Shoal Lakes Area IBA – Red-Headed Woodpecker Blitz

We recently spent the morning with volunteers searching for Red-Headed Woodpeckers in the North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA. Kelsey Bell, our Summer Assistant, recaps the day.

Rain, rain and more rain! That was how the day started out the morning of July 14th, 2019, when volunteers from Winnipeg, Gimli and beyond were getting ready to head to North, West and East Shoal Lakes IBA (Woodlands, MB) in search of Red-Headed Woodpeckers. Despite the turbulent start to the morning, 15 dedicated volunteers still made the trek to their sites in the hopes of detecting these iconic species.

Red-Headed Woodpeckers are listed as a Threatened species in Manitoba as well as across the nation.  The presence of Red-Headed Woodpeckers is strongly associated with grazed woodlots containing standing snags and dead limbs, in areas such as treed cattle yards. The habitat surrounding the lakes within the Shoal Lakes IBA area is mostly made up of mixed aspen woodlots and cattle pasture, making it ideal for Red-Headed Woodpeckers.


Treed cattle pasture being used by Red-Headed Woodpeckers near North, East and West Shoals Lakes IBA (can you spot the RHWO?), copyright Kelsey Bell.


As the thunderstorm and rain subsided for the day, we were treated to a flurry of bird activity. It was hard to drive more than 200m without having to stop to record a whole new list of species. My group took care of the areas to the South and Southwest end of the lakes for the morning survey. Following lunch, we slowly birded our way back to Winnipeg along the East side of the lakes. The diversity in the area was incredible! By the end of the day, we had a total of 80 species. Great Egrets were present in high numbers, there seemed to be a group of them around every corner. A Black-Crowned Night Heron and two American Bitterns were seen flying over, as well as numerous American White Pelican’s. Closer to the shores of the lake we detected Sedge Wrens, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow and of course a ton of Red-Winged Blackbirds. It was a pleasant sight when we spotted large numbers of Western Grebe’s through the scope, many with babies on their backs.


One of the many groups of Great Egrets seen at North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA, copyright Kelsey Bell.

At the end of it all, we had a total of 5 species of woodpecker for the day, including, of course, Red-Headed Woodpeckers. Every group detected at least one-pair of Red-Headed Woodpeckers, for a total of at least 23 individuals, likely a few more.


Red-Headed Woodpecker with food at North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA, copyright Kelsey Bell.

Despite the delayed start due to poor weather conditions, it was a very successful day! Thank you to everyone who got up at the crack of dawn to brave the weather and make the trip! Each observation is helping contribute to the identification of critical habitat for Red-Headed Woodpeckers in Manitoba.