One year on the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), my partner for the day said to me “This is the one birding event I do a year.” Examples such as these, while anecdotal, show the popularity of the CBC for those who have only the most casual interest in birding, yet the other extreme of birding is also evident—a count compiling session frequently features most of the well known hard core birders of the area, and often beyond, in attendance. Clearly the CBC remains popular with birders of a great range of experience and expertise.
Wintry weather arrived in early November. It warmed up by the end of the month and most of early December was also quite mild. Unfortunately by this time most waterfowl had departed, other than the usual species (Canada Goose, Mallard, and Common Goldeneye), and many half-hardy species had also disappeared by the count period. Counts held early in the period had pleasant conditions (although light snow and blowing snow did interfere with visibility on one or two counts, notably Oak Hammock), and then cold temperatures returned with a vengeance just before Christmas and remained for the duration of count period, forcing a couple of rescheduled count dates and making the conditions on the counts an endurance test. Snow cover was quite thin, for the most part, and probably was the reason so many Rough-legged Hawks lingered.
There were 19 counts held in Manitoba, with the loss of Thompson and Inglis, and near loss of Minnedosa. Winnipeg had the highest species total with 49, followed by Cypress River at 44, Brandon at 39, Glenboro at 36, and Selkirk at 30, rounding out the top five. At the other extreme were The Pas at 10 species, Whiteshell at 18, and Minnedosa, Dauphin & Cranberry Portage at 19 comprising the bottom five.
There were 75 count day species recorded. Hairy Woodpecker, Common Raven, and Black-capped Chickadee were seen on every count. At the other extreme there were 13 species seen on only one count. Those not mentioned elsewhere were Spruce Grouse (Cranberry Portage), Northern Flicker (Winnipeg), and Lapland Longspur (Oak Hammock). There were four count week (seen on at least one of the three days preceding or following count day, but missed on count day, itself) species: Willow Ptarmigan (Cranberry Portage and Pinawa), Golden Eagle (Cypress River), and Barred Owl and Northern Mockingbird (both Winnipeg).
A mini-invasion of Willow Ptarmigan into southeastern Manitoba was the first in nearly a century and one was a count week bird at Pinawa. Wild Turkeys were only found on four counts, but thanks to numbers of 188 at Carman and 171 at Cypress River, they were the second most abundant gallinaceous bird after Sharp-tailed Grouse.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are definitely increasing and were recorded on three counts, including three at Winnipeg. A Red-tailed Hawk was a nice find at Winnipeg. Rough-legged Hawks were numerous with five reports, including high totals of 12 at Brandon and 10 at Lyleton. Bald Eagles were reported from nine counts with totals of eight at Lyleton and nine at Winnipeg being especially noteworthy.
Eurasian Collared-Doves continue to increase, totalling 74 on six counts, with Selkirk and Winnipeg getting their first records. Glenboro was slightly off its high total from last year, but logged a respectable 21, but the real leader this year was an astonishing 41 at Cypress River. There were five Mourning Doves reported at Oak Hammock.
Snowy Owls were not numerous, except at Brandon where 12 were recorded; otherwise there were reports from six counts and a total of only 11 more. Owls of note included a Northern Hawk Owl at Selkirk and Oak Hammock, likely the same bird, as its location is near the overlap zone of these two counts. The other was at Pinawa, where the species is more expected. Only two Great Gray Owls were reported, both at Hodgson, but there were additional count week birds at Cranberry Portage, Pinawa, and Whiteshell. The two most unexpected owls were a Northern Saw-whet at Winnipeg and a Long-eared at Glenboro.
It was a good season for woodpeckers. Two counts had Red-headed Woodpecker, one at Oak Hammock and two at Cypress River; and three counts reported Red-bellied Woodpecker: Carman, Cypress River, and Morden. Winnipeg scored a pair of boreal species with both Black-backed and American Three-toed woodpeckers, the latter a first ever for the count. Although rare in Winnipeg, it should be noted both are reasonably routine on a number of Manitoba CBCs.
American Crows and Common Ravens continue to be in high numbers, particularly the latter.
A Townsend’s Solitaire at Winnipeg and a Varied Thrush at Cypress River were nice rarities.
A few wintering sparrows of note included a Chipping Sparrow at Selkirk, Harris’s and Song sparrows at both Brandon and Delta Marsh/Portage Plains. The only Northern Cardinal this year was one at Carman.
Red-winged Blackbirds were recorded at Delta, Lyleton, and Selkirk, and in count week only at Glenboro. Common Grackles were recorded from Cypress River, Glenboro, Selkirk, and Winnipeg. No other blackbirds were reported.
Winter finches were widespread, but not exceptionally numerous, although good numbers of Pine Grosbeaks were found, with over a thousand in total and missed on only one count. Evening Grosbeaks were low on CBCs where they are normally found, but recorded on a couple of counts, Minnedosa and Winnipeg, where they have been absent in recent years. After last year’s Purple Finch incursion, only a few were reported, mostly in areas where they are routine. Red Crossbills outnumbered White-winged Crossbills, but the latter species was found on more counts.
The long-staying Eurasian Tree Sparrow was again recorded on the Winnipeg CBC, but perhaps the rarest birds of all were its hybrid offspring. Two were recorded and this may be the first ever CBC report of House x Eurasian Tree Sparrows, as a cursory search in the historical records on the National Audubon Society website brought up a “no records” comment.
All Manitoba CBCs can be viewed on the National Audubon Society website and I can also provide an Excel file of all the counts to anyone requesting it. Thank you to all compilers and everyone who took part.