The Shorebird Blitz at Whitewater Lake, September 1st 2019

On September 1st, the Manitoba IBA Program organised a blitz at the Whitewater Lake IBA. The intention was to count shorebirds, including the International Shorebird Survey (ISS) transect routes. Bonnie Chartier, one of our IBA Steering Committee members in Manitoba led the trip. Tim Poole, (still) the Manitoba IBA Coordinator gives a summary of proceedings.

Alas I was unable to get out for the Whitewater Lake IBA Blitz and it sounds as though I missed a good one! We had to postpone from the previous weekend due to some appalling weather. Seriously, there seemed to be a magnet for poor weather to overlap with IBA events in 2019. We have never had so many issues with weather before! Although it was a long weekend, 12 willing volunteers were able to get out and count the great birds of this IBA.

Each group was asked to cover an area, and two groups were asked to include ISS routes and enter these under the ISS Protocol on eBird, with the Manitoba IBA Program switching  all checklists into IBA Protocol. This eBird malarkey gets complicated! We had four groups with some excellent birders coming forward to help out during the morning.

Whitewater Lake - August 2019 IBA Blitz Boundaries.jpg

Our summary of the day begins with Group A, the western group, covering the western ISS route and the parts of the IBA around Deloraine. Gillian, Erica and Jane were our team here.

WWL-West Route Map

This area has previously been teeming with birds. However seven species of duck demonstrates that maybe times are a changing at Whitewater. The most abundant duck was Blue-winged Teal (102 individuals). Indeed, long-legged waders seem in short supply, especially when compared to previous years. I would have fallen over backwards during one of our 2017 blitzes if someone were to tell me there would only be three White-faced Ibis, a Great Egret and not a single Cattle Egret in this area in 2019.

Great egret escaping

Long-legged waders, such as this Great Egret seem to be thin on the ground in 2019. Photo copyright Randall Mooi

Shorebirds were fairly abundant, although maybe, being late summer, numbers were lower than earlier in the season. Still, 300 dowitchers remains a good total. There were also 18 Red-necked Phalarope, 27 Pectoral Sandpiper and 65 Least Sandpiper, part of a total of 14 species for the morning.

semipal plover

Full of character, a Semipalmated Plover. Copyright Randall Mooi

Group B included blitz leader for the day, the indefatigable Bonnie. She was joined by Glennis and Lynnea for the morning. One surprise was a Ferruginous Hawk. The story goes that Bonnie called Ferruginous Hawk, someone else who shall remain nameless called Krider’s Hawk but took a photo, and lo and behold Ferruginous won.

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Blurry Ferruginous Hawk. Copyright Lynnea Parker

This made it  four Buteo species morning, with Red-tails, Swainson’s and Rough-legged also identified. There were reasonable numbers of Canada Goose (316), Blue-winged Teal (197) and Mallard (151). The number of species of duck (five in this case, and all dabblers) was low across the board, many must still be on their moulting grounds. For example, thousands of Canvasback and Redhead moult in the Long Island and Long Island Bay IBA and the Sagemace and Coleman Bay Islands IBA.

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A young Northern Harrier somehow not managing to flush the local shorebird populace. Photo copyright Lynnea Parker

Of course the subject of the blitz was to capture those all important shorebirds. We set this group along the eastward ISS transects and they also had time to cover the all important Sexton’s Island ISS, plus the considerable stretch of PR448 in-between.

WWL_East Route Map (1)

In total Group B counted 17 species of shorebird. Sexton’s was quiet, just a single Black-bellied Plover with a handful of yellowlegs and Killdeer for company. The really big numbers were in the east, with 443 American Avocet, 277 White-rumped Sandpiper, 681 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 170 Short-billed Dowitcher and 140 Long-billed Dowitcher. The peaks of Pectoral Sandpiper had clearly been and gone from Whitewater Lake, only 13 counted in this area.

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Stilt Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs. Photo copyright Lynnea Parker

Group C were first time blitzers Tami and Mike with more experienced pros Lewis and Ken. This group took on an area starting in the southeast and stretching west of the old mound. They had some decent numbers, including 255 Stilt Sandpipers at the end of 124W.


Stilt Sandpipers foraging in the lake shallows. Photo copyright Randall Mooi.

They also had 66 American Avocet.

avocet fall plumage

This fall plumage American Avocet still has a certain majesty even without the striking salmon plumage on its head and neck. Copyright Randall Mooi.

Canada Goose (864) and Red-winged Blackbird (1081) were unsurprisingly the most abundant birds in their area. A Prairie Falcon was a very nice bonus bird.

Group D were the Moois, Randy and Odette. Randy being a zoologist as well as a very good birder, had great fund photographing anything that he could find. From caddis flies….

clipboard caddisfly procreation

A convenient spot for a pair of caddis flies to, er, well do what caddis flies do. Copyright Randall Mooi

to some sort of sand beetle…

beach drift ii

Copyright Randall Mooi

fields of foxtail…

foxtail and whitewater

Copyright Randall Mooi

and even Odette!

Odette on south shore of Whitewater Aug 31

Copyright Randall Mooi

They had one Canvasback, but boy was it posing…

canvasback conversations

Copyright Randall Mooi

Canvasback portrait

Looking like one of Randy’s museum specimens. Copyright Randall Mooi

Grebe numbers, most notably Western Grebe appear to have been low at Whitewater Lake in 2019. In 2017, Randy and Tim counted over 1,000 Western Grebes in this area. In 2019 there was only a single bird, plus a Pied-billed and two Eared.

eared grebe ashore

A single Eared Grebe looking beached. Copyright Randall Mooi

Shorebird numbers were very good in Area D. There were 177 Stilt Sandpiper, plus over 250 of both species of dowitcher (due to the complexities of distinguishing between these species, most remained unidentified).


Dowitchers loafing around. Copyright Randall Mooi

Three Buff-breasted Sandpiper were encountered as well. Another highlight were the two Hudsonian Godwit, a threatened species in Canada, and also relatively rare to encounter in this region during fall migration.


Hudonian Godwits. note the overall greyness which in fall is in sharp contrast to Marbled Godwit. All copyright Randall Mooi.

In total this group encountered 17 species of shorebird during the morning, an impressive total! They also saw another single Prairie Falcon and 19 White-faced Ibis.

ibis in silhouette

At least there are still some White-faced Ibis at Whitewater Lake. Photo copyright Randall Mooi

In total, our volunteers counted over 13,000 birds, representing 98 species. The most abundant species was Canada Goose (1,969), followed by Red-winged Blackbird (1,704). It would appear there has already been some evidence of migration of Yellow-headed Blackbird, as usually numbers of this species in fall re much higher. Diving ducks are still to gather here in any significant numbers, but there were good totals of dabblers. Grebe numbers and long-legged waders appear very low compared to past counts, and this must be associated with the fast changing water levels. The lake does at last seem to be rescinding from the peaks a few years ago. We also missed the peak swallow migration because in previous years they were hard to count! One group of birds seemingly doing ok here are raptors, there being over one hundred counted.

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Shorebirds ahoy! Copyright Lynnea Parker

Shorebirds were our target group of birds. Semipalmated Sandpiper gather at Whitewater in very good numbers in fall, and were the most abundant species (706). There were 549 American Avocet counted, 448 Stilt Sandpipers, 302 White-rumped Sandpiper and 186 Lesser Yellowlegs. Dowitchers totaled nearly 900, but most were unidentifiable.

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Try counting that lot. Photo copyright Lynnea Parker

Finally, thank you to all our volunteers, especially Bonnie for taking on responsibility in my absence and Glennis for her hospitality. Also to Gillian, Erica, Jane, Lynnea, Lewis, Ken, Tami, Mike, Randy and Odette.

Thank you also to our amazing funders for making these events possible.

And finally, below is our total list for the day.

Species Name Species Count
Canada Goose 1,969
Blue-winged Teal 924
Northern Shoveler 163
Gadwall 47
Mallard 861
Northern Pintail 118
Green-winged Teal 95
Canvasback 2
Redhead 2
Bufflehead 15
Ruddy Duck 27
Gray Partridge 22
Sharp-tailed Grouse 9
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Eared Grebe 2
Western Grebe 13
Rock Pigeon 60
Mourning Dove 141
Sora 2
American Coot 120
Sandhill Crane 4
American Avocet 549
Black-bellied Plover 6
Semipalmated Plover 8
Killdeer 56
Hudsonian Godwit 6
Marbled Godwit 2
Stilt Sandpiper 448
Sanderling 9
Baird’s Sandpiper 53
Least Sandpiper 89
White-rumped Sandpiper 302
Buff-breasted Sandpiper 3
Pectoral Sandpiper 58
Semipalmated Sandpiper 706
Short-billed Dowitcher 185
Long-billed Dowitcher 183
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher 515
Wilson’s Snipe 7
Wilson’s Phalarope 8
Red-necked Phalarope 18
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Greater Yellowlegs 94
Willet 15
Lesser Yellowlegs 186
Franklin’s Gull 708
Ring-billed Gull 858
Herring Gull 13
Forster’s Tern 5
Double-crested Cormorant 71
American White Pelican 189
Great Egret 2
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1
White-faced Ibis 22
Turkey Vulture 2
Northern Harrier 32
Bald Eagle 17
Swainson’s Hawk 16
Red-tailed Hawk 37
Rough-legged Hawk 3
Ferruginous Hawk 2
hawk sp. 1
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 5
Peregrine Falcon 1
Prairie Falcon 2
Western Kingbird 4
Eastern Kingbird 10
Black-billed Magpie 1
Common Raven 3
Horned Lark 12
Tree Swallow 100
Bank Swallow 6
Barn Swallow 53
Cliff Swallow 35
House Wren 1
Sedge Wren 8
Marsh Wren 5
European Starling 30
American Robin 1
Cedar Waxwing 1
House Sparrow 111
American Goldfinch 7
Clay-colored Sparrow 7
Lark Sparrow 1
Vesper Sparrow 28
Savannah Sparrow 54
Song Sparrow 3
Swamp Sparrow 2
sparrow sp. 8
Yellow-headed Blackbird 310
Bobolink 1
Western Meadowlark 34
Orchard Oriole 1
Red-winged Blackbird 1,704
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Brewer’s Blackbird 62
Common Grackle 283
Northern Waterthrush 1
Yellow Warbler 1
passerine sp. 76
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Oh go on, one final one. Copyright Lynnea Parker