Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Manitoba has 379 bird species spread throughout the Province, with each region holding some special, sometimes rare and endangered birds.  Southwest Manitoba is one of my favourite areas to find a few of these, and I often make trips to Pelican Lake, Whitewater Lake, Southwestern Manitoba Mixed Grass Prairie and Oak Lake to see what I can find.

The Yellow-Headed Blackbird coming in for a landing, is commonly seen along the marshes of SW Manitoba

The Yellow-Headed Blackbird is commonly seen along the marshes of SW Manitoba

Pelican Lake, situated in a beautiful valley, is 11 miles long and approximately 1 mile wide, offers a number of shore birds and water birds along the edge of the lake, as well as song birds and and birds of prey in the forest that surrounds the lake.  For me this lake and the hamlet of Ninette along it’s north shore, is a stopping point before heading to other points southwest of there.  My Mother grew up in this area, so I spent much of my youth exploring the lake and surrounding areas.  To me it is my home away from home.

Great Blue Heron, landing on Grassy Lake, which is joined to Pelican Lake by a small channel at it’s NE corner

Great Blue Heron, landing on Grassy Lake, which is joined to Pelican Lake by a small channel at it’s NE corner

Whitewater Lake is designated as an Important Bird Area in Manitoba and situated west of the town of Boissevain off of Highway number 10, south of Brandon.  During migration both in the spring and the fall, this lake offers a myriad of birds passing through that you will not normally see in the area, such as the Snowy Egret.  You will also find a number of other birds that nest at Whitewater Lake in the summer, making this a birder’s paradise that you will want to head to at least once in your life.  I try to make a couple of trips a year to this area and then head into the very SW corner of Manitoba from there.

Great Egret in a low flight at Whitewater Lake

Great Egret coming in for a landing along the northern shore of Whitewater Lake

When I make my trips to Whitewater Lake, I like to start from the southern edge of Boissevain and and head west from there, passing by a couple of marshes, that often have Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, along with Great Blue Herons to give a nice start to a full day of birding.  From there I head north and then west, following the lake along it’s natural shores, which can change from year to year depending on the water levels in the area. 

Double-Crested Cormorant sunning on the bank of a creek.

Double-Crested Cormorant sunning itself along the edge of a creek near Whitewater Lake

Once I reach the north shore of the lake, I follow the road west to find several different bird species in the shallows of the lake shore and marshes that dot this area.  Some of the birds I have seen include the American Avocet, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Bald Eagle, White-Faced Ibis and the American Bittern.  Many of these birds were first time sightings for me, which always makes my day and gives me a great feeling inside to be able to spend some time observing and photographing them.

American Avocet looking for food along Whitewater Lake

American Avocet looking for food along Whitewater Lake

As we reach the western edges of Whitewater Lake is where I have had the pleasure of spotting both my first White-Faced Ibis and my first and only American Bittern.  In each instance, I spent some time watching the bird in it’s natural environment and made sure that I was able to photograph them for both my own records and to be able to share with others through my blogs and on social media.

Bald Eagle hunting along the northern edge of Whitewater Lake

Bald Eagle hunting along the northern edge of Whitewater Lake

The last couple of times that I have been to Whitewater Lake, the water levels were very high with many roads along the western edge that I normally travel being completely washed out.  I have had to make numerous detours and traveled along roads that I don’t normally take.  Doing this can sometimes be to your advantage, because by taking the same old back road that you normally take often gives you viewings of the same birds you saw on the last trip.  In 2015, after a particularly wet spring and lots of overland flooding, I found myself backtracking and taking another road further west to get to where I wanted to find the White-Faced Ibis I had spotted the year before.  To my surprise, and I almost missed this, sitting just off the road in on the edge of a field was an American Bittern, a bird that I had never seen before. 

American Bittern trying to hide from me in a field next to Whitewater Lake

American Bittern trying to hide from me in a field next to Whitewater Lake

Heading west from Whitewater Lake and past the town of Deloraine is the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed Grass Prairie IBA (Contains the towns of Melita and Lyleton-Pierson and includes 3 significant bird habitats known as the Poverty Plains, the Souris River Lowlands and the Lyleton-Pierson Prairies), and is one of the last strongholds for threatened prairie bird populations within Manitoba, with several that are on the national endangered species list.  The Burrowing Owl, Ferruginous Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike (Western Subspecies), Baird’s Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit and Chestnut-Collared Longspur are a few that are threatened nationally and in some cases globally.   I have not been fortunate to see any of these birds, but hope to while on future trips to this area.

Mountain Bluebird found in the Southwestern Corner of Manitoba, west of the town of Melita

Mountain Bluebird found in the Southwestern Corner of Manitoba, west of the town of Melita

When planning a trip out to the Southwest corner of Manitoba I would suggest that you take at least 3 days to be able to take in this large area and be able to find the many species that it contains.  I have done it in 2 days, but that really doesn’t give enough time to cover the entire area.  When I lived in Souris, I was fortunate that I was close enough to make a few day trips to each of the IBAs and didn’t have to worry about the expense of hotels and meals while doing so.  Now that I am back in Winnipeg, I will have to plan accordingly and give myself enough time to see everything during one trip.  There are a number of hotels/motels in each of the small towns that are near the IBAs and if you prefer to camp, there are a number of campgrounds in the area.

A Western Meadowlark wishing me a nice day as it takes off for a new adventure. 

The Western Meadowlark is a fairly common site on the Manitoba Prairie landscape and it’s melodious song is one that I grew up listening to as a boy

The last IBA in this area, heading north from Melita, is Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA, situated north of highway number 2 and west of highway 254.  Some of the birds you will find in this area are the Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Sprague’s Pipit, Grasshopper Sparrow, Baird’s Sparrow, American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Kingbird, Western Kingbird, and if you are lucky the Western Wood Peewee.  Much of the IBA is located north of the Transcanada Highway, but the area south of the Transcanada highway has a greater interest for me, with the lakes being located in this part of the IBA.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird Serenading me at Whitewater Lake

Yellow-Headed Blackbird serenading me as I stop to take it’s picture east of Oak Lake

So, if you decide to make a trip to Southwestern Manitoba and are in need of a tour guide, perhaps we can work something out as this is an area that I have come to know and love, exploring the area with the hopes of finding all those species of birds that I have yet to cross off my list.