IBA Bird Highlights of 2020

Piping Plovers at Whitewater Lake/ Plum Lake IBA

Piping Plover have been seen on the west side of Whitewater Lake multiple times in past years. We are excited to report that there were multiple Piping Plover sightings this year at Whitewater Lake. The first sighting this year was by three Manitoba birders on May 15th, 2020, and the second Piping Plover happened at on July 13th. There were multiple sightings of a pair of plovers and it was assumed that a breeding attempt failed. Regardless, still exciting observations for Manitoba and we will keep our fingers crossed for next breeding season!

The Piping Plover is listed as an endangered species in both Canada and Manitoba.

Whooping Cranes at Whitewater Lake/ Plum Lake IBA

Another set of exciting sightings from Whitewater Lake this year!

A single Whooping Crane was spotted at Whitewater Lake on April 21, 2020, likely on spring migration.

Next, a Whooping Crane was seen by a birder on July 26, 2020. This bird was not banded, so likely a Whooping Crane that came from the Wood Buffalo National Park breeding population. On August 20-22 several birders once again saw what was likely the same crane on the west side of Whitewater Lake near to where the July sighting took place. This sighting definitely would have needed a spotting scope as the crane was very far off in the distance, in the middle of a farmer’s wheatfield.

Whooping Cranes are listed as an endangered species in Canada and Manitoba.

Tundra Swans at Saskatchewan River Delta IBA

Joel Kayer’s springtime count of (mostly) Tundra Swans in the Carrot Valley (near The Pas), netted the Saskatchewan River Delta IBA an IBA trigger for a large congregation of species. He counted 26,111 individuals over approximately two hours on May 7, 2020. This count surpassed the global and regional IBA thresholds (3000 and 1900 individuals respectively).

It seemed like the habitat and weather created the “perfect storm” for swans, as Joel observed “Perfect conditions with all swamps and lakes frozen to the north.  Lots of sheet water over ample crop residue and crops still in swath”. Lots of local food, and the inability of swans to move further north, likely created a bottle neck in the Carrot Valley.

Sabine’s Gull at Delta Marsh IBA and Saskatchewan River Delta IBA

Sabine’s Gull. Photo by C. Nikkel.

An immature Sabine’s Gull was spotted and photographed at the Delta Beach area of Delta Marsh IBA by Cam Nikkel on September 7th. Sabine’s Gulls are small gulls with forked tails and unique colouration, that is a standout from other gull species. They breed in the high arctic and overwinter in coastal central America. However, despite the migration flight path you might expect (as the crow flies), instead most individuals migrate along the west coast, and thus they are not commonly seen on migration in central Canada.

Sabine’s Gull (right) with Ring-billed Gull. Photo by C. Nikkel.

David Raitt also saw a Sabine’s Gull this year; his record was at Sunset Beach on Clearwater Lake (Saskatchewan River Delta IBA). This sighting took place on June 11th.

Franklin’s Gulls at Delta Marsh IBA

Cal Cuthbert hit an IBA trigger with his count of Franklin’s Gulls at Delta Marsh. He counted 15,000 gulls on September 5, 2020. The IBA trigger was for a large congregation of a single species, with the global and regional IBA thresholds for Franklin’s gulls at 9,800 individuals for both triggers. This has not been a one-time occurrence for Cal, he also mentioned “From my experiences over the years out here (mainly pre eBird) many FRGU [Franklin’s Gull] concentrations have typically numbered into the thousands, occasionally tens of thousands, especially pre fall migration”.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Delta Marsh IBA

There have been multiple sightings of Lesser Black-backed Gulls this year at Delta Marsh IBA. The first sighting was during spring migration on May 5th at Delta Beach by Cal. It was first seen on Provincial Road 227 near the landfill, and then seen on a sandbar on the east side of the eastern most beach on May 24th. Sightings continued periodically on and near the Road 227 landfill until September 17th. The number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls ranged from 1-3 individuals seen at one time during the season; however, photos permitting a comparison of markings show that at least four were present, although only one was an adult.

Harlequin Ducks at Delta Marsh IBA and Willow Island

A female or immature Harlequin Duck was spotted at Delta Marsh IBA by Rob Parsons and Jo Swartz on October 24th. It was difficult to spot due to wave action in the water off Delta Beach. This is not the first Harlequin Duck spotted at the IBA. One was seen in 2016 during an IBA blitz by Matt Gasner near St Ambroise at the end of August.

Another Harlequin Duck was also spotted this fall near Gimli (Willow Island Road) by Jan Bradley on November 8th.

Late Season Virginia Rail at Netley-Libau Marsh IBA

While not a rare species, a late season Virginia Rail was found (deceased) in a yard site in Netley-Libau Marsh IBA on November 4th. The bird was found by Dan and Allison, and news was passed along by IBA caretakers Ryon and Hazel Blenderhassett. Other eBird records for Virginia Rails in the area are primarily for June and July, with one seen in September.

Burrowing Owl in Southwestern Mixed Grass Prairie IBA

Wild Burrowing Owl seen at one of the nest sites in southwestern Manitoba. Photo by C. Artuso.

Two wild Burrowing Owl nests were reported in southwestern Manitoba this year by the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program (MBORP). MBORP runs captive-release and monitoring of burrowing owls in the region, so they keep track of where nests and owls are location – as thus know when a wild owl is reported (as opposed to a captive-release individual). So not only were there wild burrowing owls at these sites, there were also two successful nests by two wild owl pairs. These records are the first records of wild Burrowing Owls breeding in Manitoba since 2011.

One pair nested in the Southwestern Mixed-Grass Prairie IBA. This pair was reported by the landowner who saw the male standing on a fence post. This The landowner then contacted MBORP, who assessed that the site had a nest. This pair of owls used an artificial nest burrow that was installed by MBORP in 2017. The owls at this site fledged six young.

Burrowing Owl Young from the nest in the Southwestern Mixed-Grass Prairie IBA banded by MBORP. Photo from MBORP.

The second pair nested near Whitewater Lake IBA was spotted by Alex of MBORP while driving around the southwest. She said “The other nest I found while driving around in southwestern MB. I spotted a male owl fly to a burrow. I observed from a distance for quite some time and then spotted the female.” This pair nested in a naturally occurring badger burrow. The owls at this site fledged five young.

If you would like to know more about the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program (and read the stories of these owls as they unfolded this past summer) check out MBORP’s Facebook or Twitter pages.

Burrowing Owls are listed as endangered at both a federal and provincial level.

Chestnut-collared Longspurs at Ellice-Archie Spyhill IBA

This sighting comes to us courtesy of Tim Poole, who was conducting bird counts at the Ellice-Archie Community Pasture. He recorded a checklist of 67 Chestnut-collared Longspurs in one day during a survey on June 23, 2020. This is an IBA trigger for the number of pairs. The next day Tim saw another 28 Longspurs in a different portion of the IBA.

Chestnut-collared Longspurs are listed as threated at a federal and provincial level.

Smith’s Longspur at Riverton Sandy Bar IBA

The Smith’s Longspur(s) seen at Riverton Sandy Bar IBA also deserves a mention on this list. They were first spotted on fall migration on September 24th by Joanne, caretaker of the IBA, on the sandspit. eBird.org checklists also list the Longspur on September 26th and 27th both on the sandspit and near the Sandy Bar parking lot. While Longspurs migrate through Riverton Sandy Bar their small size, cryptic colouration (similar between species) and tendency to be inflight (rather than still) makes identification of the Smith’s Longspur certainly tricky! On one previous occasion, we recorded this seldom seen species during one of our weed pulls on the sandbar.

Smith’s Longspur. Photo by J. Smith

Other sightings of Smith’s Longspurs this year have been near Altona (spring migration), Fort Whyte Alive in Winnipeg (fall migration), and Grand Beach/Grand Marais (fall migration).

Purple Sandpiper at Churchill and Vicinity IBA

With increased caution about travel this season, there have been fewer birding reports coming out of northern Manitoba. One interesting report we did hear about was the presence of a Purple Sandpiper this fall in Churchill and Vicinity IBA. The Purple Sandpiper was reported by James Barber on October 23rd, 2020. It was spotted approximately halfway between the town of Churchill and the airport.

Purple Sandpipers breed in the high arctic (further north than Churchill) and spend the winter along coastlines bordering the north Atlantic Ocean. They migrate regularly along the Hudson Bay coast but are difficult to see.

Which birds have you seen this year?

If you have any other interesting sightings, or large congregations of birds seen this season seen in Manitoba’s IBAs we would love to hear about it at iba@naturemanitoba.ca.