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