Oak Lake and Routledge Sandhills BioBlitz – July 15, 2017

by Patricia Rosa 

On Saturday July 15, a total of 18 volunteer BioBlitzers surveyed Oak Lake/Plum Lakes IBA (MB011). The following blog includes highlights of the large-scale bird survey, and NCC’s Rebekah Neufeld’s account of the Routledge Sandhills portion of the blitz accompanied by entomology experts.

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Tim, Linda and Devon were tasked with surveying the western portion of the IBA. They encountered, Sprague’s Pipit and Grasshopper Sparrow. They made it all the way to the west of the lake, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself!

At the start of our survey, Glennis and I saw a Grasshopper Sparrow belting out a tune on a fence post. A few of the species we were able to spot during our visit to NCC’s Jiggin’s Bluff included Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Say’s Phoebe, and Cedar Waxwing. Plum Lakes hosted a large diversity of shorebirds, ducks, and gulls with one notable visitor: a juvenile Bald Eagle!

Christian, Delaney, and Wally surveyed the East. Their efforts were rewarded as they were able to get a good look at this beautiful Red-headed Woodpecker.

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Red-headed Woodpecker ©Christian Artuso

Bonnie and Lynnea took on the North! They not only heard Sprague’s Pipit but also Baird’s Sparrow. After lunch, Bonnie and Lynnea brought a group of us to the location where they heard them, and we were able to hear a couple Baird’s counter-singing in the field.

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Searching for the Western Wood-Pewee ©Patricia Rosa

While the day was filled with exciting sightings, nothing gets in the way of motivated birders! Several eager individuals made their way to a more populated area of the IBA to search for Western Wood-Pewee. Although some of us were initially fooled by an Eastern Wood-Pewee, we were finally able to see it. What a great way to end the day!

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Western Wood-Pewee ©Christian Artuso


Routledge Sandhills BioBlitz by Rebekah Neufeld

We had 8 volunteers join us for the sandhills portion of the BioBlitz, which took place in the Routledge Sandhills complex on Nature Conservancy of Canada property and adjacent lands, including entomology experts Dr. Terry Galloway and Dr. Bob Wrigley. Unfortunately we did not spot Prairie Skink or Plains Hog-nosed Snakes as we had hoped (or any reptiles for that matter – which is a bit unusual). But the insects were much more forthcoming. Of particular interest were a number of species associated with early-successional and open sand habitats – areas where natural disturbance maintains sparse vegetation and open sand habitat that many plants and animals rely on.

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Located just south of the Trans-Canada Highway near the town of Oak Lake, these inactive (vegetated) sand dunes support a mosaic of prairie ridges, patches of open sand, and Aspen-Oak Woodlands. (Photo by ©Lee Fehler)

Between them Bob and Terry spotted three species of Tiger Beetles: Big Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa), Blowout Tiger Beetle (Cicindela lengi), and Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata). Known for their distinct, colourful patterns and fast speed, tiger beetles are a treat to watch as they appear to almost float across the ground. The first two species are generally associated with very sandy, loose soils that the beetles burrow into. The third species is not restricted to sand, and occurs on dry, open ground, often along packed trails (like the cattle trails these were found on).

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Big Sand Tiger Beetle. The odd discolouration on this individual makes it look like a burn mark, how or why this occurs is unknown. (Photo by ©NCC)

Terry also spotted the aptly named sandhill or sand dune ant Formica bradleyi. This species is only observed in loose, very sandy soil, generally where the vegetation is somewhat sparse. This brightly coloured ant can be distinguished from other similar-looking red ants you may find in sandy areas by their very aggressive behaviour. This species will swarm and attack when disturbed, while the other species will scatter and run off.


Take a look at the highlights from our July Oak Lake/Plum Lakes BioBlitz and total count:

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Cherry Point Evening Bird Walk – July 14, 2017 (Part 2 – Birds & beetles)

by Patricia Rosa

Following our birding adventure in Whitewater Lake IBA (part 1), we joined a group of nature enthusiasts at the Legion Hall in the town of Oak Lake for a talk by Dr. Robert Wrigley. He introduces us to the diverse and colourful world of Tiger Beetles and their reliance on appropriate sandhill habitat such as Manitoba’s Routledge Sandhills.

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Cherry Point Evening Bird Walk ©Patricia Rosa

Once we arrived at Cherry Point, Robert Wrigley was ready with his net, Tim and Christian set up their scopes, and the kids were eager to learn and see new things!

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©Patricia Rosa

The water was speckled with a ton of bobbing white spots (642 to be precise). Tim explained to the young naturalists that these were Franklin’s Gull, and they attempted to count them in his scope. Overhead, Northern Rough-winged Swallow were flying around. Cedar Waxwing and a couple Baltimore Oriole were also seen.

Lynnea went on a solo expedition around the area and reported seeing or hearing Least and Great Crested Flycatcher, and American Redstart. Eastern and Western Kingbird particularly captivated the kids! As the kingbirds flew around the site, they were ready with their binoculars in hopes of getting a glimpse.

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Captivated by a juvenile Franklin’s Gull ©Patricia Rosa

The kids were not the only ones excited about all the birds present at Cherry Point that evening. An Orchard Oriole was heard, and Bonnie was eager to get her first OROR-sighting of the year! Which she did!

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Glennis and Lynnea focused on a female Baltimore Oriole ©Patricia Rosa

Although we were initially worried that bird diversity would be low at such a late hour in the day, we were pleasantly surprised! Over the course of this short 60-min walk, we observed 35 different bird species, and managed to captivate the interest of potential future IBA advocates!

 

Take a look at our evening Bird Walk count on Cherry Point Educational Nature Trail situated in the Oak Lake/Plum Lakes IBA:

TABLES-July 14, 2017

Whitewater Lake IBA – July 14, 2017 (Part 1 – Grebe water dances & namesake compliance)

by Patricia Rosa

On a sunny Friday morning, Bonnie, Christian, Lynnea, Tim and I left Winnipeg for the Whitewater Lake IBA (MB015). As the official observation transcriber for this crew of top birders, my hand got quite the workout! Nothing could have prepared me for the large number of flocks and surprises we encountered throughout the day.

On the way to Whitewater Lake, we made a pit stop in St. Claude as Dickcissel were rumoured to be in the area (or to be less ambiguous, Christan knew they were there!). While Christian put me to shame with this amazing picture of a male Dickcissel mid-tune, I was never able to get the timing right and only managed to capture its derrière (#birderproblems)!

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Dickcissel ©Christian Artuso

Once in the IBA, we witnessed large flocks of shorebirds, grebes, and ducks in our survey area. The shorebirds were incredibly prominent and diverse! One particular flock of Short-billed Dowitcher counted 440 individuals (total of 710 observed throughout the day!) with one juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher hidden among them. We encountered a variety of sandpipers including 240 Stilt, 21 Least and Pectoral, 13 Semipalmated, and one lonesome Baird’s. The Marbled Godwit’s cackling laugh and American Avocet’s high-pitched kweet-ing was heard throughout the day which reflected in our final count of 143 and 165 respectively.

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Heads down, feeding time! ©Patricia Rosa

We were quite entertained by this Cattle Egret, standing on cattle. This would not be the last egret of the day!  We were delighted to see three Snowy Egret and 24 Great Egret.

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Cattle Egret on a cow ©Patricia Rosa

Oh, the grebes! Western, Eared, Red-necked, Pied-billed and even a Clark’s! They were certainly present at Whitewater Lake, with their young in tow. During the excitement of getting a count of the large mixed-flocks, Christian was able to spot a Clark’s Grebe, seemingly paired with a Western Grebe, and their hybrid young. Although very similar to Western, Clark’s Grebe does not have black around the eye and has a brighter yellow bill (see image below for side by side comparison).

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Eared Grebe with young ©Patricia Rosa

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Clark’s Grebe and juvenile ©Christian Artuso

Identification GREBES

Clark’s and Western Grebe. Can you spot the Ruddy Duck? ©Patricia Rosa


Debated finding:

Several research groups have found that grebes may be the flamingo’s closest living relative despite their dissimilar appearance and life-history traits (e.g. Chubb 2004; Ericson et al. 2006; Hackett et al. 2008). This finding has been the subject of debate and criticism (e.g. Livezey 2010). What do you think?


We decided to make one last stop before heading to Oak Lake in what is now designated the Tick Bush. Christian and Lynnea warned us that the walk to get to where they had previously seen a Say’s Phoebe would result in us being covered by ticks. A few ticks do not scare avid birders such as ourselves, and so, we headed towards the site. Not only did we not see the Say’s Phoebe, but Tim and I ended up sprinting towards the vehicles to get out of the tick-infested grass as soon as humanly possible! See detailed field notes below:

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Observations for “Tick Bush” ©Patricia Rosa

After a pleasant afternoon in Whitewater Lake (and not so pleasant adventure in the Tick Bush), our day was far from over! We headed to Oak Lake’s Legion Hall to learn about Tiger Beetles from the great expert Dr. Robert Wrigley, followed by an evening Bird Walk on Cherry Point Educational Nature Trail. Stay tuned for part 2!

 

Take a look at our July count from this Whitewater Lake IBA survey:

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LITERATURE CITED:

Chubb, A. L. (2004). New nuclear evidence for the oldest divergence among neognath birds: the phylogenetic utility of ZENK (i). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution30, 140-151.

Ericson, P. G., Anderson, C. L., Britton, T., Elzanowski, A., Johansson, U. S., Källersjö, M., et al. (2006). Diversification of Neoaves: integration of molecular sequence data and fossils. Biology Letters2, 543-547.

Hackett, S. J., Kimball, R. T., Reddy, S., Bowie, R. C., Braun, E. L., Braun, M. J., et al. (2008). A phylogenomic study of birds reveals their evolutionary history. Science320, 1763-1768.

Livezey, B. C. (2011). Grebes and flamingos: standards of evidence, adjudication of disputes, and societal politics in avian systematics. Cladistics27, 391-401.

Second Weed Pull at Riverton Sandy Bar IBA

Joanne Smith has sent the following message relating to a follow-up weed pull at Riverton Sandy Bar IBA on August 17th. We had a very successful morning out there in 2016 and are committed to keeping this habitat work going. See here for the 2016 story.
Here is the email:
Hi Everyone,

We hope you can come join us on Thursday August 17th for another morning of pulling weeds at IBA Riverton Sandy Bar.

Our September 30th, 2016 weed pull was a success with fourteen people helping pull sweet clover from an area of the main sand bar. We hope that having a weed free area will help to attract possible future piping plover to the Sandy Bar area. It has been well over twenty years since piping plover last nested in this area but with your help we hope to change this.

We’ll meet at 9:00 am at the parking area and then take the 15 minute walk out to the sandbar area together. We hope to pull weeds (which will most likely involve some birding) for three or four hours, depending on the weather. If you can even help for an hour or two, it would be greatly appreciated.

Please bring gloves, hat, sunscreen, water and a bag lunch. The walk out to the sandbar also involves a short distance through thick willows so it’s best to bring long pants and a jacket for that part.

Of course we’ll also probably be keeping our eyes open for early fall migrants.A few birds from an August 12th, 2016 visit gave us numerous species including:

– semipalmated plover
– stilt sandpiper
– sanderling
– red-necked phalarope
– semipalmated sandpiper
– Baird’s sandpiper

And chances are, there’ll be homemade muffins and a few other goodies to boost our energy.

Directions: take HWY 8 to Riverton, and then turn east on PR329 which goes through Riverton. This will take you directly to Sandy Bar.

Hope to see you there.
Joanne Smith
​If you are interested in attending please email us at iba@naturemanitoba.ca

North, West & East Shoal Lakes – July 11, 2017

by Patricia Rosa

On a stormy Tuesday morning, Tim and I ventured out to the North, West & East Shoal Lakes IBA (MB038). Since our plans in another IBA fell through, we decided to direct our efforts towards the Interlake region in hopes of spotting Red-headed Woodpecker and Least Bittern. Despite the less than ideal weather, we saw a “good number of pelicans”, “okay number of herons”, and were surprised at the “lack of ducks” (Tim Poole, pers. comm.).

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We were off to a great start as the rain (thankfully) subsided once we arrived to the IBA and were greeted by a Great Egret near the side of the road.

Great Egret ©Patricia Rosa

Great Egret ©Patricia Rosa

East Shoal Lake was buzzing! We encountered an agitated male Bobolink and were soon able to see the source of all the excitement. A nearby female seemed to be the target audience of this one-man show. Unfortunately, another male showed up (left) and although our performer (right) was definitely more motivated than his rival, she remained close to the cool and collected male, and sure enough, they ended up flying off together!

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Agitated male Bobolink attempting to impress the female ©Patricia Rosa

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Two male and one female Bobolink ©Patricia Rosa

In the field beyond where the BOBO-show was taking place, we got a peek at Sandhill Crane and Great Blue Heron. On the water, we saw lots of Western Grebe, including this brave one carrying young on its back in rough waters. Although getting this grainy shot induced quite a bit of nausea, I was rather proud to have out-photoed Tim on this one (Patricia 1, Tim 0)!

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Great Blue Heron ©Patricia Rosa

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Grainy images of Western Grebe carrying young on back. ©Patricia Rosa

The strong winds allowed us to witness and admire the prowess of the Black Tern.

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Black Tern in action. ©Patricia Rosa

When we came around to suitable Red-headed Woodpecker habitat (e.g. open understorey, standing deadwood, often with cattle grazing), we almost immediately saw two individuals. After several minutes, a bold one flew directly towards us! We had our cameras ready but were too frazzled/excited to get a good picture of it in-flight and both ended up with blurry background pictures (Patricia 0, Tim 0). However, he did stick around and proceeded to pose for us around his habitat!

 

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Red-headed Woodpecker ©Patricia Rosa

My biggest disappointment of the day was failing to get an identifiable shot of a Red-necked Grebe. While I struggled, Tim effortlessly took a great picture (Patricia 0, Tim 1).

 

Last but not least, we saw a Least Bittern flush while scanning appropriate habitat. Although we were ready and hoping to see one, both Tim and I missed our shot despite getting a good long look (Patricia 0, Tim 0).

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Towards the end of our survey, the wind started picking up and the skies started rumbling once again, and so, we headed back to Winnipeg (Final tally: Patricia 1, Tim 1).

 

Check out the highlights of our brief survey in this IBA and our total count!


 

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Kinosota-Leifur – The Red-headed Woodpecker Blitz Results

On July 9th, a group of people descended on the relatively unknown Kinosota-Leifur Important Bird Area from as far afield as Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg, Birds Hill and Brandon. Our goal was to locate and count the globally Near Threatened Red-headed Woodpecker, a Species At Risk and a stunning species to observe and enjoy.

The IBA at Kinosota-Leifur was the brainchild of Harry Harris who once worked at the Alonsa Conservation District. It was Harry who put together the IBA information and had estimated that at least 50 pairs were present in this area. Since 1995 though, apart from some atlassing, no one had, as far as we know, tried to do a comprehensive count of this species in this area.

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There is still evidence of previous efforts to conserve the Red-headed Woodpecker. Copyright Tim Poole

Red-headed Woodpeckers are a species with an interesting habitat preference. They prefer open stands of aspen with plenty of deadwood and snags for cavities. The vegetation must be short and lack dense shrubs, hence they are often present in open woodlots with cattle or horses. The dead trees must all be fairly large, around 25cm diameter at chest height (the technical term is DBH or Diameter at Breast Height).

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Typical Red-headed Woodpecker habitat in the IBA. Copyright Sabina Mastrolonardo

This is a migratory species in Manitoba, wintering in the United States and returning to breed in deciduous woodlands in the centre of the continent in spring. There are also resident breeding populations in southeastern USA and southern Ontario.

Data from Breeding Bird Surveys suggest that this species has suffered a marked decline of over 65.5% in a 40 year period. According to Birdlife International, this species decline is due to:

‘Habitat degradation, as a result of the removal of dead trees and branches in urban areas (Pulich 1988), and loss of nesting habitat to firewood cutting, clear cutting, agricultural development and river channelling in rural areas (Ehrlich et al. 1992, Melcher 1998).’

As to the blitz, we really did not know what to expect. An article placed in the Neepawa Banner in the days before had managed to drum  up some interest, mainly from people form the wider area letting us know where Red-headed Woodpeckers might be discovered. We had developed a protocol which included periods of listening and playback for woodpeckers and hoped this would be sufficient even as we stepped into the unknown.

Twelve volunteers embarked on this exploration and we split into 4 groups. The search areas were split into a core area, highlighted in red and an extension area which took in areas to the west of the main highway. This second area turned out to be much wetter than expected and it was to the core area we would focus.

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In the north, around Kinosota itself we had a team of Louanne, Margaret, Millie and Bill. This group turned out to be the group with the least luck – not a single Red-headed Woodpecker around Kinosota strangely. They did find some suitable habitat – one spot was especially good. On a positive note, they did get two Pileated Woodpecker, always a cracking species to find. Even more remarkable was an overhead White-faced Ibis, something more likely to pop up at Whitewater or Oak Lake. The comments from Louanne were as follows:

‘Margaret, Millie, Bill and I made 23 protocol stops during the Kinosota-Leifur IBA Blitz in search of Red-headed Woodpeckers. Most of the ‘core’ area and a little of the ‘extended’ area of Group/Zone A, were covered. Our effort began under sunny skies but after just over an hour, a cold wind brought in threatening clouds which led to rain, hampering our efforts though sunny skies did return. All observations were made from inside or a short distance from the vehicle.’

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Dark clouds on the horizon. Copyright Sabina Mastrolonardo

The period of windy weather midway through the morning was especially difficult for hearing birds and the second group consisting of Eric, Carrie-Anne and Tim actually revisited suitable habitat which had scored zero woodpeckers first time – scoring a few extra Red-headed Woodpeckers in the process.

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Red-headed Woodpecker flying away under dark skies. Copyright Tim Poole

This group found 11 individual Red-headed Woodpeckers, the most of any group. Interestingly they also scored their first one in Amaranth en route, on a telephone pole. Other species of note included a calling Scarlet Tanager and Black-billed Cuckoo.

 

All photos copyright Tim Poole

South again and our next group included Wally Jansen, Katharine Schulz and Sabina Mastrolonardo. They recorded 8 Red-headed Woodpeckers in a central area between Silver Ridge and Bluff Creek. A nice little patch of habitat. Other highlights included 6 species of flycatcher, 3 of which were another Species At Risk, the Eastern Wood Pewee, and 10 Bobolink. Interestingly, 10 Bobolink might also point towards issues for the Red-headed Woodpecker, if suitable woodland has been felled and replaced with hayland.

Finally, Garry and John surveyed the southern area, detecting 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers, interestingly the furthest west of the survey. They also grabbed a pair in the group to the norths area thanks to a tip off from a friendly farmer. The other highlight was that of finding a Great Gray Owl, not common in this type of habitat in July.

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Sharp-tailed Grouse in the Kinosota-Leifur IBA. Copyright Garry Budyk

This gave us a total of 23 Red-headed Woodpeckers for the morning. not bad, but not a patch on the 50 pairs found historically. The next challenge is to try to work out whether we were missing a lot of woodpeckers or whether land-use changes in the 25 or so years since the IBA was put together have led to a large loss in habitat. Hopefully there will be more to come on this in the future. Below is the distribution of Red-headed Woodpeckers mapped. As can be seen, the current boundary is not correct and will be changed to reflect these results.

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A summary of all species can be seen below. In total there were 91 species and 2048 individual birds counted, still pretty good and comparable figures to other blitzes. Ring-billed Gulls were numerous as were wetland songbirds such as Sedge Wren, Common Yellowthroat and Song Sparrow.

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Mallard 14
Sharp-tailed Grouse 2
Double-crested Cormorant 3
American White Pelican 15
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 1
White-faced Ibis 1
Turkey Vulture 3
Northern Harrier 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 6
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 9
Sandhill Crane 5
Killdeer 13
Marbled Godwit 1
Wilson’s Snipe 27
Franklin’s Gull 16
Ring-billed Gull 291
Herring Gull 2
gull sp. 32
Rock Pigeon 15
Mourning Dove 19
Black-billed Cuckoo 2
Great Gray Owl 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 3
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 23
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 7
Downy Woodpecker 6
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 25
Pileated Woodpecker 2
American Kestrel 22
Merlin 3
Alder Flycatcher 3
Least Flycatcher

Eastern Wood Pewee

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Eastern Phoebe 7
Great Crested Flycatcher 6
Eastern Kingbird 23
Warbling Vireo 27
Red-eyed Vireo 51
Gray Jay 1
Blue Jay 6
Black-billed Magpie 9
American Crow 48
Common Raven 26
Purple Martin 16
Tree Swallow 13
Bank Swallow 25
Barn Swallow 46
Cliff Swallow 12
Black-capped Chickadee 12
House Wren 25
Sedge Wren 39
Marsh Wren 13
Eastern Bluebird 3
Veery 16
American Robin 70
Gray Catbird 32
Brown Thrasher 2
European Starling 43
Cedar Waxwing 32
Ovenbird 7
Black-and-white Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 76
American Redstart 7
Yellow Warbler 86
Chestnut-sided Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Le Conte’s Sparrow 15
Clay-colored Sparrow 76
White-throated Sparrow 10
Vesper Sparrow 4
Savannah Sparrow 63
Song Sparrow 103
Swamp Sparrow 16
Scarlet Tanager 1
Bobolink 22
Red-winged Blackbird 140
Western Meadowlark 25
Yellow-headed Blackbird 15
Brewer’s Blackbird 42
Common Grackle 10
Brown-headed Cowbird 12
Baltimore Oriole 8
Purple Finch 14
American Goldfinch 33
House Sparrow 5