groups surveyed North, West and East Shoal Lakes IBA and surrounding areas. Although bird activity was in its seasonal decline, this IBA did not disappoint with 152 species and 7,868 individuals! 25 Red-headed Woodpeckers were found and 15 different species of shorebirds.

Read more here.

With so many events already concluded, let’s not forget about these upcoming opportunities to engage with bird conservation before the 2018 season ends.

September 21 – Riverton Sandy Bar Weed Pull Event (ROUND 2)

Please join the IBA program one more time this year to improve shorebird and waterbird habitat at the Sandy Bar IBA. Drinks and snacks will be provided at 8:30am and the group will depart for the sand bar with weed-whacking supplies at 9:00am. Expected end time is 12:30pm.

October 14 –Swans and Cranes… Oh My!

Oh my indeed! Come join us in southwestern Manitoba to help find, count, and record the anticipated arrival of hundreds (if not thousands!) of swans, geese, ducks, and cranes. The large gatherings of these congregational birds is a sight to behold every fall in Manitoba. We will need all the help we can get.

If you don’t believe us, check out this blog post: Blast from the past: Historical observations and fall birding in southern Manitoba (check it out here).