Oak Lake Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz

On July 23rd, Manitoba IBA held a second Red-headed Woodpecker blitz for the month of July. Using predetermined birding areas and routes with past sightings marked, four groups headed down to the Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA on what turned out to be a sunny and not too hot Saturday.

A Red-headed Woodpecker (Photo by Ariel Desrochers)

This was our first blitz down in Oak Lake for Red-headed Woodpeckers this year. Luckily we were able to do a blitz last summer in August, which provided us with a guide to areas in the IBA that may have the Woodpecker. We had eight people split into pairs to make up 4 groups, which meant we could cover a larger area of the IBA. Below is the overview of the routes explored during the blitz. The protocol for exploratory Red-headed Woodpecker surveys allows for responsible use of playback of their call, as long as the birder has a permit.

Not shown on the map is Group 4, made up of Amanda and Duane, who birded North of the No. 1 HWY which is an area that we have only briefly previously explored.

Possible Red-headed Woodpecker habitat north of the TransCanada. Unfortunately no Red-headed Woodpeckers were seen in this patch. (photo by Amanda Shave)

Group 1 was made up of Glennis and Sandy. During the blitz, they did not observe any Red-headed Woodpeckers. Once the event was over, they continued to bird and eventually came across one individual, so every group that day saw at least one at some point in the day. Exciting sightings for Group 1 included three Turkey Vultures, one Bobolink (a threatened species), and five Lark Sparrows.

Group 2 was made up of Gillian and Kathryn. Throughout the course of the event, they observed five Red-headed Woodpeckers. In addition to the woodpeckers, they identified a number of other species including some that were not identified by any other group. This includes a Wild Turkey and a White-faced Ibis. They also identified species such as an Eastern Wood Pee-wee, two Vesper Sparrows and Americans Goldfinches.

Group 3 was Wally and I (Ariel). We birded north of the Lake, starting on PR. 254. During our surveys, we saw a lot of suitable habitat for Red-headed Woodpeckers (fields with sparse standing dead trees) that turned up no sightings, including an area that had sightings the previous year. In the first hour or so, we were pleased to see a variety of waterfowl and some birds of prey. Eventually we managed to identify a Red-headed Woodpecker by its call after using our speaker to playback their sound. After that we managed to identify a few more for a total of seven for the day. Other Interesting birds we spotted that morning were a group of about 100 Franklins Gulls, Pied-billed Grebes, two Baltimore Orioles, and various birds of prey including, Red-tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawk and a Northern Harrier. We were also we fortunate enough to actually see a Sora, strutting across the road (most often Sora are identified by their distinctive “whinny” call, rather than seen).

A male Bobolink (Photo by Ariel Desrochers)

Group 4 was made up of Duane and Amanda. While birding a less visited area of the IBA, they observed a wide variety of birds. Last year Glennis explored this area during out 2021 Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz. She noted some good habitat, but had no luck seeing individuals. Duane and Amanda came across several of the good habitat areas pointed out by Glennis this year. It was only going down a two-track dirt and grass road (thanks to Duane’s truck!) that we were able to get a Red-headed Woodpecker sighting! This is a first for our IBA blitzes in this area, and we will have to keep searching in this area for upcoming blitzes as well. Some of their other interesting sightings include Cedar Waxwings, one Common Merganser, many Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers including recently fledged young (which they thought would be their only woodpecker species of the day for most of the survey time), an Orchard Oriole, and a Brown Thrasher.

A great shot of a Red-headed Woodpecker by Duane Diehl
Two Black Terns (Photo by Ariel Desrochers)
Refueling after the blitz, and trying on our snazzy Manitoba IBA hats (Photo by Amanda Shave)

Around noon, the groups met up at the Oak Lake marina for a snack and to share our sightings for the day. We had a total of 13 Redheaded Woodpeckers seen during the blitz. Around 1:00 pm, we set off back to Winnipeg while Groups 1 and 2 continued to bird for fun (and to try and find more Red-headed Woodpeckers). A summary of all the species identified can be found below. We saw a total of 82 species (plus woodpecker sp. and sparrow sp.) and a total of 1,023 individuals. Thank you to our Duane Diehl, Gillian Richards, Kathryn Hyndman, Glennis Lewis, Sandy Hominick and Wally Jansen for making the drive down and blitzing with Amanda and I!

Species Number of Individuals
American Coot4
American Crow16
American Goldfinch 25
American Kestrel10
American Robin17
American White Pelican 24
Baltimore Oriole4
Barn Swallow29
Black Tern55
Black-billed Magpie15
Black-capped Chickadee4
Blue Jay6
Blue-winged Teal7
Brewer’s Blackbird10
Brown Thrasher2
Brown-headed Cowbird2
Canada Goose1
Cedar Waxwing18
Chipping Sparrow1
Clay-colored Sparrow11
Cliff Swallow1
Common Grackle20
Common Merganser1
Common Raven10
Common Yellowthroat 6
Eastern Bluebird1
Eastern Kingbird32
Eastern Wood-Pewee1
European Starling1
Forster’s Tern2
Franklin’s Gull115
Gray Catbird4
Great Blue Heron1
Horned Lark1
House Sparrow10
House Wren 31
Lark Sparrow13
Least Flycatcher 14
Lesser Scaup7
Marbled Godwit 2
Marsh Wren 1
Mourning Dove37
Nelson’s Sparrow1
Northern Flicker11
Northern Harrier2
Northern Shoveler1
Northern Waterthrush 1
Orchard Oriole 1
Pied-billed Grebe 6
Purple Martin1
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Red-headed Woodpecker13
Red-necked Grebe2
Red-tailed Hawk6
Red-winged Blackbird94
Ring-billed Gull2
Ring-necked Duck1
Rock Pigeon 4
Ruddy Duck3
Savannah Sparrow12
Sedge Wren 3
Song Sparrow21
Sparrow sp. 34
Swainson’s Hawk2
Tree Swallow27
Turkey Vulture26
Vesper Sparrow3
Western Kingbird5
Western Meadowlark29
White-faced Ibis1
Wild Turkey 2
Wilson’s Snipe9
Woodpecker sp. 1
Yellow Warbler9
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker10
Yellow-headed Blackbird5
Total Number of Individuals 1,023

Spring 2022 International Shorebird Survey Roundup

This spring, volunteers and the staff of Manitoba IBA headed out to once again conduct International Shorebird Surveys at four IBAs: Oak Hammock Marsh; the North, East and West Shoal Lakes; Oak/Plum Lakes; and Whitewater Lake. Last year, dry weather altered the preferred habitat of shorebirds and this year was the same, although instead of dried up wetlands and ditches, flooded fields and higher water levels were the norm, creating an interesting survey period.

An Upland Sandpiper (Photo by Amanda Shave)

The Spring International Shorebird Surveys (ISS) are conducted between April 1st and June 15th with the peak of the season occurring between April 24th and May 16th. Using our protocol (adapted from the ISS Protocol from Manomet), four IBAs are surveyed, with a number of routes to cover. Whitewater Lake has 4 routes on the east side of the lake, 3 on the west side and one stationary route. Oak Lake has 5 routes, 2 of which are stationary. Oak Hammock Marsh has 3 routes, although one was not assessable this year due to high water levels. Finally, the North, East and West Shoal Lakes has 4 routes. Each route at each location is normally monitored three times in the spring. While all species observed should be recorded under ISS protocol lists, only shorebirds are included in the data. Some surveys that were completed for ISS did not contain any shorebird sightings, so while a site may have been monitored a number of times, the surveys with actual shorebird sightings may be less. All four locations are summarized below:

Oak Hammock Marsh

Species Total # of Individuals Proportion (%) of Individuals
Marbled Godwit610
Willet 812.90
Wilson’s Phalarope4674.19
Total 62100
Total # of Species4
Based on 6 surveys

The results from Oak hammock Marsh show us the contrast between this spring and last spring. This year, only four species were identified during the ISS period. The number of individuals amongst those species is also much lower than spring 2021.

Route 1 and Route 2 were surveyed once during this period and the shorebird scrape was monitored twice. Route 3, the Teal Dike, became flooded and collapsed so it was not assessable to monitor. Overall the high water levels would most likely have affected the habitat for shorebirds, thus the lower numbers.

West, East and North Shoal Lakes

SpeciesTotal # of IndividualsProportion (%) of Individuals
American Avocet1222
Greater Yellowlegs 24
Shorebird sp. 47
Lesser Yellowlegs12
Marbled Godwit 59
Spotted Sandpiper11.82
Whimbrel 610.91
Willet 712.73
Wilson’s Phalarope47.27
Total 55100
Total # of Species 10
Based on 10 Surveys

Shoal Lakes was surveyed 14 times over the spring ISS period. It is important to note that multiple routes can be surveyed on one day. Route 1 was surveyed five times, route 2 was surveyed twice, route 3 was surveyed once, route 4 was surveyed five times and the stationary “Campground” point was surveyed three times.

Oak/Plum Lakes

SpeciesTotal # of IndividualsProportion (%) of Individuals
American Avocet23
Least Sandpiper11
Marbled Godwit 45
Pectoral Sandpiper11
Spotted Sandpiper1013.33
Wilson’s Phalarope3040
Wilson’s Snipe11.33
Total # of Species9
Based on 6 surveys

Oak Lake has rive shorebird routes, including two that are stationary (route 3 and 5). Of these routes, route 1 was surveyed twice, route 2 was surveyed twice, route 3 and route 4 were surveyed once. Flooding over a low spot in the access road meant that Route 5 (a small wetland), was not able to be surveyed. In total, volunteers visited the IBA to surveyed six times.

Whitewater Lake

SpeciesTotal # of Individuals Proportion (%) of Individuals
American Avocet333
Baird’s Sandpiper374
Greater Yellowlegs 10
Hudsonian Godwit 152
Least Sandpiper30.31
Lesser Yellowlegs 232.41
Marbled Godwit 50.52
Pectoral Sandpiper151.57
Peep sp. 666.92
Red Necked Phalarope 31533.02
Ruddy Turnstone30.31
Semipalmated Sandpiper 16617.40
Shorebird sp. 101.05
Short-billed Dowitcher10.10
Spotted Sandpiper30.31
White-rumped Sandpiper17618.45
Stilt Sandpiper70.73
Wilson’s Phalarope353.67
Wilson’s Snipe10.10
Total # of Species23
Based on 10 Surveys

Whitewater Lake was visited by volunteers to survey 14 times in total. Sexton’s point, the only stationary route, was surveyed three times. On the west side of the Lake, route W1 was surveyed three times, route W2 was surveyed six times and route W3 was surveyed twice. On the east side of the lake, each route was monitored once due to wet conditions and dirt roads.

Based on these summaries, it is clear that the wet weather Manitoba has experienced this spring affected the ISS monitoring season. All four IBAs showed numbers inconsistent with previous years and there was much less variety in the shorebird species observed. Like last year, Whitewater Lake had the highest counts for shorebirds of the four IBAs but the number was greatly reduced. We have several hypothesis as to why this might be, but of course we do not know for certain. Perhaps it is possible that migratory shorebirds were simply staying in areas where it was less wet, possibly areas across the border in Saskatchewan, as the IBAs all had much higher water levels that the previous year. Or if the shorebirds were in Manitoba, perhaps they were spread over the higher-than-normal number of ephemeral (temporary) wetlands spread across the landscape this year, instead of clustering at our usual shorebird “hotspots”. If weather is indeed influencing numbers of shorebirds, It will be interesting to see what the Fall ISS period brings, and then next spring.

Another thing to consider is volunteer “effort”. Of course our volunteers put in a lot of effort to go out and count shorebirds, but effort also has a meaning scientifically as well. Ideally when comparing between years we want to amount of effort to be standardized as much as possible. For example, going out to survey for 5 hours on three different mornings (15 hours of “effort”) will likely net you more birds than surveying for five hours on one morning (5 hours of “effort”). Our big disruptor of effort this year was the residual snow late into the spring, wet road conditions (on dirt roads), and/or collapsed dikes. While trying to survey each route three times in the spring is important, volunteer safety and safe route access is more important.

Once again, summaries like this are possible because of the time and effort of volunteers, so thank you to everyone who went out and monitored this spring! A big thank you to Glennis Lewis, Tim Poole and Ansley Woods for surveying at Oak Lake; Gillian Richards for surveying at Oak Lake and Whitewater Lake, Duane Diehl and Tom and Renee Will for surveying at Whitewater Lake; Bonnie Chartier, Mike Karakas, Tami Reynolds for surveying at Oak Hammock Marsh and the Shoal Lakes; and Jo Swartz and Jan Bradley for surveying at the Shoal Lakes.

If you are interested in volunteering for our fall International Shorebird Surveys, we are looking for volunteers! Believe it or not, we are already in the fall ISS survey period, which runs until October 25th, 2022. Email iba@naturemanitoba.ca for more information.


What’s in a name? The Red-headed Woodpecker

On July 9th we headed out to the North, East and West Shoal Lakes to blitz for the Red-headed Woodpecker. Red-headed Woodpeckers were seen by all and a great lunch was eaten afterwards with friends – couldn’t ask for a better day!

We last ran a blitz for Red-headed Woodpeckers in the North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA in 2020, which was coincidently the first blitz we ran after COVID-19 had started. In 2021 we established Red-headed Woodpecker survey routes, but were unable to run an event to trial them due to COVID once again! The routes were instead trialed by volunteers who went out birding singly or with people from their “bubbles”. This year we finally were able to run the survey routes as intended at Shoal Lakes and they seemed to work quite well. Of course, when we run a bird blitz we record all species that we see, so in addition to photos of the very charismatic Red-headed Woodpecker we also have many other beautiful birds to document in this blog.

As some of you already know the Red-headed Woodpecker is an Endangered species under the federal Species at Risk Act and a Threatened species under our provincial act – which is why we were out to try and gather populations numbers within this IBA. Since the same survey routes were run last year (following the same methods), the intention is to be able to compare numbers between years to see if there is an increase, a decrease, or if they stay the same in this local area.

With the Red-headed Woodpecker survey, volunteers drove along a pre-set 20 km route, stopping in areas of good habitat for this species. Good Red-headed Woodpecker habitat includes open areas with little understory vegetation, with standing dead trees (called snags). Common places for habitat in the Shoal Lakes IBA tends to be woodlots or cattle pastures with a mix of living aspen, and snags. Cattle grazing and/or mowing keeps the understory short. Once beside good habitat volunteers first looked and listened for Red-headed Woodpeckers for two minutes. If nothing was seen they then conducted playback (playing the territorial “querr” or “tchur” call to attract the woodpeckers) for 30 seconds before looking and listening for another two minutes. The coordinates of all Red-headed Woodpeckers seen or heard were recorded. To ensure we were not double counting individuals, we stopped every 300m in good habitat.

An example of good Red-headed Woodpecker habitat. Photo by Amanda Shave.

Group 1 consisted of our fantastic husband and wife duo of Katharine and John Schulz, as well as Al Mickey. Al was one of our Red-headed Woodpecker survey route testers in 2021, so he knew all about our methods. They covered the western side of the Shoal Lakes. Unfortunately, this group was the least successful with the Red-headed Woodpeckers, with one individual spotted. That being said, they still saw a total of 50 species, so the west side of Shoal Lakes was still hopping with birds! Of particular note was a group of eight Great Egrets that were spotted roosting in a tree. While we often see egrets and herons foraging in wetlands and waterbodies, they actually nest and roost in trees. So next time you are on the lookout for this group of birds, perhaps look up! They also recorded two Barn Swallows, another Species at Risk.

Great Egret in a tree. Photo by Katharine Schulz.
Common Goldeye with young. Photo by Katharine Schulz.

Group 2 consisted of Nelson, Jody and Paul and they covered the Red-headed Woodpecker route at the south end of the Shoal Lakes IBA. This group observed two pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers (four individuals total) during their survey. For other Species at Risk, this group also counted four Barn Swallows. Not to be left behind on Group 1’s Great Egret sightings, Group 2 had 17 Great Egrets – the North, East and West Shoal Lakes is a “great” place to spot them! Group 2 also recorded a Great-crested Flycatcher, a couple of Brown Thrashers and an Orchard Oriole, all species less commonly reported birds for this IBA. This was also the first IBA blitz for all three group members, so a big welcome to all three and I am glad they had such a great variety of sightings.

Male Common Yellowthroat. Photo by Katharine Schulz.

Group 3 consisted of Garry Budyk and Rudolf Koes. They had specifically asked to be in the northwest corner of the IBA – their traditional Shoal Lakes blitz area! Garry and Rudolf saw five Red-headed Woodpeckers on their official survey route and three woodpeckers outside of their survey route (but still in their assigned blitz area). Two of the woodpeckers were drumming (usually a territorial behaviour) one woodpecker was carrying food – mostly likely to bring back to the nest for the next generation of Red-headed Woodpeckers, and another two were seen using a cavity.

Red-headed Woodpecker on a fence post (the post was a tree in it’s former life, right?) Photo by Garry Budyk.

Garry and Rudolf saw a number of other bird species of course including a variety of waterfowl (Green-wing Teal, Redhead, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser and Ruddy Duck). They also saw several species of grebes including the Pie-billed Grebe, Red-necked Grebe and Western Grebe. Grebes were not our focus on this blitz, but we have conducted blitzes for Western Grebes at the Shoal Lakes IBA in the past. A few other Species at Risk were also noted including 11 Barn Swallows, two Bobolink, and a Least Bittern. Other notable species included one Brown Thrasher, one Chestnut-sided Warbler, two Nelson’s Sparrows, three Great-Crested Flycatchers and 48 Black Terns.

Least Bittern peeking out from the reeds. Photo by Rudolf Koes.
Young grebe. Photo by Garry Budyk.

Finally we have Group 4, which birded along the east side of the Shoal Lakes. This group consisted of myself (Amanda) and three new birders to the IBA Program, Amrita, Sukh and Karen. It was their first time out for an IBA event, so a big welcome to Amrita, Sukh and Karen as well! During out Red-headed Woodpecker survey we had two sets of pairs seen. One pair was tracked down heading into a nest cavity. With the frequency of entries and exits it seemed like the pair was feeding young.

Parental exchange between a pair of nesting Red-headed Woodpeckers. The active cavity can be seen on the same tree as the perching individual. Photo by Amanda Shave.

While transiting from one area of good woodpecker habitat to the next, we passed between the Shoal Lakes on Provincial Road 415. Here we came across several species of marsh birds including a cluster of approximately 56 Forster’s Terns all foraging in the same wetland pond area, three Great Egrets, and a variety of waterfowl such as Blue-winged Teal, Green-Winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks, Red-necked Grebes, Western Grebes and more. Nearby a wet meadow our driving also alerted a pair of Marbled Godwit and Killdeer who were probably nesting in the area based on their behaviour. In the same area we also recorded a male Bobolink sitting on the powerlines.

Forster’s Tern taking a break from foraging. Photo by Amanda Shave.

After finishing our Red-headed Woodpecker route, we had a bit of time before we needed to meet up for lunch, and we were able to get two more pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers outside of our formal survey area. Group 4 had a total of nine Red-headed Woodpeckers.

Another former-tree providing perching habitat for one half of a Red-headed Woodpecker pair. Photo by Amanda Shave.

At noon we all met in Inwood for lunch at Rosie’s Cafe and a debrief! It was a busy morning with a total of 23 Red-headed Woodpeckers seen! This exceeds the IBA threshold of 14 Red-headed Woodpeckers (1% of the Canada-wide population for this species) once again this year. The high concentration of Red-headed Woodpeckers in this IBA continues to indicate the important habitat that exists in this area of the province for this Endangered Species. In total we saw 2552 individual birds, made of of 103 species. Thank you to all of the volunteers who came out to blitz the North, East and West Shoal Lakes!

American Bittern4
American Coot14
American Crow30
American Goldfinch 26
American Kestrel22
American Redstart 4
American Robin19
American White Pelican 10
American Wigeon2
Bald Eagle5
Baltimore Oriole11
Barn Swallow9
Barn Swallow11
Black Tern109
Black-and-white Warbler1
Black-billed Magpie 19
Black-capped Chickadee3
Black-crowned Night-Heron1
Blue Jay2
Blue-winged Teal22
Bobolink 6
Brewer’s Blackbird15
Broad-winged Hawk1
Brown Thrasher 4
Brown-headed Cowbird46
Canada Goose 5
Cedar Waxwing8
Chestnut-sided Warbler1
Chipping Sparrow3
Clay-colored Sparrow89
Common Goldeneye1
Common Grackle 76
Common Raven 19
Common Yellowthroat 107
Cooper’s Hawk1
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Downey Woodpecker1
Eastern Kingbird30
European Starling40
Forster’s Tern67
Franklin’s Gull51
Gadwall 11
Gray Catbird17
Great Blue Heron5
Great Crested Flycatcher 4
Great Egret 44
Greater Yellowlegs 2
Green-winged Teal64
Hooded Merganser2
House Sparrow5
House Wren61
Least Bittern2
Least Flycatcher52
LeConte’s Sparrow1
Lesser Scaup1
Lesser Yellowlegs1
Marbled Godwit4
Marsh Wren44
Mourning Dove41
Nelson’s Sparrow2
Northern Flicker13
Northern Harrier4
Northern Pintail10
Northern Shoveler62
Orchard Oriole2
Pied-billed Grebe11
Pileated Woodpecker1
Purple Martin1
Red-eyed Vireo26
Red-headed Woodpecker23
Red-necked Grebe3
Red-tailed Hawk7
Red-winged Blackbird327
Ring-billed Gull8
Ring-necked Duck15
Rose-breasted Grosbeak2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird1
Ruddy Duck5
Sandhill Crane10
Savannah Sparrow54
Sedge Wren29
Sharp-tailed Grouse5
Song Sparrow64
Swamp Sparrow10
Tree Swallow24
Turkey Vulture4
Warbling Vireo33
Western Grebe8
Western Meadowlark106
White-throated Sparrow1
Wilson’s Snipe52
Woodpecker sp.1
Yellow Warbler80
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker3
Yellow-headed Blackbird134
Yellow-throated Vireo3
Total Individuals2552
Total Species Identified103