The Oak Hammock Marsh Grassland Bird Search

Get your binoculars and rev up your engines! A as the morning arrived on July 17th, it was good weather (albeit hot) for a grassland bird search in Oak Hammock Marsh. We had our volunteers enjoy a nice walk and drive to the west side of the grasslands, exploring the tall-grass prairie to the north mound.

With the IBA Steering Committee a-okay, we conjured up our first public event of the year! COVID-19 protocols were maintained safely by us and our volunteers. Thank you to Pat, Carla, Al, and Cindy for joining us in the morning for a tour in the grasslands.  

Amanda and I arrived at the meeting location at 6:50 AM, to scope out the area and in case any one came early. There were significantly more mosquitoes here than in the city, ouch! Good thing Amanda was fully prepared with bug spray, sunscreen, juice, and snacks. First thing in the morning were the distinct and gentle calls of the Mourning Dove and a busy Eastern Kingbird, flying back and forth across the road.

When three vehicles stopped at the shorebird scrape, we knew they were kindred birders for sure. Lo and behold, they were indeed our volunteers for today! They made their way to the gathering spot by just after 8:00 AM. Pat said she saw a Willet over at the scrape, which got everyone excited. We were ready to go, and so began our route. We managed to avoid (most) of the midday heat and in our respective vehicles. The map below traces our path through the grasslands and past the canola fields.

Map of our route including both driving and walking portions

We first started our route with a quick walk by the west side of the interpretive centre. Our first find, and a species we would encounter a few more times on the route were the Marsh (1) and Sedge (4) Wrens. They played a little game of peek-a-boo in the tall grass, making it difficult to get a good look, but their calls were distinct.

We then drove up to the path through the tall-grass prairie habitat north of the Interpretive Centre. The species that dominated the grasslands and wetland habitat mix were Savannah Sparrows (26), Clay-coloured Sparrows (25), and Red-winged Blackbirds (25). We heard four Common Yellowthroats and saw five Mallards fly by. There were a few mourning doves (4) calling in the distance from time to time, and we had one spotting of a Cedar Waxwing. At the end of our route, we stopped by a bridge, swarmed by swallows! It was a mix of Bank (3), Cliff (3), and Barn (30) Swallows to our best guess. It was difficult to tell exact numbers as they swirled around over and under the bridge. A Northern Harrier zoomed in on the Swallows out of nowhere and almost flew directly at us! However, the little birds started to bully the Harrier into a different direction. We had also seen another Harrier further back on the route. It was flying low in an empty field. It must have found something delectable there.

We saw only two Western Meadowlarks on the way there. We were expecting more Meadowlarks on the route, but they were mysteriously hard to find, we suspected a predator may have been in the area. And indeed, just down the road a raptor was scouting the from a hay bale (too far away to determine more than a silhouette), likely keeping the Meadowlarks at bay. On our way back, there was no sign of the raptor and we saw five more Meadowlarks – more what we had expected!

We had a catch of a Sharp-tailed Grouse flying by! It was quite fast, and I could not tell what it was, but Amanda recognized it instantly. We had an even rarer find further up the path. Right where the road curves right, we saw two Dickcissels! Unfortunately, they were against the sun and only briefly in sight before they flew off into the bushes. They were flying over the road a few times. Amanda had seen them earlier before the 17th when she was preparing the route, and sure enough, they were still there!  

Overall, it was a nice warm-up event to meet the volunteers! Thank you again to Cindy, Al, Pat, and Carla for joining us. A list that summarizes the total birds we encountered can be found below.