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
Least Sandpiper166
Lesser Yellowlegs3212
Long-billed Dowitcher4015
Marbled Godwit93
Pectoral Sandpiper249
Semipalmated Plover21
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher249
Spotted Sandpiper42
Stilt Sandpiper42
Upland Sandpiper52
Wilson’s Phalarope2811
Wilson’s Snipe21

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
Least Sandpiper895
Lesser Yellowlegs996
Long-billed Dowitcher60034
Pectoral Sandpiper121
Red-necked Phalarope70
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

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
Least Sandpiper65
Lesser Yellowlegs2922
peep sp.97
Short-billed Dowitcher11
Spotted Sandpiper32
White-rumped Sandpiper11
Wilson’s Snipe43

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
Least Sandpiper10
Lesser Yellowlegs2812
Semipalmated Plover94
Spotted Sandpiper10
Upland Sandpiper10
Wilson’s Snipe167

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!


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.

P1040042 (2).JPG

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


Churchill and Vicnity IBA – IBA Action Fund Hudson Bay Outreach – Part 1

Due to a grant from Nature Canada, and thanks to the generosity of the Gosling Foundation, the Manitoba IBA Program were able to deliver programs in the Churchill and Vicinity IBA this June. Coordinator Tim Poole and Committee member Bonnie Chartier who hails from Churchill and is steeped in the history of birding in this part of Manitoba.

Our aim was to raise awareness of the IBAs along this whole stretch of coastline and recruit some local volunteers along the way. To begin with it was apparent that our first trip should be to the local coffee shop, the place to meet with local people. We were not in fact meeting with a local per se but with an American academic, Dr Kit Schnaars who takes up residence in Churchill each summer and is running a citizen science based Tree Swallow monitoring program. Kit is likely to be a useful contact for the IBA Program over the coming months as someone who spends time in the community and is passionate about bird conservation, although she doesn’t know her CAGO from her CANG……


Pair of Tree Swallows outside the local restaurant on day 1. Tree Swallows were always a visitor to Churchill but only recorded breeding following a bird house program from Kit. Photo copyright Tim Poole

We were due to give a bird walk in the evening, posters were plastered all over the place and so it was a good time to see a few of the important sites for monitoring birds in the area. Bonnie drove us up to Cape Merry, a place for Belugas, seals and large congregations of scoters, gulls and other birds feeding in the estuary of the Churchill River. It is also according to some folk the ‘most miserable plac (sic)’, although this was written a long time ago – and I would suggest not true for anyone interested in both history and/or natural history for which this area is fascinating.


I would respectfully disagree with the person who scratched this on a rock at Cape Merry over a hundred years ago. Copyright Tim Poole

There is still a large amount of pack ice on the sea – good if you are keen to avoid polar bears – and this also helped to funnel birds into the wider estuary area. A count of 43 Sabine’s Gulls was probably the highlight of this trip up to the cape along with at least 132 Black Scoter.


Cape Merry on a blustery afternoon. Still not miserable though. Copyright Tim Poole

During the afternoon we took a trip down the Hydro Road to see what state it would be in for any future birding activities. This area has been flooded badly this spring in floods which have knocked out the railway for the foreseeable future. At the top of the road the IBA Program has helped the town purchase a new bird sightings board which will eventually include an IBA sign at this location.


The new rare bird board. Copyright Tim Poole

The Hydro Road was one of the better places for migratory shorebirds this year. According to Bonnie and a few other folk we chatted to, the numbers of shorebirds were very few this spring in comparison with other years. Given Ruddy Turnstones have been recorded in migratory groups totaling 6,000 birds before and Red Knot in around 3,400 individuals, albeit back in 1974, the low numbers were very surprising. There is always an explanation and maybe a detour due to loss of stopover sites due to flooding upstream is the most logical.


Short-billed Dowitchers were present in small numbers along the Hydro Road, although notably even breeding shorebirds were not easy to locate in early June. Copyright Tim Poole

We also took a few videos of the wildlife available to see on our Youtube page.

According to the IBA Canada website this IBA was designated for among others, Rusty Blackbird, Black Scoter and Red-throated Loon, all spotted on this first day. Indeed, a day watching the Red-throated Loon moving up the Churchill River to Cape Merry would likely have got us close to the previous total of 440 individuals, more than 1% of the North American breeding population of this species.


Rusty Blackbird in the boreal edges along the Hydro Road. Copyright Tim Poole

In the afternoon we met briefly with some of the staff at the town complex and then in the early evening led an evening bird walk for 30 people at the Granary Ponds. We were able to show them good views of Red-necked Phalarope – the first of many opportunities to talk about polyandry, Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper and Arctic Tern as well as a plethora of ducks and other waterbirds and an overhead Bald Eagle. We also had a huge group back indoors to demonstrate the use of eBird for the IBA Program and advertise the events to come later in the week.


Part of the large group of people attending our first bird walk at the Granary Ponds. Copyright Tim Poole

Day 1 over and the full list of eBirded birds is available to read through below.

Snow Goose 3
Canada Goose 32
American Wigeon 6
Mallard 16
Northern Shoveler 2
Northern Pintail 15
Green-winged Teal 23
Greater Scaup 29
Common Eider 62
Surf Scoter 22
White-winged Scoter 10
Black Scoter 148
Long-tailed Duck 9
Common Goldeneye 1
Common Merganser 130
Red-breasted Merganser 19
Red-throated Loon 20
Pacific Loon 17
Common Loon 1
Osprey 2
Bald Eagle 1
Sandhill Crane 2
Killdeer 2
Hudsonian Godwit 2
Sanderling 2
Baird’s Sandpiper 1
Least Sandpiper 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 8
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Red-necked Phalarope 14
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Solitary Sandpiper 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 12
Parasitic Jaeger 2
Sabine’s Gull 43
Bonaparte’s Gull 10
Ring-billed Gull 20
Herring Gull 14
Arctic Tern 34
Alder Flycatcher 1
Common Raven 2
Horned Lark 2
Tree Swallow 9
American Robin 7
European Starling 1
Northern Waterthrush 10
Yellow Warbler 57
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
American Tree Sparrow 5
Fox Sparrow 20
Dark-eyed Junco 2
White-crowned Sparrow 30
Savannah Sparrow 34
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 5
Rusty Blackbird 8
House Sparrow 6


Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers. Copyright Tim Poole