Although precipitation during fall 2021 was about average, it arrived in a few major events and either soaked into the soil rapidly or ran off into streams. As a consequence, water-levels remained preciously low throughout the region, making shorebird habitat scarce. The Covid pandemic has seemingly been responsible for encouraging increasing numbers of birders and photographers to get out into the field, which may have resulted in the higher than usual tallies of certain species, such as Black Scoter, jaegers and Pacific Loon, especially in Alberta. In Manitoba the passerine migration was both early and lack-lustre. Drought during the summer season apparently reduced breeding success and there were few reports of any migrant waves, even small ones. Saskatchewan hosted a few outstanding rarities: Crested Caracara, Phainopepla and Kentucky Warbler were all added to the provincial list. A Eurasian Tree Sparrow in Alberta was a long-expected first for that province. The most notable species in Manitoba were Ivory Gull and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
Geese through Cranes
Brant, rare in the southern Prairie Provinces, were recorded at Drumheller 30 Sep (Ena Spalding, John Bargman, ph.), at Weed Lake 9-11 Oct (m. ob.) and at Clairmont 11 Nov (A. & C. Tennant), all in Alberta. Alberta also hosted quite an array of hybrid ducks: Gadwall x Mallard, American Black Duck x Mallard, Redhead x scaup, Ring-necked Duck x scaup, Common Goldeneye x Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye x Barrow’s Goldeneye and Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser. At Saskatoon, SK a Harlequin Duck lingered from 4 Nov well into Dec (Ryan Bradshaw, m. ob.). Black Scoter is typically the rarest of the scoters in the south of the region, but at least 18 were seen in Alberta between 25 Sep and 25 Oct, while in Saskatchewan six birds were found 1-13 Nov and in Manitoba four birds between 9 Oct and 8 Nov. A Barrow’s Goldeneye at Victoria Beach 1 Nov was a Manitoba rarity (Garry Budyk, ph.), while another tarried at Saskatoon from 19 to at least 28 Nov (Ryan Dudragne, m. ob., ph.). A tally of 280 Hooded Mergansers at Grace Lake, near The Pas, MB 30 Oct was high (David Raitt). The population of Black Swifts at Banff NP, AB is apparently rebounding, as five nests were found during the breeding season. In Alberta up to two Vaux’s Swifts were found in the southwest, plus singles at Waterton, AB, between 18 and 31 Aug and two at Beaver Mines Lake 28 Aug (David Scott, Neil & Ethan Denton, Michelle Schreder, ph.). Anna’s Hummingbird has occurred annually in Alberta in recent years. This fall, birds were noted at Hillcrest Mines 6-29 Sep (Pat Lucas, ph.), Lethbridge 3-12 Oct (m. ob.) and Calgary 3-15 Oct (Linda Vaxwick, ph.). Rufous Hummingbirds in the Regina, SK area 8 Aug (Hanna Walczykowski, ph.) and at Maple Creek, SK 23 Aug (Al Hartly) were nice finds. A Virginia Rail at Wascana Marsh, Regina, first reported 24 Nov, lingered to at least 3 Dec (Paule Hjertaas, m. ob., ph.). A late Sandhill Crane was found at Dapp, AB 23 and 26 Nov (m. ob., ph.), while two sandhills near Oak Hammock Marsh, MB stayed from 19 Nov into Dec (Janna Tweed, m. ob., ph.). A gathering of 12,000 Sandhill Cranes in the Oak Lake/Plum Lake area of Manitoba 17 Oct was the province’s largest in memory (Gillian Richards, Glennis Lewis). The Marcellin area of Saskatchewan attracted up to 90 Whooping Cranes in October (Vicki St Germaine, Ken De Smet, Rudolf Koes, Eagle-Eye Tours, m. ob., ph.).
Shorebirds through Terns
Noteworthy shorebird sightings included 12 Black-necked Stilts near North Battleford, SK 3 Aug (Vicki St Germaine), 100 American Avocets (a large number for so late a date) at Whitewater Lake, MB 28 Oct (Gillian Richards), a Ruff at Grande Prairie, AB 4 Sep (A. & C. Tennant, ph.), a tardy White-rumped Sandpiper at Delta, MB 15 Nov (Cal Cuthbert), a Red Phalarope at St. Paul, AB 26 Sep (James & Gerry Fox) and a late Red Phalarope at Regina Beach, SK 10-11 Nov, the province’s 14th (Bob Luterbach, m. ob., ph.). Five Parasitic Jaegers were reported in Alberta: two at Grande Prairie 16-23 Sep (A. & C. Tennant, ph.), with singles at Weed Lake 20 Sep (Ian Maton, ph.), Pigeon Lake 25 Sep (James & Gerry Fox, Phil Walker) and Fox Lake 30 Sep (Diane Stinson, ph.). Manitoba reports came from Delta 26 Sep (Robert Parsons), Willow Island 26 Oct (fide Bob Shettler) and Pine Falls 8 Nov (Cam Nikkel, Ray Méthot, ph.). An unidentified jaeger at Victoria Beach 24 Sep was likely this species (Aaron Hywarren). In Alberta Long-tailed Jaegers were seen at Medicine Hat 2 Aug (Fisher Stephenson), Weed Lake 7 Aug (Blake Weis, ph.) and Milk River Ridge 29-31 Aug (Kim Godwin, m. ob.). There were relatively few reports of rare gulls. Best was an Ivory Gull at Churchill, MB 12 Nov (Jessica Burtnick, ph.), about the 20th reported in the province, but only about the 9th properly documented. Other good finds were a Sabine’s Gull at Prince Albert NP, SK 4 Sep (Vicki & Warren St Germaine) and another at Delta 20 Sep (Cal Cuthbert). A Forster’s Tern at Valeport, SK 31 Oct was very late (Brett Quiring).
Loons through Falcons
The only Red-throated Loons noted were singles at Gull Lake, AB 3 Oct (Sean Evans), Little Bow PP, AB 5-11 Oct (m. ob., ph.) and at Gap Lake, AB 23-29 Oct (m. ob., ph.). Although Pacific Loon is a regular migrant through Alberta, the 27 birds recorded between 26 Sep and 26 Nov represented a much higher than normal number (m. ob., ph.). A Yellow-billed Loon at Gardiner Dam, SK attracted numerous birders during its stay from 21 Nov to 4 Dec (Ryan Dudragne, m. ob., ph.). Similarly, a confiding American Bittern at a Winnipeg, MB park 13-15 Nov entertained many birders (m. ob., ph.), as did a Green Heron at La Barrière Park near Winnipeg from 31 Aug to 17 Sep (Lorne Volk, m. ob., ph.). Yellow-crowned Night-Herons at Saskatoon 1-7 Aug (Kosalla Rajopaksha, m. ob., ph.) and at Calgary 5-15 Oct (m. ob., ph.) were the season’s rarest herons. The latter was the second for Alberta. Four Turkey Vultures at Keeyask in northern Manitoba mid-Sep were well north of their regular range (John Martin). A Tardy Osprey was photographed near Jackfish Lake, MB 22 Oct (Liz Cieszynski). Some 300 Swainson’s Hawks were seen late in the day on 13 Sep at Kyle, SK and appeared to be headed for a roost (Dan Zazelenchuk). Eastern Screech-Owls continued at two undisclosed locations in southern Alberta; unfortunately one of the birds of one pair was found dead and no young were seen (anon.). A Belted Kingfisher at Riding Mountain NP, MB 6 Nov was later than usual (Mike Salazar). A Red-headed Woodpecker in the Edenwold, SK area 6 Sep was rare (Jared Clarke, ph.), as was a Red-bellied Woodpecker at Watrous, SK, present from 10 Oct into the winter (John Lundgren, Sharlene Toole, m. ob., ph.). A Crested Caracara at Saltcoats, SK, first reported on 5 Oct, had apparently been present for a few days (Randy Torrie, m. ob., ph.). It came to light that a caracara had been recorded near Pierceland, SK on 21 Jul 2021 (Randy Slater, ph.) and also on an environmental monitor near Meadow Lake, almost 600 km to the northwest, some time during the summer (fide Annie McLeod), as well as at two other locations. They followed the sighting of a bird at Ft McMurray, AB on 21 Jun 2021. It is assumed that these sightings involved a single bird; they represent the first records for Saskatchewan.
Western Canada’s first Phainopepla was discovered 21 Oct at Zealandia, SK, where it remained until at least 4 Nov. It was videotaped, photographed and enjoyed by many (Ryan Sparks, m. ob.). Thirteen-year-old Parker Hughes discovered Manitoba’s 9th Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Victoria Beach 27 Aug (Parker Hughes, ph.), followed by another on 17 Sep at Winnipeg, MB (Kirstyn Eckhardt, ph.). A pair of Sage Thrashers nested successfully at Wildhorse, AB, the only area in the region where the species occurs with any regularity (m. ob., ph.). Northern Mockingbirds were found at Tofield, AB 15 Aug and again 14 Nov, possibly the same bird (Irene Crosland, ph.), and at Sherwood Park, AB 10 Sep (Sean Evans). Townsend’s Solitaires were more prominent than usual in Saskatchewan, with at least 11 birds reported, and Manitoba, where there were at least six. Catharus thrush migration was very poor in southern Manitoba. A tardy Swainson’s Thrush was photographed at Edmonton, AB 21 Nov (Daniel Belland, ph.). An out-of-season Varied Thrush was at Redberry Lake, SK 9 Aug (Jared Clarke, ph.), while in Manitoba an above-average six were found. Alberta hosted its first Eurasian Tree Sparrow at Fort McMurray, where a bird was present 18-23 Nov (anon., ph.). All prairie provinces now have records. An Eastern Towhee at Sherwood Park 21 Nov-12 Dec attracted many birders (m. ob., ph.). Notably tardy were a Northern Parula at Outlook, SK 9-10 Nov (Lori Janzen, ph.), a Pine Warbler at Elk Island NP, AB 26 Oct-21 Nov (m. ob., ph) and another Pine Warbler at Morden, MB 16 and 28 Nov (Paul Goossen, ph.).
Birding is a force for good in our society. Learning and sharing about birds translates into concern for birds and the environment, and the American Birding Association provides resources and community for all people interested in birds!