Birding After Dark: Eastern Whip-poor-will Monitoring in Manitoba

With IBA events on hiatus due to COVID-19 in early summer 2021, our IBA team turned to monitoring that could be done individually. One of the focal species we were looking at was the Eastern Whip-poor-will. It is not often seen, but rather heard, with the whip-POOR-will call heard for up to three hours at a time! This species is the soundscape to rural Manitoba for many people. It is also a Species at Risk – designated as Threatened by both the federal and provincial governments.

Eastern Whip-poor-will. Photo from allaboutbirds.org.

Most bird monitoring happens in the early morning hours but for some species, like the Eastern Whip-poor-will, moonlit nights are the best times to monitor! Interestingly, none of the different types of popular bird surveys in Manitoba capture Eastern Whip-poor-wills all that well, according to the COSEWIC species report for the Whip-poor-will. The Breeding Bird Survey happens at the right time of year, but is a morning survey when the birds at not that active. The Nocturnal Owl Survey happens at the right time of day (night) but at the wrong time of year.

So, with a grant from the Habitat Stewardship Program, we set out to determine how many Whip-poor-wills call our IBAs home. Most IBA activities happen during the early morning hours, so conducting surveys at night was a new experience for myself and our summer students.

Surveys were conducted at the North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA and Delta Marsh IBA. We surveyed between June 15th and July 15th, which is the period around the full moon during the breeding season. The full moon provides enough light for Eastern Whip-poor-wills to extend their nightly foraging. Surveys started 30 minutes before sunset and went for two hours. Due to a lack of historic data, surveys this year were exploratory, with stops in areas of Eastern Whip-poor-will habitat, rather than specific locations decided upon a head of time. Each stop included 6 minutes of passive listening targeting nightjars (Eastern Whip-poor-wills and Common Nighthawks).

Eastern Whip-poor-will habitat can include deciduous, conifer or mixed woods forests with little to no understory and near to open areas. Open areas are used for foraging for insects, while forested areas are used to roost during the day and for nesting.

Eastern Whip-poor-will recording from xeno-canto.org.

Delta Marsh IBA

Surveys were run on the east side of Delta Marsh IBA on June 21st and June 22th. We started up near St Ambroise 30 minutes before sunset and worked our way south and west over the next two nights. We were unsure what to expect during these surveys but were pleased to hear Whip-poor-wills at 9 stops over the two nights, for a total of four individuals heard during our surveys. We were keeping track of distance and direction of the calls during our surveys to reduce the chance of double-counting individuals as the sound of a Whip-poor-will can travel far. Two individuals were heard along mile road 81N and the other two were heard along mile road 77N. We also head two Common Nighthawks the first night, one near to the town of St Ambroise and the other near to the intersection of HWY 430 and HWY 411.

Birding at dusk and into the night was an interesting experience. Of course, at dusk there was a cacophony of bird sounds each evening. Near dusk at Delta Marsh we heard Killdeer, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Meadowlarks, Grey Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers and more. Once night hit it was considerably quieter, however we did get an excellent view of a Great Horned Owl both flying overhead and later perching in a tree.

Locations of stops where Eastern Whip-poor-will were heard on June 21-22, 2021 at Delta Marsh IBA. Some points are of repeat birds. A total of four individuals were heard over the two days.

North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA

Surveys were conducted at the Shoal Lakes IBA on June 28th and June 29th. We started on the west side of the lakes and made our way eastward. Manitoba IBA staff had a total of seven stops where Eastern Whip-poor-will were heard calling, which accounted for a total of nine individuals. A further two more birds were originally heard but taking into account the distance and direction of the song, were determined to be repeat individuals. There were no Common Nighthawks heard on the surveys at Shoal Lakes.

The general pattern of bird diversity during the survey at the Shoal Lakes was similar to Delta Marsh. Bird activity was high leading up to sundown with species like Killdeer, Yellow Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Clay-coloured Sparrows and Grey Catbirds singing and calling.

Locations of stops where Eastern Whip-poor-will were heard on June 21-22, 2021 at Delta Marsh IBA. Some points are of repeat birds. A total of four individuals were heard over the two days.

“Birding After Dark”

Overall, we found “birding after dark” to be an interesting new way to experience the birds and their habitat. It will be interesting to see what we are able to find next year as we plan to run the surveys again. If you are interested in joining us next summer send an email to iba@naturemanitoba.ca.

2021 Fall International Shorebird Surveys

With the help of our volunteers and citizen scientists another year of the International Shorebird Survey (ISS) in Manitoba is in the books!

Fall breeding plumage American Avocet at Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA. Photo by A. Shave.

If you recall from our spring ISS round-up, this year the Manitoba IBA program officially added ISS routes in two new locations this year, the North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA and Oak Hammock Marsh. These locations join our original two locations, Whitewater Lake IBA and Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA. The program is run by Manomet and the goal of the ISS is to track long-term trends in shorebird numbers globally. The Manitoba IBA program coordinates the ISS locally in the province. With the ISS we have pre-set routes that volunteers try to visit at least 3 times in the spring and 3 times in the fall to count shorebirds on migration. You can find the results of our spring 2021 ISS surveys here.

Much like in the spring, the big story of the ISS this year was the lack of water. By the fall, my shorebird search technique was “if you are looking for shorebirds, look in areas that used to be duck habitat (i.e. deeper water)”. Any areas that were shorebird habitat in the past years was dried up by early summer!

You might ask, if we know the route will be dry, and there will be no shorebirds then why run the route at all? As the ISS is a long-term dataset it is extremely important to record shorebird numbers consistently each year, and along the same routes. This can allow us to track how changes in habitat can impact habitat use, population numbers, etc. While it may not always seem like it at the time, “zero” data are very important data to have! With that in mind let’s dive into location-specific results.


Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA

Both the Oak Lake/Plum Lakes ISS routes and the Whitewater Lakes ISS routes were created back in 2018 – which was near the end of a string of high-water years. So, if the area designated for shorebird habitat was shallow water in a high-water year – you can bet that it was dry in a drought year, like this year!

Unsurprisingly, the routes at Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA were largely dry, and/or the water was seen way off in the distance, outside the range of a spotting scope and the range of the ISS. Each of the 5 routes at Oak Lake/Plum Lakes was visited twice this fall, except for Route 1, which was visited 3 times.

Gillian and Glennis birding at a side trip to our Oak Lake ISS routes, down Lakeshore Drive. Photo by A. Shave.

A total of 16 species (plus undetermined Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitchers) were seen during the fall season. This included at total of 260 individuals. The proportion of each species was fairly even. The highest proportion were Long-billed Dowitchers at 15%, followed by Lesser Yellowlegs (12%), Killdeer (11%) and Wilson’s Phalarope (11%). The least common species was a single Baird’s Sandpiper.

2021 Fall Season Oak/Plum Lakes Shorebird Counts
SpeciesTotal # of Individuals Proportion of Individuals (%)
American Avocet177
Baird’s Sandpiper10
Greater Yellowlegs218
Killdeer2811
Least Sandpiper166
Lesser Yellowlegs3212
Long-billed Dowitcher4015
Marbled Godwit93
Pectoral Sandpiper249
Semipalmated Plover21
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher249
Spotted Sandpiper42
Stilt Sandpiper42
Upland Sandpiper52
Willet31
Wilson’s Phalarope2811
Wilson’s Snipe21
Total260100

A big thank you to everyone who helped out for ISS surveys at Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes including our two IBA summer students, Vicky Tang and Ariel Desrochers, our Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA caretakers, Glennis Lewis and Gillian Richards, and Matt Gasner from Nature Conservancy Canada.


Whitewater Lake IBA

Like I mentioned above, Whitewater Lake ISS routes were also created during the wet spell back in 2018. However, the routes faired a bit better in terms of water levels this year than the routes along Oak Lake. This area really dried out mid-summer, the same as Oak Lake, but got several days of good showers in mid-August that revitalized water levels for a period of time (before they dried out again). We know this as the Manitoba IBA program was luckly enough to hold our bird blitz at Whitewater Lake just after those rains, and multiple local birders described to us what a difference it made, even though it was still quite dry.

Kathryn and Carla looking at shorebirds at Sexton’s Point. The area where they are standing is normally under water! Photo by A. Shave.

The number of visits to the different routes at Whitewater Lake varied by site with the east side routes visited less often (once or twice) with the western routes visited 3-4 times each, and Sexton’s Point visited 5 times. Anecdotally, the east side seemed to dry out faster than the west side.

A total of 17 species (plus some unknown shorebirds) were seen at Whitewater Lake on fall migration counts, with a total of 1745 individuals. The distribution of species was quite a bit different than at Oak Lake. At Oak Lake the proportion of individuals was quite even, but Whitewater Lake had high counts of some species and low counts of many others. The most common species were Long-billed Dowitchers (34%), American Avocets (24%) and Sanderlings (13%). The least common species were the White-rumped Sandpiper (1 individual) and Wilson’s Snipe (1 individual). The fact that White-rumped Sandpipers were uncommon is not unexpected – they are not a common shorebird in Manitoba in general.

2021 Fall Season Whitewater Lake Shorebird Counts
SpeciesTotal # of Individuals Proportion of Individuals (%)
American Avocet41324
American Golden-Plover342
Baird’s Sandpiper131
Greater Yellowlegs161
Killdeer161
Least Sandpiper895
Lesser Yellowlegs996
Long-billed Dowitcher60034
Pectoral Sandpiper121
Red-necked Phalarope70
Sanderling23513
Semipalmated Plover50
Semipalmated Sandpiper553
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher533
Stilt Sandpiper111
White-rumped Sandpiper10
Wilson’s Phalarope101
Wilson’s Snipe10
large shorebird sp.50
peep sp.704
Total1745100

Thank you to everyone who conducted ISS counts at Whitewater Lake including Colin Blyth and Gillian Richards (Whitewater Lake IBA Caretakers), Carla Keast, Kathryn Hyndman, Doug Ford, Carson Rogers, and our summer students Vicky and Ariel!

Semipalmated Plover taking advantage of the mudflats exposed by the lower water levels at Sexton’s Point. Photo by A. Shave.

North, East, West Shoal Lakes IBA

The first of our new IBA blitz sites for fall 2021! The Shoal Lakes IBA and Oak Hammock Marsh ISS sites were created and scoped out last year when the water was not so high, but definitely not as low as it was this year. As a result some areas of Shoal Lake still had water a bit later in the summer/ early “fall” (as determined by ISS timing), however, most sites still eventually dried right out.

Each site at the Shoal Lakes IBA in the fall was visited 2-3 times. The total number of shorebird species seen was 9 (with some unknown peeps) and 133 individuals seen. The two most common species by far were the Greater Yellowlegs (58%) and Lesser Yellowlegs (22%). The least common birds were the Short-billed Dowitcher and White-rumped Sandpiper at one individual each.

2021 Fall Season North, East and West Shoal Lakes Shorebird Counts
SpeciesTotal # of Individuals Proportion of Individuals (%)
American Woodcock11
Greater Yellowlegs7758
Killdeer22
Least Sandpiper65
Lesser Yellowlegs2922
peep sp.97
Short-billed Dowitcher11
Spotted Sandpiper32
White-rumped Sandpiper11
Wilson’s Snipe43
Total133100

A big thank you to Bonnie Chartier, Mike Karakas and Tami Reynolds who have been great about joining in our ISS monitoring at the Shoal Lakes in its first full year!


Oak Hammock Marsh

And last but not least we have the Oak Hammock Marsh ISS site to report on. This site is unique for a couple of reasons. First of all Oak Hammock Marsh is a human-restored wetland, built to bring this habitat back from largely agricultural land to its original wetland state started in 1967. The second unique thing about Oak Hammock Marsh is that the water level is actually semi-controlled though a system of dikes and culverts. It used to be entirely controlled, but the infrastructure is used less often now. However, if you have ever gone looking for shorebirds at the “front pond” (the pond just to the west of the interpretive centre front doors) just know that you have centre staff to thank for keeping it at just the right height for shorebirds! And the third unique thing about Oak Hammock Marsh is the Shorebird Scrape – additional human-made shorebird habitat created last fall adjacent to a small lake – the first of its kind in Manitoba!

Oak Hammock Marsh probably was the site that was best retaining water this year as it has areas of varying water depths all close together. So although areas that were normally shallow dried out, there were areas that normally have higher water that turned shallow this year, but still stayed wet.

Two routes at Oak Hammock Marsh were visited twice in the fall, and one route was visited once. There were 9 species of shorebird seen during ISS visits, and a total of 228 individual shorebirds counted. The most common species were Greater Yellowlegs (64%), Lesser Yellowlegs (12%) and Killdeer (11%). There were several species that were only counted twice on ISS surveys including the Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper and Willet.

2021 Fall Season Oak Hammock Marsh Shorebird Counts
SpeciesTotal # of Individuals Proportion of Individuals (%)
Greater Yellowlegs14764
Killdeer2411
Least Sandpiper10
Lesser Yellowlegs2812
Semipalmated Plover94
Spotted Sandpiper10
Upland Sandpiper10
Willet10
Wilson’s Snipe167
Total228100

Bonnie, Mike and Tami were instrumental in collecting our ISS monitoring data at Oak Hammock Marsh as well as at the Shoal Lakes IBA and were joined at Oak Hammock by Tim Poole. Thanks all!

ISS Round-Up

While this may have not been the most exciting year for shorebirds on migration due to the difficulty in finding them with the low water levels, it is an incredibly important year in recording the numbers (or lack of numbers). There is a lot of winter and chance for precipitation between us and the Spring 2022 ISS season, so we will keep our fingers crossed that it will be a bit wetter next year!

As you can see from the numbers of times we were able to run ISS routes, we’d love to have a few more volunteers to consistently reach our targets of visiting each site 3 times in the spring and 3 times in the fall. You do not have to run all the ISS routes in a location in a day – pick one or two that fit with where you normally bird! While you do have to record all shorebirds, you are also free to record the other birds you see as well, just like normal birding. If you visit any of the ISS site during the spring or fall, just send me an email at iba@naturemanitoba.ca and we can see if running an ISS route might be of interest to you!

-Amanda

Two Names, One Bird: The Grasshopper Sparrow

Welcome all, to the final post in our grassland blog post series! Today Nate talks about a most mysterious bird found in the prairies. The Grasshopper Sparrow! Is it a grasshopper? No. Is it a sparrow? Yes!

Mystery number one solved, we know that it is a bird (a surprise on a birding blog!). They feed primarily on grasshoppers which they get their namesake from so mystery number two solved! These feathered friends can be observed in the southern grasslands of Manitoba but good luck seeing them. They are very camouflaged and are often identified by their distinctive insect-like song. Wait, they sound like an insect too? Like a grasshopper! Mystery number three solved folks.

Identification

I would first like to get it out of the way that Grasshopper Sparrows do not look like grasshoppers at all. They do however look very similar to other grassland sparrow species such as the Baird’s Sparrow and the LeConte’s Sparrow. Grasshopper Sparrows have less facial, back and breast markings than these birds and have a prominent orange marking that connects that arches from the front of the eye to the back of the bill. Like the LeConte’s Sparrow, they have a black ‘ear-piece’ that extends backwards from their eye-line to the centre of their head. This marking is different from a LeConte’s Sparrow as it tapers downwards at the centre of the head and creates an “L” shape on the Grasshopper Sparrow instead of a more circular patch of the LeConte’s Sparrow. The Grasshopper Sparrow’s breast is buffy coloured and unstreaked while their back is streaked with a rusty grey and a yellow tinged shoulder.

A Grasshopper Sparrow singing away! Note the unstreaked, buffy belly and the orange/yellow spot in front of the eye. Photo by C. Artuso.

As you will most likely be hearing this bird before you see it, let’s talk about its song that is sung by both males and females. It starts with a staccato and separated ‘tic-tack’ and is followed by an insect-like buzzing ‘tzeeeeeeee’. Amazingly, the Grasshopper Sparrow is one of the few sparrows in North America that have two different songs! And we’re not talking about a song and a call, I mean it has two different songs! The second song, which is only sung by the males in flight, is a series of sputtering and musical chips preceded by the original ‘tic-tack tzeeeee’.

The Grasshopper Sparrow’s “simple” song. For bonus points determine which grassland bird song is heard directly after the Grasshopper Sparrow sings. Clue: it is one of our past grassland bird blog highlights. Audio from Xeno Canto.
The Grasshopper Sparrow’s “complex” song (the first song in the recording). Audio from Xeno Canto.

Life history

As you can probably guess by now, this bird lives in grasslands. It can be found in a variety of grassy areas such as hayfields, overgrown pastures and prairies. It is less tolerant of areas with a high concentration of shrubs. They can be found foraging in areas of bare ground but usually like to have some dense grasses nearby to dip in for cover when needed. Pairs are seasonally monogamous, meaning they stick with one partner for the mating season and split up after raising their young. Females produce 3-7 eggs and will raise anywhere from 2-4 broods per season! This is doable with the short incubation period of 11-13 days and a nesting period of 6-9 days.

Conservation

The grasshopper sparrow has experienced a steep population loss with an annual decline of 2.5% from 1966 to 2015 combining to a 72% loss according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. There are approximately 12 subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrows recognized with the Florida subspecies (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus) being highly endangered with a 68% chance of extinction. The A. s. pratensis subspecies found in Ontario and Quebec is listed as special concern under SARA and COSEWIC. The subspecies commonly found in Manitoba, the Western Grasshopper Sparrow (A. s. perpalldius), is not a species at risk. However, the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre currently has the Western Grasshopper Sparrow listed as vulnerable. Now that it’s our final blog post about grasslands and their importance to birds I’m sure you can guess the major threat to these birds. That’s right its habitat loss, mostly from conversion of pastures and hay fields to row-crops.

Grasshopper Sparrow habitat in southwestern Manitoba. Photo by A. Shave.

Grassland Bird Round-Up

 While we have been keeping this grassland bird species at risk series upbeat, learning about species at risk can be quite a sad venture. The more we learn to appreciate these unique animals the more we realize just how much we, the human race, can damage their well-being. With this great power comes a great responsibility as we do have the resources and knowledge to help these critters out. The first step to changing this future is learning about species at risk and the problems they face. I am honoured to have been a part of that journey for you, the reader, and have learned my fair share as well by creating these blog posts. Until next time.

-Nathan (Nature Nate) Entz

Grasslands, not just for the birds, but the amphibians, and the mammals too!

While our program focuses largely on the “bird” portion of the IBA program – the full title is actually “Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas”. Today Nate is going to continue his grassland series and let us know about a few of the non-bird Species at Risk that call the live in our Manitoba grasslands.

As we’ve discussed in the previous posts, many a bird graces these grasslands with its presence. Along with our flappy friends, however, you will find a large number of unique animals without wings that call the Manitoba grasslands home. Some of these critters are rather helpful for birds, others pose great threats, while still others have little interactions with birds at all.

Manitoba grasslands house a number of Species at Risk that can be found on the ground or small patches of water. You might be asking “Water? But I thought we were talking about grasslands!”. Well, amongst grasslands you will find many small pieces of wetlands sometimes called prairie potholes, as well as agricultural dugouts, ditches, and depressions in the ground caused by animal activity. The water-storing ability of these areas to hold water provides breeding habitat for amphibians such as the Great Plains Toad and the Plains Spadefoot Toad, both of which are Species at Risk. These two toads can be found or heard in the southwest corner of the province after a heavy rain.

Great Plains Toad. Photo by Shauna Hewson, Manitoba Herps Atlas.

These toads also depend on soft soils in open grasslands that allow them to burrow and wait out cold and/or dry periods. Plains Spadefoot Toads are named for the shovel-like projection on their hind legs that aid them in digging burrows. Despite their common name, Plains Spadefoot Toads are in the family Pelobatoidea, a unique family that is neither a true frog or toad. In contrast the true toads, such as the Great Plains Toad, belong in the family Bufonidae. Frogs and toads can be an important food source for birds that are adapted to picking prey out of water or sand like herons, gulls and kingfishers.

Plains Spadefoot Toad. They use the “spade” on the heel of their feet to dig backwards into sandy soil. Photo by Manitoba Herps Atlas.
The “spade” on the heel of  the foot of a Plains Spadefoot Toad. Photo by Manitoba Herps Atlas.

You can find all sorts of holes in our grasslands created by a variety of fossorial animals, which is a fancy way of saying they are good at digging and will spend some time living underground. If you recall a previous post, you might be thinking that I’m about to tell you about our friend the Burrowing Owl. Well, sorry to disappoint you but I’m going to introduce you to an abundant, yet quite secretive, mammal found in the southwest prairies of Manitoba. The American Badger is a large member of the weasel family with immense strength and ferocity. Their compact body is highly adapted for digging burrows to live in as well as digging up prey. Although their abandoned burrows provide beneficial habitat for Burrowing Owls, these animals are highly opportunistic and will feed on small grassland birds and their eggs. The American badger is currently under review for special concern status under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).

American Badger. Photo by Nature Canada.

Oh “dear”, I nearly forgot about the cervids, or as they’re known by most, members of the deer family! The most common members of this family found here are the aptly named white-tailed Deer, which can be found galloping and bounding away from danger waving their white tail as a warning sign to nearby friends or family. A close relative of the White-tailed Deer, the Mule Deer can be found primarily in the southwest corner of Manitoba and is provincially listed as threatened. The Mule Deer holds many similarities to the white-tail but the easiest method for identification is to watch how it moves. Mule deer have a unique method of traveling called ‘pronking’ which looks a lot more like bouncing than running. All four hooves land and leave the ground at the same time to create a vision of ‘giant pogo sticks’ jumping across the grasslands. If the deer in question decides not to show off its running style, you can check for a large white rump patch decorated with a thin white tail with a black point on the end. On males the antlers are bifurcating and do not curl inwards like a white-tailed deer. Mule deer have larger, donkey-shaped ears (hence their name), a whiter nose and mouth and a contrasting brown forehead patch.

Mule Deer. Look at those ears! Photo by The National Wildlife Federation.

I’m going to finish off by briefly talking about an extremely rare visitor to the Southwest of our province. I present to you the fastest land mammal in North America, the Pronghorn! Originally thought to be extirpated from Manitoba since 1886, the pronghorn was rediscovered in 2019 just south of Manitou. This speedy mammal can reach speeds up to 100km/h and is happiest in the arid plains of Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The pronged horns on these animals, which also are present in females albeit smaller, make them highly distinct. Their caramel and white colouration makes them blend into the dry grasslands of the Southern prairies when running their little heart out isn’t an option.

Pronghorn. Photo by Steven Mlodinow, iNaturalist.org.

The grasslands of Manitoba provide us with ample agriculture, hunting and recreation opportunities. Although these activities can be conducted harmoniously with the natural world, we must take steps in ensuring these creatures and ecosystems will be around for generations to come.

-Nathan (Nature Nate) Entz

“Look up, waaaaay up” – the songbird up high

Look to the skies for our next instalment in our grassland birds series. Nate gives us the low-down (or high-up?) on the Sprague’s Pipit!

We’ve talked a lot about secretive birds in this series of blogs, but this next bird could possibly take the cake in camouflage skills. The Sprague’s Pipit is a member of the motacillidae family, the only representative other than closely related and more common American Pipit. Due to the sneakiness of this bird, we are going to be spending lots of time on identifying features in hopes that you will have luck to scout out these rare visitors to the Manitoba prairies.

Sprague’s Pipit. Note the comparatively large eye and skinny neck, as well as the more darkly-feathered “jawline” mark on the side of the face around the eye. Photo by Christian Artuso.

Identification: Auditory

Have you ever spent an outrageous amount of time looking around your house, car or yard for your favourite hat only to remember it’s on your head? A similar thing might happen to you when you’re looking for a Sprague’s pipit! These fellows are experts at hiding low to the ground in short grass and blend in remarkably well to their surroundings. Thankfully, they let out a piercing song when singing up to 100 metres in the air which makes them easy to hear, but a little difficult to see unless you have good binoculars and a limber neck. The song, which is rarely sung from the ground, is a series of descending high pitched “chooro chooro chooro” held for three seconds and repeated during the display which can range from 30 minutes up to three whole hours!

You can here a Sprague’s Pipit here.

Identification: Visual

A more common sight of a Sprague’s Pipit in flight. Song is a key way to identify that the bird you are squinting your eyes to see is indeed a Sprague’s Pipit. Photo by Brian Sullivan, AllAboutBirds.org.

One of the more prominent features of the Sprague’s Pipit is its large head, big eyes and neck. The neck appears rather skinny compared to the head and body which is accented by a cream coloured ‘jawline’. The ‘jawline’ is then separated from the throat by a faint dark-brown line. The cheeks are outlined with a light buff giving the appearance of ears. The top of the head is heavily streaked with dark brown that travels from the back of the neck to the base of the beak. The back of the bird has light bronze edging on the wings and white barring on the coverts. The peach-coloured throat extends slightly further towards the breast, passing the ‘jawline’, in which it is met by a dark brown streaky necklace. This necklace is accented by the faint peach colouration which continues past the necklace and mixes with the pale colouration of the breast while the flanks of the bird are unstreaked.

In flight (good luck seeing it anywhere else!) you should be able to see the white outer tail feathers contrasted with black inner tail feathers. The bend of the wing may appear slightly orange in flight, while the majority of the flight feathers are slightly varying pale-cream colours. The beak is medium length and thin with pale yellow colouration on the sides and a black covering on the top and at the tip. On the bottom, the leg colour varies from a dull orange to a pale pink and will match the colour of the feet.

Habitat & Conservation

Sprague’s Pipits breed exclusively in the North American great plains with Manitoba being their most eastern nesting habitat. They are very picky with the grass in their habitat preferring it to be 6-12 inches long. Although they like short-grass, these pipits completely avoid overgrazed pastures but can handle small levels of grazing if kept above 6 inches and no longer than a foot. Nests are placed on the ground but surrounded by tall grass, usually the tallest grasses in that territory. Territories are established by singing males and can be as large as 16 acres.

Sprague’s Pipit grassland habitat. Photo by Tom Jones, AllAboutBirds.org.

They are very rarely found in non-native grasslands and will avoid croplands completely. In their wintering areas in Texas and Mexico they will utilize non-native grasslands and even more urbanized areas such as sports fields (hopefully they don’t get confused as a badminton birdie!).

According to the North American Breeding Bird Atlas, Sprague’s Pipit populations declined at a rate of 3.1% between 1966 and 2015 for a cumulative decline of 79%. They are currently listed as vulnerable under IUCN, and threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act and Manitoba’s Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act. Due to their reliance on large, continuous habitat, Sprague’s pipits are facing a decline largely due to loss of habitat from conversion of pastures and prairies to cropland, excessive grazing, and invasion of woody shrubs. Although overgrazing can reduce available habitat, responsible livestock grazing is highly beneficial in reducing grass height and limiting shrub growth while encouraging new grass growth.

-Nathan (Nature Nate) Entz

Weed Pulling for Plovers

The weather for our fall weed pull could not have been more different from our summer weed pull! The twelve of us “braved” the sun and 21oC weather on September 25th to improve the habitat on Sandy Bar, have fun and do a bit of birding. It was certainly not a hardship! Thank to Megan, Leila, Jessica, Andrea, Lauren, Joanne, Alain, Cindy, Jock, Julie and Mark for your work helping to restore this Important Bird Area!

Our weed pull group! Photo by A. Shave.

The goal of the weed pull is to clear invasive vegetation from this Special Conservation Area that was created to protect the historical nesting habitat for the Endangered Piping Plover. While Piping Plovers have not been seen in the area for several years, it is also important habitat for many other breeding shorebirds, gulls and terns, as well as migratory shorebirds and waterfowl. The presence of vegetation on this sand bar has reduced habitat quality over the past 10 years. Our goal with the weed pull is to return the habitat back to the sand bar and mudflats that are key habitat for a variety of bird species.

After picking up coffee and muffins in Gimli I drove out to meet our volunteers at the Sandy Bar Beach parking lot at 8:00 am. Our weed pull area is approximately 1 km from the parking lot, so after some coffee and snacks we divvied up our supplies and took a walk along the beach.

I had to take a quick detour to the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli when I was picking up our refreshments for the morning to take a photo of the sunrise. Photo by A. Shave

From our summer weed pull back in August, the area that we historically have pulled the weeds from was still looking weed-free – which left us free to start on restoring habitat in a new area of the sand bar, directly adjacent to the original weed pull site. The majority of the vegetation we pulled is Sweet Clover, which you can see as the tall plant in the photos before the vegetation has been pulled.

Many of the birds who use the sand bar as habitat to nest make their nests directly on the ground. Having vegetation around the nests gives various predators the ability to sneak up on the nests, eggs and fledglings, so the birds prefer to nest in open areas where they have a good view of what is going on around them.

The weed pull area for the fall event before and after our volunteers got through with it! Photo by A. Shave.
What a root! The evening primrose is not a weedy species, but has also started growing on the sand bar. Piping Plovers and other ground-nesting birds like gulls and terns do not like any type of vegetation on the ground. Photo by A. Shave.
Leila, Megan and Julie hard at work near the beginning of the day. Photo by A. Shave.

After a couple of hours of weed pulling, we took a walk up the sand bar to the tip to do some birding and just enjoy the fantastic fall weather. Mark, Julie and Joanne were telling us about some of the history in the area, including that what we think of as a sand bar used to be completely underwater, with only two sand islands visible! That was certainly not the case this year with the beach sand bar being larger than ever due to the low water level in Lake Winnipeg.

An enthusiastic birding discussion happening, with the rest of the group waaayyy out on the tip of the sandbar. You can see that vegetation has really taken over near the point of the sand bar as well. Photo by A. Shave.
Cindy, Jessica, Andrea, Lauren and Julie enjoying some post-weed pull snacks! You can see the area past the leaf bags that was cleared out by volunteers in our August weed pull. Photo by A. Shave.

Of course, we were also birding at the same time on the walk and highlights included Black-bellied Plovers, American Golden Plovers, Bald Eagles, a Peregrine Falcon and large flocks of Lapland Longspurs.

A Lapland Longspur spotted by Cindy. It was really camouflaged with the washed-up debris. Luckily it stayed in one spot for a while, which allowed a time for identification and photos. Photo by A. Shave.

Once again, thank you to all of our volunteers! We hope you had a great time, and are proud of the conservation work undertaken for the birds at Riverton Sandy Bar IBA! We hold weed pulls at this IBA each year, so if you are interested in this activity or would like more information about other IBA activities you can contact me (Amanda) and iba@naturemanitoba.ca.

Our full species list is:

SpeciesCount
Canada Goose554
Green-winged Teal12
Black-bellied Plover5
American Golden-Plover1
Greater Yellowlegs3
shorebird sp.6
Ring-billed Gull30
American White Pelican41
Northern Harrier1
Bald Eagle2
Peregrine Falcon1
Common Raven2
Horned Lark21
Lapland Longspur76
Common Grackle1
  
Total # of species15
Total # of individuals756
  • Amanda

Fall Western Manitoba Shorebird Identification Workshop

If you have followed the Manitoba IBA program for a while, you may have noticed that we have held annual shorebird workshops in the spring for the past couple of years. With COVID-19 we have had to adapt, holding a shorebird identification webinar instead. This spring we were able to hold the practical portion of the eastern Manitoba shorebird workshop in person, but the situation worsened just before we were able to hold the western Manitoba practical portion of the workshop!

Luckily shorebirds migrate through the province twice a year – so we were able to catch them during fall migration to hold our in-person western Manitoba workshop. We usually use spring migration for these workshops as the shorebirds are in their fresh breeding plumages – about as easy as they get to identify. However, we had a great group of workshop attendees out to explore the identification of shorebirds in their fall plumages. Thank you to Gillian Richards, Glennis Lewis, Linda Boys, Carol Holmes, Brian Duff, Ken and Colleen Barclay and Tom and Renee Will for joining us!

The second challenge we faced this year was the low water levels due to the drought in Manitoba. My shorebird habitat motto this year has been “look for shorebirds where you would normally find ducks”. The usual shorebird habitat has dried up, but areas that usually hold deeper water are often at a good water depth for shorebirds now.

We saw shorebirds at all of our stops except the very first one (they flew away before we could get out of the cars to make an ID). Photo by A. Shave.

With that in mind, our group headed out to two different sites in southwestern Manitoba. First we went to Griswold Marsh. At our first stop on the eastern edge of the marsh there was a small group of shorebirds but unfortunately, they all took off as we pulled up – not helpful when trying to identify them! Luckily, we were able to head just a bit further west to get a different view of the same waterbody, as well as another couple of smaller ponds on the other side of the road.

Here we were able to see a good variety of shorebird species. The highlight of this stop for most of us were the Black-bellied Plovers. They are as eye-catching in their non-breeding plumage, but their stocky bodies and bills still make them stand out. We also had a very obliging individual who did a short flight to show the black “wing pit” that sets the Black-bellied Plover apart from the similar-looking American Golden Plover in any plumage.

Other shorebirds spotted were American Avocet, Killdeer, Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed/ Long-billed Dowitchers. Dowitchers are always a tricky ID but they get especially tricky in the fall! Unfortunately, they were too far away, and not calling, so we cannot say for sure which species we were looking at.

American Avocet in non-breeding plumage at Griswold Marsh. Photo by A. Shave.

In recent years Griswold Marsh is usually more of a duck habitat, and waterfowl were still there aplenty. We saw Green-wing Teals, Blue-wing Teals, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Mallards and Gadwall. We were also treated to four Tundra Swans coming in for a landing right in front of us!

Next we moved further west in the marsh, closer to the town of Griswold. We saw a few new species here including a Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and some very well camouflaged Wilson’s Snipe. We were treated once again to views of American Avocet, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed/ Long-billed Dowitchers.

Our next stop was the boat launch and then Lakeshore Drive (the road out to the weir) at Oak Lake Beach. Once again, in recent years this would tend toward duck habitat, but with the lower water levels this year the water along Lakeshore Drive has been shallow enough for a variety of shorebirds. We had a few repeat species here (Killdeer, Dowitchers, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs) but also still more new shorebird species!

Our last stop along Lakeshore Drive at Oak Lake Beach. In recent years, you’d be more likely to find ducks along here than shorebirds, but this year the water level is low. Photo by A. Shave.

We saw 14 American Golden Plovers, whose more delicate features were a contrast to the stockier Black-bellied Plovers seen at Griswold Marsh. Another new for the day shorebird species was a single Marbled Godwit that was hanging out amongst the Dowitchers. The highlight at Oak Lake Beach was a White-faced Ibis – a lifer for one of our workshop participants and always a joy to see!

White-faced Ibis. The iridescence on the back was in full display in-person, but unfortunately it did not translate as well through the camera! Photo by A. Shave.

A few other highlights at Oak Lake were a good view of a young Cooper’s Hawk and some distant flocks of Sandhill Cranes, who provided an atmospheric fall soundtrack to our birding.

This young Cooper’s Hawk fits in perfectly with the autumn colour scheme. Photo by C. Holmes.

If you would like to brush up on your shorebird ID, Manitoba IBA has put the Shorebird Identification webinar that Christian Artuso gave for us this spring up on our Youtube channel. You can find it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7X0Lxnb33g&t=857s

Our Griswold Marsh bird list:

SpeciesCount
Canada Goose153
Tundra Swan14
Blue-winged Teal30
American Wigeon15
Northern Shoveler60
Gadwall450
Mallard165
Northern Pintail35
Green-winged Teal75
Dabbling Duck sp.350
American Avocet5
Black-bellied Plover5
Semipalmated Plover1
Killdeer10
Semipalmated Sandpiper1
Pectoral Sandpiper14
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher4
Wilson’s Snipe3
Greater Yellowlegs31
Lesser Yellowlegs39
Ring-billed Gull6
Turkey Vulture1
Northern Harrier2
Red-tailed Hawk5
Merlin1
Common Raven4
Marsh Wren3
Savannah Sparrow10
Total # of species27

Our Oak Lake Beach bird list:

SpeciesCount
Tundra Swan3
Blue-winged Teal65
Northern Shoveler2
dabbling duck sp.30
Ring-necked Duck2
Mourning Dove1
Sandhill Crane350
American Golden-Plover14
Killdeer4
Marbled Godwit1
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher50
Greater Yellowlegs7
Lesser Yellowlegs18
Bonaparte’s Gull3
Double-crested Cormorant1
American White Pelican11
White-faced Ibis1
Northern Harrier1
Sharp-shinned Hawk1
Barn Swallow3
Marsh Wren2
Total # of species28
  • Amanda

Whitewater Lake Shorebird Blitz – A Small but Mighty Birding Force!

On August 28th the Manitoba IBA program held our first IBA blitz at Whitewater Lake since the start of the pandemic. We thought it would be a challenging day to find shorebirds due to the dry weather but we ended up finding a few key pockets of a good number and variety of birds.

As we all know it has been a very dry year across Manitoba, and our western IBAs are no exception to this. I suspect it played a role in our low attendance numbers at our Whitewater blitz – it is a long drive when you expect shorebird numbers to be very low. However, we had our small, but mighty force our to bird on August 28th! Myself and the IBA program’s two summer students (Ariel Desrochers and Vicky Tang) made one blitz team. This was a fun last outing as August 28th was their very last day on the job! The second team was made up of Kathryn Hyndman, Doug Ford and Carla Keast.

The IBA staff took the eastern half of the IBA while Kathryn, Doug and Carla took the western half. Our plan was to meet up just after noon at Sexton’s Point. I had predicted a few sites in each part of the IBA which were most likely to still be holding shallow water based on recent eBird reports that our volunteers had been sending in. I had hoped this would both maximize our chances of seeing shorebirds and concentrate our searching to the most likely spots, rather than try to cover the massive amount of ground in this IBA.

Our plan of attack for the Whitewater Lake IBA blitz.

Starting off on the western portion of Whitewater Lake Kathryn, Doug and Carla were able to cover a great amount of the IBA along the lakeshore. Unfortunately, they didn’t see a great variety of shorebirds, however they certainly saw a diversity of other birds! It was also Carla’s first trip to Whitewater Lake, so we are glad she had a great time!

On the southwest side of the lake, they came across a mixed group of migrating swallows including Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows and Cliff Swallows. They also saw a good-sized flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds, counting 100 individuals. No shorebirds were seen on this part of the route, the closest they got to water-associated birds were six Pelicans.

Carla, Kathryn and Doug saw several mixed grouped of migrating swallows at several points along their survey route. Photo by K. Hyndman

On to the west size of the marsh, a highlight was a Grey Partridge who was certainly not hiding as it perched atop a pile of vegetation. The pattern of bird sightings continued from the south side as another flock of swallows was seen, this time comprised of 65 Barn Swallows, and representing the blackbirds was a flock of 500 Red-winged Blackbirds. They did manage to find two shorebird species along this route. 10 Greater Yellowlegs and one Lesser Yellowlegs were spotted.

A Grey Partridge playing king-of-the-castle seen by Carla, Kathryn and Doug. Photo by K. Hyndman.

As they rounded the northwest corner of the marsh a few more shorebirds crept into sight. Three American Avocets, one Killdeer, eight Greater Yellowlegs and six Lesser Yellowlegs were spotted. Some other highlights included 120 Franklin’s Gulls, three Red-tailed Hawks and a Bald Eagle.

This young Red-winged Blackbird was spotted near a marshy area beside a slough along a road on the south side of Whitewater marsh. What a lovely subtle mix of colour and pattern! Photo by K. Hyndman.

I had expected the Manitoba IBA staff group to be able to get through more of our side of the IBA than we did! Our first stop along the lakeshore netted us a few shorebirds, but our second stop along the remains of the old viewing mound took us almost all morning! With some careful driving and walking (watch out for those holes!) we saw more shorebirds than we had first expected. This was my first time out to the mound, but I could certainly tell that there were areas of sand/ mudflat exposed that are not normally exposed, and shallow areas of water that are not normally shallow. We had a great time birding at the old mound, with both Ariel and Vicky remarking it was their favourite site they had visited with the IBA program all summer.

Ariel on the old viewing mound. The muddy/ sandy areas to the left of the mound are normally underwater. Photo by V. Tang.

Most of the shorebirds were seen in clusters on the east side of the road and mound, difficult to see with the sun climbing in the east. However, we were still able to ID a good number and variety of shorebirds and other species. This includes 974 American Avocets, two Semipalmated Plovers, seven Killdeer, four Stilt Sandpipers, 81 Least Sandpipers, 28 Baird’s Sandpipers, two Semipalmated Sandpipers, nine Wilson’s Phalarope, two Spotted Sandpipers, two Greater Yellowlegs, 13 Lesser Yellowlegs, one Willet, 23 Short-billed/ Long-billed Dowitchers and 8 other peeps.

A non-shorebird highlight while driving along the road between our first stop and the viewing mound was two young Peregrine Falcons! It took us a bit to double check what we were looking at between our various books and bird apps to be sure of what we were seeing before reporting it. None of us had seen one outside of a city landscape before.

A group of shorebirds that didn’t require me to take a photo directly into the sun! Photo by A. Shave.
A Least Sandpiper that we encountered while walking back to the car. It was too busy foraging to pay us any attention. Photo by A. Shave.

The mound took up a large portion of our morning, but while we were making our way up to Sexton’s Point, we took a quick drive up the ISS sites on the east side of the lake. Gillian Richards, one of the Whitewater Lake IBA Caretaker and International Shorebird Surveyor extraordinaire, had mentioned in her last visit to Whitewater Lake that these ISS routes were totally dry. Due to a few good rains since then, they actually had shallow standing water in a few places, but only a couple of Yellowlegs were seen here and there. There are a few portions of the ISS routes that require walking, which we didn’t do, so perhaps there was still more to see there.

An area of largely American Avocets that were out on a sandbar that seemed like it would normally be underwater. We were able to walk to a fair ways to be able to count them before the water briefly covered the bar. Photo by A. Shave.

At Sexton’s Point there was also more water than we expected! Kathryn had been out to Whitewater Lake around a week earlier and remarked how much the water had come up with the recent rains. An area where she had previously walked out to see shorebirds was now flooded. That is not to say all was back to “normal” as the water was still very noticeably low. However, it did mean there was a decent collection of shorebirds to count, and for Kathryn, Doug and Carla to see, as their route was sparse with shorebirds.

Walking out past Sexton’s point. This area is normally underwater, but was at least there was more water along the shore than in the previous couple of weeks. Photo by V. Tang.
Kathryn and Carla viewing shorebirds at Sexton’s point. This area is normally underwater! A variety of plants had colonized previously open mudflats. Photo by A. Shave.

The most numerous birds at the point were Franklin’s Gulls with a total of 511 individuals. We also added three Semipalmated Plovers, 35 Least Sandpipers, three Pectoral Sandpipers, one Wilson’s Phalarope, 11 Greater Yellowlegs and 56 Lesser Yellowlegs to our shorebird total for the day.

A small portion of the gulls at Sexton’s Point. Photo by A. Shave.
Semipalmated Plovers foraging in the mudflat at Sexton’s Point. Photo by A. Shave.

After doing some birding together, and sharing some muffins and fruit, we headed our separate ways. Overall, we saw 51 species and 3,531 individuals. I am not sure about everyone else who joined that day, but I was certainly thinking about what a difference a couple of days of change in weather can make in a bird’s habitat! It is marvelous how adaptable they can be!

Whitewater Lake August IBA blitz bird list:

Species# of Individuals
American Avocet977
American Crow2
American Kestrel1
American White Pelican9
Baird’s Sandpiper28
Bald Eagle3
Baltimore Oriole1
Barn Swallow105
blackbird sp.2
Blue-winged Teal2
Bonaparte’s Gull7
Brewer’s Blackbird146
Canada Goose301
Cliff Swallow5
Common Raven2
Eastern Kingbird22
European Starling10
Franklin’s Gull639
Gray Partridge1
Greater Yellowlegs31
gull sp.6
hawk sp.1
Hooded Merganser1
Horned Lark18
Killdeer8
Least Flycatcher2
Least Sandpiper116
Lesser Yellowlegs76
Mallard65
Mourning Dove73
Northern Harrier5
Northern Rough-winged Swallow12
Northern Shoveler10
Pectoral Sandpiper3
peep sp.8
Peregrine Falcon2
Red-tailed Hawk14
Red-winged Blackbird554
Ring-billed Gull149
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)12
Rusty Blackbird1
Savannah Sparrow1
Semipalmated Plover5
Semipalmated Sandpiper2
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher23
Song Sparrow2
sparrow sp.6
Spotted Sandpiper2
Stilt Sandpiper4
Vesper Sparrow5
Warbling Vireo1
Western Kingbird15
Western Meadowlark23
Willet1
Wilson’s Phalarope10
Yellow Warbler1
Total:3531

Short of Ears but not Short of Hearing!

With this latest instalment about grassland birds from Nate we will hear about the Short-Eared Owl!

It’s about time we talk about one of the most charismatic and iconic groups of birds found all across the world, owls! This particular species of interest today can be found throughout all Canadian provinces and territories during the breeding season – the Short- Eared Owl. The Short-Eared Owl makes use of a wide variety of open habitats, including grasslands, old pastures, and occasionally breeds in agricultural fields. Preferred nesting sites include dense grasslands. Perhaps this post should have been kept for Halloween as Short-Eared Owls are sometimes called “ghosts of the grassland” or “ghosts of the open country” due to their flight pattern and pale colour.

Unfortunately this Short-Eared Owl’s ear tufts are not visible in this photo. Photo by Christian Artuso.

Identification

These owls can be identified by their almost perfectly rounded head with light brown borders around its cream white face. Their bright yellow eyes are contrasted by black eye patches that fan to the side making this bird look like it put on some mascara and fake eyelashes that slipped to the side. Its breast is cream-coloured with light brown streaking which becomes a dark brown ‘collar’ closer to the head region. This dark brown colouration with caramel streaking continues to the rear portion of the animal and covers the wings. But where does its name come from? Well, if you look rather closely you may see two tiny protrusions from the top of its head similar, albeit much smaller, to those found on the Great Horned and Long- Eared Owls.

What about those ears?

I’ve got some shocking news for you all but the real ears on owls aren’t even visible! What you’re actually seeing is extensions of feathers we like to call ‘ear tufts’ and are scientifically named ‘flumicorns’, potentially the greatest name in anatomy history. There isn’t a definitive answer as to why they have these tufts but some theories include improved camouflage, looking extra spooky to scare off potential predators, or to impress a mate during courtship. The ears of an owl are essentially holes covered in feathers in a rather strategic fashion. Owls hunt primarily with their hearing so their head is modified to capture sound at an impressive rate. Owls have a facial disk profile which means their facial features seem caved in and surrounded by a ‘bowl’ of raised feathers, giving their face an appearance similar to that of a satellite dish. These feathers can then be adjusted to better direct sound to the ear holes depending in the direction of the sound. Their ears also have another adaptation that makes them superb listeners. They are offset, meaning one is higher up on the head than the other, which allows the owl to determine if sounds are coming from above or below. With these combinations of features, owls can precisely triangulate the location of prey, even under a layer of grass or snow.

Ear of a Northern Saw-Whet Owl hidden on the side of its head. Photo from Buffalo Bill Center of the West. A Short-Eared Owl’s ear is located in a similar spot.

Life History

Adults feed primarily on voles but will hunt for a mix of smaller mammals including pocket gophers, muskrats and bats; a true variety of prey from the ground, water and sky! They also feed on a range of smaller birds including gulls, songbirds and shorebirds. Short- Eared Owls are one of the few owl species that build their own nest, with the female excavating a bowl-shaped indent and lining the cavity with grass and feathers. The female will lay an average of four to seven eggs and will produce a second brood if eggs are eaten or destroyed. During the breeding season they are easily disturbed by humans and will abandon nests due to nearby human activity. If food availability is plentiful they may stick around in their wintering range to breed.

Conservation

Short-Eared Owls are facing a decline in population size due mostly to a loss of suitable habitat. These birds require large open and continuous areas that haven’t been broken up by activities that cause habitat fragmentation (the division of one large area into smaller patches of land). These fragmentations are often attributed to grassland conversion to cropland, livestock grazing, recreation and urbanization. The presence of invasive plant species and grasslands being taken over by shrubs, further disturbs the habitat for these birds. Although mostly nesting in grassland thickets, tundra with vegetation and occasionally overgrown pastures, these owls can also be found in wetlands and sagebrush thickets during the non-breeding season provided the habitat is large and continuous with no fragmentation. Their wintering habitat is a bit more flexible with owls being found in woodlots and coastal marshes. If habitat fragmentation wasn’t enough, the drainage of wetlands in coastal regions have impacted wintering ranges of Short-Eared Owls. Although the availability of open areas is instrumental in this owl’s distribution, food availability also dictates whether they will remain in an area. Their population size tends to fluctuate with the population cycles of their prey which is common with most predatory species. The COSEWIC listing of Short-Eared Owls was changed from special concern to threatened as of May 2021 but still remains a species of special concern under SARA. They are classified as threatened under the Manitoba Endangered Species at Ecosystems Act. Habitat restoration projects have helped Short-Eared Owl populations by restoring and preserving suitable habitat free from fragmentation and invasive plant species.

Author: Nathan (Nature Nate) Entz

September 2021 Events

With fall migration still ongoing through the month of September, Manitoba IBA programming is still ongoing as well! We have two events this month, see below for more details.


Our first event is the long postponed practical component of the western Manitoba shorebird identification workshop held over from this spring when it was cancelled due to COVID-19. While we will no longer be looking at the spring plumage of shorebirds, they are heading back through on fall migration and we will be able to learn to ID the fall plumage.

The workshop will take place on Saturday, September 18th, 2021 at 8:30 am. The location is still to be decided but will include a combination of the Deleau Wetlands, Chain Lakes, Griswold Marsh and/ or Whitewater Lake. We will scout the sites out ahead of time and plan a good route closer to the workshop date to get optimum shorebird viewing opportunities in this dry year. For more information or to sign up please email: iba@naturemanitoba.ca


Our second event is our weekend Weed Pulling for Plovers event at Riverton Sandy Bar. Our summer weed pull in August left us with some rainy weather, but we are hoping for a sunny September! The weed pull is always a good time and will include some birding up the sand bar in the IBA as well.

We will meet Saturday, September 25th at 8:00 am at the Sandy Bar Beach parking lot for some coffee and refreshments before heading to the sand bar to restore habitat for shorebirds. For more information or to sign up please email: iba@naturemanitoba.ca