Winter came early this year, starting in September when we experienced at least one day when the temperature failed to climb above zero, followed by the second coldest October on record and a below average temperature November, although very little snow fell. Surprisingly, December was comparatively pleasant and when count period arrived, most counts enjoyed pleasant conditions, although the first Saturday of count period was quite windy. When compilers commented on their count day weather, it was generally positive.
Twenty-one counts were held this year, an increase of one over last year. This included the revival of the Portage la Prairie count, which was great to see. Winnipeg had the highest species total at 52, followed distantly by Cypress River-Spruce Woods (36), and Hodgson, Morden, and Oak Hammock Marsh (all three 34) rounding out the top five. At the other end were Cranberry Portage (17), Whiteshell (19), The Pas (22), and Balmoral & Dauphin (both 24) rounding out the bottom five.
There were 80 count day species recorded, five better than last year, plus one more (American Black Duck at Winnipeg) in Count Week (CW) only, any of the three days before or after the count, but not seen on count day itself. Eight species were recorded on every count, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Common Redpoll. At the other extreme were 28 species seen on one count only. Those not mentioned elsewhere are Ring-necked Pheasant at Lyleton (excluding released/escaped birds elsewhere), Eastern Screech-Owl in Winnipeg, and Northern Hawk Owl in Pinawa. This is higher than usual.
The most numerous species was House Sparrow (56,383); followed by Snow Bunting (7066), narrowly edging out Rock Pigeon (7027) for second and third spot; Black-capped Chickadee (5080) and Common Redpoll (3477) rounded out the top five.
The only Gallinaceous bird that prompted comment from compilers was Sharp-tailed Grouse, in high numbers on several counts, including Balmoral (140, a record high), Gimli (305) and Oak Hammock (140). However, 10 Spruce Grouse at Riding Mountain is a record high for them, and possibly for any Manitoba CBC. Our two most northerly counts, The Pas and Cranberry Portage, also had Spruce Grouse in CW. Wild Turkeys totaled 678 across nine CBCs, with noteworthy totals at Carman (258) and Glenboro (216).
The early arrival of winter resulted in fewer than usual water related individual birds, but the few were a nice variety, including Tundra Swan, Eared Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, and Glaucous Gull in Winnipeg, all first time count occurrences there; Cackling Goose at Selkirk, a first count occurrence there; and American White Pelican at Oak Hammock. A Ring-necked Duck in Winnipeg was nearly unique, but for a CW bird at Pinawa.
The lone report of Sharp-shinned Hawk at Morden (plus a CW bird at Glenboro) was surprisingly low after last year’s strong showing. Having said that, however, diurnal raptors were thin, with the exception of Bald Eagles, which were highlighted as in high numbers on several counts, with especially impressive concentrations of 14 at Lyleton and 12 at Pinawa. One Red-tailed Hawk was a good find at Lyleton, a first count appearance. There was one Rough-legged Hawk at Winnipeg and a CW occurrence at The Pas. An immature Golden Eagle was strikingly photographed at Gimli.
There were 103 Eurasian Collared-Doves on seven counts, with three each at Brandon and Carman, 45 at Cypress River, 23 at Glenboro, four at Lyleton (after a several year hiatus), 10 at Morden, and 15 at Portage, probably a record high. Mourning Doves numbered four, with two at Oak Hammock and singles at Selkirk and Winnipeg.
Owls were not numerous and the only unusual species was a Northern Saw-whet Owl in Winnipeg.
Hodgson had the only Red-headed Woodpecker. Although there were other Red-bellied Woodpeckers present in Winnipeg, only one was found there on count day.
Falcons of note included an American Kestrel at Winnipeg, scarce even in breeding season there in recent years, and Gyrfalcons at Selkirk and Winnipeg.
Horned Larks are fairly rare in early and mid-winter, usually recorded only at Lyleton with any regularity, but missed there this year. The only record was one at The Pas, of all places.
It certainly was a banner year for Red-breasted Nuthatches. I don’t believe they have ever been recorded on all counts before. They rivaled White-breasted Nuthatches on several counts. Particularly impressive were 55 in Whiteshell and 70 in Winnipeg.
Single Varied Thrushes were tallied at Pinawa and Winnipeg.
A few unexpected sparrows were two Fox Sparrows in Winnipeg and a CW bird at The Pas, a Song Sparrow photographed at Hodgson. and a White-crowned Sparrow at Gimli.
Two counts had Northern Cardinal, with two in Winnipeg and one in Selkirk.
There were some Icterid highlights. A Yellow-headed Blackbird frequented the feeding station at Oak Hammock, along with Red-winged Blackbirds. The latter species was also seen on several other counts including fairly high numbers at Lyleton (36) and Cypress River (24). A Western Meadowlark was at Glenboro, a first ever for them, and a Brown-headed Cowbird was at Gimli. Both of these were photographed.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are often highly correlated with winter finch numbers, but this doesn’t seem to be one of those times. While Pine Siskins were a little more numerous than usual, with 200 at Winnipeg being noteworthy, most others, such as Common Redpolls were in average to slightly below average numbers, and Hoary Redpolls were at a lower ratio to Common Redpolls than usual. I wonder if the on-again-off-again lumping discussion has caused a lack of motivation among some birders to look carefully at them. Evening Grosbeaks continue to be low, relative to both their distant and more recent past totals.
Winnipeg’s long staying Eurasian Tree Sparrow appears to be gone, but hybrids remain, with two noted on the CBC.
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.