Volunteer Trip Report by Glennis Lewis – A Swan Song For October Birding at the Oak Lake/Plum Lakes IBA

On Thursday, October 18, Louanne Reid, Gillian Richards and I (Glennis Lewis) set out from Brandon to look for swans at the Oak Lake/Plum Lakes IBA. After several weeks of nasty weather (and a cancelled IBA blitz), it was a great pleasure to hit the road on a gorgeous calm morning with the anticipation of some excellent birding ahead of us.

We entered the IBA at the town of Oak Lake, and quickly spotted 12 Eastern Bluebirds near the town cemetery. Our next big find was a Great Egret, picture perfect on the water’s edge at the intersection of PR 254 and 50 N. And, while some slush ice lingered along the banks of the lake, there was open water on the lake and marshes with many waterfowl dispersed throughout. We found 910 Tundra Swans and 870 Snow Geese on our route north and east of the resort, and along the road to the dam.

SNGO Oak Lake Gillian Richards

Is that flecks of snow around this lovely blue morph Snow Goose. Copyright Gillian Richards


18 American Avocets in their pale nonbreeding plumage were counted north of the lake. We flushed up 3 Snow Buntings along the dam road while 2 Eared Grebes were spotted just west of the dam.


The American Avocets at Oak Lake were still hanging around later in October. Photos all copyright Gillian Richards.

By mid afternoon, the temperature soared to about 22 degrees and the wind picked up, causing fluffy white cattail seeds to explode over the marshes. It is a unique experience being caught in the middle of a cattail blizzard. But, as annoying as it is to have white fluff get in your eyes and up your nose, you have to marvel at the effectiveness of cattail seed production and dispersal.

At the end of the day, we were well content with our bird counts – 46 species, 3,213 individuals (see the list below and on eBird here, here and here). Thanks to Gillian for posting the counts on eBird. Louanne and Gillian also deserve great credit for pulling out branches and weeds that became tangled underneath my car on one of the rougher roads we traveled – an effort much appreciated!

Dowitcher Oak Lake Gillian Richards

Dowitchers doing their distinct pumping feeding action. Copyright Gillian Richards

On Sunday, October 21, I returned to Oak Lake with Jen and Anna Wasko to enjoy another lovely day of birding. We traveled around the north and east side of the lake, and down the dam road observing Tundra Swans. We also took a short walk into the Routledge Sandhills. The Sandhills are always worth a visit and, while they are on private land, there are a few points of public access. A right-of-way into the hills just west of the intersection of PR 254 and 50 N can be easily walked to get a view of one of the largest hills (now sadly much diminished by damage from off road vehicles).

TUSW Oak Lake Gillian Richards

Tundra Swans really do gather here in vast numbers. Photo copyright Gillian Richards

Happily, the Great Egret was still around for viewing, and we counted 6 Snow Buntings along the dam road. Another highlight of the trip was a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets cavorting about in the oak trees along the road to Jiggins Bluff. Thanks to Jen for driving and to Anna who carefully counted all those Tundra Swans (384 in total).

GREG Oak Lake Gillian Richards

The lingering Great Egret at Oak Lake. Photo copyright Gillian Richards

Both of these field trips to the Oak Lake /Plum Lakes IBA are fondly remembered now that winter is taking hold. And, come next spring, there will be more birding trips to plan in this exceptional IBA with its many diverse habitats of marshes, wet meadows, dry grasslands, deciduous forests, and sandhills.

Species Name 18-Oct
Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) 870
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 79
Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus) 910
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) 91
American Wigeon (Mareca americana) 8
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 159
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) 12
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) 20
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) 100
Redhead (Aythya americana) 70
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) 37
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) 250
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) 8
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) 40
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) 5
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) 70
duck sp. (Anatinae sp.) 340
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) 2
American Coot (Fulica americana) 1
Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis) 1
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) 18
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus/scolopaceus) 4
Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) 1
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) 4
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) 4
Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) 1
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 1
Great Egret (Ardea alba) 1
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) 2
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) 2
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 1
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) 6
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 5
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 5
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) 12
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 3
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 30
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 6
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 2
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) 3
American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) 3
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 3
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 4
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) 12
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

On behalf of the Manitoba IBA Program, thank you Glennis for writing this excellent piece. Thanks also to the rest of the bird group, Louanne, Gillian, Jen and Anna. It is fantastic to have such a great core of birders in Westman!