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Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-Grass Prairie (MB024)

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Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-Grass Prairie (MB024)

Melita, Manitoba

Latitude 49.213°N
Longitude 101.153°W
Altitude 425 - 463m
Area 1,580.34km²

Site Description

The extreme southwestern corner of Manitoba, containing the towns of Melita, Lyleton, Pierson and Coulter, is the driest part of the province and is dominated by sandy soils, extensive rangeland and the odd tract of mixed-grass prairie. Most of the area, even the grasslands, has been cultivated at one time or another. Along the Souris River and its tributaries are coulees of scrub and deciduous riparian woodlands. Near Lyleton, hundreds of miles of shelterbelts were established to prevent wind erosion during the 1930s. Four small Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) occur in the area. The Broomhill WMA is dominated by grassland and shrubs. Near Melita, a wide variety of introduced and planted trees and shrubs have established at the Gerald Malaher WMA. There are two widely spaced units of Pierson WMA: the Gainsborough Creek unit south of Melita contains native uplands, riparian forests and shrubland, while the Frank W. Boyd unit near Pierson is dominated by native aspen parklands woods and willow shrubbery. The recently-established Mixed-grass Prairie Preserve, southwest of Broomhill, illustrates the relationship between grazing mammals and native prairie.

Birds

The Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-Grass Prairie area is rich in grassland and parkland birds, and is especially notable for rare prairie birds that are at the northern edge of their range. Six of these species are on the list of national endangered species. The rarest of these is the nationally endangered Burrowing Owl, for which the extreme southwest is the provincial hotspot. In the 1980s, 30 pairs were present. Numbers plummeted to no known pairs for several years after 1996, followed by a resurgence to 9-13 pairs in the province from 2006-2009, with a subsequent plunge to near zero known pairs in recent years. This area also holds most of Manitoba’s nesting Ferruginous Hawks, a nationally threatened species. Although less than 20 pairs currently occur in Manitoba (most of these in the SW Mixed-grass Prairie IBA), over 50 pairs nested in southwest Manitoba throughout most of the 1990s. The threatened Loggerhead Shrike also occurs in significant numbers here. But like the Burrowing Owl and Ferruginous Hawk, its numbers have plummeted considerably in the last couple decades due to various limiting factors related to unusually wet summer conditions. Prior to the mid-1990s. over 200 pairs were known from the province, probably three-quarters occurring in the extreme southwest corner. More recently, nesting numbers have dropped to less than 50 pairs per year, most of these in the IBA. A minimum of 58 territorial Sprague’s Pipits were recorded on a single day in July 2016. The Chestnut-collared Longspur is also present in good numbers, 238 individuals being counted on a single day in June 2015. This IBA also supports most of Manitoba’s nesting population of Baird’s Sparrow.

Grassland areas within the IBA are rapidly becoming a popular ecotourist attraction. Each year, hundreds of bird-watchers from throughout North America visit this area to find widely sought-after grassland birds. The province of Manitoba and Watchable Wildlife have produced a 'Manitoba Grassland Bird Trail' guide to assist those exploring the area. In addition to the above-mentioned species, specialties of the area that occur in the IBA in reasonable numbers include Sharp-tailed Grouse, Marbled Godwit, Upland Sandpiper, Says Phoebe, Willow Flycatcher and Grasshopper Sparrow. This is also the most likely area in the province to see uncommon breeding grassland birds for Manitoba such as Lark Bunting (in dry years) and Dickcissel.

The IBA contains some temporary and permanent wetland areas, especially during wet-cycles, providing habitat for breeding and migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. Nationally rare species including the Yellow Rail (Special Concern) breed on occasion in the IBA. Large concentrations of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes, with the occasional Whooping Crane, migrate through and stay for a few weeks.

Conservation Issues

Several conservation issues are worthy of note in this unprotected, primarily private-lands IBA. Overgrazing and conversion of grasslands are situations that can lead to an elimination or deterioration of native prairie. On the other hand, shelterbelts planted to minimize soil erosion are dying and being eliminated; these are of importance to a wide variety of birds, including shrikes.

A large bed of sandy soils underlies the surface of much of this area, particularly in habitats favoured by breeding shrikes, Ferruginous Hawks, Baird’s Sparrows and Sprague’s Pipits. There has also been a proliferation of subsurface exploration for oil, with new oil wells and frequently travelled roads leading to habitat loss and increased mortality of wildlife.

Manitoba’s Wildlife Branch, in conjunction with various local conservation groups, have monitored and conducted management efforts on grassland species at risk in this area since the early 1980s. Their efforts have spurred a greatly enhanced interest in preserving grassland birds in this unique area by local, national and international conservation agencies and individuals.

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Sprague's Pipit
Number Year Season
58 - 702016Summer
40 - 412015Summer
??Summer
Rusty Blackbird
Number Year Season
652015Fall
242007Spring
242007Winter
Whooping Crane
Number Year Season
12009Fall
Chestnut-collared Longspur
Number Year Season
180 - 1972016Summer
98 - 2502015Summer
Loggerhead Shrike
Number Year Season
1 - 22018Summer
12018Spring
1 - 32017Summer
22017Spring
1 - 42016Summer
12016Spring
1 - 22015Summer
12015Spring
12014Summer
12013Fall
1 - 22013Summer
12013Spring
42012Fall
1 - 52012Summer
1 - 22011Summer
22011Spring
1 - 62010Summer
12010Spring
1 - 62009Summer
52008Fall
1 - 22008Summer
22007Summer
1 - 72006Summer
1 - 52005Summer
12005Spring
1 - 72004Summer
1 - 32003Summer
62003Spring
1 - 62002Summer
1 - 32001Summer
1 - 82000Summer
1 - 2001999Summer
1 - 41998Summer
1 - 31997Summer
1 - 71996Summer
121996Spring
1 - 101995Summer
1 - 21994Summer
1 - 6541993Summer
1 - 21992Fall
1 - 61992Summer
1 - 31991Summer
5 - 71990Summer
Burrowing Owl
Number Year Season
61999Summer
41991Summer
601985Summer
Ferruginous Hawk
Number Year Season
882004Summer
761999Summer
1121995Summer