First IBA Blitz of the Season – Report from North, West and East Shoal Lakes on May 4th

Manitoba IBA Program Coordinator, Tim Poole provide a report on the opening blitz of 2019. The blitz occurred at the North, West and East Shoal Lakes IBA.

Shoal Lakes is an IBA which always delivers impressive numbers of birds. On a personal level it provides memories of seeing numerous lifers after moving to Canada in 2014, including American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Marbled Godwit and Sandhill Crane. The attraction of this IBA lies in the combination of mixed habitat and land-use. One would expect to find birds on the open lake, but the mix of wetlands, aspen parkland and grassland provides ample opportunity to find a good total number of species.


Can you find where the Lesser Yellowlegs is standing? These shallow wetlands just north of West Shoal Lake will soon provide ideal stopover habitat for shorebirds. Copyright Tim Poole

We decided to go with May 4th for our blitz this time. This was all part of a cunning plan to join up with Nature Manitoba, who were organising a birding trip to West Shoal Lake and Delta Marsh. They would therefore cover a good portion of West Shoal Lake during teh blitz. We decided this approach would be advantageous, introducing more people to the IBA Program, and helping to fit an event in during the hectic month of May. Garry Budyk, the Nature Manitoba trip leader was as ever, only too happy to contribute.

So we had four groups, Nature Manitoba at West Shoal Lake, Group 1 in the north, Group 2 in the east, and Group 3 (not 4 as in the map below) in the west.

May 2019 Shoal Lakes IBA blitz - Overview of all groups.jpg

Nature Manitoba, led ably by Garry, was a sprawling mass of 18 people. Participants, in no specific order, were Garry, Rudolf, John, Gene, Frank, Jacquie, Annie, Mike, Tami, Ward, Marlene, James, Rob, Lori-Anne, Betsy, Jo, Cathy and Al. Anyone familiar with Manitoba birding will know that there is some serious birding experience in that trip! In total they observed 59 species, including 95 Tundra Swans and 2 Trumpeter’s. They also had the sole Short-billed Dowitcher of the day. Two Northern Waterthrush were probably the passerine highlight.

TRSW Joanne Smith.jpg

The impressive Trumpeter Swans were spotted in a few places in the IBA. Copyright Joanne Smith

Group 1, our northern team consisted of Bonnie, Joanne, Matt and Lynnea. I am sure Bonnie drove them to find every bird possible, as is her way! In total they found 67 species. Shorebird numbers were on the low side here, as with all groups. I suspect we are still a wee bit early for seeing large concentrations of these birds. A pair of Willet were the shorebird highlight for this group.

Willets, copyright Joanne Smith

They did come across this rather impressive tree of Tree Swallows.

TRES Joanne Smith

Tree Swallows gathering. Copyright Joanne Smith

A lone Snow Bunting was possibly the more unusual bird of their morning.

Group 2 covering the east of the IBA were pretty blown out when we saw them at lunchtime, a strong wind gusted from west to east across the lake, making viewing difficult. The team of Lewis, Donna, Ian and Chris located that largest groups of swans for the day, 175 Tundra in total. They also picked out a sole, lonesome Greater White-fronted Goose within a flock of swans.


Tundra Swans with a lone Greater White-fronted Goose. There appeared to be more ice in the east than elsewhere. Copyright Donna Danyluk

Their section also covered large areas of aspen parkland, which uncovered hidden gems, including Yellow Warbler and a Black and White Warbler. Another highlight were four Marbled Godwits – this gorgeous shorebird is always a highlight when you come across it! In toal, this group found 59 species. Special mention to Ian for being the hardy soul trying to locate birds bobbing up and down int he waves on East Shoal Lake as the wind blasted him in the face.

I was fortunate to be joined by two first time blitzers in group 3. It was great to finally bird with Gary, who also took on the important role of team scribe. Jon was also new for our events and demonstrated his enthusiasm and skill throughout the morning. We took on the newly repaired PR415, and what a lovely road it was, far better than any other gravel road in the area in fact! For those unfamilar with this area, PR415 cuts through the centre of the IBA, splitting North Shoal Lake from West and East Shoal Lake. In around 2012, the road was completely underwater as the three component parts of the IBA effectively became Shoal Lake. In 2015, we did our first blitz here, and Christian walked it (see the report and some photos of the road here). Much of this road was effectively wetland. By August 2018, it was clear that with a few repairs, the road could be driven, and over the winter, the province did just that, grading the new road. One road allowance was especially fun…


Quality road allowance on the north of West Shoal Lake. Copyright Tim Poole

As for birds, we detected 68 species. We had excellent views of Western Grebe along PR415, 63 in total. I was lucky enough to see the ‘walk on water’ courtship dance. We had Horned, Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebe as well, all along the 415.

RNGR Joanne Smith

Red-necked Grebe. Copyright Joanne Smith

There was also a colony of Franklin’s Gull in this area, with over 200 birds counted at one stage. American White Pelicans were present and seem to be gathering to breed somewhere around West Shoal Lake. There were numerous diving ducks, including both species of scaup sheltering in bays. We also had good views of Orange-crowned Warbler and managed a pretty impressive 4 thrush species, all in aspen parkland in the Harperville area.

SWTH Joanne Smith

Swainson’s Thrush, copyright Joanne Smith

Given the blustery conditions, we had a pretty successful day out, and the three non-nature Manitoba groups met to recuperate at our regular lunch spot, Rosie’s in Inwood. One of the interesting contrasts was the notable lack of lake ice. Compared to 2018, the ice has really shifted. This changed the dynamic of the count. Often the ice melting outwards from the shore can leave pockets of open water, and very . Without this, it meant that the birds were likely scattered over a much wider area, leading to lower counts than 2018.

MERL Joanne Smith

Merlin. Copyright Joanne Smith

In total we counted over 4000 birds and 100 species were noted. Although there were no IBA triggers, we did find good numbers of Tundra Swan (286), Lesser Scapu (207), Lesser Yellowlegs (104), Double-crested Cormorant (228), American White Pelican (192) and Yellow-rumped Warbler (101).


Lesser Yellowlegs, our most abundant shorebird during the blitz. Copyright Tim Poole

Here are the final day totals:

Number of Species 100
Number of Individuals 4,911
Species Name Species Count
Greater White-fronted Goose 1
Canada Goose 225
Trumpeter Swan 4
Tundra Swan 286
Wood Duck 4
Blue-winged Teal 260
Northern Shoveler 123
Gadwall 81
American Wigeon 44
Mallard 249
Northern Pintail 18
Green-winged Teal 79
Canvasback 77
Redhead 98
Ring-necked Duck 137
Greater Scaup 116
Lesser Scaup 207
Greater/Lesser Scaup 6
Bufflehead 20
Common Goldeneye 44
Hooded Merganser 13
Common Merganser 15
Red-breasted Merganser 5
Ruddy Duck 10
duck sp. 49
Pied-billed Grebe 5
Horned Grebe 9
Red-necked Grebe 14
Western Grebe 63
Mourning Dove 3
American Coot 25
Sandhill Crane 14
American Avocet 8
Killdeer 13
Marbled Godwit 6
Short-billed Dowitcher 1
Wilson’s Snipe 5
Solitary Sandpiper 3
Greater Yellowlegs 6
Willet 11
Lesser Yellowlegs 104
Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs 14
Bonaparte’s Gull 12
Franklin’s Gull 259
Ring-billed Gull 182
Herring Gull 1
gull sp. 30
Caspian Tern 6
Common Tern 5
Forster’s Tern 84
tern sp. 29
Common Loon 3
Double-crested Cormorant 228
American White Pelican 192
Great Blue Heron 7
Great Egret 4
Northern Harrier 15
Bald Eagle 11
Red-tailed Hawk 10
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3
Northern Flicker 6
American Kestrel 4
Merlin 3
Peregrine Falcon 1
Eastern Phoebe 7
Blue Jay 2
Black-billed Magpie 15
American Crow 19
Common Raven 20
Tree Swallow 50
Barn Swallow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Marsh Wren 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Veery 1
Gray-cheeked Thrush 1
Swainson’s Thrush 2
Hermit Thrush 2
American Robin 21
European Starling 9
Snow Bunting 1
Chipping Sparrow 4
American Tree Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 4
White-crowned Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 8
Savannah Sparrow 18
Song Sparrow 62
Swamp Sparrow 3
Yellow-headed Blackbird 22
Western Meadowlark 22
Red-winged Blackbird 405
Brewer’s Blackbird 55
Common Grackle 60
blackbird sp. 402
Northern Waterthrush 2
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 12
Yellow Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 101

Thank you to everyone who attended this blitz. We will be looking to do a second blitz of the year in late May or early June, so please keep an eye out for information.

And for those still reading, here is the Lesser Yellowlegs from the first photo.


For those interested, here are the group eBird checklists.

Nature Manitoba

Group 1

Group 2 – A

Group 2 – B

Group 2 – C

Group 2 – D

Group 3 – A

Group 3 – B