The 117th CBC in Saskatchewan

Due to extenuating circumstances, there were only23 Saskatchewan CBCs submitted, a decrease of 16 compared to last year. Hopefully more counts will report next season.

While counting conditions were not quite as warm as last year’s El Niño event, the weather was generally cooperative throughout much of the count period. The average minimum and maximum temperatures were -18 to -11 ºC (-13 to -9 ºC in 2015-2016). Wind speeds and snowfall were also well below average across most of the province.

The exception was the situation in southeast Saskatchewan, which was hammered by three separate blizzards in December! As a result, navigating around the Estevan CBC circle was more than a challenge to say the least!!!

Temperatures ranged from a VERY chilly -37 ºC at Pike Lake (it later “warmed up” to -21!), to a positively balmy +6 at Hazlet!

After several years of “close, but no cigar”, the highest count in the province was from Gardiner Dam, where observers recorded an all-time count record of 44 species.

Perennial champion Saskatoon was close behind with 42. Other excellent counts were turned in by Regina 35 (plus 2 cw species), Estevan 30 (plus 7 cw), Craven 34 (plus 2 cw), Swift Current 35, and the Qu’Appelle Valley Dam with 34. The average result was an impressive 25.3 species per count day and 26.1 per count week.

There were 85 species recorded: 81 on Count Day, plus four seen only during count week: Green-winged Teal, Spruce Grouse, Mourning Dove, and Red-winged Blackbird.

Of course, it’s difficult to compare numbers when there were 16 more counts taken in 2015-16, but the species total last year was a most impressive 103.

No new species were added to the Saskatchewan all-time CBC list, but several rarities were discovered, all from the sparrow family. There was a single Chipping in Regina, one Savannah at Gardiner Dam, as well as a Spotted Towhee at Saskatoon. Each have been recorded on fewer than ten occasions on the Saskie CBC.

As mentioned, in spite of fairly mild weather and virtually no snow, only 13 waterbird species were recorded. Last year, there 23 species of geese and ducks present.

Regina hosted four Snow Geese, the only place they were found. For the first time, Saskatoon reported Cackling Goose and in the process, they established a new SK CBC record with 140 individuals. The old record had just been set last year when Estevan found 105 Cacklers!

Dabbling ducks were very poorly represented. Outside of Mallards on 11 counts, there was just a single cw Green-winged Teal at Regina.

Gardiner Dam established a Provincial record total of 23 Greater Scaup, as well as new count highs with eight Bufflehead and five Hooded Mergansers. Gardiner and Estevan each reported a pair of Ring-necked Ducks. Saskatoon set a new SK record with 1050 Common Goldeneyes.

Sharp-tailed and Ruffed Grouse, along with Gray Partridge populations, remained relatively stable. Ring-necked Pheasants were only reported from three areas. However, with deep snow forcing the birds to roadsides and farmyards, Estevan smashed their own record (231 in 2008), with an impressive 335 birds!!!

As usual, Creighton had the distinction as the only count with Willow Ptarmigan, albeit just one individual! The only Spruce Grouse was a cw bird at Squaw Rapids.

Northern Harriers were seen on four CBCs and were a new species at the Qu’Appelle Valley Dam (QVD). Over-wintering Sharp-shinned Hawk numbers continue to rise. There were 11 birds seen in eight areas, including one on the long-standing Harris count, where it was a new species. Bald Eagles were well distributed on eight counts, but their numbers were lower than usual. Two Red-tailed Hawks were a surprise at Regina. Rough-legged Hawks were found on seven counts, including an impressive 13 at Regina. However, that was far short of their record total of 36 last year!

The only American Coot was a single bird at Boundary Dam at Estevan. No gulls were seen at any of the hydro-electric dams this CBC season.

The Eurasian Collared-Dove was reported from 12 areas, while the only Mourning Dove sighting was a count week bird at Craven.

Great Horned Owl numbers remained static. However, after two “good” years, Snowy Owl numbers plummeted, with only 17 birds in 11 circles. Last year there were 62 seen. Four Great Grays were seen: three at Squaw Rapids and one from Love. Gardiner Dam reported a Long-eared Owl for only the second time, while another was seen at Regina. It was nice to see nine Short-eared Owls on six counts.

Woodpecker numbers remained average. Love reported the only American three-toed.

Swift Current hosted the only American Kestrel. Merlin numbers were up: 13 birds on five counts. No Gyrfalcons were found and the lone Prairie Falcon was at Ponteix.

Reversing a two year trend, magpies outnumbered ravens, but not by much!

Black-capped Chickadee numbers were strong with 2821 birds on all 23 counts. Red-breasted Nuthatches were well distributed, with 695 in 19 circles.

Single Townsend’s Solitaires were reported from Biggar (3rd record), Floral (new to the count), as well as a cw bird at Estevan. American Robin numbers were down significantly, but they still were seen in nine areas. Varied Thrushes were observed at Gardiner Dam (4th time) and Saskatoon.

Both Waxwing species were present in average numbers.

Lapland Longspurs turned up at Coronach (14) and Ponteix (3). Snow Bunting numbers were good, with nearly 9192 birds seen on 18 CBCs (plus one cw).

Spotted Towhees are very rare Christmas birds, so singles at Craven and Saskatoon were noteworthy.

American Tree Sparrow reports were a pair each at Gardiner and Craven. As mentioned earlier, the Chipping Sparrow at Regina was the highlight of their CBC. The only Harris’s Sparrow was a lone individual at Craven. White-throated Sparrows were present in three areas: Craven, Regina and Saskatoon. The Savannah at Gardiner was that count’s rarest species.

The only Red-winged Blackbirds were a cw pair seen and photographed the day after the Estevan count! There were nine Common Grackles on four counts. A single at Gardiner represented only the third record in 44 years, while three were still surviving in snowy Estevan.

As expected, “winter finch” numbers were down significantly compared to 2015.

House Finch numbers remain stable, while the only Purple was seen at Pike Lake. White-winged Crossbill numbers weren’t horrible, with 839 birds on 14 counts (plus one cw). Common Redpolls were still reported from 18 areas, with Hoary turning up in four circles. American Goldfinch numbers were excellent, with 79 birds reported from seven circles. Biggar featured a flock of 17 birds for only their third CBC record in 46 years. Evening Grosbeaks were only seen in three areas, with Love recording a decent total of 156 birds.


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