Prairie Provinces: Fall 2023

Fall 2023: 1 Aug–30Nov

Rudolf Koes

James Fox

Recommended citation:

Koes, R.F., and J. Fox. 2024. Fall 2023: Prairie Provinces. <> North American Birds.

Fall across the Prairie Provinces was characterized by mild and generally dry weather. Alberta had its warmest September ever, with temperatures into the mid- to high-30s early in the month. Several cities across the region tied or nearly tied their longest-ever stretches of frost-free days (around 155). In the east of the region there was one cold, snowy spell from late October to early November, but by the end of the period the snow was virtually gone. For the first time since 1928 Edmonton, Alberta did not get a single flake of snow in November—the ground was totally bare. The mild conditions allowed numerous species, especially shorebirds, to linger beyond the usual departure dates. Northern owls and winter finches were still very scarce by the end of November. In each province some outstanding rarities were recorded: Alberta had its eighth Ancient Murrelet, fourth Yellow-throated Vireo and third Yellow-throated Warbler, Saskatchewan hosted its third Pygmy Nuthatch, while in Manitoba a White Wagtail was reported and the region’s first Vermilion Flycatcher put on a two-day show.

Geese through Cranes

Several species of goose lingered until the end of the period. Most noteworthy of these were a few Ross’s Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese in Saskatchewan, which remained into Dec (m. ob.). A tally of 23 Trumpeter Swans at Pinawa, MB on 3 Nov was high for the region (Diann & Cam Elliott). Noteworthy ducks were a Harlequin Duck at Grand Beach, MB 28 Oct–1 Nov (Nature Manitoba group—hereafter NM, m. ob.), up to four Black Scoters at Redberry L, SK from 16–21 Oct (m. ob., ph.), with another four at Hecla, MB from 19–23 Oct (Joanne Smith, m. ob.) and a single at Rivers, MB 25–26 Oct (Jackie Dixon). Saskatchewan Long-tailed Duck reports came from Regina, Gardiner Dam and Kinookimaw, while Manitoba had birds at Delta, Grand Beach and Pine Falls. All sightings occurred between 10 and 25 Nov. An impressive tally of 138 Barrow’s Goldeneyes was recorded at Cypress L, SK on 16 Oct (Bruce di Labio), with smaller numbers noted afterwards. Similarly high was a count of ± 550 Hooded Mergansers at Grass L, MB on 26 Oct (David Raitt). A single Clark’s Grebe was seen at L Manitoba on 7 Aug (Garry Budyk), while two birds were noted at Oak L, MB on 30 Aug (Peter Baker). Two Eurasian Collared-Doves at Churchill, MB were 700 km northeast of the previous northernmost sighting in the province. First noted on 19 Oct, they stayed into Dec (Sheldon Bilenduke, m. ob., ph.). White-winged Dove has become an annual visitor to the prairie provinces in recent years. One was at an undisclosed Manitoba location from 2–4 Aug (Laura Mak, ph.) and another was at Starbuck, MB from 25 Nov into winter (Carole Penner, m. ob., ph.). A Mourning Dove was another Churchill rarity on 6 Nov (Bonnie Chartier). Three Common Poorwills at the Great Sand Hills, SK on 27 Aug were in a traditional area (Stan Shadick, Ronald Vandebeek, Sheryl-Elaine Brazeau). A Chimney Swift at Regina on 4 Aug was out-of-range (Daniel Sawatzky). A Black-chinned Hummingbird was at Hillcrest Mines, AB from 29 Aug–3 Sep (Pat Lucas, m. ob., ph.), as was an Anna’s Hummingbird from 28 Aug–6 Sep (Pat Lucas, m. ob., ph.). More unexpected—farther out-of-range—was an Anna’s Hummingbird at Crescent Heights, SK on 18 Oct (Vicki St Germaine). Another good find was a Rufous Hummingbird at Nokomis, SK on 9 Aug (Wayne Busch, ph.). A Whooping Crane at Hamiota, MB on 30 Sep was a provincial rarity, east of its normal migration route through Saskatchewan (Kevin Allison, ph.).

Shorebirds through Loons

Black-necked Stilt reports came from Whitewater L, MB on 27 Aug, where four birds were seen (Rob Parsons, Jo Swartz, Aaron Hywarren, ph.), from Herbert, SK on 5 Sep (Sharlane Toole, ph.) and Swift Current, SK from 4 to 12 Sep (Al Hartley). In Alberta the species has become quite common in recent years and warrants no special mention. Tardy shorebirds included an American Golden-Plover at Saskatoon, SK up to 11 Nov (Sharlane Toole, Don Weidl), a Killdeer at Echo Valley PP, SK on 17 Nov (Annie McLeod, ph.), a Pectoral Sandpiper at Gardiner Dam on 10 Nov (Michael Sveen, ph.) and a Wilson’s Snipe at Winnipeg on 15 Nov (Chantille Upadhyaya). A Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Keoma, AB on 8 Sep was a great find (Joseph Dylke, ph.), as was a Western Sandpiper at Reed L, SK on 8 Aug (Stan Shadick, Jeffrey Crawford).  A Spotted Sandpiper at Rivers on 28 Oct was tardy (Sandy Hominick, Carson Kearns, m. ob., ph.). Parasitic Jaegers were reported from at least six locations in Alberta between 25 Aug and 16 Oct. One bird at Frank L on 8 Sep was seen in the company of a Long-tailed Jaeger (Ray Wershler, Brian Elder, ph.). An Ancient Murrelet, Alberta’s eighth, at Half Moon L on 1 Aug was seen being hunted by a Merlin. Subsequently it was found dead and photographed (Herb Meyers). Notable gull records include Black-legged Kittiwakes at Keho L, AB on 10 Oct (Ethan Denton), at Churchill on 16 Oct (Bonnie Chartier), at Fish Creek PP, AB on 28 Oct (Annie Finch, Gavin McKinnon, ph.) and at Crooked L, SK on 5 Nov (Jared Clarke, Kristen Martin, m. ob.). Also of note were a Sabine’s Gull at Goose L, SK on 25 Sep (John Lundgren, ph.), a Little Gull at Redberry L 23–24 Oct (Ron Jensen, Vicki St Germaine, ph.) and a very late Franklin’s Gull at Regina on 6 Nov (Ian Fallas). Also reported were a Western Gull x Glaucous-winged Gull hybrid at Calgary on 6 Nov (m. ob. ph.), single Iceland Gulls (Thayer’s) at Sandy Bar, MB on 23 Sep (Cam Nikkel, ph.), at Beardy Point, MB on 12 Oct (Owen Strickland) and at Saskatoon 15–17 Nov (Vicki St Germaine, m. ob.), Lesser Black-backed Gulls at the PR 227 dump, Gimli and Winnipeg, all in Manitoba, with other birds at Saskatoon, Crooked Lake and Regina in Saskatchewan, plus a Glaucous Gull at Gardiner Dam on 18 Nov (m. ob., ph.). A Yellow-billed Loon at Round L, SK on 19 Nov was a rarity (Don Weidl, ph.).

Herons through Woodpeckers

The rarest herons reported in the region were a Snowy Egret at Boissevain, MB on 9 and 12 Aug (Brenda Lyons, m. ob., ph.), a Little Blue Heron at Selkirk, MB on 27 Sep (Don Wilson, June Thompson), up to 32 Western Cattle Egrets at Plum L, MB in mid-Aug (m. ob., ph.), with another Western Cattle Egret found injured in an Edmonton, AB backyard on 23 Oct. It was captured, and taken to rehab, but did not survive (Hassana Kucker, ph.). Finally, a Green Heron at Siglavik, MB from July to 7 Aug was seen by many (m. ob.). There were several reports of Great Egrets in Saskatchewan 9–21 Sep and three in Alberta. Rough-legged Hawks at Argyle, MB on 9 Sep, at Oak Hammock Marsh, MB on 10 Sep and near Prince Albert, SK on 10 Sep were early fall migrants (m. ob.). There were no other diurnal raptor sightings of note. Eastern Screech-Owls continued at several locations in southern Alberta through the season (m. ob., ph.). Reports of northern owls were few and far between. Relatively balmy conditions no doubt allowed the birds to remain on breeding territories. About 30 Short-eared Owls, a heartening number for this threatened species, were counted in the McClintock, MB area around 10 Oct (fide David Raitt). A Belted Kingfisher lingered at Winnipeg until 4 Nov (Daryl Maiers) and another was seen at Saskatoon on 5 Nov (Nicole Baldwin, Rylan Urban). Three Lewis’s Woodpeckers at Waterton, AB continued since the summer until 28 Aug, after successfully breeding, attracting numerous birders (m. ob., ph.). Up to five Red-headed Woodpeckers were in the Melfort, SK area Aug to 5 Sep (m. ob.); farther out of range was a juvenile at Edmonton, AB 17–21 Sep (Del Hugent, m. ob., ph.). There are very few records of juveniles in the province. Possibly the same bird was reported there on 18 Oct (Caesar Antonio). Similarly far out of range was a Red-bellied Woodpecker which appeared at Nacmine, AB on 5 Oct and then relocated to nearby Drumheller on 13 Oct, where it was still present in Dec (Jim McCabe, m. ob., ph.). Not quite as far from “home”—the boreal forest—were Black-backed Woodpeckers in two areas of Winnipeg between 29 Oct and 1 Nov (m. ob., ph.). A Red-shafted x Yellow-shafted Flicker hybrid visited a Winnipeg feeder for a few days up to 23 Nov (Paul Goossen, ph.).

Flycatchers through Eurasian Tree Sparrow

A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was photographed at Pinawa, MB on 5 Aug (Patti Phillips, ph.). A Least Flycatcher at Churchill on 1 Sep was only the second recorded in the area (Baxter Naday). Participants in a NM outing at Victoria Beach, MB on 28 Oct discovered a flycatcher which proved initially difficult to identify, due to poor—windy and cold—weather conditions. Fortunately good photos were obtained, which led to the identification of Vermilion Flycatcher, a bird not on anyone’s radar and a first for the Prairie Provinces. It was found again a day later, but not afterwards; cold weather likely caused it to perish (NM, m. ob., ph.). Alberta hosted its fourth Yellow-throated Vireo at Medicine Hat from 5–11 Aug (Adam Turnbull, m. ob., ph.). A Red-eyed Vireo at Churchill on 21 Oct was not only rare but also very late (Baxter Naday, ph.); another tardy individual was in the southern Interlake, MB on 24 Oct (Helen Slavuta). A Black-billed Magpie was seen intermittingly at Churchill 5–19 Nov (Greg Stroud) and also rare there was a Black-capped Chickadee on 5 and 6 Nov (Greg Stroud, Mich Coker). A hybrid Black-capped Chickadee x Mountain Chickadee was at Calgary on 24 Oct (Len White, ph.), while Chestnut-backed Chickadee reports came from Kananaskis Country, Beauvais L PP and Waterton, all in Alberta, 5–31 Oct (m. ob., ph.). Bohemian Waxwings were very scarce in all three provinces, probably due to a very poor fruit crop. A Regina, SK feeder hosted the province’s third Pygmy Nuthatch from 7 Nov+. It was a daily visitor and still present in December and was enjoyed by many (Daniel Sawatzky, m. ob., ph.). A Carolina Wren at Winnipeg on 20 Oct was a good find (Garry Bydyk). An American Dipper at Edmonton, AB on 20 Nov provided the city with what was thought to be its third record (Brooke Sanelli, m. ob., ph.). An Eastern Bluebird first noted at Bruderheim, AB during the summer remained into Oct (m. ob., ph.). Townsend’s Solitaires were more prominent than usual, with seven reported in Saskatchewan and 12 in Manitoba. In Alberta the species does not attract special notice, although a mini-irruption was noted in Edmonton, with as many as seven birds in one park. A Eurasian Tree Sparrow near Ste Anne, MB, present since the summer, was last seen on 24 Aug, while a hybrid House Sparrow x Eurasian Tree Sparrow at the same location remained through the fall (Vic Reimer).

Wagtails through Buntings

A White Wagtail at Delta on 2 Oct was well-described by an experienced observer, but was unfortunately not photographed (Cal Cuthbert). It would be a first for the prairie provinces if accepted by the Manitoba Ornithological Records Committee. American Pipits were recorded in numbers late in the season both in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with dates up to 11 Nov (m. ob.). Three Bramblings were reported in Alberta: one at Medicine Hat on 16 Oct (Adam Turnbull, ph.), one in the Municipal District of Provost No. 52 on 24 Oct (Facebook, ph.) and a third bird at Cremona from 24–26 Oct (Kathleen Grebneff, m. ob., ph.). Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches wandered east into Saskatchewan, with sightings in the Cypress Hills area from 15–23 Oct (54 on the latter date) (Vicki St Germaine; Jared Clarke) and at Estevan from 10–12 Nov (Kathy Hedegard, Sharlane Toole). A Cassin’s Finch at Edmonton on 27 Oct may have been only the second for the city (m. ob.). Redpolls were very scarce. On the other hand, Red Crossbills were widely reported in small parties in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, often at feeders; perhaps an indication of the poor cone crop. White-winged Crossbills were almost absent. Golden-crowned Sparrows at Edmonton 22–28 Sep and on 26 Oct were the first on eBird lists for the city (m. ob., ph.). A late Spotted Towhee at Grande Prairie, AB on 18 Nov was further north than expected and continued into the winter season (Tracey Kirouac, ph.). Brown-headed Cowbirds usually depart the region in Aug, making a bird at Pinawa on 5 Nov exceptionally late (Val & Jack Frederick, Anita Drabyk, ph.). Rare warblers included a Golden-winged Warbler at Hecla on 18 Aug (Bob Shettler), a Hooded Warbler, seen by many at Winnipeg, from 11–22 Oct (Lynnea Parker, m. ob., ph.), Black-throated Blue Warblers at Winnipeg on 19 Sep (Marlene Waldron, Ward Christianson), 18 Oct (Rob Parsons) and 19 Oct (Jo Swartz, Jan Bradley), Alberta’s third Yellow-throated Warbler at Breton from 22 Oct–13 Nov (m. ob., ph.), a Black-throated Gray Warbler at Edmonton 18–21 Sep (Lucia MacQuarrie, ph.) and Townsend’s Warblers at Douglas PP, SK on 31 Aug (Kathy Hamre, Evanna Simpson, ph.) and at Golden Prairie, SK on 2 Sep (Rod Nikkel, ph.). Lingerers were a Cape May Warbler at Watrous, SK from 15–21 Nov (Sharlane Toole, ph.), a Yellow-rumped Warbler at Regina on 9 Nov (Dan Sawatzky, Jared Clarke) and a Wilson’s Warbler at Morse, SK on 26 Oct (Lori Wilson). Also tardy were a Scarlet Tanager at Winnipeg on 23 Sep (Olga Redko), a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Winnipeg on 5 Nov (Mike Anderson) and an Indigo Bunting at Lethbridge, AB on 16 Oct (Teresa Dolman, ph.).

Report processed by Andrew Keaveney, 24 Apr 2024.

Photos–Prairie Provinces: Fall 2023

Eurasian Collared-Doves show up in the most unexpected places. These two were first seen in Churchill, Manitoba on 19 Oct 2023 (here on 2 Dec). The location is 700 km northeast of the previous northernmost sighting in the province. Whether they will survive the usually severe winter is doubtful. Photo @ Jennifer Massan.

Sightings of White-winged Doves have increased steadily in the southern Prairie Provinces in recent years and are now annual. This bird arrived at Starbuck, Manitoba on 25 Nov 2023 (here 26 Nov) and was still going strong in December. Photo @ Garry Budyk.

This Anna’s Hummingbird at Crescent Heights, Saskatchewan on 18 Oct 2023 was probably only the third for the province. Photo @ Vicki St Germaine.

Another species that has made great gains in the Prairie Provinces is Black-necked Stilt. In Manitoba it is still rare and successful breeding has only been confirmed a handful of times. This adult and juvenile (part of a family of four) were at Whitewater Lake on 27 Aug 2023. Photo @ Aaron Hywarren.

This Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Keoma, Alberta on 8 Sep 2023 was the rarest shorebird reported in the province during the fall migration. Photo @ Joseph Dylke.

The chances of seeing a Long-tailed Jaeger in the southern Prairie Provinces are slim. Even more unlikely is seeing one together with a Parasitic Jaeger, as shown here at Frank Lake, Alberta on 8 Sep 2023. Lucky observers! Photo @ Brian Elder.

These are the remains of Alberta’s eighth Ancient Murrelet. It was dispatched by a Merlin on 1 Aug 2023 at Half Moon Lake near Opal north of Edmonton. Photo @ Herb Meyer.

Saskatchewan birders found an excellent array of rarities during late fall in 2023. Here is one of them, a Black-legged Kittiwake at Crooked Lake on 5 Nov. Photo @ Jared Clarke.

Another one of the great finds during the fall of 2023 was this Yellow-billed Loon at Round Lake, Saskatchewan on 19 Nov. This species’ migration route from northern breeding grounds to winter quarters along the Pacific coast results in the occasional sighting in Saskatchewan and more frequently in Alberta. Photo @ Don Weidl.

Found cowering in an Edmonton, Alberta backyard on 23 Oct 2023, this Cattle Egret was taken to a rehabilitation facility, where it unfortunately died. Photo @ Hassana Kucker.

There are very few records of juvenile Red-headed Woodpeckers in Alberta. This one was at Edmonton on 19 Sep 2023. Photo @ Lucia MacQuarrie.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are casual in Alberta. This bird, seen here on the day after its discovery, showed up at Nacmine on 5 Oct 2023 and then relocated on 13 Oct to nearby Drumheller, where it was present into winter. Photo @ Jim McCabe.

A party of Nature Manitoba birders found this Vermilion Flycatcher at Victoria Beach, Manitoba on 28 Oct 2023. It was only identified after photos taken were studied immediately after the sighting. The bird was also present on 29 Oct. It represented the first record for the Prairie Provinces region. Photo @ Diane Matuszewski.

The Canadian breeding range of Yellow-throated Vireo barely reaches southeastern Saskatchewan, making this bird at Medicine Hat, Alberta on 5 Aug 2023 far out of range. Photo @ Adam Turnbull.

Chestnut-backed Chickadees are expected in southeast British Columbia, but they rarely reach the Alberta Rockies. When as many as four were reported at Waterton NP, Alberta, birders flocked to the area to see them. Another four were noted at Beauvais PP. Here at Waterton on 13 Oct 2023. Photo @ Matt Yawney.

This Pygmy Nuthatch showed up at a Regina, Saskatchewan feeder on 7 Nov 2023. It became a daily visitor and was seen by many. It provided the province with its third record and was present into winter. Photo @ Annie McLeod.

This American Dipper at Edmonton, Alberta on 20 Nov was one of several Rocky Mountain species to wander east in the fall of 2023. It was believed to be only the third for the city. Photo @ Brooke Sanelli.

Alberta hosted three Bramblings in the fall of 2023 – an unusually high number for any year, let alone a single season. This bird at Cremona was present from 24 to 26 Oct (here) and was seen by many, including this out-of-province photographer. Photo @ Jock McCracken.

Joining the list of birds moving east out of the Rockies in the fall of 2023 was this Cassin’s Finch, possibly only the second for the city of Edmonton, Alberta, on 25 Oct 2023. Photo @ Jordan Lange.

Another westerner moving east was this Golden-crowned Sparrow at Edmonton, Alberta on 23 Sep 2023. The bird provided the first eBird record for the city. Photo @ Steve Knight.

Most Brown-headed Cowbirds in Manitoba are gone by mid-Aug. This young bird was at Pinawa, Manitoba on 5 Nov 2023 was therefore exceptionally tardy. Photo @ Val & Jack Frederick.

This Hooded Warbler appeared in a Winnipeg, Manitoba, garden on 11 Oct 2023 and lingered until 22 Oct. It attracted many birders and is seen here on 12 Oct. Photo @ Cam Nikkel.

This Yellow-throated Warbler was a present at Breton, Alberta for nearly a month (here on 27 Oct 2023), and delighted many birders, as it was either a lifer or a new species for Canada or Alberta for most. There were perhaps two previous records in the province. Photo @ Myrna Pearman.

One of the rare warblers in the region was this Black-throated Gray Warbler, nicely photographed at St Albert, Alberta, on 18 Sep 2023. Photo @ Lucia MacQuarrie.

Seen only on the day of its discovery, 31 Aug 2023, was this Townsend’s Warbler at Douglas PP, Saskatchewan. It was a provincial rarity. Photo @ Evanna Simpson.

This Indigo Bunting at Lethbridge, Alberta on 16 Oct 2023 was not only a provincial rarity, but also a very late lingerer. Photo @ Teresa Dolman.