Wintry weather arrived with a blast on Thanksgiving weekend, with heavy snow, which caused widespread damage to trees and shrubs in many areas. Many trees and shrubs had been stressed by a couple of dry summers, and produced large quantities of seed in response. Christmas Bird Count compilers’ conjectures fell into two broad categories, either the birds had plenty of natural foods to eat and weren’t as visible as usual, or they had abandoned the area en mass, but nearly all agreed numbers were on the low side. Bill Walley, former compiler of the Dauphin count, commented he had never seen such a poor count and this was certainly a reflected theme.
Twenty-one counts were held this year, with no changes from last. Brandon put on a great show and topped the species count with 43. Usual leader Winnipeg was second with 40, followed by Pinawa-Lac du Bonnet with 37, Oak Hammock Marsh at 33, with Cypress River-Spruce Woods and Carman tied at 31 for fifth place. At the opposite end, The Pas & Whiteshell tied for lowest total at 15 species, followed by Cranberry Portage & Dauphin at 16, and Balmoral at 21 rounded out the bottom five.
There were 72 count day species recorded across the province, eight fewer than last year, with two additional count week species (recorded on any of the three days prior or following a count, but not on the day of the count, itself): Golden Eagle at Pinawa & Varied Thrush at Cypress River.
Five species were found on every count: Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, and Black-capped Chickadee. Hairy Woodpecker would have joined this group, but for the incredible omission from Whiteshell. At the other extreme, there were 11 unique species. Those not mentioned elsewhere are Ring-necked Duck at Winnipeg, Common Merganser at Brandon, Ring-necked Pheasant at Lyleton (excluding released/escaped birds elsewhere), and Lapland Longspur at Oak Hammock.
In spite of its continuing decline, the most numerous species was House Sparrow (13,423), followed by Rock Pigeon (8899)—what would we do without those Eurasian birds?—Black-capped Chickadee (4688), Snow Bunting (2796), and Common Raven (2346) round out the top five.
Although no compilers commented individually, the total of 1098 Sharp-tailed Grouse on 17 counts was certainly notable. Last year Gimli had the North American high count; this year’s total of 201 is short of that, but still quite respectable.
Northern Goshawk was the raptor of note, with 11 individuals on six counts, led by three each at Hodgson & Pinawa.
There were 111 Eurasian Collared-Doves on nine counts, with Delta Marsh/Portage Plains and Minnedosa reporting them for the first time. Leader this year was Portage la Prairie at 47, followed by Cypress River at 34, and Carman at 13. Perhaps surprisingly, the counts with the longest established populations, Glenboro, Lyleton, and Morden, had quite low numbers, one to four each. They should now be considered the default dove on Manitoba CBCs, contrasting to the Mourning Dove’s showing of six birds on three counts, with four at Delta and singles at Glenboro and Morden.
Great Gray Owls were numerous this winter, but mostly not inside count circles. There were seven count-day birds in total, with five at Pinawa, singles at Gimli and The Pas, and count week birds at Cranberry Portage and Selkirk. Other owls were harder to come by, with only Pinawa having Northern Hawk Owls, although there were five of them. A Barred Owl was a nice find at Balmoral.
At least four Red-bellied Woodpeckers were in Winnipeg, the only count to record them this year. They have now bred for the last few years in the area and so it makes one wonder if more counts will start recording them regularly. Pileated Woodpeckers have increased in some areas of the province and were recorded on 15 counts this year. While not truly rare, their appearance is always cause for excitement and photo ops, such as the bird on the Balmoral count. Other woodpeckers of note included a Black-backed at Winnipeg, where rare.
Gyrfalcons are always exciting, and one thrilled birders at Gimli.
Riding Mountain had an astounding total of 24 Golden-crowned Kinglets. No other count recorded them, other than count week at Hodgson.
Cypress River cornered the market on western thrushes. In addition to the count week Varied Thrush, they also had a Townsend’s Solitaire on count day. In general thrushes and other frugivorous birds were scarce.
Winnipeg had the only Fox Sparrow, as well as the only Song Sparrows—two on count day, plus a third as a count week only bird. Single Harris’s Sparrows were recorded at Brandon and Cypress River.
Blackbirds were not numerous, but included single Red-wings at Carman and Oak Hammock, two Rusty Blackbirds at Glenboro, and three at Minnedosa, including one photographed by Linda Boys.
Finches were mixed. The usual species, such as Pine and Evening grosbeaks and redpolls were really hard to come by, setting record lows on some counts or absent altogether, but some of the more “southern” species put on a respectable show—Purple Finches totaled 446 on nine counts, with 384 at Pinawa being noteworthy, American Goldfinches totaled 151 on 11, but the really big player was Pine Siskin with 1327 on 12 counts, of which nearly half (666) were at Morden. Crossbills were a little more numerous than usual, with Red Crossbills numbering 92 on seven counts, led by 38 at Cypress River and 35 at Portage; and White-winged Crossbills on five counts, totaling 61,with 29 at Riding Mountain and 25 at Gimli leading the way.
Winnipeg once again produced a House x Eurasian Tree Sparrow hybrid, but this one was far removed from the previous location, strongly suggesting another hybrid pairing took place.
Documentation of rarities was not as good as usual, and I needed to do more chasing of compilers for them than in other years. A few reports of species were changed to “sp.” or deleted as result of no documentation.
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.