A total of 59 Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) from Alberta submitted data this past season, five counts more than last year. The five new counts welcomed to the family were Blindline, Castle Provincial Park (P.P.), Chestermere, Priddis, and Ribstone. Calgary’s impressive high total of 73 was a full 10 species more than the previous year.
An early spell of cold weather hit early in the winter, likely forcing many species that typically linger later to head south. The weather had warmed up by the time the count period began, and most counts had pleasant weather. Although most counts in the province reported frozen still water bodies, many running water courses remained open during the period. All counts reported at least some snow on the ground, with the highest coming from Athabasca with 60 cm. Athabasca also recorded the coldest low temperature on count day with -25 degrees Celsius. Count day at Lethbridge got up to a balmy 12 degrees Celsius for the warmest circle.
The only Snow Goose reported was one from Calgary and the only Tundra Swan was a bird at Slave Lake. The 29,459 Canada Geese at Lethbridge were also the highest for a circle in Canada. Cackling Geese were reported from two counts in the province (Calgary and Lethbridge). This species’ occurrence and distribution in the province is uncertain, and counters are encouraged to document Cackling Geese with photos when possible. Wood, Harlequin, and Ruddy ducks were scarce in the province with only singles reported from Calgary. Other uncommon waterfowl species reported in low numbers included American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Hooded Merganser. Calgary contributed 19 of the 20 Redheads in the province.
Sharp-tailed Grouse numbers continue on declining trend, and not surprisingly given the mild weather no Willow Ptarmigan were counted this season. Likely descendants of the release program, two Greater Sage-Grouse at Manyberries were the only recorded for the country. Wild Turkey numbers in southwestern Alberta continue to increase with a total of 177 counted, up from 120 last season. Gray Partridge numbers continue to appear healthy, despite declines documented in other parts of their range across North America.
In contrast to last year, loons, grebes, and cormorants were decidedly absent from the province this year. Last year, Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, and four species of grebes were found on count day or count week. Even American Coots were down from 21 last year to eight this year. This is puzzling given that open water did not seem to be a limitation. Single Great Blue Herons were reported at Calgary and Vermilion.
A respectable total of 20 Killdeer was more than twice the number last year (7). Most were from Calgary, followed by Crowsnest Pass and Sheep River. All three Wilson’s Snipe in the province were reported at Banff-Canmore, undoubtedly aided by thermally heated open water at the hot springs. Early winter gull records were on par with the past several years. Cold Lake, being the gull capital of the province, had both count day Herring Gull and Ring-billed gulls were reported. Cold Lake had an additional five unidentified gulls while Calgary had the remaining three.
A surprisingly low count of four Mourning Doves was tallied; this species winters in much greater numbers to the west and east of the province. The Eurasian Collared-Doves reported (755) were slightly down compared to last year (833). Grand Prairie had not only the highest Rock (Feral) Pigeon number for Canada, but also for the rest of the ABA area.
The most abundant raptor in the province during early winter was the Bald Eagle (191) followed by about half as many Rough-legged Hawks (95). Five Northern Goshawks at Cochrane Wildlife Reserve tied two other counts in Canada for the highest total. It was slow season for many of the northern owls, but apparently Alberta was the place to be. The two Northern Hawk Owls at Slave Lake and two Boreal Owls at Devon-Calmar, were the highest in Canada, while the four Great Gray Owls at Cochrane Wildlife Reserve were the highest for North America. Snowy Owls were up from only 19 last season, to 29 this season.
One Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, seemingly annual in the province, came from Blindline this year. Edmonton tallied 465 Downy Woodpeckers to become Downy Woodpecker capital of Canada. Five Belted Kingfishers were reported in the province for the second year in a row, compared to only one during the 117th season.
It was another productive year for Gyrfalcons with a total of eight reported in Alberta, which is the same as last season. Three Gyrfalcons at Calgary and an impressive seven Prairie Falcons at Milk River, represented national highs for a single count. The only Peregrine Falcon was a count week bird at Edmonton.
Crowsnest Pass again comes out on top with American Dipper (51), the highest total for Canada as well. As is often the case, Calgary was the Black-billed Magpie (2647) capital of North America. Sheep River reported both the most Canada Jays (160) and Boreal Chickadees (177) in Canada. Edmonton had the most Black-capped Chickadees (3153) reported of any circle in North America and the most Red-breasted Nuthatches (531) of any circle in Canada. The only wrens in the province were at Banff-Canmore with one Marsh, and one count week Pacific/Winter.
A count week Gray Catbird at Medicine Hat a count week Cape May Warbler at Calgary were exciting finds. The most noteworthy count week bird, however, was a Brambling at Medicine Hat that was captured on remote camera before being glimpsed by an observer. A Brown Thrasher was at High River while a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was at Peace River. Wood-warblers are always scarce in Alberta during the CBC season, but Cold Lake and Castle P.P. both reported count day Yellow-rumpeds. Only six Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches were reported this season, all from Crowsnest Pass. Common and Hoary redpolls, as well as Pine and Evening grosbeaks were reported in unremarkable numbers. The highest count of Snow Buntings came Hanna with 982.
Two Harris’s Sparrows at Banff-Canmore were tied for a national high while the only White-crowned Sparrow was at Brule. White-throated Sparrows numbers totaled 32 individuals with high counts of eight at Edmonton, seven at Banff-Canmore and six at St. Albert. Two Northern Cardinals persist at Strathcona. Fewer Rusty Blackbirds were counted this year (7), compared to last (36), while both Brewer’s and Red-winged blackbirds were absent in the province. Medicine Hat reported two Common Grackles while one remained at Lethbridge.