North, West, and East Shoal Lakes IBA Bird Blitz

On Sunday, May 6th, 14 birders split into 4 groups and covered over 177 km of the North, West, and East Shoal Lakes IBA (IBA map). With a late start to spring this year we were not sure what to expect in terms of species diversity and numbers. On Saturday, the day before the blitz, Tim Poole and Lynnea Parker noted that ice coverage on Lake Manitoba was still quite extensive at Sandy Bay Marshes IBA near Langruth. Lynnea was therefore glad to observe that West and East Shoal Lakes were mostly ice-free. North Shoal Lake was partially open along the roadsides and marshes.

122 species were observed in the morning with good numbers of waterfowl and grebes. Group 1 with Pierre, Bill, Wally, and William were particularly fond of the 171 American Robins and 159 Red-winged Blackbirds they thoroughly counted. However, the robins and blackbirds paled in comparison to the 611 Western Grebes which were spotted rafting together at West Shoal Lake (Group 1 checklist).

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View of West Shoal Lake with a large number of Western Grebes rafting in the distance, photo by Pierre Richard

western grebe 1 William Rideout

Western Grebe, photo by William Rideout

At the Sandy Bay Grebe Watch event on May 5th, Tim and Lynnea had been hoping to see several hundred Western Grebes. Due to the heavy ice cover, only 112 Western Grebes were counted. It would seem our missing Grebes were over at West Shoal Lake instead! A further 500 were spotted by Bob Jones at Delta Marsh the previous day.

Group 2 with Jo, Betsy, Christian, and Mohammad surveyed the east side of East and North Shoal Lakes. Christian turned back the clock and took up his Atlas nickname ‘Moose Legs’, walking the rejuvenated wetland also known as PR415, which runs between North and East Shoal Lakes (Christian’s Checklist). The decommissioned, and partially flooded road was highly productive with 94 species, including high counts of waterfowl, Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Gulls, and Blackbirds. Unfortunately for Christian, he missed the Snowy Egret spied by Group #4 which was found on the same decommissioned road just outside his survey area to the west. Group #4 didn’t feel bad however, as Christian managed to find a Clark’s Grebe which they didn’t see. Photos below feature a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs (upper left), pair of Canvasbacks (middle left), flock of American White Pelicans (lower left), and a Marbled Godwit preening (right) (photos by Christian Artuso). (Additional checklists for this group: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5)



Group 3 with Joanne, Richard, Louise, and Eric surveyed the IBA area north of North Shoal Lake. They had many species of waterbirds despite having less open water in their area. Good sights from Group 3 included 4 Trumpeter Swans, 18 Red-necked Grebes, and 1 Semipalmated Plover (Checklist). The photos below by Joanne Smith include Red-necked Grebe (Left) and Willet (Right).



Group 4 with Lynnea, Cam, and Jeff surveyed the northern part of West Shoal Lake, west side of East Shoal Lake, and west side of North Shoal Lake. The highlights from this group included a Snowy Egret, good numbers of Green-winged Teal and Blue-winged Teal, and 11 Great Egret. Access to the open water was limited, but the marshy areas were moderately productive. Photos below were taken by Cam Nikkel and feature a Forster’s Tern (Left) and a Great Egret (Right).



Overall, highlights of the day included: 13 Greater White-fronted Goose, 766 Western Grebe, 1 Clark’s Grbe, 490 American White Pelican, 6 American Bittern, 32 Great Egret, 1 Snowy Egret, 3 Black-crowned Night-Heron, 116 Sandhill Crane, and 58 Bonaparte’s Gull.

After the morning blitz everyone gathered at Rosie’s Cafe in Inwood for a glorious lunch before wrapping up the event.

Compiled IBA Event Checklist:

Snow Goose 1,455
Ross’s Goose 8
Greater White-fronted Goose 13
Cackling Goose 9
Canada Goose 1,554
Trumpeter Swan 8
Tundra Swan 99
Wood Duck 2
Blue-winged Teal 340
Northern Shoveler 73
Gadwall 59
American Wigeon 26
Mallard 591
Northern Pintail 42
Green-winged Teal 428
Canvasback 662
Redhead 75
Ring-necked Duck 145
Greater Scaup 7
Lesser Scaup 313
Greater/Lesser Scaup 4
Bufflehead 31
Common Goldeneye 17
Hooded Merganser 4
Common Merganser 18
Red-breasted Merganser 8
Ruddy Duck 19
Ruffed Grouse 1
Sharp-tailed Grouse 1
Common Loon 15
Pied-billed Grebe 45
Horned Grebe 56
Red-necked Grebe 36
Eared Grebe 1
Western Grebe 766
Clark’s Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 479
American White Pelican 490
American Bittern 6
Great Blue Heron 14
Great Egret 32
Snowy Egret 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 3
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 2
Northern Harrier 11
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 15
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 17
Virginia Rail 3
Sora 3
American Coot 537
Sandhill Crane 116
American Avocet 8
Semipalmated Plover 1
Killdeer 41
Marbled Godwit 19
Pectoral Sandpiper 1
Wilson’s Snipe 52
Wilson’s Phalarope 7
Greater Yellowlegs 22
Willet 23
Lesser Yellowlegs 114
Bonaparte’s Gull 58
Franklin’s Gull 1,305
Ring-billed Gull 2,802
Herring Gull 102
gull sp. 742
Caspian Tern 3
Common Tern 3
Forster’s Tern 173
Mourning Dove 15
Belted Kingfisher 7
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 31
Downy Woodpecker 3
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 28
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 6
Merlin 4
Eastern Phoebe 9
Blue Jay 6
Black-billed Magpie 25
American Crow 13
Common Raven 15
Tree Swallow 98
Barn Swallow 35
Black-capped Chickadee 2
Marsh Wren 23
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 7
Eastern Bluebird 4
Hermit Thrush 4
American Robin 208
Gray Catbird 1
European Starling 15
American Pipit 5
Orange-crowned Warbler 6
Palm Warbler 6
Yellow-rumped Warbler 5
LeConte’s Sparrow 2
American Tree Sparrow 2
Chipping Sparrow 1
Clay-colored Sparrow 6
Lark Sparrow 2
Fox Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 9
Harris’s Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 7
Vesper Sparrow 3
Savannah Sparrow 53
Song Sparrow 115
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 52
Yellow-headed Blackbird 665
Western Meadowlark 23
Red-winged Blackbird 2,676
Brown-headed Cowbird 54
Rusty Blackbird 104
Brewer’s Blackbird 32
Common Grackle 115
Purple Finch 1

Sandy Bay Grebe Watch

On Saturday, May 5th we held a Grebe Watch event at the Sandy Bay Marshes IBA. The Sandy Bay Marshes are located along the western shoreline of Lake Manitoba, just east of Langruth and Sandy Bay First Nation (Map). This IBA is known for its large concentrations of Western Grebes in the spring, with 500-1000 breeding pairs recorded in 1986! The purpose of this event was to see if Western Grebes (and other Grebes) were present and document their numbers.

On Friday, May 4th Tim Poole (IBA Coordinator) noted that the bays along the shoreline of Lake Manitoba were still heavily covered in ice. In light of the bays being covered in ice, the Grebe Watch was cancelled for individuals who had signed up from afar, such as Winnipeg. The event went ahead for local residents. The cold start to spring this year has seemingly delayed spring migration for many species of waterbirds.

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Hollywood Beach, Sandy Bay Marshes. Photo by Lynnea A. Parker

It was a successful turnout with 8 people from the community and 1 person from Winnipeg joining us at Hollywood Beach. We started off the morning by gathering on the main beach and scanning for waterbirds. Tim and Lynnea Parker (IBA Assistant) set up spotting scopes to show the public a variety of species, including Western Grebe, Tundra Swan, Redhead, Canvasback, Bonaparte’s Gull, Common Tern, and Marbled Godwit.


Western Grebe, Photo by Tim Poole

As anticipated, the Western Grebes were present in the IBA, but not in the high numbers we were initially hoping to see. We suspect the cold weather and ice along the shoreline was a contributing factor to the low numbers. In total, we recorded 70 species of birds including 112 Western Grebe. At the end of this blog post there is a  list of species which were detected.

We would like to thank everyone who did attend the Grebe Watch event, and we hope this opportunity has encouraged more people to take an interest in monitoring and reporting birds within the Sandy Bay Marshes.

Species Detected (70 Total)

24        Canada Goose

35        Tundra Swan

150      Blue-winged Teal

1          Northern Shoveler

26        Gadwall

12        American Wigeon

54        Mallard

6          Northern Pintail

280      Green-winged Teal

16        Redhead

8          Ring-necked Duck

34        Lesser Scaup

6          Bufflehead

4          Common Goldeneye

8          Common Merganser

1          Red-breasted Merganser

3          Ruddy Duck

6          Common Loon

3          Red-necked Grebe

112      Western Grebe

46        Double-crested Cormorant

18        American White Pelican

3          American Bittern

1          Turkey Vulture

4          Northern Harrier

2          Bald Eagle

2          Broad-winged Hawk

6          Red-tailed Hawk

2          Rough-legged Hawk

1          Virginia Rail

1          Sora

8          American Coot

12        Sandhill Crane

12        Killdeer

6          Marbled Godwit

3          Willet

9          Lesser Yellowlegs

6          Bonaparte’s Gull

4          Franklin’s Gull

16        Ring-billed Gull

2          Herring Gull

74        Common Tern

45        Rock Pigeon

2          Mourning Dove

4          Northern Flicker

2          American Kestrel

1          Merlin

3          Eastern Phoebe

1          Black-billed Magpie

1          American Crow

3          Common Raven

5          Tree Swallow

12        Barn Swallow

2          Black-capped Chickadee

1          Marsh Wren

1          Swainson’s Thrush

3          Hermit Thrush

2          American Robin

1          European Starling

25        Palm Warbler

6          Dark-eyed Junco

2          White-throated Sparrow

1          Savannah Sparrow

10        Song Sparrow

6          Swamp Sparrow

45        Yellow-headed Blackbird

4          Western Meadowlark

400      Red-winged Blackbird

18        Brewer’s Blackbird

6          Common Grackle

1          Yellow-rumped Warbler

Whitewater Lake IBA Blitz – Early Results From August 6th

Manitoba IBA Program Coordinator, Tim Poole provides an update on the Whitewater Lake IBA blitz from August 6th.

Whitewater Lake can be relied on to provide a bounty of birds. Even the overhead electrical wires provided an incredible bounty of birds, with several thousand swallows located along single stretches. Shorebirds are always to be found in large numbers at this time of year, although this will fluctuate depending on lake levels.

Christian Artuso and I came down the afternoon before to do a quick scout of the area looking for large concentrations of shorebirds and other interesting species. The first thing we found just to the north of the IBA was not a bird but a moose. A moose is becoming almost a guaranteed part of any trip to this part of the world – especially the wide open habitats.


Female Moose with Turtle Mountain in the background. Copyright Tim Poole

Large groups of swallows were gathering around the lake, especially the Species At Risk, the Bank Swallow, present in groups of several thousand along the powerlines. A count revealed that there were around 1500 between each pole, a huge number!


A few swallows hanging around. Copyright Tim Poole

At Sexton’s Island we picked up the family of Clark’s and Western Grebe again. Good job, as these birds were not detected the following morning.

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Clark’s to the left (note the black cap above the eye), Western to the right (black cap more extensive) and two possible hybrids stuck in the middle. Copyright Tim Poole

As the evening closed in we were able to find a couple of interesting spots to check the following morning, including a very interesting shorebird spot on the southern side at the end of a road allowance.


Whitewater Lake the evening before the blitz. Photo copyright Tim Poole

On August 6th, 4 groups of 2 people were out and about in the IBA. Due to the holiday weekend, this was a smaller number than usual but hey, the bird migration does not wait! We are still awaiting results from one group but here is a quick overview of how the other three groups got on.

In the west, Gillian and Louanne. 65 species were recorded in total. Highlights included a Peregrine, falcons showing up as large flocks of birds make their presence felt. There were also 300 dowitchers but only 5 species of shorebird. This was interesting and was indicative of the drying out of many of the ephemeral wetlands which were full of shorebirds during the May blitz.


Mixed dowitcher flock. Copyright Tim Poole

They also counted an impressive 8,110 Bank Swallows and over 800 Tree Swallows in large concentrations.

Bank and Tree Swallows on the roads. Copyright Tim Poole

In the east Christian took out first timer Kathryn from the Manitoba Museum out for a birding experience! They found 3,925 Short-billed Dowitchers, pretty impressive! These were mostly in wetlands on the edge of the lake. They also counted the largest numbers of ducks and grebes, 4,725 Mallard, 1,341 Northern Pintail, 2,007 Blue-winged Teal, 1,884 Eared Grebe and 1,771 Western Grebe. They also counted 5,815 American Coot.


Western Grebes were incredibly numerous at Whitewater. The counts were only of adults and non-downy juveniles. Copyright Tim Poole

Another highlight was the only Buff-breasted Sandpiper of the day and Snowy Egrets. This came to a total of 86 species.

Following completion of their own area, they drove around to a road on the south side which would not be possible for the southern group. Among others’ they recorded 14 species of shorebird including 963 Stilt Sandpiper, 374 Least Sandpiper and 491 Short-billed Dowitcher.

A selection of shorebird photos from Randy Mooi. From left to right and top to bottom, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Short-billed and Long-biiled Dowitcher and Willet. All photos are copyright of Randy Mooi.

In the south, Randy Mooi joined me for the morning. Randy for anyone unaware, is the Curator of Zoology at the Manitoba Museum. The first stop was the old viewing mound, which is still a mound but not pretty much cut off from the road for viewing. A large flock of dowitchers was surpassed by an incredible large number of Western Grebes feeding along the edges of the lake. Our total for the morning was 1900! Much of this area still has the old infrastructure emerging from the water but the toilets have disappeared from sight, no doubt appearing one day from lake as water levels rescind.

Reflections - Black Tern reduced

Black Tern on an old fence at the viewing mound. Copyright Randy Mooi


Our next stop was an old road allowance for which we would need to walk a mile or so from the car as the road was not driveable. At this point Randy did try to land me in an awkward position with his parking location, me opening the car to almost step in the substance found in the photo on the left!

We eventually made it to the lake shore and found some neat treasures of the lake including a spit of land which given the number of gulls and terns may well be one of the lakes large Franklin’s Gull colonies. There was also an island with large numbers of Double-crested Cormorants and fairly good numbers of American White Pelican.


Cormorant Island. Note the Western Grebes and pelicans also in this shot. Copyright Tim Poole

Shorebirds were also around in good numbers. An American Avocet got especially close to Randy:


Randy and a disappearing American Avocet. Copyright Tim Poole

avocet reflections reduced

Here is the avocet from the photo above. Notice how the salmon plumage around the head has moulted. Copyright Randy Mooi

A Marbled Godwit also flew in right next to Randy, an apparent magnet for shorebirds that day!

Marbled Godwit reduced

A Marbled Godwit decided to get in on the action and pose right in front of Randy. Copyright Randy Mooi

Moose tracks reduced

Moose! Copyright Randy Mooi

Another interesting feature was the prints in the mud along the lake shore. As with the day before, moose was prevalent in this area as well as numerous other mammalian prints.

Another species to watch out for was Cattle Egret, a total of 10 spotted during the morning.

And also, did we mention the Bank Swallows? There were quite a few of those too. Unfortunately a few were killed on the road by careless drivers. Being from the museum, Randy took some specimens back to work for the collection.

So here are the totals, with one group to report. There were 60,002 birds counted and 104 species, very good for a mornings birding! We will be back at Whitewater this Sunday, the 27th for another go and will post complete results for both in the next week or so.

Species Name Species Count
Snow Goose 1
Canada Goose 1,051
Wood Duck 2
Blue-winged Teal 2,079
Northern Shoveler 535
Gadwall 79
American Wigeon 11
Mallard 6,174
Northern Pintail 1,382
Green-winged Teal 833
Canvasback 417
Redhead 290
Lesser Scaup 90
Bufflehead 14
Hooded Merganser 2
Ruddy Duck 708
Gray Partridge 7
Pied-billed Grebe 52
Eared Grebe 2,050
Western Grebe 3,818
Double-crested Cormorant 415
American White Pelican 168
American Bittern 6
Great Blue Heron 10
Great Egret 27
Snowy Egret 4
Cattle Egret 14
Black-crowned Night-Heron 31
White-faced Ibis 136
Northern Harrier 13
Bald Eagle 1
Swainson’s Hawk 3
Red-tailed Hawk 9
Sora 16
American Coot 6,602
American Avocet 582
Semipalmated Plover 111
Killdeer 83
Upland Sandpiper 9
Marbled Godwit 46
Stilt Sandpiper 985
Baird’s Sandpiper 61
Least Sandpiper 436
Buff-breasted Sandpiper 1
Pectoral Sandpiper 15
Semipalmated Sandpiper 41
peep sp. 3
Short-billed Dowitcher 4,760
Long-billed Dowitcher 78
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher 300
Wilson’s Snipe 7
Wilson’s Phalarope 197
Red-necked Phalarope 34
Spotted Sandpiper 15
Greater Yellowlegs 49
Willet 44
Lesser Yellowlegs 403
Franklin’s Gull 1,363
Ring-billed Gull 276
California Gull 1
Herring Gull 6
Black Tern 156
Forster’s Tern 182
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 117
Northern Flicker 3
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 2
Peregrine Falcon 2
Eastern Phoebe 1
Western Kingbird 48
Eastern Kingbird 64
Black-billed Magpie 4
American Crow 7
Common Raven 15
Horned Lark 9
Tree Swallow 3,364
Bank Swallow 14,745
Barn Swallow 103
Cliff Swallow 61
Sedge Wren 35
Marsh Wren 36
American Robin 4
European Starling 13
Cedar Waxwing 1
Common Yellowthroat 2
Yellow Warbler 2
LeConte’s Sparrow 2
Nelson’s Sparrow 6
Clay-colored Sparrow 7
Vesper Sparrow 17
Savannah Sparrow 37
Song Sparrow 18
Swamp Sparrow 2
Yellow-headed Blackbird 2,294
Western Meadowlark 53
Baltimore Oriole 1
Red-winged Blackbird 960
Brown-headed Cowbird 3
Brewer’s Blackbird 29
Common Grackle 96
blackbird sp. 500
American Goldfinch 8
House Sparrow 34

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

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

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


Lapland Rose Bay. Copyright Tim Poole

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


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

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


Pair of Sandhill Cranes. Copyright Tim Poole

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


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

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


Sandbags protect the water pump. Copyright Tim Poole

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


Little Gull. Copyright Tim Poole


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


New Manitoba IBA Coordinator

There have been a few changes for the Manitoban IBA Program in the last month. Diana Teal has moved back to Toronto. All those associated with the Manitoba IBA Program wish to thank Diana for her hard work and achievements over the previous year. Our new Manitoba IBA Coordinator writes his 1st blog, introducing himself and sharing some of his background.

Hello, my name is Tim Poole and I am just beginning life as the Manitoba Important Bird Area Coordinator. I have been working on the Manitoba IBA Program for only a couple of weeks so it is about time that I produce a first blogpost. Rather than talk about myself, I thought it might be interesting to blog a bit about some of my past experiences working in IBA’s in Scotland.

I moved to Manitoba in May from the UK with my wife, who is from Winnipeg and son. Before that I worked as the Capercaillie Project Officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Scotland (see here). This was a partnership post, part funded by 2 government agencies, Forestry Commission Scotland (see here) and Scottish Natural Heritage (see here) and was a focal point for advocating conservation management for the western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) in Scotland.

Caper adjusted

Male (or cock) capercaillie photographed in an IBA in the Cairngorms National Park, UK. Photo by Tim Poole

So what is a capercaillie? It is a large grouse, the world’s largest in fact. The common name comes from Scots Gaelic and is translated depending on what you read as ‘horse of the woods’ or ‘great cock of the woods’. Although globally not endangered, being found across the Boreal forests of Fennoscandia and Russia, the capercaillie has declined in the western and southern parts of its range. Recent estimates in Scotland are of a population around 1280 birds with the population increasingly being confined to a single area in the Cairngorm National Park (the BTO Atlas demonstrates the range decline since 1968 here).

Male capercaillie in an IBA in Scotland. Photo by Tim Poole

Male capercaillie in an IBA in Scotland. Photo by Tim Poole

Wherever capercaillie occur in the world it is likely that blue whortleberry (Vaccinium myrtilis) (known as blaeberry in Scotland and bilberry in England) is nearby. Adults feed on the leaves, shoots and fruits but these plants are vitally important for young chicks which require an abundance of invertebrates in the early weeks of life. Like spruce grouse, capercaillie feed on conifer needles in winter, hence one writer describing them as having ‘the most boring diet’ in the bird world.

Semi-natural forest dominated by Scots pine is the typical habitat for capercaillie in Scotland. The trees provide plenty of sturdy roost branches for a large bird. There is also juniper and heather which provide cover for chciks. Photo by Tim Poole.

The primary habitat in this IBA is semi-natural Scots pine forest. This is ideal chick habitat with abundant whortleberry, and cover provided by juniper and heather. Capercaillie are large birds and also need sturdy branches on which to roost. Photo by Tim Poole.

Mixed species conifer plantation on a bog. A cock capercaillie was displaying in this area earlier in the morning. Hens feed on nutritious bog plants prior to egg laying. Photo by Tim Poole

Mixed species conifer plantation on a bog. A cock capercaillie was displaying in this area earlier in the morning. Hens feed on nutritious bog plants prior to egg laying. Photo by Tim Poole

The IBA situation in the UK is very different, and somewhat confusing. For starters, we never referred to those 3 letters because of another 3 letters, SPA. SPA stands for ‘Special Protection Area’ and all IBA’s are also SPA’s. SPA’s are legally protected under the European Union Birds Directive, and each country is obliged to implement it, meaning that the UK Government and Scottish Governments are legally responsible for maintaining site condition.

This is where my role became relevant. I was responsible for providing advice to government and landowners on best practice management for capercaillie in the SPA’s of which there were 11 all of them covered by IBAs.

Map of Scotland outlining the distribution of SPA's all of which are also IBA's.  Capercaillie core areas were an effective mechanism for targeting resource.

Map of Scotland outlining the distribution of SPA’s all of which are also IBA’s. Capercaillie core areas were used to target management resource.

Many, but not all the SPA’s, are also protected for their important habitat (less than 1% of the original Caledonian pinewood and bog woodland remains) and other bird species (e.g. Scottish crossbill, osprey, golden eagle). Cooperation between forest managers, government and conservation bodies ensured that conservation was prioritised in these sites and indeed in adjacent sites. Timber harvesting was possible as long as it was planned sensitively and forest thinning, opening up the canopy in dense plantations was indeed beneficial to wildlife.

Selective thinning of trees have enhanced this habitat for capercaillie. Thinned trees were left in situ as deadwood. Glades were created to create ideal conditions for wood ants and tree regeneration. Photo by Tim Poole

Selective thinning of trees have enhanced this habitat for capercaillie. Thinned trees were left in situ as deadwood. Glades were created to create ideal conditions for wood ants and tree regeneration. Photo by Tim Poole

Capercaillie are a lekking species (lek = ‘to play’ in Swedish), where males display in close proximity in spring to attract females. Each spring, a team of volunteers, including estate staff, counted the total number of cocks attending leks. Many volunteers sleep overnight in canvas hides, approximately 4 foot square. Scotland is famous for its fabulous weather, so anyone staying overnight was advised to use a bivvy bag to keep the rain off their body.


Hide overlooking a lek in an active pine plantation. Capercaillie lek in open areas of forest with flat ground and perches for hens to watch. Racks and rides created by timber operations often create the ideal lek habitat. Photo by Tim Poole

Capercaillie are an early riser, beginning to call around 0430 just after the tawny owl ceases to hoot. They carry on calling, strutting, ‘flutter jumping’ and occasionally fighting until the hens have left the area and the sun has risen. Hens can visit multiple leks on any given morning and will bide their time before mating. During the very peak days, cocks will remain on the lek for extended periods of time, ignoring both the need to feed and conserve energy. This can sometimes leave a tired observer trapped in a hide for much of the day!


Cock capercaillie in whortleberry at a lek in April 2014. Photo by Tim Poole

Annual counts of lekking capercaillie are used to estimate the population of a site. Much like the Manitoba IBA Program, we relied on the hours and enthusiasm of volunteers to monitor these sites and provide a long-term picture of what is happening. We are therefore keen to recruit more volunteers to the scheme. If you are interested, please contact me at or (204) 943-9029.