Volunteer Trip Report by Glennis Lewis – A Swan Song For October Birding at the Oak Lake/Plum Lakes IBA

On Thursday, October 18, Louanne Reid, Gillian Richards and I (Glennis Lewis) set out from Brandon to look for swans at the Oak Lake/Plum Lakes IBA. After several weeks of nasty weather (and a cancelled IBA blitz), it was a great pleasure to hit the road on a gorgeous calm morning with the anticipation of some excellent birding ahead of us.

We entered the IBA at the town of Oak Lake, and quickly spotted 12 Eastern Bluebirds near the town cemetery. Our next big find was a Great Egret, picture perfect on the water’s edge at the intersection of PR 254 and 50 N. And, while some slush ice lingered along the banks of the lake, there was open water on the lake and marshes with many waterfowl dispersed throughout. We found 910 Tundra Swans and 870 Snow Geese on our route north and east of the resort, and along the road to the dam.

SNGO Oak Lake Gillian Richards

Is that flecks of snow around this lovely blue morph Snow Goose. Copyright Gillian Richards

 

18 American Avocets in their pale nonbreeding plumage were counted north of the lake. We flushed up 3 Snow Buntings along the dam road while 2 Eared Grebes were spotted just west of the dam.

 

The American Avocets at Oak Lake were still hanging around later in October. Photos all copyright Gillian Richards.

By mid afternoon, the temperature soared to about 22 degrees and the wind picked up, causing fluffy white cattail seeds to explode over the marshes. It is a unique experience being caught in the middle of a cattail blizzard. But, as annoying as it is to have white fluff get in your eyes and up your nose, you have to marvel at the effectiveness of cattail seed production and dispersal.

At the end of the day, we were well content with our bird counts – 46 species, 3,213 individuals (see the list below and on eBird here, here and here). Thanks to Gillian for posting the counts on eBird. Louanne and Gillian also deserve great credit for pulling out branches and weeds that became tangled underneath my car on one of the rougher roads we traveled – an effort much appreciated!

Dowitcher Oak Lake Gillian Richards

Dowitchers doing their distinct pumping feeding action. Copyright Gillian Richards

On Sunday, October 21, I returned to Oak Lake with Jen and Anna Wasko to enjoy another lovely day of birding. We traveled around the north and east side of the lake, and down the dam road observing Tundra Swans. We also took a short walk into the Routledge Sandhills. The Sandhills are always worth a visit and, while they are on private land, there are a few points of public access. A right-of-way into the hills just west of the intersection of PR 254 and 50 N can be easily walked to get a view of one of the largest hills (now sadly much diminished by damage from off road vehicles).

TUSW Oak Lake Gillian Richards

Tundra Swans really do gather here in vast numbers. Photo copyright Gillian Richards

Happily, the Great Egret was still around for viewing, and we counted 6 Snow Buntings along the dam road. Another highlight of the trip was a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets cavorting about in the oak trees along the road to Jiggins Bluff. Thanks to Jen for driving and to Anna who carefully counted all those Tundra Swans (384 in total).

GREG Oak Lake Gillian Richards

The lingering Great Egret at Oak Lake. Photo copyright Gillian Richards

Both of these field trips to the Oak Lake /Plum Lakes IBA are fondly remembered now that winter is taking hold. And, come next spring, there will be more birding trips to plan in this exceptional IBA with its many diverse habitats of marshes, wet meadows, dry grasslands, deciduous forests, and sandhills.

Species Name 18-Oct
Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) 870
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 79
Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus) 910
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) 91
American Wigeon (Mareca americana) 8
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 159
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) 12
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) 20
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) 100
Redhead (Aythya americana) 70
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) 37
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) 250
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) 8
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) 40
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) 5
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) 70
duck sp. (Anatinae sp.) 340
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) 2
American Coot (Fulica americana) 1
Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis) 1
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) 18
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus/scolopaceus) 4
Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) 1
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) 4
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) 4
Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) 1
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 1
Great Egret (Ardea alba) 1
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) 2
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) 2
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 1
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) 6
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 5
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 5
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) 12
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 3
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 30
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 6
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 2
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) 3
American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) 3
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 3
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 4
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) 12
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

On behalf of the Manitoba IBA Program, thank you Glennis for writing this excellent piece. Thanks also to the rest of the bird group, Louanne, Gillian, Jen and Anna. It is fantastic to have such a great core of birders in Westman!

Volunteer Trip Profile – Katharine Schulz, Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA

Volunteer, Katharine Schulz braved the wintery, blustery weather to visit the Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA on October 15th. This was a day after our crane and swan blitz in the area, which we were sadly forced to cancel due to the filthy weather forecast for the day. Gladly, Katharine took the trip a day later, and one other person really braved it on the actual intended day of the blitz. We will profile a third group trip next week. Here is Katharine’s impressions, photos, and map.

I am attaching my GPS track from my October 15th foray into the Oak Lake-Plum Lakes IBA.  I was in the IBA from approximately 9:50 to 4:20 i.e. 6.5 hours and spent the entire time north of #2 Hwy.  The majority of time was spent on the west side of Oak Lake and then I covered a few spots along the 254 up the east side on my way out.

MB011 Katharine Schuklz trip, October 2018

Katharine’s GPS track.

I didn’t manage to take very many good bird photos, but I did have better birding success further south on the west side, and also at a few spots along the 254.  It was a cold, cloudy and windy morning, having been -9C the previous night (in Brandon.)

Frozen marsh 254 S of Hwy 1 Oak Lake IBA Oct 15 2018 IMG_1103

The frozen marsh. Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

The first interesting thing I encountered was a number of apparent piles of snow on a frozen marsh – this turned out to be 31 Tundra Swans, most with their necks tucked in and many of which actually appeared almost frozen into the ice!  Two were juveniles.  When I passed by again later that afternoon, on the way out of the IBA, about 24 were still there, but the now had a bit more room to swim as the day had turned sunny and reached a high of +11, according to the vehicle thermometer.

Tundra Swans in ice 254 S of Hwy 1 Oak Lake IBA Oct 15 2018 IMG_1105

Early morning swans on the ice. Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

Tundra Swans afternoon on same marsh on 254 S of Hwy1 P1330119

Same place later in the day, one or two of the swans appear to have turned into Canada Geese! Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

All in all, it was a good day for Tundra Swans.  A total of 652 were counted at 5 locations plus one flyover group.  The highest numbers were found on larger waterbodies along the 254, one on the south side just west of Oak Lake resort and one on the east side just north of the Oak Lake resort.  These locations also contained numerous ducks, with the latter including at least 125 (likely many more) Northern Shovelers.

Tundra Swans N of Oak Lake resort IBA Oct 15 2018 P1330089

Various waterfowl, including more Tundra Swans  near the resort. Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

Tundra Swans Oak Lake IBA Oct 15 2018 P1330013

Swans flying over. Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

Numerous ducks, mostly unidentified, were encountered throughout the day, in addition to the above.  Many were in flocks in flight.  The highest concentration was found on the west side of Oak Lake upon driving in to the lakeshore along the diversion.  This drive also offered up 2 adult Bald Eagles, a few songbirds and 6 Greater Yellowlegs foraging on a sandbar, along with a few more Tundra Swans on the lake.  A forlorn Yellow-rumped Warbler was also observed attempting to forage on the completely frozen surface of the diversion.

Confused YRWA on icy diversion 46W Oak Lake IBA Oct 15 2018 IMG_1155

Forlorn Myrtle Warbler. Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

While at the lakeshore, Sandhill Cranes were finally heard and then seen in huge flocks in the air to the south-southwest.  I estimated approximately 2,250 in the air, possibly more, and hoped that I might find them when I drove back out to the 150W and then further south and east.

SACR 149W at 43N Oak Lake IBA Oct 15 2018 P1330030

Sandhill Cranes milling around. Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

SACR 149W at 43N Oak Lake IBA Oct 15 2018 P1330027

More Sandhill Cranes in the same field.Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

Unfortunately, I only encountered a small flock of 12 flying west at the 150W and 44N, and then 34 in a field off the 149W at 43N. Interestingly, this was about a mile north of the spot you had indicated for SACR found last year, so they seem to favour that general area.)  Small flocks kept flying overhead, mostly from east to west-southwest, so I attempted to drive further east on the 43N, hoping to get closer to where the huge flocks had appeared to be flying when viewed earlier from the lakeshore.  Unfortunately, about 350 more were observed in the air further east, but no more were found on the ground and the road became too dicey to go any further about 2.5 miles east from the 149W.  Altogether, I believe I had approximately 2,726 Sandhill Cranes after counting small flocks overhead and estimating the large, more distant flocks in the air, but I expect this is an underestimate.

Sandhill Cranes Oak Lake IBA Oct 15 2018 P1330062

Flocks of cranes are commonplace in this area.Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

A decent number of raptors, mostly Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier were encountered throughout the day, but surprisingly few gulls or blackbird flocks.  Oh yes, and I had nice looks at 2 coyotes (and one white cat that I initially mistook for a rabbit – good thing I wasn’t doing a mammal survey!)

Coyote 254 W of Oak Lake resort IBA Oct 15 2018 cropped IMG_1188

Coyote on the prowl….Photo copyright Katharine Schulz

Thanks Katharine for your excellent report, and great photos. Here is the list submitted by Katharine (which can be viewed on eBird).

Snow Goose 55
Canada Goose 66
Tundra Swan 652
American Wigeon 10
Mallard 157
Northern Shoveler 125
Northern Pintail 3
Canvasback 5
Redhead 2
Scaup sp. 30
Bufflehead 22
Common Goldeneye 15
Duck sp. 4138
Western Grebe 1
Northern Harrier 4
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 2
Red-tailed Hawk 6
Sandhill Crane 2726
Killdeer 1
Greater Yellowlegs 10
Ring-billed Gull 6
Rock Pigeon 85
Mourning Dove 2
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Balck-billed Magpie 10
American Crow 2
Common Raven 11
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Winter Wren 1
American Robin 5
Yelllow-rumped Warbler 3
Chipping Sparrow 3
Dark-eyed Junco 8
Sparrow sp. 3
Western Meadowlark 6
Blackbird sp. 35

The 12th Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference

Winnipeg will be hosting the 12th Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference on February 19-21, 2019. This is a great opportunity to hear about the diverse conservation initiatives ongoing in the three prairie provinces, meet fellow enthusiasts, and be challenged about the future of the prairies. The theme of ‘Working Landscapes’ is timely, and very much complements the SARPAL projects, of which we are partners.

See http://www.pcesc.ca/ for more info.

PCESC Advrt Poster 2019-1

Thank You Noventis Credit Union!

We were delighted to receive a cheque for $500 from Noventis Credit Union yesterday. This funding supported outreach and workparties in the Manitoba Interlake including our weed pulls (here are links for weed pull 1 and weed pull 2), our beach clean-up, and blitzes at the North, West and East Shoal Lakes IBA. Thank you for your support.

Nature MB

Manitoba IBA Coordinator, Tim Poole, receiving a cheque from Amanda Wilson from Noventis Credit Union.

Heroic Effort to Pull Weeds at Sandy Bar When the Weather is Knot Fine

Tim Poole has finally thawed out from a bitter weed pull on Friday September 28th. Here is a report on another successful morning at the ‘Bar’.

8 degrees, that’s what they promised. 8 degrees and sunshine, almost the ideal conditions for a Friday morning weed pull at the end of September in Manitoba. This was Wednesday, and we were getting ready for another morning recreating habitat for Piping Plovers. It was therefore, to my absolute horror, when someone at home (she who shall remain nameless), announced that the forecast on Thursday had swung around, and was now a rather milder 1 degree, and flurries. A tiny bit of a turnaround then!

We decided to plough ahead, warning everyone who had contacted us beforehand that the weather was possibly going to be fowl (ok, allow me at least one more bird pun), but we would be going ahead regardless. We are after all a hardy bunch.

The drive up to Sandy Bar was punctuated by many a bird sighting. Seven eBird checklists worth apparently (a recent convert to the eBird App was responsible for recording bird sightings). Sharp-tailed Grouse were probably the best species, although, as the driver, I missed out on that particular species. Not to worry, Sandy Bar rarely disappoints at this time of year.

Arriving early, and the first few souls were already looking chilled to the bone. The north wind rushed across Lake Winnipeg, and what’s more, the coffee and muffins had not materialised. In life, there are times when you need a nice hot coffee, and this was one of them. Eventually, Lynnea and Ward arrived in a flurry of glory, and produced the aforementioned beverages and snacks, and we tucked in (it turned out that ordering in advance, does not mean that your order will be ready – or even being processed when you arrive). At least the early arrivals got to start birding – American Pipit numbers were already building nicely.

American Pipit_1566_Artuso

Just a brown bird? There’s something so completely striking and intricate about the American Pipit. Copyright Christian Artuso

We gathered around, I gave a stirring speech to rally the troops. Following this outpouring of Shakespearean prose, the group seemed just glad to get moving.

Seventeen people showed up, and we are extremely thankful to every single one of them. Unfortunately, Joanne, our instigator in chief, had to work. We did encourage her to ‘pull a sicky’, but she has far too much integrity to do that! The walk along the shoreline was, as ever an opportunity to view some avian treats. Usually these events are defined by the gatherings of Rusty Blackbirds. Not this time though. Warblers, Horned Larks, American Pipits, and various other songbirds seemed to be hiding in the willows.

Palm Warbler_2255_Artuso

A Palm Warbler appearing to take shelter from the wind. Copyright Christian Artuso

Our plan for weeding was to widen the large open sandy area midway along the bar, in the hope that we would one day make an area so clear, a Piping Plover would inevitably have no choice but to breed here.

Sandy Bar Weed Pull-October 2018-Lynnea A Parker-1120822

Hard working volunteers digging in for the mornings weed pulling. Copyright Lynnea Parker

Sandy Bar Weed Pull-October 2018-Lynnea A Parker-1120803

Volunteers give up their tripods and scopes and get to work. Note the short vegetation, a sure sign that we are getting somewhere. Copyright Lynnea Parker

The vegetation was pretty clipped, one would assume it was young, and easily pulled. That would be a mistake. The clover was rooted deep into the ground, having more than one season of growth for certain. To remove the roots meant to dig down, grapple with the root and then twist it around your hand, before teasing it out. It often took over a minute to pull a single clover. Hard work, rewarding, and probably a good way to keep warm in the circumstances.

Sandy Bar Weed Pull-October 2018-Lynnea A Parker-1120806

Come on Tim, it can’t be that hard. Photo copyright Lynnea Parker

It seemed like slow work. Each bag was slowly filled with willows, clover and burdocks. In fact, over 30 bags, possibly as many as 40 bags were filled. An average of over 2 per person was some going for a cold day.

Sandy Bar Weed Pull-October 2018-Lynnea A Parker-1120825

Peter having an argument with a Home Depot bag. For clarification, we in the Manitoba IBA Program show no preference for selecting bags, and would like to assure members of the public that garden bags can be purchased from a number of different hardware and garden establishments. Canadian Tire did seem to hold up better though. Copyright Lynnea Parker

Lynnea took some wonderful photos of the group working, and we could not select just one or two to show off, so here is a selection of some of the best ones.

Each bag was dragged into a pile including the bags from our August weed pull, and these are to be burnt by staff from Manitoba Sustainable Development.

Sandy Bar Weed Pull-October 2018-Lynnea A Parker-1120800

Pulling bags to the burn pile. Has anyone else noticed that Lynnea spent an awfully long time taking pics? Copyright Lynnea Parker

At some point in the morning, the attention shifted from pulling the shorter stuff, to pulling anything with a flowering head, and then to targeting the willows rooting along the beach. These plants are rhizomous, meaning that the underground roots are capable of producing new shoots, and new plants (although the new shoot is genetically the same as any other willow on the same root system). We found an efficiency in pulling along these root systems. We also realised that the willows were stabilising the sand bar, and their removal might make the sand less compact, and therefore reduce the seed bed for the weeds.

Sandy Bar Weed Pull-October 2018-Lynnea A Parker-1120835

Tug of war over a willow root. Copyright Lynnea Parker

We wound up around midday, following the customary group photo.

Sandy Bar Weed Pull-October 2018-Lynnea A Parker-1120838

Everyone trying to not look too cold. Copyright Lynnea Parker

At this point we began the process of clearing up, making it appear as if no one had ever been there.

Sandy Bar Weed Pull-October 2018-Lynnea A Parker-1120814

It was fortunate that we persuaded Christian that a bunch of sticks was not going to be an appropriate gift for his wife. Copyright Lynnea Parker

And came to the most important point of the day – the trip to the tip and the chances of finding some birds. Around half the group headed for warmth, but us brave souls wanted to see more birds. Lynnea had to be persuaded by the promise of some snack bars – and she calls herself a birder! The first species was the pale, bustling Sanderling, a species most at home scurrying around in the surf at the waters edge.

P1050423

Sanderling, one of the few defenses against zebra mussels? Copyright Tim Poole

Walking further up the beach, revealed more birding treats. Horned Lark are not exactly a rare find in Manitoba over the summer, but they rarely show this well.

Horned Lark_2236_Artuso

Horned Lark. Copyright Christian Artuso

Another great spot was a Blackpoll Warbler.

Blackpoll Warbler_2042_Artuso

Blackpoll Warbler in the vegetation. Copyright Christian Artuso

To the tip we headed. Peter D. passed us with some exciting news, an opportunity that we would knot be able to turn down.

A group of shorebirds raised the excitement levels, but they disappeared. Had Peter’s birds escaped us? Fortunately not. Two juvenile Red Knots, a globally Near Threatened and a nationally Threatened species were foraging with a juvenile Black-bellied Plover  at the tip of the bar. As with the Sanderling, these are High Arctic breeders.

Red Knot_1429_imm

Juvenile Red Knots. Copyright Christian Artuso

After 20 minutes and a cumulative total of about 1,000 photos between five of us, we were heading back. Lapland Longspurs were getting quite abundant by now.

The second excitable moment was courtesy of Ray. Scoters! White-winged! Alas no, the scoters became scaup, Lesser Scaup at that. Oh well, nice try!

Lesser Scaup_2029_Artuso

Lesser Scaup flying across the lake. Copyright Christian Artuso

Excitable moment three followed soon after. Lynnea had found a Western Sandpiper! It disappeared – would we ever find out whether she was right? Some shorebirds landed behind us, and suddenly we had it in our sights. Christian was convinced – a Western it was! Christian – and the rest of the group for that matter – had briefly taken leave of our senses, and forgot the basic first question for identifying small sandpipers. Christian is a fine teacher – and had taught me to look at the ratio of wing length to tail before proceeding with identification. This bird had long wings projecting far beyond the tail. It was either Baird’s or White-rumped. In fact it was the latter, due to the bright patterning, indicative of a juvenile at that. Alas, Ray kept his jig of delight for another day….

White-rumped Sandpiper_2163_juv_Artuso

Look at that projection! Note the wings project beyond the tail on this White-rumped Sandpiper. Also note the orange on the base of the bill, and the highly patterned back. Copyright Christian Artuso

White-rumped Sandpiper_2146_juv_American Pipit_Artuso

Who’s a little fella! White-rumped Sandpiper versus American Pipit. Note the size differential is hardly noticeable. Copyright Christian Artuso

Pectoral Sandpiper_2051_White-rumped Sandpiper_Artuso

It’s definitely got a white rump! Pipit, Pec and White-rumped Sandpiper. Copyright Christian Artuso.

Excitement over, we returned to the parking lot, returned to the cars, and returned to a warm drink. It was a fantastic effort by everyone, over 30 bags filled, and some great birds for those of us who stuck around until the bitter end.

Thank you to the brave 17 – your efforts were greatly appreciated! Thank you also to our various funders, including Environment and Climate Change Canada, Manitoba Fish and Wildlife Enhancement Fund, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, and Noventis Credit Union.


Here to the critically important final bird list of the day (see here, here and here).

Species Name Species Count
Snow Goose 195
Canada Goose 160
Mallard 43
Green-winged Teal 2
Greater Scaup 6
Lesser Scaup 50
Bufflehead 18
Common Goldeneye 2
Black-bellied Plover 2
Red Knot 2
Sanderling 10
Dunlin 1
White-rumped Sandpiper 2
Pectoral Sandpiper 5
peep sp. 1
Wilson’s Snipe 6
Bonaparte’s Gull 21
Ring-billed Gull 39
Herring Gull 13
Caspian Tern 3
Double-crested Cormorant 3
Northern Harrier 3
Bald Eagle 11
Belted Kingfisher 3
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Merlin 3
Black-billed Magpie 2
American Crow 6
Common Raven 8
Horned Lark 27
Winter Wren 1
Marsh Wren 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
American Robin 15
American Pipit 106
Lapland Longspur 63
Fox Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 30
White-crowned Sparrow 21
Harris’s Sparrow 11
White-throated Sparrow 30
Song Sparrow 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
Tennessee Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 2
American Redstart 2
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 36
Yellow-rumped Warbler 98