Churchill and Vicinity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 5

A final full day in Churchill and it was the day we decided to try to put on a wee blitz. We had made arrangements with Rudolf Koes that his weekly workshop group would share their data with us for that day and we would be able to put together a comprehensive list of everything seen between the two groups.

The IBA group met at Cape Merry at 8am. In total 13 people came along, some had to leave at different points (one was even called into work at the boat yard within a couple of minutes of arriving). Cape Merry is a fabulous for birders but we learnt a lesson that it was probably not the easiest place for beginners to learn about IBA blitzing. However we were able to show off some good species including Red-throated Loons, scoters, eiders, Parasitic Jaegars and a few of the gulls. Unfortunately Black-legged Kittiwake noticed by Bonnie was too far for showing folk, off about a mile in the scope. We also got to look at a few of the plants such as this Lapland Rose Bay, a species of native rhododendron.

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Lapland Rose Bay. Copyright Tim Poole

Bonnie and I decided that the Granary Ponds would be a better place for counting birds as a group. There were good numbers of Tundra Swan and Greater Scaup hanging around for the day.

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Tundra Swans and Greater Scaup at the Granary Ponds. Copyright Tim Poole

The Sandhill Cranes also put in an appearance. This species in the north breeds in bogs, surrounded by trees and mate for life.

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Pair of Sandhill Cranes. Copyright Tim Poole

By this point much of our group were gravitating towards other commitments, including the opening of a new piece of art at the Parks Canada Centre. We had coffee with a couple of potential volunteers, told them of the IBA Program, showing them eBird and then headed out for one final look at the Hydro Road.

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A bog along the Hydro Road. This bog had Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail among other species. Copyright Tim Poole

We reached the end of the Hydro Road and CR30 and did another count of the birds on the Churchill River. Given this count is a snapshot of a single spot, the counts of over 100 Tundra Swan moving up river, over 50 Arctic Tern and large groups of scoters would suggest that this area is critically important for all these species. We also got a good close-up of the sandbags protecting the water pump for the Town of Churchill. The sandbagging was apparently a real community effort by members of the public and the authorities.

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Sandbags protect the water pump. Copyright Tim Poole

The highlight on the way back was the appearance of two Little Gull among a group of foraging Bonaparte’s Gull.

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Little Gull. Copyright Tim Poole

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Not the best photo but note the dark underwings on this Little Gull. Copyright Tim Poole

We also checked a few other areas around the town in the afternoon picking up a calling Sora outside Parks Canada (thanks Wanda for the tip). In the evening Tim gave a talk to around 10 people at the Town Complex. There were a few technical issues, including a complete computer freeze halfway through the talk – but Bonnie saved the day with a great little interlude about the history of Ross’s Gull. And that was that. We still have lots of follow-up to do, people to catch and possibly even an opportunity for Bonnie to head up to Churchill in August to follow-up in person.

The results of the blitz are listed below. 836 Canada Goose makes this the most numerous species which would tally with our own observations. In addition there were 138 Tundra Swan, making one wonder how many actually pass through Churchill on passage to the north (some breed here). Snow Goose appeared thin on the ground contrary to the fact that this species is becoming too numerous in parts of the north. Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, Common Eider and Common Goldeneye were also present in good numbers.

Of the shorebirds, 10 species were noted but only Sanderling in migration groups of upwards of 10 individuals. Strange! In June 2016 there are notes from Bruce di Labio published in Manitoba Birds describing groups of White-rumped Sandpiper, 1,750 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 250+ Ruddy Turnstone and 565 Stilt Sandpiper so this year really was unusual.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the blitz, especially Rudolf and Robert Guth who provided the eBird checklists from that group.

Snow Goose 3
Canada Goose 836
Tundra Swan 138
Gadwall 2
American Wigeon 25
American Black Duck 4
Mallard 19
Northern Shoveler 10
Northern Pintail 45
Green-winged Teal 25
Greater Scaup 124
Lesser Scaup 14
Common Eider 188
Surf Scoter 96
White-winged Scoter 54
Black Scoter 148
Long-tailed Duck 44
Bufflehead 6
Common Goldeneye 142
Hooded Merganser 3
Common Merganser 30
Red-breasted Merganser 32
Willow Ptarmigan 4
Red-throated Loon 31
Pacific Loon 19
Common Loon 4
American Bittern 1
Osprey 2
Golden Eagle 1
Northern Harrier 4
Bald Eagle 1
Sora 2
Sandhill Crane 15
Semipalmated Plover 5
Whimbrel 3
Hudsonian Godwit 17
Sanderling 42
Dunlin 2
Short-billed Dowitcher 4
Wilson’s Snipe 8
Spotted Sandpiper 16
Solitary Sandpiper 2
Lesser Yellowlegs 18
Parasitic Jaeger 4
Sabine’s Gull 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 37
Little Gull 2
Ring-billed Gull 15
Herring Gull 137
Glaucous Gull 1
Arctic Tern 154
Northern Flicker 2
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 1
Alder Flycatcher 1
Gray Jay 1
Common Raven 23
Tree Swallow 5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 11
Gray-cheeked Thrush 1
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 35
European Starling 11
American Pipit 2
Northern Waterthrush 16
Orange-crowned Warbler 7
Yellow Warbler 36
Blackpoll Warbler 10
Palm Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
American Tree Sparrow 15
Fox Sparrow 32
Dark-eyed Junco 8
White-crowned Sparrow 72
Harris’s Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 4
Savannah Sparrow 35
Swamp Sparrow 6
Rusty Blackbird 4
Pine Grosbeak 8
Common Redpoll 10
Hoary Redpoll 4
House Sparrow 36

A brief foray before Tim’s flight the following day and a Caribou appeared – a definite great addition for any trip to the north.

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Caribou – all alone. Possibly an individual who has been stranded from its herd. Copyright Tim Poole

But the trip was over and now the real challenge is to create some momentum and support possible new volunteers for the IBA Program in the north.

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Adult female Long-tailed Duck with a pair of Red-necked Phalarope. Copyright Tim Poole

 

Churchill and Vicinity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 4

Day 4 of the IBA Churchill trip and again we kick off with a trip to Cape Merry for a sweep of the birds along the coastline. Bonnie worked her way across the shore and Tim abandoned her for an opportunity to watch the Belugas in the water below. It was quite a sight! There were good numbers of white adults and grey juveniles (sorry Raffi, you’re wrong) in moving with the tide in front of us. Also in attendance was a large raft of Black Scoter, good numbers of Red-throated Loon and the usual mix of Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoter.

Beluga photos above all copyright Tim Poole

There were also Tundra Swans present in large numbers throughout the day.

Cape Merry is a place full of wildlife. For example, look below and you will see from the video below the scattering of loons, eiders, scoters and mergansers around the pods of Beluga.

From Cape Merry we headed eventually down towards CR30 on the Hydro Road in the hope of finding some interesting gulls. As the Hydro Road turns into the road at Goose Creek we checked the swallows and were pleasantly surprised to find a Barn Swallow and a couple of Bank Swallows feeding with the Tree Swallows. These species are rare in the north and even the Tree Swallow is only becoming more abundant thanks to Dr Kit’s bird house program.

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Tree Swallow searching for bugs in the loose dirt created by the tire tracks. Copyright Tim Poole

One of the most vivid and stunning ducks one could expect to encounter is the Surf Scoter. This is a sea duck which breeds in boreal ponds and lakes. Crossing Goose Creek we noted there were two males and a single female, a situation which would never end well. Unsurprisingly, the two males were in the midst of a battle over the single female, bad for one of the males, great for those of us fortunate to watch them.

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Surf Scoter female (left) and two males. The video below highlights the aggressive interaction between these two males. Copyright Tim Poole

Our primary hope was to find Little Gull. Just past the bridge we had not found Little Gulls but the Bonaparte’s were still showing up well.

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Couple of Bonaparte’s Gull. We would search the feeding Bonaparte’s for Little Gull. Copyright Tim Poole

Driving through what should have been small wetlands which were no been enveloped in the Churchill River we eventually spotted our target species. A Little Gull looks much like a Bonaparte’s but lacks the white eye ring, has a more extensive hood, is smaller and most noticeable, is dark underwing. Two Little Gull were feeding in a small wetland behind some trees feeding with Bonaparte’s Gulls. In total we would find six that day, a not too shabby number given there are only around 200 breeding in North America.

A count at CR30 put up good numbers of scoters (all three species), loon and another Little Gull. At this juncture the weather was beginning to turn and we were forced to drive back as the rain began to come down.

We were able to see the Surf Scoters one more time and in the same area there was even a pair of Black Scoter.

Further north as the rain really began to come down we also found a couple of feeding Short-billed Dowitcher. For anyone unfamiliar with this species, it has a very distinct ‘sewing machine’ feeding motion, its head probing in and out of the water at a steady tempo. Almost metronomic one might say!

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Short-billed Dowitcher feeding in the rain. Copyright Tim Poole

The weather deteriorated to the extent that we were forced to cancel our evening bird walk. The wind and rain making it almost impossible to see let alone watch and talk about birds. This was a shame as our walks had thus been very well attended. However, we had a good day with a good bird walk and we did get to meet some folks at Parks Canada. The daily bird list saw counts of over 1,000 birds and 55 species with Little Gull certainly being the highlight.

Canada Goose 468
Tundra Swan 56
American Wigeon 15
American Black Duck 6
Mallard 6
Northern Shoveler 7
Northern Pintail 12
Green-winged Teal 18
Greater Scaup 56
Lesser Scaup 1
Common Eider 109
Surf Scoter 73
White-winged Scoter 31
Black Scoter 193
Common Goldeneye 120
Common Merganser 4
Red-breasted Merganser 2
Red-throated Loon 43
Pacific Loon 2
Osprey 3
Golden Eagle 1
Bald Eagle 1
Sandhill Crane 3
Short-billed Dowitcher 2
Wilson’s Snipe 2
Red-necked Phalarope 1
Spotted Sandpiper 22
Lesser Yellowlegs 13
Parasitic Jaeger 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 36
Little Gull 6
Ring-billed Gull 13
Herring Gull 15
Arctic Tern 143
Common Raven 8
Tree Swallow 26
Bank Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
American Robin 8
American Pipit 3
Northern Waterthrush 9
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 15
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 4
American Tree Sparrow 3
Fox Sparrow 28
Dark-eyed Junco 4
White-crowned Sparrow 22
Savannah Sparrow 12
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
Rusty Blackbird 2
Common Redpoll 12

Churchill and Vicnity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 3

Day 3 of our trip to Churchill was always going to be the busiest. In the morning we were due to give a talk and lead a birding walk with students mainly from the Duke of Marlborough High School in Churchill but also from Gillam. In the evening we were also due to give a presentation to people at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.

Our group consisted of 10 students anf their teacher, Programming Coordinator Stephanie Puleo, her summer assistant Adele and a centre volunteer. We began in the classroom, Tim giving an introduction to birds and birding, how to identify birds, how to count birds and the importance of the Churchill area for birds.

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Tim looking contemplative. Photo copyright Bonnie Chartier

Next we stepped out into the grounds and bussed to different birding locations. We were able to show the students a number of interesting species in the scopes, including Pacific Loon, Long-tailed Duck, Parasitic Jaegar and a passing Whimbrel. Willow Ptarmigan were also abundant along this area and showed up well for the students.

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A pair of Pacific Loons, another specialty of Northern Manitoba. Copyright Tim Poole

The key thing was to give the students an experience of how we monitor birds, how we might identify the species and how to count them. Fortunately mother nature has a way of obliging at these moments and a passing flock of Canada Geese gave students an opportunity to practice their counting. There were only around 65 geese in the flock but it was still impressive how close the students were to this figure – most people underestimate even small flocks by around half.

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Watching birds in the water. Copyright Tim Poole

Following lunch we went back into the classroom. Over lunch we had a discussion with the teacher about what all this really meant and how it was important and he led a group discussion with students about this. Conclusions included the fact that good monitoring information was important as it would inform scientists about climate change (Tim added the story about the canary in the mine at this point). The students also talked about the critical role Churchill and the surrounding area has for large groups of migrating birds. Before all that, they set up their own eBird account and were given a crash course in how to use it by the team. Hopefully we will see some entries from the school group and individual students in the future.

Later in the afternoon, we had a break and headed out to find some American Golden Plovers which were becoming a wee bit of a nemesis. Bonnie decided this would be a good opportunity to introduce Tim to the Tundra Buggies from the outside – Bonnie still hosts groups in the fall with Natural Habitat (there are of course other companies delivering Polar Bear tour experiences in Churchill each fall).

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Tundra Buggy equipment including the fuel tank (left). The roof was designed to prevent Polar Bears climbing on top of the cylinder and then making their way onto the Tundra Buggy. To the right was the kitchen buggy. Copyright Tim Poole

A drive down Launch Road eventually yielded a single plover on the dry tundra. The bird was too distant for photos but the views were decent enough in the binoculars. American Golden Plovers similar to their Eurasian counterparts avoid habitats with trees because, in simple terms, trees means something that might eat them, acting as either a perch for a raptor or cover for something like a fox. They are often found on migration in short grasslands, either pasture or even sod fields as at Oak Hammock. They breed on well-drained rocky slopes, common in the Churchill area, and knolls with sparse vegetation and lichen, again a fairly abundant habitat in the north.

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Possible breeding habitat for an American Golden Plover. Short vegetation, rocky knolls and lichens with no trees. Copyright Tim Poole

A second lone plover was picked up just outside Camp Nanuq along with a pair of Tundra Swans, Yellow-rumped Warbler and our friend the Merlin from day 2. This would be a Taiga Merlin which is darker than the Prairie Merlin’s found in urban areas in southern Manitoba.

 

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Yellow-rumped Warbler singing his heart out from the top of a tree. Copyright Tim Poole

Returning to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Tim gave a talk to around 40 people in the evening including folk from the centre and the town and also did a short eBird introduction for IBA. This well attended talk will hopefully open up more opportunities in the future. Leaving the centre, we stopped off just outside to view a pair of Horned Grebe.

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Horned Grebe just west of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Copyright Tim Poole

Along the road as the sun began dipping, the views were simply beautiful.

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Copyright Tim Poole

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Treeline spruce along the main Churchill road. Copyright Tim Poole

Another day highlight along the road was an Arctic Hare mid moult sitting in the dry tundra.

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Arctic Hare. Copyright Tim Poole

So another day ended. No bird checklist this time as we did not have sufficient time to do one justice but the highlight of the day has to be the American Golden Plovers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Churchill and Vicinity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 2

Day 2 of our outreach trip in Churchill and the priority was to take a drive up to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre and get a feel for the area before heading out the following day to do some presentations.

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Cape Merry. Copyright Tim Poole

To start, an early morning trip to Cape Merry to see if any new birds had appeared on the overnight tides. There were 3 Ruddy Turnstones on the shore by the port the only time we encountered this species during the trip. This gave a flavour of the issue we were experiencing with shorebirds as previous counts in Churchill had exceeded 6,000 individuals. We also photographed the gull below which looked a bit funky but turned out to be a 3rd cycle Herring Gull (the dark tips, dark tail with thin white band and overall smudginess suggested it might be something else). Gulls can be tricky, especially subadult birds and this one had us fooled for a while.

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Third cycle Herring Gull. Copyright Tim Poole

Our plans for the day were thus to head over towards Twin Lakes via the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. We were joined for the day by one of the Granary Pond birders from the previous evening, Judy who is working for the summer at the Tundra Inn. We set off in good time and made our first birding stop at the Recycling Centre, bagging a Glaucous and Thayer’s Gull along the way. Thayer’s Gull is interesting in that it may not be considered a species for much longer – being potentially joined with Iceland Gull as a single species due to behavioural and phenotypic (i.e. they are physically almost identical) similarities.

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A record shot of a Glaucous Gull, a High Arctic breeder. Note how pale this bird is compared to most gulls you expect to see in Manitoba. It is also much larger than the other paler Larus gull, the Iceland Gull and lacks black wing tips. Copyright Tim Poole

Bonnie had pointed out a couple of interesting observations along the way. The first was that there were a lot of Canada Goose (we counted them as we drove along to create a day total). The second was that the Herring Gulls had become far more widespread across the area. As predators of eggs and chicks from other birds, it did make us wonder if there might be a relationship between the population of Herring Gulls and the sparse number of shorebirds.

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Bonnie searching an icy lake just east of Churchill. Copyright Tim Poole

The scenery was as expected stunning. Patches of stunted spruce trees on open ground. Driving up to one point we saw a view over the taigi, open peat wetlands with small lakes and then the rocky coastal habitats.

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Panoramic view over the taiga. Copyright Tim Poole

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Another view over the open taiga. Copyright Tim Poole

Cutting down towards the coastal road, we found a large Arctic Tern colony and birded along the beachfront, taking great care to check for Polar Bears, which although rare at this time of year are not out of the question. The highlight of this stretch was this wonderful Semipalmated Plover. All photos below copyright Tim Poole

 

 

 

Back on the road and it was time for a botany lesson. Bonnie knew some dry tundra which is perfect for Purple Saxifrage, a specialty of these habitats. We popped out to take a closer look at this and some of the other plants of the area.

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Purple Saxifrage. Copyright Tim Poole

There were also regular waterfowl in small tundra ponds and lake en route. One of the more common species we would encounter is a wonderful northern specialty, the Long-tailed Duck. This species specialises in diving for molluscs and crustaceans as well as aquatic plants. It is a wintering sea duck which can be found elsewhere in large numbers feeding along sandy shorelines but they breed in the tundra.

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The elegant Long-tailed Duck. Copyright Tim Poole

We next pulled into Camp Nanuq. Among the species we found was a Blackpoll Warbler, a northern real specialty of the northern treeline forests. We first detected the calling male by ear and eventually tracked him down.

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Got him. Just! A male Blackpoll Warbler. Copyright Tim Poole

The screech of a Merlin interrupted the quiet of this quiet boreal lake. His main source of anger appeared to be a pair of Bonaparte’s Gull. While watching this interaction Iwe stumbled across an adult Bonaparte’s Gull in a nest. This species is unusual for gulls, most of which are ground nesting birds, as it nests in trees.

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Now I’ve seen it all. A Bonaparte’s Gull nesting in a tree. This was very much a snap and move away picture as we did not want to disturb this bird any longer. Copyright Tim Poole

At this point we headed to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Our aim was to say hello (which we failed to do as the person we wished to meet was on a phone conference) and have a look around the grounds looking for the birds we hoped to encounter the next day. The latter we did succeed in doing up to a point at least.

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Panoramic view of the boreal forest in the Twin Lakes area. Copyright Tim Poole

From here we headed down the Twin Lake Road. My primary hope was to get views of Willow Ptarmigan. As a former grouse man, seeing these species in Manitoba for the first time would be something well worth doing. Fortunately it was not long before we spotted a male and a female on a gravel ridge. Grouse feed on very course food in the Arctic region such as grass flowers and tree buds. This course vegetation is too tough to digest without help, and so grouse swallow grit. The food is stored in their crop and then passes into the stomach and gizzard, where the gravel helps to grind it down, making it more digestible.

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A male Willow Ptarmigan at the side of the road. At this time of year the female has moulted to a cryptic brown plumage, ideal for camouflage while sitting on her nest. The male on the otherhand has to tradeoff between the need to select a mate and therefore be showy and the need to survive, hence the red feathering on top and the white below – and the large red cone above his eye. Copyright Tim Poole

After this we entered the fen where we saw Whimbrel fly overhead, got our only flash of a pair of Stilt Sandpipers (very surprisingly this was a species which proved elusive for the most part), heard a Dunlin and Tim even heard a Smith’s Longspur through the wind (after much contemplating he decided that this is definitely what he was hearing, plus the great Rudolf Koes had one in the same place 2 days later). Of the shorebirds Hudsonian Godwit were the most showy. Parasitic Jaegar were present in the background, at least 2 pairs flying around. These birds get their name from the fact that they harass other birds, forcing them to drop food and then eating it themselves. You might describe them as a bully, and you would be correct. Arctic Tern were also around in good numbers and it is this species which the jaegar seems to especially target.

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Hudsonian Godwit in the fen. This species can often be encountered calling form treetops along the boreal forest edge. Copyright Tim Poole

 

Entering the boreal we encountered a number of specialists including Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Gray Jay and Pine Grosbeak. We also found Common Loon at the lake. This species is uncommon around Churchill although interestingly we counted at least 4 over the course of our visit. The highlight was a female Spruce Grouse which flew into the tree in front.

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Spruce Grouse, copyright Tim Poole

The tracks showed plenty of sign and dropping from Spruce Grouse, although the most interesting feature was a dustbath. Like chickens, grouse find light sandy soils to scrape away and ‘bathe’ their feathers. It is thought that by doing this the grouse can help remove parasites from around its body.

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A Spruce Grouse dustbath. Often feathers and droppings also turn up in these features. Copyright Tim Poole

The other exciting feature in the area was the clear signs of wolf, whether from fresh black scat or footprints.

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Back in town and we did our second bird walk, this time attended by a respectable 10 people, including a couple of returnees from the previous evening. The Sandhill Crane came in very close this time and there were great views of Short-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper and Red-necked Phalarope (the polyandry story from the night before got another airing).

All in all the trip was going well and we had a day delivering programs at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre to look forward to.

The daily bird checklist included 59 species and 1,047 individuals, almost half of which were Canada Goose.

Species Name Species Count
Canada Goose 429
Tundra Swan 10
American Wigeon 2
American Black Duck 2
Mallard 9
Northern Shoveler 4
Northern Pintail 22
Green-winged Teal 6
Greater Scaup 22
Common Eider 52
Long-tailed Duck 9
Common Goldeneye 59
Common Merganser 20
Red-breasted Merganser 15
Spruce Grouse 1
Willow Ptarmigan 7
Pacific Loon 7
Common Loon 2
Northern Harrier 4
Sandhill Crane 6
Semipalmated Plover 3
Whimbrel 2
Hudsonian Godwit 12
Ruddy Turnstone 3
Stilt Sandpiper 2
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 1
White-rumped Sandpiper 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper 15
Short-billed Dowitcher 6
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Red-necked Phalarope 3
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Lesser Yellowlegs 6
Parasitic Jaeger 4
Bonaparte’s Gull 14
Ring-billed Gull 4
Herring Gull 85
Thayer’s Gull 3
Glaucous Gull 1
Arctic Tern 94
Merlin 2
Gray Jay 1
Common Raven 13
Tree Swallow 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
American Robin 8
Smith’s Longspur 1
Northern Waterthrush 1
Yellow Warbler 4
Blackpoll Warbler 1
American Tree Sparrow 7
Fox Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 1
White-crowned Sparrow 20
Savannah Sparrow 18
Pine Grosbeak 2
Common Redpoll 3
House Sparrow 7
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The beautiful Willow Ptarmigan were certainly one of the days star species. Copyright Tim Poole

 

Churchill and Vicnity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 1

Due to a grant from Nature Canada, and thanks to the generosity of the Gosling Foundation, the Manitoba IBA Program were able to deliver programs in the Churchill and Vicinity IBA this June. Coordinator Tim Poole and Committee member Bonnie Chartier who hails from Churchill and is steeped in the history of birding in this part of Manitoba.

Our aim was to raise awareness of the IBAs along this whole stretch of coastline and recruit some local volunteers along the way. To begin with it was apparent that our first trip should be to the local coffee shop, the place to meet with local people. We were not in fact meeting with a local per se but with an American academic, Dr Kit Schnaars who takes up residence in Churchill each summer and is running a citizen science based Tree Swallow monitoring program. Kit is likely to be a useful contact for the IBA Program over the coming months as someone who spends time in the community and is passionate about bird conservation, although she doesn’t know her CAGO from her CANG……

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Pair of Tree Swallows outside the local restaurant on day 1. Tree Swallows were always a visitor to Churchill but only recorded breeding following a bird house program from Kit. Photo copyright Tim Poole

We were due to give a bird walk in the evening, posters were plastered all over the place and so it was a good time to see a few of the important sites for monitoring birds in the area. Bonnie drove us up to Cape Merry, a place for Belugas, seals and large congregations of scoters, gulls and other birds feeding in the estuary of the Churchill River. It is also according to some folk the ‘most miserable plac (sic)’, although this was written a long time ago – and I would suggest not true for anyone interested in both history and/or natural history for which this area is fascinating.

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I would respectfully disagree with the person who scratched this on a rock at Cape Merry over a hundred years ago. Copyright Tim Poole

There is still a large amount of pack ice on the sea – good if you are keen to avoid polar bears – and this also helped to funnel birds into the wider estuary area. A count of 43 Sabine’s Gulls was probably the highlight of this trip up to the cape along with at least 132 Black Scoter.

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Cape Merry on a blustery afternoon. Still not miserable though. Copyright Tim Poole

During the afternoon we took a trip down the Hydro Road to see what state it would be in for any future birding activities. This area has been flooded badly this spring in floods which have knocked out the railway for the foreseeable future. At the top of the road the IBA Program has helped the town purchase a new bird sightings board which will eventually include an IBA sign at this location.

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The new rare bird board. Copyright Tim Poole

The Hydro Road was one of the better places for migratory shorebirds this year. According to Bonnie and a few other folk we chatted to, the numbers of shorebirds were very few this spring in comparison with other years. Given Ruddy Turnstones have been recorded in migratory groups totaling 6,000 birds before and Red Knot in around 3,400 individuals, albeit back in 1974, the low numbers were very surprising. There is always an explanation and maybe a detour due to loss of stopover sites due to flooding upstream is the most logical.

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Short-billed Dowitchers were present in small numbers along the Hydro Road, although notably even breeding shorebirds were not easy to locate in early June. Copyright Tim Poole

We also took a few videos of the wildlife available to see on our Youtube page.

According to the IBA Canada website this IBA was designated for among others, Rusty Blackbird, Black Scoter and Red-throated Loon, all spotted on this first day. Indeed, a day watching the Red-throated Loon moving up the Churchill River to Cape Merry would likely have got us close to the previous total of 440 individuals, more than 1% of the North American breeding population of this species.

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Rusty Blackbird in the boreal edges along the Hydro Road. Copyright Tim Poole

In the afternoon we met briefly with some of the staff at the town complex and then in the early evening led an evening bird walk for 30 people at the Granary Ponds. We were able to show them good views of Red-necked Phalarope – the first of many opportunities to talk about polyandry, Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper and Arctic Tern as well as a plethora of ducks and other waterbirds and an overhead Bald Eagle. We also had a huge group back indoors to demonstrate the use of eBird for the IBA Program and advertise the events to come later in the week.

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Part of the large group of people attending our first bird walk at the Granary Ponds. Copyright Tim Poole

Day 1 over and the full list of eBirded birds is available to read through below.

Snow Goose 3
Canada Goose 32
American Wigeon 6
Mallard 16
Northern Shoveler 2
Northern Pintail 15
Green-winged Teal 23
Greater Scaup 29
Common Eider 62
Surf Scoter 22
White-winged Scoter 10
Black Scoter 148
Long-tailed Duck 9
Common Goldeneye 1
Common Merganser 130
Red-breasted Merganser 19
Red-throated Loon 20
Pacific Loon 17
Common Loon 1
Osprey 2
Bald Eagle 1
Sandhill Crane 2
Killdeer 2
Hudsonian Godwit 2
Sanderling 2
Baird’s Sandpiper 1
Least Sandpiper 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 8
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Red-necked Phalarope 14
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Solitary Sandpiper 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 12
Parasitic Jaeger 2
Sabine’s Gull 43
Bonaparte’s Gull 10
Ring-billed Gull 20
Herring Gull 14
Arctic Tern 34
Alder Flycatcher 1
Common Raven 2
Horned Lark 2
Tree Swallow 9
American Robin 7
European Starling 1
Northern Waterthrush 10
Yellow Warbler 57
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
American Tree Sparrow 5
Fox Sparrow 20
Dark-eyed Junco 2
White-crowned Sparrow 30
Savannah Sparrow 34
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 5
Rusty Blackbird 8
House Sparrow 6
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Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers. Copyright Tim Poole

Whitewater Lake IBA – The Sunday Shorebird Blitz, 21st May 2017

Following the Oak Lake blitz was the Sunday Whitewater extravaganza. As expected for a fabulous birdwatching area such as Whitewater Lake, the overall bird list was long and included some real gems. In total 28 species of shorebird were recorded, an impressive total. 19 people came along for the day, an what a day it was as well! The lake water levels were very high but the birds still concentrate in huge numbers.

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Wilson’s Phalarope were one of the more abundant shorebirds at Whitewater. Copyright Aaron Mooi

The western group, including Tim Poole, Patricia Rosa, Jen Wasko and the star of the team, 6 year old Anna Wasko, never managed to find the lake but did find an impressive 21 species of shorebird in the ephemeral wetlands and potholes. Included in this total was a single Whimbrel picked up in the scope at distance (‘I know my Curlews’ said he). Anna was the blackbird and shoveller counter (she seemed to have a special affinity for shovellers). In total there were 52 Shovellers, 287 Yellow-headed Blackbird and 900 Red-winged Blackbird in this area, so she obviously has very good arithmetic! Other highlights included a single Hudwit (Hudsonian Godwit for the non-Brits), great views of Red-necked Phalarope and a poser of an Upland Sandpiper.

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Poser! Upland Sandpiper, copyright Tim Poole

Along the south of Whitewater Lake, Bonnie Chartier, Glennis Lewis and Liz Shewchuk managed to record 74 species including half a dozen Cattle Egret and 150 Western Grebe. On the raptor front, they also managed to get a late view of a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

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The stunning Western Grebe at Whitewater. Photo copyright Aaron Mooi

Birding along the western edge, Pat and Dave Wally were joined by Lynnea Parker. This area covers not just the western shoreline, with some interesting roads, but also a large number of potholes and ephemeral wetlands. These areas can be incredibly rich for birds. Among the highlights were a Stilt Sandpiper among the 12 species of shorebird and very good numbers of both Western and Eared Grebe, plus smaller numbers of Horned and Red-necked Grebe.

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The handsome Eared Grebe in its full glory. Photo copyright Aaron Mooi

The north of Whitewater was split between our caretakers Colin and Gillian. Colin was joined by Louanne Reid and lucked out with both Clark’s Grebe and Glossy Ibis, two rare species for Manitoba. Colin’s eBird notes say that:

‘On arrival at 6.15 a.m. and before the count began we heard or saw four Black-Crowned Night Herons, a Peregrine Falcon, White-faced Ibis, American Bittern and a Willet–a clue that today was going to be another good one at Whitewater.  Other wildlife observed: deer, fox squirrel, mosquitoes, wood ticks and other insects.’

They managed to find 262 Western Grebe, another 6 Cattle Egret, 18 species of shorebird and a couple of Peregrine. Of the shorebirds, most impressive were the large concentrations of Black-belled Plover, 191 in total. They also noted 100 Dunlin, 85 Ruddy Turnstone and a single each of Red Knot and Sanderling.

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Clark’s (left) and Western (right) Grebe’s. Close-up of Clark’s to follow…. Photo copyright Gillian Richards

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Clark’s Grebe – notice the black cap does not extend below the eye. The back is also greyer than Western Grebe and the flanks paler. Photo copyright Christian Artuso

West of Colin and Louanne, Gillian was joined by the Barclay’s, Ken, Colleen and Dan, for the morning. As well as a stunning show from a Black-crowned Night Heron (see below), these guys really lucked out on the Black-bellied Plover, a total of 340 spread across several flocks. This species, a High Arctic breeder, is often synonymous with shorter grassland habitats during migration.

This Black-crowned Night Heron was really showing off! Photos copyright Gillian Richards

The eastern edge of the IBA was surveyed by Christian Artuso, Randy Mooi, Curator of Zoology at the Manitoba Museum, Aaron Mooi and Emily MacKintosh. Another Clark’s Grebe was detected at this end of the IBA. Franklin’s Gulls, over 4,500, were extremely numerous. A Prairie Falcon and a Snowy Egret also put in an appearance.

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This Franklin’s Gull almost appears to be levitating! Photo copyright Aaron Mooi

This group also scored 377 Western Grebe, a not too shabby 122 White-faced Ibis, 5 Red Knot, 422 White-rumped Sandpiper and a California Gull bringing a total of 88 species.

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The Snowy Egret fleeing the blitzers! Copyright Aaron Mooi

So to our final scores, we recorded a total of 136 species and 23,423 species. The most numerous species was the Franklin’s Gull with 5,561 individuals counted – probably an underestimate of the total. There were impressive numbers of Western Grebe, White-rumped Sandpiper and Black-bellied Sandpiper as well. Even the Snow Geese stayed for the fun! Mallard were unsurprisingly the most numerous duck, followed by Northern Pintail. White-faced Ibis also numbered at least 225, less than the August count but still very impressive. Here is the final list:

Snow Goose                                    324

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It was a slightly surprising to turn around and see this lone Snow Goose sitting in an empty tilled field. Photo copyright Tim Poole

Ross’s Goose                                   1

Canada Goose                                742

Wood Duck                                      1

Gadwall                                             380

American Wigeon                         46

Mallard                                              849

Blue-winged Teal                          363

Northern Shoveler                       474

Northern Pintail                             510

Green-winged Teal                       59

Canvasback                                     98

Redhead                                           397

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Redheads, copyright Aaron Mooi

Ring-necked Duck                         1

Lesser Scaup                                   64

Bufflehead                                      11

Hooded Merganser                      1

Ruddy Duck                                     373

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Ruddy Duck pair. Copyright Aaron Mooi

Pied-billed Grebe                          20

Horned Grebe                                3

Red-necked Grebe                       5

Eared Grebe                                   312

Western Grebe                              1,004

Clark’s Grebe                                  2

Double-crested Cormorant       19

 

American White Pelican             100

American Bittern                           22

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Not sure if there’s a bird here or not? If it is a bird, then it must be an American Bittern. Copyright Aaron Mooi

Great Blue Heron                          6

Great Egret                                      32

Snowy Egret                                    2

Cattle Egret                                     14

Black-crowned Night-Heron     77

Glossy Ibis                                        1

White-faced Ibis                            225

White-faced Ibis taking off best R crop

Wow! Copyright Aaron Mooi

Turkey Vulture                               2

Northern Harrier                           11

Sharp-shinned Hawk                   1

Swainson’s Hawk                           11

Red-tailed Hawk                            10

Virginia Rail                                      5

Sora                                                    29

American Coot                               1,547

American Avocet                           169

Video taken by Tim Poole of an American Avocet at Whitewater

Black-bellied Plover                      544

American Golden-Plover           4

Semipalmated Plover                  26

Killdeer                                              144

Upland Sandpiper                         10

Whimbrel                                         1

Hudsonian Godwit                        1

Marbled Godwit                            13

Ruddy Turnstone                          89

Red Knot                                           6

Stilt Sandpiper                               10

Sanderling                                        1

Dunlin                                                157

Baird’s Sandpiper                          139

Least Sandpiper                             233

White-rumped Sandpiper         543

Pectoral Sandpiper                       57

Pectoral Sandpiper R crop

Copyright Aaron Mooi

Semipalmated Sandpiper          91

peep sp.                                            1

Short-billed Dowitcher                5

Wilson’s Snipe                                12

Wilson’s Phalarope                       422

Red-necked Phalarope               11

Spotted Sandpiper                       4

Solitary Sandpiper                        1

Greater Yellowlegs                       3

Willet                                                 38

Willet R crop

Copyright Aaron Mooi

Lesser Yellowlegs                          7

shorebird sp.                                   100

Bonaparte’s Gull                            10

Franklin’s Gull                                 5,561

Ring-billed Gull                               24

California Gull                                 1

Herring Gull                                     1

Caspian Tern                                   8

Black Tern                                        102

Common Tern                                20

Forster’s Tern                                 230

Rock Pigeon                                    35

Eurasian Collared-Dove              4

Mourning Dove                              88

Great Horned Owl                         2

Hairy Woodpecker                       3

Northern Flicker                            5

Merlin                                                2

Peregrine Falcon                           2

Prairie Falcon                                  1

Least Flycatcher                             10

Eastern Phoebe                             1

Say’s Phoebe                                  2

Western Kingbird                          16

Eastern Kingbird                            20

Warbling Vireo                               5

Blue Jay                                             2

Black-billed Magpie                      3

American Crow                              16

Common Raven                             6

Horned Lark                                     24

Tree Swallow                                  159

Bank Swallow                                 47

Barn Swallow                                  182

Cliff Swallow                                   395

Black-capped Chickadee            1

House Wren                                    12

Sedge Wren                                    10

Marsh Wren                                    37

Swainson’s Thrush                        3

American Robin                             59

Gray Catbird                                    3

Brown Thrasher                             2

European Starling                          56

Common Yellowthroat                1

Yellow Warbler                              26

Yellow-rumped Warbler             8

Le Conte’s Sparrow                      2

Nelson’s Sparrow                          1

Chipping Sparrow                         8

Clay-colored Sparrow                  60

Harris’s Sparrow                            1

Vesper Sparrow                             25

Savannah Sparrow                        89

Song Sparrow                                 88

Song Sparrow R crop

Copyright Aaron Mooi

Lincoln’s Sparrow                          1

Swamp Sparrow                            1

Bobolink                                           21

Red-winged Blackbird                 2,167

Western Meadowlark                 83

Yellow-headed Blackbird           2,062

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Copyright Aaron Mooi

Brewer’s Blackbird                        80

Common Grackle                          269

Brown-headed Cowbird             192

Orchard Oriole                               2

Baltimore Oriole                            6

American Goldfinch                     43

House Sparrow                              21

Moose                                              1

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She’s hiding behind the goose! A moose in a field just outside Boissevain. Copyright Tim Poole


Highlights for Whitewater Lake IBA Blitz:

WWLAKE-SUMMARY

Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA Blitz – 20th May 2017

On May 20th, 15 volunteers descended on Oak Lake for a blitz of the Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA. The following blog comes in three parts. In the first Patricia Rosa gives her account of the day monitoring with Lynnea Parker and Tim Poole. 

Our crew’s Oak Lake/Plum Lakes IBA Blitzing adventures started in the early hours of the morning with a nice pre-sunrise drive from Winnipeg. On our way, we got to see a surprisingly large Wild Turkey standing just a few feet from the highway (Lynnea’s first lifer of the day)!

Less than 1 km into our survey of the eastern boundary of this IBA, Tim heard a Yellow-throated Vireo. Although they are usually rather difficult to see, we had a great view of this one individual signing atop a tree, showing off his brilliant yellow markings. Our cameras were of course either out of reach, dead, or broken! Later on, we heard Black-and-white Warblers and Cape May Warblers, and saw the bright Eastern Bluebird in flight.

Throughout the morning, the Wilson’s Snipes were very prominent! We spotted a group of 5 nearby the road, and their howls seemed to follow us along our survey transect. We also caught a glimpse of a Sora, and some distant White-faced Ibises (that were not Glossy Ibises to Lynnea’s dismay!).

 

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© Patricia Rosa

In the prairie sites,  Eastern and Western Kingbirds were seen hanging together on fences. The LBS (i.e. Little Brown Sparrows) were out and about, including many Clay-coloured, Savannah, Song, and Vesper Sparrows. Lynnea and I were lucky enough to hear a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. We also encountered a photogenic Bobolink and got a good look at a Lark Sparrow perched near an agricultural field.

 

Four other groups were also busy across the IBA. Each group had been designated its own area:

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Group number 1 took on the area between Highway 2 and the south of Plum Lakes. Glennis, Linda and Louanne found 62 species including 5 Ruddy Turnstone just south of Jiggin’s Bluff (see below). They also observed some late moving Tundra Swans. Other shorebirds were thinner on the ground but Willet could be located in and around the area.

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Willet over Oak Lake. ©Katharine Schulz Group 1 took on the area between Highway 2 and the south of Plum Lakes. Glennis, Linda, and Louanne found 62 species including 5 Ruddy Turnstone just south of Jiggin’s Bluff (see below). They also observed some late moving Tundra Swans. Other shorebirds were thinner on the ground but could be located in and around the area.

The western grassland areas were covered by the Wally’s, Pat and Dave, and Katharine. Grassland birds still seemed on the low side but they did find a group of 18 Black-bellied Plovers and good numbers of Franklin’s Gulls. The White-faced Ibis, previously only seemingly a specialty of Whitewater Lake also put in an appearance.

Bonnie, Liz and Clay were responsible for a sizable area north of the TransCanada and covering the Assiniboine River Valley. Their highlights were Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Mountain Bluebird.

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The Black-bellied Plovers at Oak Lake. ©Katharine Schulz

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Male Wilson’s Phalarope. ©Katharine Schulz

Finally Ward and Marlene birded a large area around Oak Lake Resort, including the beach and the dam. Wilson’s Phalarope, at least 200 were abundant just to the north of the resort. There were 5 species of grebe in the area (Red-necked, Horned, Eared, Western and Pied-billed). Another notable feature were the large numbers of Franklin’s Gull, at least 1,665. The total species count was 86.

After discussing with the other crews about their notable findings of the day, we all decided to head towards the south of Plum Lake to find Ruddy Turnstones and Black-bellied Plovers. They were not there when we arrived, but we were greeted by a great deal of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Eared Grebes, Common Terns, and American Coots (just to name a few!).

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© Patricia Rosa

Eventually, a lone Black-bellied Plover showed up and stood still among a group of bird preening and bathing. Soon after, two Ruddy Turnstones and one Black-bellied Plover flew over the site at which point our lone plover opted to join them, and they were off!

Thank you to all of the BioBlitz volunteers!


Tim Poole now gives an account of a bird walk at the Jiggin’s Bluff NCC property during the course of the morning

First the good news, 17 people turned out for a bird walk with Rebekah Neufeld of NCC and myself on a beautiful sunny day. The bad news is that high lake water levels around Plum Lakes meant that we didn’t quite get the expected bonanza of shorebirds. However we did get some great views of some great birds. There was also a piece in the Virden Empire and the Brandon Sun (see below).Brandon Sun 20 May

Among the highlights were some very showy Bobolink, Baltimore Oriole and numerous ducks including those handsome blue-beaked Ruddy Ducks showing up well in the scope for the children to be able to see. We also had a cacophony of sound to contend with in the ‘bluff’ part of Jiggin’s Bluff, Least Flycatcher, Ovenbird and Rose-breasted Grosbeak among them. Here is the main photo from the Virden Empire:

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Thanks to everyone for coming along and for Carleigh and Wayne for providing some local advertising. And of course thanks to NCC and Rebekah for being such great hosts. The final bird totals were added to our daily total which you can see below.


Here’s a summary of what we found:

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Species Name                                         Species Count

Snow Goose                                               7

Canada Goose                                           238

Tundra Swan                                              18

Wood Duck                                                 3

Gadwall                                                        66

American Wigeon                                     6

Mallard                                                         292

Blue-winged Teal                                      280

Northern Shoveler                                   102

Northern Pintail                                         5

Green-winged Teal                                  15

Canvasback                                                 212

Redhead                                                      232

Ring-necked Duck                                     38

Lesser Scaup                                               87

Bufflehead                                                  18

Hooded Merganser                                 2

Ruddy Duck                                                 185

Ruffed Grouse                                           1

Wild Turkey                                                1

Pied-billed Grebe                                     8

Horned Grebe                                            4

Red-necked Grebe                                   1

Eared Grebe                                               154

Western Grebe                                         35

Double-crested Cormorant                  1

American White Pelican                         24

American Bittern                                       4

Great Blue Heron                                      8

Black-crowned Night-Heron                 3

White-faced Ibis                                        55

Turkey Vulture                                           7

Northern Harrier                                       8

Sharp-shinned Hawk                               1

Bald Eagle                                                    1

Swainson’s Hawk                                      4

Red-tailed Hawk                                        14

Virginia Rail                                                 2

Sora                                                                71

American Coot                                           231

American Avocet                                      10

Black-bellied Plover                                 19

Killdeer                                                         53

Upland Sandpiper                                     1

Marbled Godwit                                        9

Ruddy Turnstone                                      5

Wilson’s Snipe                                            49

Wilson’s Phalarope                                  253

Spotted Sandpiper                                   5

Willet                                                             7

Franklin’s Gull                                             2,070

Ring-billed Gull                                          1

Black Tern                                                    221

Common Tern                                            13

Forster’s Tern                                             9

Rock Pigeon                                                18

Mourning Dove                                         84

Black-billed Cuckoo                                  2

Great Horned Owl                                    1

Belted Kingfisher                                      1

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker                       11

Downy Woodpecker                               1

Hairy Woodpecker                                   2

Northern Flicker                                        15

American Kestrel                                      2

Least Flycatcher                                        166

Eastern Phoebe                                         9

Great Crested Flycatcher                       5

Western Kingbird                                      22

Eastern Kingbird                                        37

Yellow-throated Vireo                            2

Philadelphia Vireo                                    1

Warbling Vireo                                          41

Blue Jay                                                        8

Black-billed Magpie                                 24

American Crow                                          27

Common Raven                                         16

Horned Lark                                                5

Northern Rough-winged Swallow      2

Purple Martin                                             4

Tree Swallow                                              72

Bank Swallow                                             71

Barn Swallow                                              144

Cliff Swallow                                               380

Black-capped Chickadee                        4

White-breasted Nuthatch                     3

House Wren                                                33

Sedge Wren                                                21

Marsh Wren                                                105

Eastern Bluebird                                        1

Mountain Bluebird                                   8

Swainson’s Thrush                                    2

American Robin                                         140

Gray Catbird                                                25

Brown Thrasher                                         2

European Starling                                     19

Cedar Waxwing                                         3

Ovenbird                                                      4

Black-and-white Warbler                       3

Tennessee Warbler                                 9

Common Yellowthroat                           8

American Redstart                                   2

Cape May Warbler                                   3

Yellow Warbler                                          340

Yellow-rumped Warbler                        8

Wilson’s Warbler                                       1

Le Conte’s Sparrow                                  13

Nelson’s Sparrow                                      1

Chipping Sparrow                                     19

Clay-colored Sparrow                              118

Lark Sparrow                                              7

Harris’s Sparrow                                        1

Vesper Sparrow                                        26

Savannah Sparrow                                   88

Song Sparrow                                             76

Swamp Sparrow                                        15

Rose-breasted Grosbeak                       10

Bobolink                                                       49

Red-winged Blackbird                             2,110

Western Meadowlark                             85

Yellow-headed Blackbird                       847

Rusty Blackbird                                          6

Brewer’s Blackbird                                    83

Common Grackle                                      70

Brown-headed Cowbird                         133

Orchard Oriole                                           1

Baltimore Oriole                                        63

Purple Finch                                                3

Pine Siskin                                                    2

American Goldfinch                                 50

House Sparrow                                          9