Oak Lake Red-Headed Woodpecker Blitz

We were fortunate enough to run our second event of the summer at Manitoba IBA on July 24th, a bird blitz out at Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA. Our objective was to record all birds we saw but focus on finding Red-Headed Woodpeckers.

Oak Lake is a decent hike away from Winnipeg so the day began quite early for the IBA staff. After a three hour drive, we arrived at the Oak Lake/Plum Lake IBA. We were pleased to see that the area was relatively clear of smoke, after having so many days of limited visibility. We were a small group this day, with Group 1 consisting of Gillian, Kathryn and Katharine and Group 2 consisting of the IBA staff (Amanda, Vicky and I). A fourth volunteer, Glennis, formed an unofficial Group 3 at the last minute, and birded on her own to the north of Highway 1. We set out on two routes, with Group 1 taking an Eastern route and Group 2 taking a Southern route.

Photo by Vicky Tang of a curious cow. While no Red-headed Woodpeckers were seen in this pasture (no trees) the woodpeckers are often seen in areas with tree snags and cattle.

We also had two objectives on this blitz. The first was new for this year. We wanted to try setting up some Red-headed Woodpecker survey routes in and around the IBA. The objective of these specific routes is to follow very detailed protocol, hopefully picking up all possible Red-headed Woodpeckers in the area. It involved stopping every 300m in appropriate habitat, watching/listening for two minutes, using playback for 30 seconds and then watching for another two minutes. As this detailed protocol is not conducive to being able to move widely through the IBA (it can be quite slow if you are lucky enough to have a lot of good Red-headed Woodpecker habitat), outside of the survey routes, we completed our bird blitz in the familiar fashion.

Despite some suitable habitat, Group 2 (IBA staff) saw 5 Red-Headed Woodpeckers, including 3 in a previously known site and 2 in a new spot next to a farm. We could barely hear the two birds at the new site over the barks of a very curious dog. During our survey, It became clear that some of the habitat had changed over the years (compared to where Red-headed Woodpeckers have historically been sighted), with certain areas having lots of bushes grown in and new younger trees rather than taller dead ones, which isn’t ideal for the Woodpeckers. Other interesting sightings for our group included a Vesper Sparrow, 2 Swainson’s Hawks, 7 Red-tailed Hawks, and 4 American Kestrels. We also saw a large number of Red-winged Blackbirds, 175 at our best count! In total, our group spotted 24 different species.

Glennis investigated a possible Red Headed Woodpecker site where she thought she may have heard one, but could not get a positive IDs. Glennis and a few other group members searched this area (north of Highway 1 within the IBA) last year for Red-headed Woodpeckers but had no luck then either, despite seeing some possible decent habitat.

Group 1 had the most success with the Red Headed Woodpeckers. They saw at least 10 in total at 5 separate stops. Three Red-headed Woodpeckers were seen along the survey route just outside the IBA. There was a possible fourth individual but it was determined to likely be a repeat count as it flew into from the east (where a stop already occurred) in response to the playback. Seven Red-headed Woodpeckers were spotted inside the IBA. At this site two adults appeared to be feeding young in a nest (the young were not counted) so there were more individuals we could not count. A second site in the IBA had two individuals. Group 1 was able to identify a total of 45 species on their route. Some of their other interesting sightings include a Sprague’s pipit, an Eastern Wood-peewee and 2 Eastern Bluebirds. Sadly, bluebird numbers this year seem to be lower than previous years based on anecdotes from local birders. Another interesting sighting is the numerous European Starlings, which can be usually found in similar habitat to Red-Headed Woodpeckers. With recommendations from Group 2, we will likely be amending the Red-headed Woodpecker survey route next year to include some of mile road 137 W.

You might be wondering if we reached our IBA trigger threshold for Red-headed Woodpeckers. The threshold is 14 individuals inside an IBA. Unfortunately we only saw 12 individuals inside the IBA, so we didn’t quite make it, but we were close!

A lovely photo of an adult Red-headed Woodpecker captured by Katharine Schulz

Complicating the search for Red-headed Woodpeckers was the the dry, hot weather (and eventually windy). As we were doing our blitz round up and snacking at noon, all of a sudden a huge gust of wind started up – perhaps telling us that we should be on our way back to Winnipeg!

Thank you to our volunteers who braved the heat and strong wind to be with us! The full list of species counted is below! The map of our sightings and routes for the day is also below.

SpeciesTotal 
Mourning Dove17
Killdeer2
Black Tern4
Turkey Vulture2
Northern Harrier1
Swainson’s Hawk2
Red-Tailed Hawk13
Red-Headed Woodpecker 13 (+3 outside the IBA)
Downy Woodpecker4
Northern Flicker5
American Kestrel 10
Eastern Wood Peewee2
Least Flycatcher9
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Western Kingbird1
Eastern Kingbird24
Warbling Vireo 15
Black-billed Magpie11
American Crow 20
Common Raven 24
Black Capped Chickadee 4
Tree swallow 5
Barn Swallow 23
Cliff swallow25
House Wren13
Marsh Wren 1
European Starling  30
Grey Catbird3
Eastern Bluebird2
American Robin 8
Cedar Waxwing1
Sprague’s pipit 1
American Goldfinch 14
Chipping sparrow1
Clay-coloured sparrow2
Lark sparrow  1
Vesper Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow9
Song Sparrow8
Western Meadowlark37
Baltimore Oriole 7
Red winged Blackbird189
Brewers Blackbird20
Common Grackle 2
Yellow Warbler 4
Pileated Woodpecker1
blackbird sp. 20
Hawk sp. 1
Total Number of Birds617
Total Number of Species48

Green pins represent Group 2 sightings while Red pins represent Group 1 sightings.

The Oak Hammock Marsh Grassland Bird Search

Get your binoculars and rev up your engines! A as the morning arrived on July 17th, it was good weather (albeit hot) for a grassland bird search in Oak Hammock Marsh. We had our volunteers enjoy a nice walk and drive to the west side of the grasslands, exploring the tall-grass prairie to the north mound.

With the IBA Steering Committee a-okay, we conjured up our first public event of the year! COVID-19 protocols were maintained safely by us and our volunteers. Thank you to Pat, Carla, Al, and Cindy for joining us in the morning for a tour in the grasslands.  

Amanda and I arrived at the meeting location at 6:50 AM, to scope out the area and in case any one came early. There were significantly more mosquitoes here than in the city, ouch! Good thing Amanda was fully prepared with bug spray, sunscreen, juice, and snacks. First thing in the morning were the distinct and gentle calls of the Mourning Dove and a busy Eastern Kingbird, flying back and forth across the road.

When three vehicles stopped at the shorebird scrape, we knew they were kindred birders for sure. Lo and behold, they were indeed our volunteers for today! They made their way to the gathering spot by just after 8:00 AM. Pat said she saw a Willet over at the scrape, which got everyone excited. We were ready to go, and so began our route. We managed to avoid (most) of the midday heat and in our respective vehicles. The map below traces our path through the grasslands and past the canola fields.

Map of our route including both driving and walking portions

We first started our route with a quick walk by the west side of the interpretive centre. Our first find, and a species we would encounter a few more times on the route were the Marsh (1) and Sedge (4) Wrens. They played a little game of peek-a-boo in the tall grass, making it difficult to get a good look, but their calls were distinct.

We then drove up to the path through the tall-grass prairie habitat north of the Interpretive Centre. The species that dominated the grasslands and wetland habitat mix were Savannah Sparrows (26), Clay-coloured Sparrows (25), and Red-winged Blackbirds (25). We heard four Common Yellowthroats and saw five Mallards fly by. There were a few mourning doves (4) calling in the distance from time to time, and we had one spotting of a Cedar Waxwing. At the end of our route, we stopped by a bridge, swarmed by swallows! It was a mix of Bank (3), Cliff (3), and Barn (30) Swallows to our best guess. It was difficult to tell exact numbers as they swirled around over and under the bridge. A Northern Harrier zoomed in on the Swallows out of nowhere and almost flew directly at us! However, the little birds started to bully the Harrier into a different direction. We had also seen another Harrier further back on the route. It was flying low in an empty field. It must have found something delectable there.

We saw only two Western Meadowlarks on the way there. We were expecting more Meadowlarks on the route, but they were mysteriously hard to find, we suspected a predator may have been in the area. And indeed, just down the road a raptor was scouting the from a hay bale (too far away to determine more than a silhouette), likely keeping the Meadowlarks at bay. On our way back, there was no sign of the raptor and we saw five more Meadowlarks – more what we had expected!

We had a catch of a Sharp-tailed Grouse flying by! It was quite fast, and I could not tell what it was, but Amanda recognized it instantly. We had an even rarer find further up the path. Right where the road curves right, we saw two Dickcissels! Unfortunately, they were against the sun and only briefly in sight before they flew off into the bushes. They were flying over the road a few times. Amanda had seen them earlier before the 17th when she was preparing the route, and sure enough, they were still there!  

Overall, it was a nice warm-up event to meet the volunteers! Thank you again to Cindy, Al, Pat, and Carla for joining us. A list that summarizes the total birds we encountered can be found below.

-Vicky

August IBA Events

We are excited to be holding three events this August and hope to see you there!


Our first event is a bird blitz at Delta Marsh IBA on Saturday, August 14th. Join us starting at 7:00 am for a morning of birding in small groups before we end with a group round-up and refreshments. Email iba@naturemanitoba.ca to sign up or for more information.


On Friday, August 20th we will hold a weedpull at Riverton Sandy Bar IBA. Join us at 8:00 am for refreshments before we head out onto the sand bar to pull invasive weeds, restoring the habitat for the threatened shorebirds that use this habitat. It also wouldn’t be an IBA event without some birding as well! Email iba@naturemanitoba.ca to sign up or for more information.


Join us at one of western Manitoba’s best birding destinations. We will be focusing our blitz on shorebirds, but other waterbirds, warblers, and more are also sure to delight! This event is on Saturday, August 28th starting at 8:30 am. We will have a group round-up with refreshments at the end of the morning.

The Hawk with the Feathered Legs

Before I talk about one of the coolest looking birds in North America, I’m going to start this off by letting you in on some bird words. First off, a raptor is any bird of prey such as a hawk, falcon, eagle, or owl that has physical adaptions for hunting larger prey. A buteo is a raptor in the broad-winged hawk genus and include the red-tailed and Swainson’s hawk. The term ‘buzzard’ (and you may be thinking of a vulture when you hear this word) is used in the old world to refer to these birds while in North America hawk has been the term used to refer to these birds. Alright now that we have some vocabulary lets talk about our bird of the week, the feathery-legged ferruginous hawk. Ferruginous hawks are the largest of the buteos in the world by weight, beak and foot size but has a smaller wingspan than the upland buzzard.

Identification

While you can only see one side of the “V” made out of the legs, notice the dark feathering all the way down to the foot. Photo by Christian Artuso.

When in flight, look for the feathered legs which form a “V” just above the tail as well as a rather large head compared to the rest of the body. Like most raptors, these birds exhibit a light and dark morph which can makes it a bit trickier to identify. In the dark morphs, the inner wings are darker and more pronounced with white tail and flight feathers. In the light morphs, look for the white belly and rusty coloured shoulder pads. Adults and young fledglings give out a scratchy scream reminiscent of a donkey braying while alarmed and will dive bomb threats which produces a booming whoosh sound.

Life history

Adult ferruginous hawks build their nest in a variety of locations included on the ground and in elevated location such as lone trees, manmade structures, and boulders. When picking their elevated nest site, they will often build their nests on top of previous bird nests. Males bring building materials and females do the building using sticks, pieces of plastic, metal and occasionally bones to create the base of the nest. Softer materials such as dung and sod are used to line the nest, after all the females is going to be sitting there for an incubation period of 33 days! Females will lay a clutch of 1-8 cream-coloured eggs with brown splotches and will fledge the nest after 38-50 days.

Conservation

Ferruginous hawks have seen a 64% population decline from 1992 to 2005 within Its range in Alberta and roughly a 30% decline within its entire Canadian range in the Prairie provinces. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listed the ferruginous hawk as threatened in April 2008 and its Species at Risk Act (SARA) listing is at schedule 1 threatened as of February 2010. Main causes of the decline of their population have been associated with general habitat loss due to oil and gas exploration and urbanization. Ferruginous hawks have been hunted in the past but are now protected by the migratory bird act? Due to their specialized diet of Richardson’s ground squirrel’s, ranching practices that benefit fossorial animals will keep these buteos fat and happy. Artificial nest stands and brush piles have also been constructed to assist with nesting habitat. With proper ranching techniques and habitat conservation we will hopefully be able to stop the population and range reduction of these magnificent birds.

-Nathan (Nature Nate) Entz

Chestnut-collared Longspur- the clown faced prince of the prairies

Here’s Nate with our next (and less predatory) grassland bird species:

A lot of the time, small songbirds are lumped into the category of “sparrow-like bird” due to a lack of identification features or skills of the observer. In this article, I describe a truly beautiful specimen of the prairies, the Chestnut-collared Longspur.

Male Chestnut-collared Longspur. Note the chestnut or rufous coloured “collar” on the back of the neck. Photo by Christian Artuso.

Identification

Like most songbirds, Chestnut-collared Longspurs display sexual dimorphism, a trait where males and females have different physical appearances. During breeding season males are highly decorative, especially around the head and neck. Their name comes from the chestnut-coloured splotch on the back of the neck that forms a sort of ‘collar’. The top of their heads has a thin black cap which is met by a thick white eyebrow. Cheeks and throat have a light peach colouring which you can imagine as a bit of peach fuzz on a pubescent teenager. There are an additional two black stripes on the cheek below the eyebrow line with alternating white lines. In flight, a black fork can be found running down the middles of the tail feathers. As is the case with most sexually dimorphic species, females are much duller in colour and do not have as many flashy ornaments to impress a mate.  After all, they are the ones being impressed! Females, juveniles, and non-breeding adults have muddled streaks on their breast and light brown streaks on the back. Facial features are the same as males but in much duller colour and less pronounced with a light brown ‘ear mark’ between the cheek and neck. Males sing a complicated string of buzzy notes in flight and while perched. Both sexes perform a ‘tzip’ sounding call during aggressive situations.

Nonbreeding adult or immature Chestnut-collared Longspur. Photo by Jacob Drucker on allaboutbirds.org.

Life History

Chestnut-collared longspurs require short grass prairie under one foot in height to breed. This includes taller prairies that have been recently mowed, grazed (historically by bison and more recently by cattle) or burned. In the summer, these birds migrate to the Northern plains and overwinter in the Southern great plains and Chihuahuan Desert. These birds build their nests on the ground and try to utilize cover from taller vegetation within their short grassland habitat. Females produce a clutch of 3-5 eggs pale grey eggs speckled with dark red spots, and can raise 2-3 broods, or cohorts of young. This means that the female will nest more than once during the breeding season but often with a different mate. Young take 7-15 days to hatch and the same amount of time to leave the nest after hatching. These birds will mostly hunt for insects (grasshoppers being a favourite) and seeds while walking on the ground but will occasionally take flight and catch aerial insects just above the ground.

Conservation

From 1966-2015 chestnut-collared longspurs have had an annual population decline of 4.2% which totalled to an 87% population decline in 49 years! Continuing this trajectory, these birds will lose another half of their population size by 2037. The main cause for these longspurs experiencing population decline is a loss of breeding habitat. Due to this bird’s dependence on grazed prairie, protected or un-managed grasslands that are not mowed or grazed can not provide suitable nesting habitat. Like most birds, chestnut collared longspurs are susceptible to non-native introduced predators such as feral cats. Properly managed cattle and other livestock grazing operations can provide rich habitat for this bird in the absence of the once abundant bison.

-Nathan (Nature Nate) Entz

Beware the Strike of the Shrike

One of our summer students from last year, Nate, has written a great series on grassland birds for our blog! Nate joined myself (Amanda) on our grassland bird surveys in southwestern Manitoba and has first-hand experience surveying for these interesting birds. So without further ado – watch out for the shrike!

Loggerhead Shrike in southwestern Manitoba. Photo by Christian Artuso.

Nicknamed the “butcher bird” the loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) is infamous for it’s gruesome feeding habits. the scientific name Lanius Comes from the old Latin word for butcher. Physically, this bird is a far cry from a raptor, so in lieu of sharp talons for killing prey, the shrike bites the nape of the animal and severs the spinal cord, and then impales its prey on anything sharp enough to skewer a meal. Diet ranges from insects and worms to small mammals and other songbirds.  Barbed wire is a favourite “impale site”, but hawthorns, rose bushes and even cactus can be used.  Impaled prey can also be used to mark territory and can be stored as food caches. The savagery of Shrikes has been documented in ancient folklore as well as modern literature.

Identification

Shrikes are categorized as robin sized but slightly larger. There are different species of shrike with the closely related Northern Shrike bearing most similarities. The Loggerhead Shrike is smaller and darker than the Northern Shrike with a shorter and smaller hooked bill. In flight the Loggerhead Shrike is similar to Northern Mockingbird but distinguished by larger head, quicker wing beats and smaller white wing patch. The adult has a broad, thick black mask that goes from behind the eye and continues thinly over top of bill. The song of the Loggerhead Shrike is generally a collection of sharp, precise mechanical two-syllable phrases, each phrase repeated at short intervals. Calls include scolding, grinding, or ringing sounds with a harsh ‘shack-shack’.

Habitat

Loggerhead Shrikes are found in the Parkland and Grassland regions, where they make use of sagebrush stands, wooded agricultural areas, grazed and tall grass prairies.  The Shrike depends on its habitat for impaling its prey. Barbed wire fences and thorn brushes are essential to its choice of habitat. Due to these objects being near grid roads and highways, vehicular collision has been documented for 29% of mortalities according to a fall and winter survey in Virginia; 1989.  For example, the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike is endangered due to loss of Catalina Cherry trees and coastal sage scrub. This vegetation is being replaced with exotics and annual grasslands, eliminating natural habitat for this bird.

Nesting

The Loggerhead Shrike tends to nest earlier than other songbirds, with some populations establishing territory in late February.  Both sexes inspect multiple nest sites before settling down.  They often nest in trees with thorns but will move to deciduous trees later in the season. Nests are an open-cup design with twigs, bark, and roots for structure of the nest.  Inside, it is lined with soft materials such as moss, feathers, and the fur of mammals. Females lay a clutch of 4-7 grayish, oval eggs and the female Loggerhead Shrike incubates the eggs while the male feeds her. Incubation takes 15-17 days, and hatching occurs over 36 hours. At 20-25 days of age the young will practice impaling by picking up an object with its beak and tapping it on a branch or perch.

Conservation concerns

The Loggerhead Shrike ranges widely across the central U.S.A and northwards into the Prairie and Parkland regions of Canada. This is where most of the breeding occurs. Populations winter through the southern United States, and south through Mexico. As of May 2014, COSEWIC declared that the Loggerhead Shrike to be threatened for the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, largely due to the effects of habitat loss and pesticide residues. The main causes of habitat loss are thought to be urbanization of farmlands and conversion to thicker woodlands. These birds are a rare sight in the province with your best bet of finding a Loggerhead Shrike in the southwest grasslands of Manitoba.

-Nathan (Nature Nate) Entz

Update #2 Shorebird Scrape Trail Camera

Our first update of what was seen from the Trail Camera at the shorebird scrape was back in mid-May. Here we are covering from mid-May into June, including some peak shorebird migration timing!

As the shorebirds turn up where they turn up, we can’t always identify them from the photos. They are often too far away from the trail camera (which is limited by the resolution)! Often, we can tell from the silhouette the general type of bird (shorebird, duck, etc.).

Starting off with the end of May. May 12th, we had some wild temperature swings according to the trail camera, with a low of -2 degrees at 5:30am and a high of +30 at 4:30pm! We had 1 unknown shorebird and 2 American Avocets

In general, American Avocets are some of our most commonly identified shorebirds in the trail camera – likely due in part to their stand-out coloration and size that makes them easy to see even with the trail camera resolution. Avocets were at the scrape May 12 (see above), May 14 and May 16-19. It was always a pair of Avocets. They are a species that breeds in southern Manitoba, so this could be a breeding pair, if indeed it is always the same individuals.

We had Godwits show up multiple times – very likely Marbled Godwits. We also had one really great photo of a Marbled Godwit showing its beautiful cinnamon underwing! Godwits showed up at the scrape on May 14 (5 individuals), May 15 and May 19.

Look at that lovely cinnamon underwing! A characteristic identifying mark for Marbled Godwit.

There were a couple exciting days on May 14th, May 15th and May 17th where Golden Plovers showed up. At my best count there were 27 on May 14th, 10 or so on May 15th and 11 on May 17th.

The American Golden Plovers must have come in for an afternoon nap! Birds were thin on the ground in the photos prior to this one for the day.

There were also Yellowlegs on May 13-15 (between 1-4 individuals) and May 18th (1 individual). There were likely more Yellowlegs mixed in with the various “unknown” shorebirds listed below.

Other shorebirds that showed up in this period include a single Willet (May 17th), Killdeer (1 on May 16, 2 on May 17th) and Wilson’s Phalaropes (2 on May 14th, and 3 on May 17th).

By far the largest category of shorebirds, was unfortunately those that were not identifiable. We had a total of at least 29 mystery shorebirds using the scrape in May.

In terms of other water and wetland birds species using the scrape there were a variety of waterfowl such as Swans, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Canada Geese (with young), Scaup, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Franklin’s Gull and and an unidentifiable species of grebe.

Action Mallards!
Cute goslings were a common occurrence in May. By June they had moved into the slightly more awkward teenage stage!

The number and diversity of species decreased in June. The beginning of June is still part of the spring shorebirds migration (for example the International Shorebird Survey ends June 15th) however, the later half of June is firmly in the breeding bird season.

Not surprisingly we had Killdeer show up a lot on our trail cameras. We caught Killdeer on all but 10 days in June (and some of those days had unidentifiable shorebirds, which could have been Killdeer). There was only ever a maximum of two Killdeer, so perhaps a pair that was breeding nearby.

A Killdeer on the right. Look how dry it is!

Other shorebird species that breed in southern Manitoba that showed up quite often in early June were the American Avocet and Marbled Godwit. The American Avocet was seen on June 4 (4 individuals) June 5 (one individual), June 9th (1 individual), and June 14th (2 individuals). Marbled Godwits were seen on June 6 (2 individuals), June 15 (6 individuals), June 16 (2 individuals) and June 17 (1 individual). There was one identifiable Willet who visited on June 7th.

Dawn and American Avocets.

Similar to May, the number of shorebirds using the scrape is higher than my numbers above for June suggest due to the difficultly in identification, as well as likely missing some individuals due to how well many camouflage with their surroundings! In June I had 34 mystery shorebirds.

Other bird species seen on the scrape in June were Canada Geese (adults and young), Swans, Mallards, Redheads, Blue-winged Teal, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Northern Shovelers, Tree Swallows and a Black-billed Magpie.

Action swans this time!

In total for May and June there were 7 species of shorebirds identified, and at least 14 other non-shorebird species.

Something else to touch on this year is the lack of water at the shorebird scrape and in the associated pond! We started the spring with very little snow on the ground to melt, and therefore very little spring runoff to feed the scrape and the pond. Then, as everyone knows, we have had very hot and dry weather for a large portion of the summer. In June, for example, I had two instances of rain show up on the trail camera – June 9th and June 19th! As a result, the scrape is completely dry, and water levels in the pond are low. It has certainly been an interesting year to observe how our target species are using the shorebird scrape.

The scrape and pond were already quite dry in mid-April, but even more so at the end of July.

We are now just moving into the start of fall shorebird migration, as the yearly cycle of migratory shorebirds begins again. If you are interested in volunteering for or learning more about the International Shorebirds Survey (ISS) please send an email to iba@naturemanitoba.ca. We have ISS routes at Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA, Whitewater Lake IBA, the Shoal Lakes IBA and Oak Hammock Marsh.

-Amanda

Eastern Whip-poor will Surveys

Eastern Whip-poor-will. Photo by Christian Artuso.

This year, for the first time, Manitoba IBA is monitoring a very interesting, incredibly elusive bird, the Eastern Whip-poor-will. It is one of two species of special focus this summer, along with the Red-headed Woodpecker. The Eastern Whip-poor-will is part of the nightjar family, a group of nocturnal insectivore birds. Coming from the same group is the Common Nighthawk, another bird found in Manitoba. After a week or two spent coming up with a proper protocol for surveying these birds, Amanda, Vicky and I conducted our first survey. More on that below, but first, we need to get to know the Whip-poor-will a little better.

The Whip-poor will is a medium sized, top heavy bird who calls out their own name. You may hear them calling their distinct whip-poor-will for hours on end. The Whip-poor-will is a ground nester, often choosing a spot next to a shelter from the warm sun. The prefer forests with open understory. They are incredibly hard to spot during the day due to their colouring and nocturnal nature. 

Whip-poor-will numbers are in decline. The Whip-poor-will is a threatened species in Manitoba and Canada and is on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List, which reports on birds that are most at risk of extinction without the intervention of conservation efforts. The main concern for Whip-poor-wills is the loss of open understory forests, which can come from conversion to pasture, crops or urbanization. The birds are also at risk for collision with cars due to their inclination to sit on or fly over roadways.   

Because this year was our first for monitoring these birds, we had to come up with the proper protocol. Working from the Canadian Nightjar survey (Birds Canada), we put together a survey protocol specific to Nightjars in Manitoba. Our first survey took place at the Delta Marsh IBA. Our version of the Nightjar survey this year is exploratory, meaning there are no set routes, and you simply drive around and find suitable habitat. We chose this option as there were very few records of Whip-poor-wills in Manitoba IBAs to base a route around. Typical suitable habitat included forests that are not overly dense and sections of forest or treed pasture with open sections of meadow. They key time to see (hear) Whip-poor-wills is the two week period around the full moon – for the breeding season this means the full moon in June. Once we find a good spot, we stop and listen for 6 minutes. It is important to remain very quiet and to not play any call backs. This usually involves turning the car off and sticking our heads almost out the window. Whip-poor-wills have very distinct calls, but sometimes they are far from the road, and their calls have been loud and very faint. We found when multiple birds would call at the same time, it was tough to figure out how many there were due to varying distance and the layering of the sounds.  

We have been fortunate to identify a handful of the birds on each survey we have conducted so far, meaning that we now know there are individuals located in the IBAs – a big step up from where we were when starting the surveys. This includes two surveys in the Shoal Lakes IBA and two in the Delta Marsh IBA. Because they are nocturnal, it is always by their calls. One observation we made was that we were only identifying the birds after it had become dark (rather than the 30 minutes before sunset start of the survey). That doesn’t mean they aren’t out earlier; we have just only heard them once other birds grow silent.  

The exploratory nature of the survey means leaving main roads and traveling mile roads within the IBA. Often it is a large area that we are covering and can be visited more than once. Sometimes we travel all the way down a road to find that we are simply moving closer to a do not trespass sign, forcing us to turn around and try another road. Vicky and I were very surprised when we drove up to someone’s driveway near West Shoal Lake and were greeted by two farms dogs and a donkey running to the car to say hello! If they were there to seem threatening, it only surprised and delighted us.

Overall, the surveys have been a success and I hope we will be able to monitor more before the summer is up. It is very exciting to know that this threatened bird is so close to home.  

If you are interested in learning more about whip poor wills or conducting your own survey, we would love to hear from you. We are also looking for any reports that you might have of Whip-poor-wills during the breeding period around any of our IBAs. Simply email Amanda at iba@naturemanitoba.ca for more information!

-Ariel

July IBA Events

As COVID-19 numbers stay low, and the province slowly opens up the Manitoba IBA program is also ready to hold events with volunteers again! We are limiting our event capacity and continuing to follow our same COVID-19 protocols from last year (social distancing, no carpooling outside your “bubble” and mandatory masks) but we are excited to see you all again!

International Shorebird Survey Spring 2021

Hello Everyone!

I am Ariel, one of Manitoba IBA’s Summer students for 2021. This past spring, our coordinator Amanda and I, as well as some of our wonderful volunteers have been visiting some of our IBAS to survey for shorebirds.

The protocol that we follow is one of our own, based heavily on the International Shorebird survey by Manomet, but fitted to the specific characteristics of Manitoba. The original protocol includes elements specific to coastal shoreline, which obviously doesn’t work for us in southern Manitoba! There are 4 survey sites that were covered throughout the spring shorebird monitoring. These sites are Whitewater Lake, Oak Hammock Marsh, Shoal Lakes IBA and Oak/Plum Lakes. Oak Hammock Marsh and the Shoal Lakes IBA routes are new this year! Theses sites have multiple routes to monitor and are normally surveyed 3 times in the spring and 3 times in the fall. Below you will find the results of our surveys for the Spring 2021 season. Note that while multiple species are observed and recorded under the ISS protocol during surveys, only shorebirds are included in the data.  

New this year are several photos sites that we have set up in the IBAs. The purpose of these photo sites is to take a photo and share it with us so that we may compare photos of the site each year. Sites that are chosen are usually marked with something distinct, such as a road sign.

A big thank you to Gillian, Bonnie, Tammi, and Mike, our lovely volunteers who were a big help this year in going out and monitoring our IBAs!  

Spring 2021 Oak Hammock Marsh

Oak hammock Marsh has 3 routes and was monitored several times in May partially during shorebird peak season. A total of 18 species were identified by volunteers and the IBA Program. Routes included the front pond – which as you may know is managed for shorebirds by the staff at the Marsh. One of the routes also includes our shorebirds scrape constructed last autumn. Route 2 was visited four times, Route 1 as visited twice and route 3 was visited three times. The Shorebird Scrape was done 3 times.

2021 Spring Season Oak Hammock Marsh 
SpeciesTotal # of IndividualsProportion of Individuals (%)
American Avocet93
Baird’s Sandpiper 41
Black-bellied Plover21
Dunlin329
Killdeer196
Least Sandpiper4112
Lesser Yellowlegs 41
Long Billed Dowitcher 30.87
Marbled Godwit154.37
Red Necked-phalarope5114.87
Ruddy Turnstone164.66
Semi plamated plover226.41
Short billed dowithcer41.17
Spotted Sandpiper61.75
Stilt Sandpiper20.58
White rumper Sandpiper20.58
Willet 72.04
Wilson’s Phalarope10430.32
   
Total343100
Total # of species18 
Based on 13 surveys

Spring 2021 Oak/Plum Lakes

Oak and Plum lakes has 3 routes that were each monitored once. Due to the drought weather this spring, many of the areas close to the roads had dried out or moved farther back, making identification difficult at times. A total of 8 species were identified.

2021 Spring Season Oak/Plum Lakes 
SpeciesTotal # of IndividualsProportion of Individuals (%)
American Avocet2518
Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs7353
Killdeer43
Lesser Yellowlegs 21
Pectoral Sandpiper86
Short billed?Long billed dowwitcher1511
Willet75
Wilson’s Phalarope42.90
   
Total138100
Total # of species8 
based on 3 surveys

Really low water levels at the ISS site along the northern tip of Grande Clairiere Road at Oak Lake. Normally the water goes all the way (and sometimes covers) the rock causeway seen at the end of the video. No wonder the shorebirds are so far out!

Spring 2021 Shoal Lake

Extremely low water at Shoal Lakes. Normally the entire beige- coloured (dried out) mudflat is covered with water. Photo by A. Shave.

North and South Shoal Lakes cover a larger area. There are 4 routes around the lakes, plus the water access near the Erinview campground. They were surveyed 25 times between April and June. Route 1 was surveyed five times, route 2 was surveyed eight times, route 3 was surveyed six times and route 4 was surveyed four times. The Campground was surveyed twice. A total of 24 species were identified. Shoal Lakes was my personal favorite IBA to survey as it was common to see a variety of other birds, such as several species of duck, pelicans, birds of prey and even a Red Headed Woodpecker, one of our focus species this year. Shoal Lakes was another area that was very clearly affected by the drought this year, with many normally suitable spots to survey having been dried out and pushed back farther from the road.

2021 Spring Season Shoal Lakes  
SpeciesTotal # of IndividualsProportion of Individuals (%)
American Avocet516
American Woodcock 10
Bairds Sandpiper162
Dunlin91
Greater Yellowlegs465
Greater/lesser Yellowlegs10
Hudsonian Godwit10
Killdeer11413.59
Least Sandpiper17220.50
Lesser Yellowlegs10112.04
Long billed Dowitcher 70.83
Marbled Godwit 293.46
Pectoral Sandpiper111.31
peep sp. 242.86
Semipalamated Plover10812.87
Semipalamated sandpiper60.72
Short billed dowitcher141.67
Short billed/long billed dowitcher 111.31
Solitary Sandpiper30.36
Spotted Sandpiper151.79
White rumped sandpiper50.60
Willet374.41
Wilson’s phalarope 485.72
Wilson’s snipe91.07
Total839100
Total # of species24 
Based on 23 surveys
A group of American Avocets at Whitewater Lake. Photo by A. Shave

Spring 2021 Whitewater Lake

Whitewater Lake was surveyed 23 times over the course of the season. There are 7 routes in total on the east and west side of the lake. For the west side of the lake, route 1 was surveyed three times, route 2 was surveyed twice and route 3 was surveyed five times. For the East side of the lake, route 1 was surveyed four times and route 2 was surveyed once. Sexton’s point was surveyed eight times. While the graph shows large numbers of certain birds, volunteers reported that the water around the lake was low, and When Amanda and I went to set up photo sites, we noticed the same. The dry weather has no doubt affected the IBA’s this year. A total of 23 species were recorded with a staggering 23,424 individuals counted. A large number of these shorebirds were recorded by Gillian on May 16th when huge numbers of shorebirds were counted along the ISS routes.

2021 Spring Season Shoal Lakes  
SpeciesTotal # of IndividualsProportion of Individuals (%)
American Avocet6043
American Golden-Plover80
Bairds Sandpiper4162
Blackbellied plover 1160
Dunlin10
Greater Yellowlegs60
Hudsonian Godwit70.03
Killdeer450.19
Least Sandpiper14856.39
Lesser Yellowlegs810.35
Marbled Godwit 1110.48
Pectoral Sandpiper1870680.48
Red necked Phalarope 1960.84
Semipalamated Plover1400.60
Semipalamated sandpiper3791.63
Short billed Dowitcher120.05
Short billed/long billed Dowitcher 550.24
Spotted Sandpiper10.00
Stilt Sandpiper 1890.81
Upland Sandpiper50.02
White Rumped Sandpiper 3281.41
Willet620.27
Wilson’s Phalarope 2891.24
Total23242100
Total # of species23 

As we can see by the graph, most species have relatively high counts but the Pectoral Sandpiper’s count towers over the rest at 18,706!

Future ISS Surveys

If you are interested in volunteering for International Shorebird surveys or about shorebird identification, please contact Amanda at iba@naturemanitoba.ca for more information as well as tools to get you started. You do not have to commit to running all sites at a location – there may even be a route or two that you follow on your normal birding trips! We are also able to provide mentoring for shorebird ID and/or lend out spotting scopes if needed. The fall ISS survey period starts on July 11th and runs until October 25th.