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 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