Fall Western Manitoba Shorebird Identification Workshop

If you have followed the Manitoba IBA program for a while, you may have noticed that we have held annual shorebird workshops in the spring for the past couple of years. With COVID-19 we have had to adapt, holding a shorebird identification webinar instead. This spring we were able to hold the practical portion of the eastern Manitoba shorebird workshop in person, but the situation worsened just before we were able to hold the western Manitoba practical portion of the workshop!

Luckily shorebirds migrate through the province twice a year – so we were able to catch them during fall migration to hold our in-person western Manitoba workshop. We usually use spring migration for these workshops as the shorebirds are in their fresh breeding plumages – about as easy as they get to identify. However, we had a great group of workshop attendees out to explore the identification of shorebirds in their fall plumages. Thank you to Gillian Richards, Glennis Lewis, Linda Boys, Carol Holmes, Brian Duff, Ken and Colleen Barclay and Tom and Renee Will for joining us!

The second challenge we faced this year was the low water levels due to the drought in Manitoba. My shorebird habitat motto this year has been “look for shorebirds where you would normally find ducks”. The usual shorebird habitat has dried up, but areas that usually hold deeper water are often at a good water depth for shorebirds now.

We saw shorebirds at all of our stops except the very first one (they flew away before we could get out of the cars to make an ID). Photo by A. Shave.

With that in mind, our group headed out to two different sites in southwestern Manitoba. First we went to Griswold Marsh. At our first stop on the eastern edge of the marsh there was a small group of shorebirds but unfortunately, they all took off as we pulled up – not helpful when trying to identify them! Luckily, we were able to head just a bit further west to get a different view of the same waterbody, as well as another couple of smaller ponds on the other side of the road.

Here we were able to see a good variety of shorebird species. The highlight of this stop for most of us were the Black-bellied Plovers. They are as eye-catching in their non-breeding plumage, but their stocky bodies and bills still make them stand out. We also had a very obliging individual who did a short flight to show the black “wing pit” that sets the Black-bellied Plover apart from the similar-looking American Golden Plover in any plumage.

Other shorebirds spotted were American Avocet, Killdeer, Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed/ Long-billed Dowitchers. Dowitchers are always a tricky ID but they get especially tricky in the fall! Unfortunately, they were too far away, and not calling, so we cannot say for sure which species we were looking at.

American Avocet in non-breeding plumage at Griswold Marsh. Photo by A. Shave.

In recent years Griswold Marsh is usually more of a duck habitat, and waterfowl were still there aplenty. We saw Green-wing Teals, Blue-wing Teals, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Mallards and Gadwall. We were also treated to four Tundra Swans coming in for a landing right in front of us!

Next we moved further west in the marsh, closer to the town of Griswold. We saw a few new species here including a Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and some very well camouflaged Wilson’s Snipe. We were treated once again to views of American Avocet, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed/ Long-billed Dowitchers.

Our next stop was the boat launch and then Lakeshore Drive (the road out to the weir) at Oak Lake Beach. Once again, in recent years this would tend toward duck habitat, but with the lower water levels this year the water along Lakeshore Drive has been shallow enough for a variety of shorebirds. We had a few repeat species here (Killdeer, Dowitchers, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs) but also still more new shorebird species!

Our last stop along Lakeshore Drive at Oak Lake Beach. In recent years, you’d be more likely to find ducks along here than shorebirds, but this year the water level is low. Photo by A. Shave.

We saw 14 American Golden Plovers, whose more delicate features were a contrast to the stockier Black-bellied Plovers seen at Griswold Marsh. Another new for the day shorebird species was a single Marbled Godwit that was hanging out amongst the Dowitchers. The highlight at Oak Lake Beach was a White-faced Ibis – a lifer for one of our workshop participants and always a joy to see!

White-faced Ibis. The iridescence on the back was in full display in-person, but unfortunately it did not translate as well through the camera! Photo by A. Shave.

A few other highlights at Oak Lake were a good view of a young Cooper’s Hawk and some distant flocks of Sandhill Cranes, who provided an atmospheric fall soundtrack to our birding.

This young Cooper’s Hawk fits in perfectly with the autumn colour scheme. Photo by C. Holmes.

If you would like to brush up on your shorebird ID, Manitoba IBA has put the Shorebird Identification webinar that Christian Artuso gave for us this spring up on our Youtube channel. You can find it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7X0Lxnb33g&t=857s

Our Griswold Marsh bird list:

Canada Goose153
Tundra Swan14
Blue-winged Teal30
American Wigeon15
Northern Shoveler60
Northern Pintail35
Green-winged Teal75
Dabbling Duck sp.350
American Avocet5
Black-bellied Plover5
Semipalmated Plover1
Semipalmated Sandpiper1
Pectoral Sandpiper14
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher4
Wilson’s Snipe3
Greater Yellowlegs31
Lesser Yellowlegs39
Ring-billed Gull6
Turkey Vulture1
Northern Harrier2
Red-tailed Hawk5
Common Raven4
Marsh Wren3
Savannah Sparrow10
Total # of species27

Our Oak Lake Beach bird list:

Tundra Swan3
Blue-winged Teal65
Northern Shoveler2
dabbling duck sp.30
Ring-necked Duck2
Mourning Dove1
Sandhill Crane350
American Golden-Plover14
Marbled Godwit1
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher50
Greater Yellowlegs7
Lesser Yellowlegs18
Bonaparte’s Gull3
Double-crested Cormorant1
American White Pelican11
White-faced Ibis1
Northern Harrier1
Sharp-shinned Hawk1
Barn Swallow3
Marsh Wren2
Total # of species28
  • Amanda