Piping Plovers are small, endangered shorebirds in Manitoba. Its call is described as a "plaintive peep-lo" which made it the perfect name for this blog as it too is a plaintive call, a Call to Action.

28 June 2011

High Water Hurts Plovers

Go to the following link for an article in the most recent edition of the Interlake Spectator.

07 June 2011

World Birding Hotspot

Over the years, as I have traveled the Interlake from the West shore of Lake Winnipeg to the East shore of Lake Manitoba and back, I've often wondered how cool it would be to designate this area as a World Birding Hotspot or WBH. The diversity of birdlife I see in my travels never ceases to amaze me and it never gets old. Whether it's white pelicans gliding overhead, great egrets along the Shoal Lakes, ducks in the marshes or the myriad number of colourful songbirds, like the Baltimore oriole, eastern bluebird, goldfinch or red-headed woodpecker, it's a stunning spectacle.

I would love to see our provincial road map from the North perimeter highway, north to PTH 68, east to Lake Winnipeg and west to Lake Manitoba shaded in some colour to make it distinctive with World Birding Hotspot emblazoned in large bold type across the area. The designation would be strictly for promotion purposes, it would have no legal status. Those land owners lucky enough to live within its boundaries and know how special the area is would not have to worry about any type of government intervention or expropriation. It would simply be a way of telling the world what an incredible area the Interlake is for birdlife and there would be many more spillover benefits. These would include; increased economic tourism expenditures, improvements to existing infrastructure and the overall pride generated when one is part of something special.

In future, the Southwest corner of the province and the Churchill area could also be designated WBH's and appropriately shaded on the provincial road map. Let's face it, birding and its related industries is the single largest recreational activity in the world today and generates monetary benefits in the billions of dollars world-wide.

I'd be interested to know what you think of this idea. Does the idea have merit or have I been in the sun too long? Let me know.

02 June 2011

2011 International Piping Plover Breeding Census

This year marks the fifth count of piping plovers across North America since 1991. The census is conducted every five years and will run this year from June 4-17. In 2006, about 8,100 birds were counted, up from 2001. However, the debate continued from previous counts as to whether the increase was due to management efforts in the field or the census was simply more thorough and birds were found at sites previously not visited during other censuses.

However, no matter the reason, 8,100 birds is a critically low number as far as bird counts are concerned. Unfortunately, in Manitoba, our expectations for a sudden increase in numbers is low. The Manitoba population as decreased every census, from 80 in 1991 to 60 in 1996 to only 16 in 2001 and finally eight in 2006. Last year, a non-census year, we counted only seven plovers. This year, five different birds were identified during the second week of May and we've had no further reports. Now one might argue that Manitoba is a huge province and surely you have not been everywhere and seen every bird. And it's hard to argue against that logic. However, we have a pretty good idea of where to look for these birds. They stake out territories and build nests on wide, flat beaches around the South basins of Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. Also, Manitoba has a very active birding community. According to the Manitobabirds group web site, they have 469 active members and post their sightings daily. No one from this group has contacted me with a sighting or posted a sighting.

So why the low numbers? We have been in a high water cycle for nearly 20 years. High water has reduced nesting habitat significantly. West Shoal Lake which accommodated the highest concentration of plovers in the province has been flooded for at least the past 10 years. Coupled with human disturbance of nesting areas and predation from other birds like crows and ravens and mammals like fox, raccoons, coyotes and skunks, well it's no wonder why our plover population has declined.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Through intensive management efforts, we have had 42 chicks fledge (able to fly on their own) in the past five years. That is well above the success rate biologists have deemed required to sustain a population of piping plovers. And, some of the chicks we have banded over the past two years are showing up near to the areas where they hatched out and we've even had a report of one of our banded birds turning up in Grand Marais, Michigan. So there is hope. I believe that if we can maintain a population in Manitoba, however small it may be, that once the high water cycle ends and nesting habitat is again exposed, our dwindling population will begin to slowly increase. Time is on our side. Now if precipitation and water levels could get back to normal, we'd be on our way.

I should have preliminary census results by the third week of June and will report back at that time.