A total of one hundred and seven counts were held in the Prairie Provinces this season – 19 in Manitoba, 33 in Saskatchewan, and 55 in Alberta. Five new counts were welcomed in Saskatchewan; Craven, Dorintosh, Nipawin, Squaw Rapids, and Turtleford. Saskatoon maintained the highest total for Saskatchewan with 43 species on count day although Gardiner Dam closed in with 41 species. Cypress River totaled an outstanding 52 species dethroning Winnipeg by seven species! The battle of Alberta continues in the urban centers with Calgary on top at 65 species and Medicine Hat in second with 53 species. Edmonton and Lethbridge both tallied 48 species.
Weather throughout the region was far more accommodating compared to last winter. An early season cold snap may have put a damper on open water species but otherwise, the warmer than average winter was reflected in the results for wintering passerines and observer effort on foot.
Saskatchewan reported a single Tundra Swan at Gardiner Dam while three Trumpeters and a single unidentified swan were at Spruce View and Waterton N.P., Alberta respectively. In Saskatchewan, seven Greater Scaup at Gardiner Dam were a high count and a female Ruddy Duck was reported in Estevan for the third consecutive year. One Ruddy Duck, as well as a single American Coot, were also reported in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Other noteworthy waterfowl from Alberta included two Gadwall and one Canvasback from Wabamun Lake, one Ring-necked Duck from Calgary, and Hooded Merganser records from four counts. One Pied-billed Grebe braved the Saskatchewan winter while Alberta contributed singles of Horned, Red-necked, and Western grebes.
Although upland game bird numbers were generally average to below average, Sharp-tailed Grouse numbers have been steadily rising and high counts of 284, 117, and 108 were recorded at Dinosaur Provincial Park, Medicine Hat, and Milk River respectively. A Great Blue Heron during count week at Waterton National Park and a Virginia Rail at Banff-Canmore, Alberta are always winter treats. The only gull reports from the region also came from Alberta where Calgary reported two Ring-billed and one Herring Gull while one Glaucous Gull was at Waterton National Park.
A count week Turkey Vulture at Cypress River was noteworthy for the region during winter. Five Red-tailed Hawks reported from Calgary was a record high and an American Kestrel at Medicine Hat was unusual. Snowy Owls were reported across the region in typical numbers. Northern Saw-whet Owls were detected on a few new circles in the region, perhaps an effect of the milder winter.
Although Eurasian Collared-Doves don’t seem to be taking hold in the eastern reaches of the region, they are steadily increasing in the west. Woodpeckers however, were the story in the western prairie region. Both Calgary and Edmonton experienced record highs for Downy Woodpecker and Calgary also had a record high for Hairy Woodpecker. Calgary had a record high of 226 Northern Flickers while Edmonton had a record high of 76 Pileated Woodpeckers! Also in Alberta was one Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Strathcona, a rare winter species. Red-bellied Woodpeckers continue to increase in Manitoba with six individuals reported from five counts this season.
A Chestnut-backed Chickadee at Cochrane, Alberta was well out of range while Calgary had record highs of both White- breasted Nuthatch and Brown Creeper. Both Townsend’s Solitaire and Varied Thrush wandered east into Saskatchewan and Manitoba where they are regular but uncommon winterers. A Hermit Thrush visiting a feeder in Winnipeg was the only reported for the region. A first for Saskatchewan was a count-week Golden-crowned Sparrow at Broadview that was stubbornly “missing in action” on count day. In Manitoba, a single Chipping Sparrow was at Morden and single White-crowned Sparrows were in Brandon and Winnipeg. The only Fox Sparrow for the region was one at Nanton, AB while Harris’s Sparrows were reported from all three provinces in average numbers. Blackbirds made their presence felt this winter season. Eight Brewer’s in Alberta and four in Saskatchewan were exceptional records. Rustys were reported in all three provinces in average to above average numbers (AB-20, SK-17, and MB-30). Other blackbird highs came from Manitoba with one Yellow-headed, and 38 Red-winged, and 12 Common Grackles.
A Cassin’s Finch was a repeat of last year’s bird observed at a feeder in Saskatoon. Common and Hoary redpolls were up in comparison to last year’s near absence but not overwhelming by any means. American Goldfinches are on the rise for prairie counts and this year was no exception with Saskatchewan reporting 117 individuals. The most impressive record for the region without contention was the Eurasian Tree Sparrow discovered in Winnipeg, the first for Christmas Bird Counts in Manitoba and Canada!