Friday, November 17, 2017

A Road to Roost Upon: Red Knots at Reed Lake

Kim Mann's photo of Red Knots and Black-Bellied Plovers roosting on
Range Rd 383 bisecting Reed Lake south of Morse, Sk.
Today I am pleased to post a story written by a naturalist-photographer friend, Kim Mann, whose passion for shorebirds takes her regularly each spring, summer and fall to the shores of Chaplin and Reed Lakes along the TransCanada Highway—two of the northern Great Plains most important staging areas for large flocks of shorebirds. The story is a terrific example of how making even a minor change—closing a road for a very short period each spring—can assist a rare bird on its long migration. Don't miss the slide-show of her photos at the end of the post!

Here is Kim's story:

It's a warm, near windless day as my sister and I walk slowly up a closed grid road. Closed to vehicular traffic since sometime in 2014 when the grid finally lost its battle with the forces of wind and water, this stretch of sandy gravel is a lifeline to a small reddish orange bird called a Red Knot- Calidris canutus. Known for its extreme migratory flight, this bird is why we are here.

These little birds are migration machines. Their anatomy undergoes drastic changes such as the stomach and gizzard shrinking in size and muscles becoming bigger in order to make the long flights possible, however, such changes make staging areas crucial. The birds need to rest and refuel as quickly as possible before continuing on to the Arctic where they nest.

The grid we are on, officially known as Range Road 383 in the RM of Morse, bisects the lake and is one of these crucial staging areas. A saline lake, Reed is listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) - SK034. Thousands of birds of a variety of species use this lake as a stopover during both spring and fall migrations. The grid and the lake's shores teem with small insects and crustaceans. The lake itself is rich in food as evidenced by the frantic feeding habits of flocks of birds. Not only is Reed Lake an important migratory stopover, it is home to several species of birds that nest on a small island on the west side of the grid.

We first traveled to Reed Lake in 2011. A post on Saskbirds had listed a mixed flock of Red Knots, Black-bellied Plovers, Piping Plovers, and various sandpipers on the grid road and I wanted to go see them. I recorded my first Red Knot sighting on May 29th, 2011. There were approximately 200-400 Red Knots that day in a flock stretched widthwise across the grid. Every time a vehicle went by, up they flew and out over the water until finally circling back to roost again on the road. 

Unfortunately, that year, at least eleven Red Knots were killed by traffic. For a species at risk ranked in Canada as Endangered, this loss was devastating.

Fast forward to spring of 2015. This time when we visited, the damaged grid was closed to vehicular traffic. The birds were much less flighty and way more involved in feeding and sleeping. We have returned every spring since.

Now to the reason I am writing this blog post.

The grid is in the process of being repaired. By next spring it should be open to vehicles once again. I have emailed the four levels of government involved- the RM of Morse, SARM, Saskatchewan, and Canada, with a proposal to protect the Red Knots and, by extension, all the spring migratory birds that use that grid. Hopefully we can all work together to protect the birds.

My proposal- close the grid to vehicular traffic during the time the Red Knots are at Reed Lake, (spring migration), by placing locked barriers at the north and south ends of the grid. There are excellent grids available both east and west to circumvent the lake within ten minutes driving time which people have used since 2014 when the grid was originally closed.

Something definitely needs to be done to protect this species at risk. There is a very small number of Red Knots that visit Reed lake- maybe 400-900 birds. Breaking off from the majority of Red Knots that follow the eastern coast during migration, they travel the central migratory path up north. We can't afford to lose any of them. 

If you agree with the proposal Kim makes, then please write Saskatchewan's Minister of the Environment, Dustin Duncan at Mailing Address, Room 345, Legislative Building, 2405 Legislative Drive, Regina, SK, Canada, S4S 0B3.

Now, here are just a few of the images Kim has taken while visiting the Red Knots of Reed Lake over the last six years (click on the lower right corner of this video box below to launch the slideshow in Youtube and get a larger view):

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