The 122nd Christmas Bird Count in Saskatchewan

With the Covid-19 pandemic still a factor, only 37 areas reported, down slightly from 39 in 2020. In spite of that difficult situation, many of the counts went ahead, albeit with safety protocols in place.

With the exception of Gardiner Dam, held on December 14th, cold weather, combined with severe wind-chill values provided for generally miserable counting conditions across Saskatchewan this year.

Weather conditions were on average harsher this year compared to last; lower temperatures and slightly higher winds combined to produce higher wind chill values. This, along with deeper average snow depths, combined to make it more difficult to find birds.

Average minimum and maximum temperatures for the count period (with 2020-21 records in brackets) were -22 to -17 C (-11 to –6 C), wind speeds 11 to 22 km/h (9 to 20 km/h), and snow depths 15 to 29 cm (12 to 26 cm).

For the 4th time in the last six years, Gardiner Dam won the provincial crown finding 39 species. Regina 36 (plus 6 cw), Saskatoon (36/5 cw), Moose Jaw (28/5 cw), Craven (28/4 cw), Prince Albert (34/1 cw), Qu’Appelle Valley Dam (31), and Biggar (27/3) were only other counts breaking the magic 30 species mark.

In spite of the challenging weather, the average result actually increased to 23.4 species per count, up from last year’s 19. Having said all that, this was still a fairly decent CBC year in Saskatchewan with 91 species reported.

 

Species highlights:

 

The only Snow Goose reported was one in Regina, while Gardner Dam set a new provincial record high for Cackling Goose (1800). This species has been steadily increasing during winters on the prairies. Gardiner Dam and Regina had open water and contributed most of the waterfowl highlights including small numbers of Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, and Ruddy Duck.

Two Spruce Grouse at Candle Lake were notable, and the Gray Partridge tally (702) in Regina was the highest for North America. A Horned Grebe at Gardiner Dam was only the second on that CBC and the first since 2011. It was the same story for American Coots at Gardiner Dam - it was only the second record for that count and the first since 1975! A record high number of Herring Gulls (24) and one Glaucous Gull were at Gardiner Dam, while the only Wilson’s Snipe in the province was a single at Swift Current.

A species that seems to be declining during winter on the prairies, only one Mourning Dove was reported on Count Day, a single at Biggar. Most of the Great Gray Owls reported on CBCs in North America came from Saskatchewan, where three at Love were also a North American High. The remaining four Count Day individuals came from Candle Lake, Shell Lake, and Torch Valley. Two Northern Hawk Owls were at Candle Lake and Saltcoats, and the only Boreal Owl was taking shelter near Rosetown, well south of the Boreal Forest.

Red-bellied Woodpecker continues to invade the eastern and central prairie region with Saskatchewan’s seventh winter record at Watrous-Manitou Beach. A total of seven American Three-toed Woodpeckers on the Prince Albert NP CBC was a high count. Black-backed Woodpeckers were slightly less numerous with two at Love and Shell Lake, and a single at Prince Alberta NP. The only Gyrfalcons were Count Week birds at Biggar and Saskatoon, while Craven and Qu’Appelle Valley Dam each reported one Peregrine Falcon on their Count Days. One American Kestrel at Qu’Appelle Valley Dam deserves mention, and a second Count Week bird was at Broadview.

Qu’Appelle Valley Dam had not one but two Townsend’s Solitaires, and another Count Day bird was at Clark’s Crossing. Also at Clark’s Crossing was a Varied Thrush, while a second was at Prince Albert NP. Cedar Waxwings were few and far between this season and reported from only two counts, Saltcoats (7) and Saskatoon (4). Lapland Longspurs are typically found on more southern circles in the province, so a pair at Rosetown was a pleasant surprise.

It was a banner year for Common Redpolls in Saskatchewan with 14,462 on 30 Count Circles: that’s an average of 482 birds per Circle! Hoary Redpolls (112) were also recorded on 16 different Count Circles. A Count Week White-crowned Sparrow was the only one reported, a bird at Prince Albert NP, and a Count Day Harris’s Sparrow was at Morse. Surprisingly, the only blackbird during the season was a Common Grackle at Moose Jaw.

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