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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 White Pelican||10|
|Great Blue Heron||5|
|Great Crested Flycatcher||4|
|Total Species Identified||103|