Volunteer, Katharine Schulz braved the wintery, blustery weather to visit the Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA on October 15th. This was a day after our crane and swan blitz in the area, which we were sadly forced to cancel due to the filthy weather forecast for the day. Gladly, Katharine took the trip a day later, and one other person really braved it on the actual intended day of the blitz. We will profile a third group trip next week. Here is Katharine’s impressions, photos, and map.
I am attaching my GPS track from my October 15th foray into the Oak Lake-Plum Lakes IBA. I was in the IBA from approximately 9:50 to 4:20 i.e. 6.5 hours and spent the entire time north of #2 Hwy. The majority of time was spent on the west side of Oak Lake and then I covered a few spots along the 254 up the east side on my way out.
I didn’t manage to take very many good bird photos, but I did have better birding success further south on the west side, and also at a few spots along the 254. It was a cold, cloudy and windy morning, having been -9C the previous night (in Brandon.)
The first interesting thing I encountered was a number of apparent piles of snow on a frozen marsh – this turned out to be 31 Tundra Swans, most with their necks tucked in and many of which actually appeared almost frozen into the ice! Two were juveniles. When I passed by again later that afternoon, on the way out of the IBA, about 24 were still there, but the now had a bit more room to swim as the day had turned sunny and reached a high of +11, according to the vehicle thermometer.
All in all, it was a good day for Tundra Swans. A total of 652 were counted at 5 locations plus one flyover group. The highest numbers were found on larger waterbodies along the 254, one on the south side just west of Oak Lake resort and one on the east side just north of the Oak Lake resort. These locations also contained numerous ducks, with the latter including at least 125 (likely many more) Northern Shovelers.
Numerous ducks, mostly unidentified, were encountered throughout the day, in addition to the above. Many were in flocks in flight. The highest concentration was found on the west side of Oak Lake upon driving in to the lakeshore along the diversion. This drive also offered up 2 adult Bald Eagles, a few songbirds and 6 Greater Yellowlegs foraging on a sandbar, along with a few more Tundra Swans on the lake. A forlorn Yellow-rumped Warbler was also observed attempting to forage on the completely frozen surface of the diversion.
While at the lakeshore, Sandhill Cranes were finally heard and then seen in huge flocks in the air to the south-southwest. I estimated approximately 2,250 in the air, possibly more, and hoped that I might find them when I drove back out to the 150W and then further south and east.
Unfortunately, I only encountered a small flock of 12 flying west at the 150W and 44N, and then 34 in a field off the 149W at 43N. Interestingly, this was about a mile north of the spot you had indicated for SACR found last year, so they seem to favour that general area.) Small flocks kept flying overhead, mostly from east to west-southwest, so I attempted to drive further east on the 43N, hoping to get closer to where the huge flocks had appeared to be flying when viewed earlier from the lakeshore. Unfortunately, about 350 more were observed in the air further east, but no more were found on the ground and the road became too dicey to go any further about 2.5 miles east from the 149W. Altogether, I believe I had approximately 2,726 Sandhill Cranes after counting small flocks overhead and estimating the large, more distant flocks in the air, but I expect this is an underestimate.
A decent number of raptors, mostly Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier were encountered throughout the day, but surprisingly few gulls or blackbird flocks. Oh yes, and I had nice looks at 2 coyotes (and one white cat that I initially mistook for a rabbit – good thing I wasn’t doing a mammal survey!)
Thanks Katharine for your excellent report, and great photos. Here is the list submitted by Katharine (which can be viewed on eBird).