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By Timothy Poole, Manitoba Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Coordinator, Nature Manitoba

GrebeWatch, Sandy Bay Marshes IBA Photo: Lynnea Parker

Nestled between the imposing boreal forest and ridges of Riding Mountain National Park and the shores of Lake Manitoba are three relatively unknown Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). Thanks to support from Bird Studies Canada’s Baillie Fund – including donations collected by the Great Canadian Birdathon’s dedicated participants – the Manitoba IBA Program received a grant in 2018 to deliver outreach in these IBAs. The aim of the project was to identify and recruit new volunteers, increase awareness of the importance of this area for birds and wildlife, and generate more bird records for the IBAs.
One successful part of this project involved engaging Grade 10 students at the Isaac Beaulieu Memorial School in the Sandy Bay First Nation in a morning workshop in May and September of 2018. The Sandy Bay Marshes IBA occupies much of the Sandy Bay First Nation Reserve lands, with the marshes straddling a ridge between the beaches of Lake Manitoba and the community. Between 500 and 1000 pairs of Western Grebes, a species of Special Concern in Canada, have been recorded breeding in these marshes. The students learned about the grebes, and thanks to some online videos, were amazed by the impressive ability to scamper across the surface of the water in perfect synchronisation during their courtship dances. The Baillie Fund grant helped us to purchase binoculars and field guides for the school, plus printed materials, which we hope will encourage more students to begin watching not just the grebes, but the many other birds passing through this area.

Snow Geese, Sandy Bay Marshes IBA Photo: Lynnea Parker

Also in May, we returned to the Sandy Bay IBA to deliver a public GrebeWatch. In May 2017, over 700 Western Grebes gathered here before heading into smaller marshes to breed. Unfortunately, late ice and bitter cold delayed the seasonal migration in this area in 2018, but still, a group of keen local people turned up and we were able to show them 70 species of birds, including 112 Western Grebes.

Red-headed Woodpecker Photo: Randy Mooi

In July, we returned to the area, this time to the Kinosota-Leifur IBA. Kinosota-Leifur contains large areas of grazed aspen woodland, ideal for the nationally Endangered Red-headed Woodpecker. Groups of volunteers counted 51 individual Red-headed Woodpeckers, including 39 within the IBA boundary. Based on this count, we estimated that there were a minimum of 26 pairs in the IBA. We are hopeful that the local people who came along and volunteered will begin to monitor this impressive species for the program in the future.
Our final visit to the area came in October. We joined in the Langruth Harvest Festival to talk with local people, make a bird feeder craft with children, and advertise a tour of the final IBA in the region – the Big Grass Marsh and Langruth IBA. This IBA was designated due to significant fall concentrations of geese and Sandhill Cranes, and already has a strong local group of advocates. Unfortunately, winter came early to Manitoba and we were unable to deliver the tour as we had hoped, but there was still opportunity to distribute outreach materials and talk to people about the importance of the birds around their community.
Support from the Baillie Fund was key to us initiating outreach in this part of Manitoba. The funding enabled us to print outreach materials, including bird identification cards for these IBAs (see example below). We hope that having these materials available will encourage local people who would not normally get involved in Citizen Science to report significant sightings of birds in their area.
Want to learn more and join local efforts to help birds and their habitats? Visit websites for the Manitoba IBA Program, IBAs in Canada, and the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund. Don’t forget to sign up for the 2019 Great Canadian Birdathon so you can enjoy a day of birding while supporting more great work for birds!

Bird identification card
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