The 121st Christmas Bird Count in Saskatchewan

There were 39 Saskatchewan CBCs submitted, a decrease of five from last year. This was undoubtedly a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite that unpleasant situation, the counts went on, albeit with safety protocols in place.

The weather was generally cooperative throughout much of the count period. However, the first few days were chilly.

Gardiner Dam was done on Dec. 14th, hoping to take advantage of the mild fall conditions leading up to the CBC. Unfortunately, the observers had to deal with the coldest temperature the entire count period, at minus 20 C. The resulting fog from still-open Lake Diefenbaker, combined with light snow throughout the day made conditions challenging to say the least!

The weather generally improved shortly afterwards, with fairly mild conditions prevailing during the remainder of count period. The warmest temperature was at Val Marie, which reached a balmy plus 6 C!

Actually, the average minimum and maximum temperatures were the same as last year: -11 to -6 C, with wind speeds 9 to 20 km/h, vs 8 to 16 km/h. However, thanks to an early November blizzard, snow depth was considerably greater at 12 to 25 cms (5 to 12 cm in 2019).

For the first time since 2014, Saskatoon won the provincial crown for the most species at 44. Runner-up was Regina with 36 (plus 7 cw) species, with Gardiner Dam close behind at 35.  

Balgonie (30 plus 2 cw), Clark’s Crossing (29 plus 4 cw), Prince Albert (28 plus 8 cw), Estevan (28 plus 7 cw), Fort Qu’Appelle (28 plus 6 cw), Moose Jay (26 plus 5 cw), Qu’Appelle (28 plus 3) were other counts breaking the magic 30 species mark.

The average species result increased slightly from last year to 23 species on count day, with 25.5 found during count week.

Having said all that, this was still a fairly decent CBC year in Saskatchewan.

There were 91 species recorded: 87 on Count Day, plus 4 seen only during count week: Barred Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Cedar Waxwing.

This was a very slight increase over 2019’s effort, which saw 90 species tallied.

However, there were few rarities were recorded.

An Eastern Bluebird seen on the Balgonie Count was the most unusual. The only previous Sask CBC record was two birds seen during count period at Craven in 1998.

Other notable species included only the fifth Hermit Thrush (Saskatoon) and seventh Lincoln’s Sparrow (Harris).

Waterfowl were generally found in normal numbers, with the exception of two new provincial high counts established for Canada Geese and Common Goldeneye.

There were 13 waterfowl species recorded, which was two less than last year.

Cackling Goose were present at Estevan (75), Gardiner Dam (5), and Regina (1).

Estevan established a new CBC record with an amazing total of 61,700 Canada Geese!!! This obliterated their previous high count of 33,775, which was established just last year! Eight Canadas at E.B. Campbell Dam, northeast of Nipawin, were also notable.

For the fourth consecutive year a male Wood Duck successfully overwintered at Regina!

A male American Wigeon far to the north at E.B. Campbell, was new to the count and the only bird reported this year.

A Northern Pintail was noted at Qu’Appelle Valley Dam (QVD).

Gardiner Dam had the only Redhead, while Lesser Scaup were only seen at Gardiner and Saskatoon.

Very rare in winter, the only Long-tailed Duck was at E.B. Campbell, which was also a new count species.

Bufflehead sightings included four at Estevan and five at Gardiner. Common Goldeneye were reported from nine areas, with an impressive 1032 at Saskatoon, a new SK CBC record.

Hooded Mergansers were present at Gardiner (5, a record count record there) and Saskatoon (1), while Common Mergs were only seen at Gardiner (60) and Swift Current (1).

Sharp-tailed and Ruffed grouse, along with Gray Partridge populations, remained relatively stable. Ring-necked Pheasants were recorded from six areas, including a decent total of 64 at Estevan.

Spruce Grouse were noted at Candle Lake (3), as well as a well-documented bird far south of its normal range at Qu’Appelle!

Most raptor species were generally below normal numbers this winter

In a repeat of 2019, Northern Goshawks again staged a minor invasion of southern Saskie. They were recorded on six counts, with an additional ten cw observations.

Sharp-shinned Hawks declined slightly to four localities, compared to six last year.

Always a surprise during the winter months, single Red-tailed Hawks turned up at QVD and Swift Current, with cw birds at Craven and Moose Jaw. There were 16 Rough-legged Hawks on five counts (plus one cw), which was a substantial increase over last year’s total of three birds.

Nine Golden Eagles were reported in three areas, including six on the Val Marie CBC. Bald Eagles rebounded nicely compared to last year with 89 birds on 21 counts, plus three during count week. As usual, Gardiner led the way with an impressive 51 birds.

Also as usual, the only American Coots seen were 20 on Boundary Reservoir, just south of Estevan.

There was an amazing concentration of 32 Herring Gulls at Gardiner Dam, smashing the previous CBC record of eight set there back in 1988. A single Glaucous Gull was among them. It was the 17th time this Arctic visitor has been recorded at Gardiner.

Eurasian Collared-Dove numbers appear to have peaked. There was a slight population decline compared to last year, with 347 individuals reported from 21 areas. After nada sightings last year, Mourning Doves turned up at Saltcoats (1) and Whitewood (2).

Great Horned Owl numbers declined slightly, with 13 at Morse leading the way. Snowy Owls visited elsewhere this CBC season, with only 30 birds reported from 11 areas, plus four during cw.

A few “northern” owls also were noted. Single count week Northern Hawk Owls were found at Clark’s Crossing (well south of the Boreal Forest) and E.B. Campbell. There also were three cw Barred Owls, including one far south of the normal range at Biggar, where it appeared for the first time in 50 CBCs!

Great Gray Owls staged a minor irruption into the parkland, with nine birds on four counts, plus one during cw at Love. The latter location also reported the only Boreal Owl. Northern Saw-whets appeared on two CBCs.

Both Downy and Hairy Woodpecker numbers remained stable. American three-toeds were seen in three areas, with a decent total of six at Prince Albert National Park (PANP). Black-backeds turned up on four CBCs, plus one during count week. PANP found six of them as well! Northern Flicker numbers were nearly double last total with 43 birds on ten counts. Pileated numbers were up slightly from 2019, with 23 birds on ten counts, plus five more cw observations.

Merlin numbers doubled from last year to 16 birds from seven localities. Always a treat, Gyrfalcons thrilled observers at Gardiner, Harris, and Morse, as well as one cw report from Prince Albert. A Peregrine was at Qu’Appelle, while Prairie Falcons totalled four birds on three counts.

After good numbers the past three CBC seasons, Northern Shrike numbers dropped back to just eight birds on six counts, with five reported during count week.

Corvid numbers remained stable, with both Black-billed Magpie and Common Ravens reported from all circles. American Crow numbers were up with 13 birds in five areas.

With the increase in snow cover compared to last year, it was not a surprise that Horned Lark numbers dropped dramatically. They were found on only 12 CBCs.

Black-capped Chickadee numbers increased significantly, with 4088 from 38 areas, with a jump of nearly one thousand individuals. Boreal Chickadee numbers were down slightly with 67 on six counts.

Red-breasted Nuthatches staged a minor eruption, with 838 birds in 34 circles. Their White-breasted cousins also increased slightly compared to last season.

Golden-crowned Kinglets dropped considerably, with the only reports coming from Saskatoon (1) and Shell Lake (2), as well as a cw bird at Prince Albert. Brown Creeper numbers were slightly lower with 18 birds noted on five CBCs, with one during cw.

As mentioned earlier, a male Eastern Bluebird survived to be counted at Balgonie for only the second Sask CBC record. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, it succumbed during an extended bitter cold snap on February 9th.

The only Townsend’s Solitaire reports were count week birds at Estevan and Regina. Saskatchewan’s fifth CBC Hermit Thrush was well-described at Saskatoon. For the 4th consecutive CBC, American Robin numbers were low with only 25 birds reported from 11 areas, plus three during count week. Always a pleasant surprise, single Varied Thrushes turned up at Regina and Saskatoon, with a cw bird at Val Marie.

European Starlings showed up on 18 counts – with five during count week – but numbers were fewer when compared to last year.

Bohemian Waxwings bounced back compared to the past two years with 6859 reported from 21 circles, with four more cw reports. However, the only Cedars were recorded during count week at Fort Qu’Appelle.

Snow Bunting numbers rebounded from 2019, with 7969 on 35 counts.

The only American Tree Sparrows were five found at Qu’Appelle.

Dark-eyed Juncos were up slightly with 136 from 21 circles. Apparently no ‘Oregon’ types were noted among them this season.

The Zonotrichia genus was well-represented. White-crowned Sparrows were seen at Balgonie (1) and Pike Lake (2). There was a single Harris’s at Morse, with the more-expected White-throated on six counts, plus one cw bird at Biggar. The latter was new to their 50-year CBC list. It should be noted that Prince Albert counters found an amazing total of 18 White-throats, a new provincial CBC record!

Red-winged Blackbirds showed up in four areas, which is about average. The individual at Harris was new to their CBC list. After Estevan recorded a new-to-their-CBC-list count week Western Meadowlark last year, this time they found one on count day! Following no reports last year, single Rusty Blackbird’s turned up at Biggar, Gardiner Dam, and Morse. Common Grackles were noted at Clark’s Crossing (3), Morse (1), and Saskatoon (2). A single Brown-headed Cowbird was a surprise at Eastend.

Winter finch numbers generally increased this CBC season.

Pine Grosbeak numbers almost tripled compared to last year, with 878 reported from 24 counts, plus three more cw observations.

While House Finches were reported from 17 areas – the same as 2019 – their numbers more than doubled to 1372 individuals. Purple Finches were recorded at Fort Qu’Appelle (1) and Whitewood (6), with two more sightings during cw.

The only Red Crossbill reports came from Balgonie (31) and Floral (11). However, their White-winged cousins were up substantially with 617 birds on 13 counts, plus three more areas during count week.

Common Redpoll numbers almost tripled, with 1850 from 32 areas and one cw record. Only eight Hoarys were found in four circles, plus two in count week.

Pine Siskin populations declined to half the number compared to last season, with 151 on 10 counts, plus two cw reports. In the meantime, American Goldfinch numbers were also down slightly, with 28 birds in eight areas, plus two during cw.

A most pleasant surprise was the number of Evening Grosbeak reports. There were 1120 birds seen in 11 areas, nearly doubling the total from 2019. Love hosted a most impressive 410 individuals!

While I personally feel House Sparrows have declined since I began birding in 1973, there still were 24,234 reported from 36 circles. When compared to last year, this was a substantial increase of just over 4000 individuals!

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