Down South – 2022 Grassland Bird Blitz

For our second event southwestern Manitoba, we set out with a small group of volunteers on the morning of Sunday, June 19th for our first grassland bird blitz in 3 years. We birded the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed Grass Prairie IBA from dawn to high noon in search of grassland Species at Risk.

Sun rising over the prairie. Photo by Ariel Desrochers.

For the Grassland Survey, we were 4 groups covering 4 different areas of the IBA. All groups were on the road by 5:30 am, the earlier the better for grassland birds. Below is a map of the areas in which each group was assigned.

We were watching birds, little did we know, we were also being watched. Photo by Amanda Shave.

Group 2, which was comprised of Jackie and I, covered the region just southeast of Melita. The songbirds on our route were loud in the morning and easily identifiable by both sight and ear. The only target species we were able to identify was the Bobolink, but we saw a number of other interesting birds including a Say’s Phoebe, which Jackie was surprised to see. I was pleased to see my first Horned Lark. In addition to the bird species, we also came upon a group of six jackrabbits, which I initially misidentified as a small gathering of Canada Geese from afar.

Wilson’s Snipe. Photo by Ariel Desrochers.
Loggerhead Shrike. Photo by Melanie Rose.

Amanda was alone as Group 4 and covered the Poverty Plains area. She identified Grasshopper Sparrows and Baird’s Sparrows from our target species. While on route, she encountered a large stick nest up in a tree. Initially she could not identify the two young raptors in the nest due to the distance. After looking closely at the photo afterwards realized they were Ferruginous Hawks, which is very exciting as they are only found in the southwest and are uncommon.

It didn’t take long for the prairie to heat up and by 9:00 am, the land had become relatively quiet. My partner headed home early and I later joined with Amanda for the second half of the morning, and we were pleased to identify more of our target species, including Grasshopper Sparrows, Bobolinks, and a Loggerhead Shrike! Seeing the Loggerhead Shrike was a first for both of us. We had heard one the day before on our community grassland bird walk near Melita, but had not seen it. Amanda had another interesting find for us was an unknown male and female songbird perched on a fence. After flipping through our bird guide, we identified the pair as Orchard Orioles. By the end of the morning, it had become very hot and the only birds we were seeing and hearing were Brown-headed Cowbirds, so we decided to wrap up and head back to Melita.

Look closely to see the Male Orchard Oriole on the fence wire. Photo by Ariel Desrochers.

Group 3 was comprised of Melanie and Katharine. They birded the area southwest of Melita and along the Saskatchewan border. From our target species, they were able to identify Grasshopper Sparrows, Bobolinks, a Loggerhead Shrike and Sprague’s Pipit. Origianlly they also had a photo of a mystery bird on a wire – but a photo came through once again – it was a female Chestnut-collared Longspur. Much trickier to identify than the flashy males! Besides those, some of the other interesting species to note were Horned Larks, a Red-tailed Hawk and Sandhill Cranes.

Group 1, Ken and Colleen, birded closer to Melita itself and including in the Broomhill and Blind Souris areas. For our target species, they observed Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows and the Sprague’s Pipit. They also identified two Ferruginous Hawks. Other interesting species that they identified was a White-faced Ibis, Green-winged Teal and a Broad-winged Hawk.

Eastern Kingbird in a moment of quiet. Photo by Amanda Shave.

After around 6 hours of birding, we met up at the Melita Chicken Chef for lunch and discussed what we had seen over much needed glasses of water and cups of coffee (and air conditioning). After lunch we were on our way home, just in time to avoid some wild weather and tornado warnings!

An Upland Sandpiper striking a pose. Photo by Amanda Shave.

We want to thank our volunteers Katharine, Colleen, Ken, Melanie and Jackie for joining us in the southwest for our Grassland Bird Blitz! A complete table with all the species observed by each group and some additional images can be found below.

Willet (perhaps trying to mimic the classic Upland Sandpiper pose). Photo by Amanda Shave.
A Yellow-headed Blackbird in the middle of belting out his song. Photo by Amanda Shave.
The mysterious bird captured by Katharine and Melanie – turned out to be a female Chestnut-collared Longspur. Photo by Katharine Schulz.
Swainson’s Hawk. Photo by Amanda Shave.

For our target grassland species at risk we had 1 Chestnut-collared Longspurs, 4 Ferruginous Hawks, 2 Baird’s Sparrows, 4 Loggerhead Shrikes, 14 Bobolinks, at 3 Sprague’s Pipits. We also had 11 Grasshopper Sparrows, which are not currently a Species at Risk, but whose numbers are declining. In total we counted 80 species and 1472 individuals.

Species Count
American Bittern2
American Coot2
American Crow 6
American Goldfinch 3
American Robin 6
American Wigeon X
Baird’s Sparrow2
Baltimore Oriole 1
Barn Swallow19
Black Tern5
Black-billed Magpie 4
Blue-winged Teal 32
Brewer’s Blackbird12
Brown Thrasher 4
Brown-headed Cowbird133
Buteo sp. 1
Cedar Waxwing6
Chestnut-colored Longspur 1
Clay-colored Sparrow67
Cliff Swallow26
Common Grackle 4
Common Yellowthroat 19
Double-crested Cormorant X
Eastern Kingbird71
Ferruginous Hawk4
Franklin’s Gull 9
Grasshopper Sparrow11
Gray Catbird2
Green-winged Teal 1
Great Blue Heron1
Hairy Woodpecker1
Horned Lark 10
House Sparrow18
House Wren 27
Least Flycatcher 16
Lesser Yellowlegs1
Loggerhead Shrike4
Marbled Godwit8
Marsh Wren 1
Mourning Dove44
Northern Flicker1
Northern Harrier2
Northern Pintail 18
Northern Shoveler 20
Orchard Oriole 2
Red-tailed Hawk4
Red-wing Blackbird369
Ring-billed Gull1
Ring-necked Pheasant 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)3
Ruddy Duck 1
Sandhill Crane 6
Say’s Phoebe 1
Sedge Wren 10
Sharp-tailed Grouse 2
Shorebird sp. 2
Snow Goose X
Sprague’s Pipit 3
Song Sparrow 4
Sora 13
Swainson’s Hawk2
Tree Swallow 1
Upland Sandpiper24
Vesper Sparrow27
Warbling Vireo5
Western Kingbird7
Western Meadowlark 104
White-faced Ibis X
Willet 11
Wilson’s Phalarope 8
Wilson’s Snipe24
Yellow Warbler 17
Yellow-headed Blackbird76
Savannah Sparrow46
Grand total1472
“X” indicates that the bird was present in the survey but a count was not taken