Prairie Provinces: Spring 2021

Spring 2021: 1 Mar–31 May

Rudolf Koes

James Fox

Recommended citation:

Koes, R.F., and J. Fox. 2021. Spring 2021: Prairie Provinces. <> North American Birds.

A mild March brought in a large number of early migrants, only the most notable of which will be mentioned here. April turned considerably cooler and migration slowed to a trickle. While the period was much drier than average, a significant amount of snow fell across the south from 10–12 April, and a mixture of snow and rain trekked through the area 20–22 May. The amount of precipitation was enough to satisfy farmers and gardeners, and temporarily ease the danger of wildfires, but not enough to replenish many smaller water bodies. Larger bodies of water in southern Alberta held adequate water after heavy rains during the summer of 2020. The May weather system resulted in the only notable fallout of warblers in southern Manitoba. Several species in Alberta, most notably Rufous and Calliope hummingbirds, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Lazuli Bunting, ranged farther north than usual, along the Yellowhead Highway corridor (from Hinton and Edson in the west through Edmonton to Cold Lake in the east), with a few records well into northern Alberta near Grande Prairie and Slave Lake. Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba hosted an unusually high number of rare gulls, with the Portage la Prairie (PR 227) dump south of Lake Manitoba pulling in the majority of them. It is one of very few major garbage disposal sites in Manitoba that still welcomes birders.

The COVID pandemic has changed the birding landscape. Group outings were non-existent, as were cross-border forays. On the positive side, many new birders and photographers have taken up the hobby. However, many of the new recruits seem unaware of birding etiquette and need to be tactfully reminded of the dos and don’ts of birding.

Swans through Terns

While the Trumpeter Swan population in southern Manitoba has exploded in recent years, a gathering of 44 at Rennie River 28 Apr was exceptionally large (Peter Taylor, Garry Budyk, Rudolf Koes). A Wood Duck successfully wintered at Wascana Lake, Regina, SK; it was last reported 7 Mar (Brett Quiring). Male Garganeys were at Steinbach, MB 25 Apr (ph. Don Reimer) and at Stenen, SK 8–11 May (Laura Messett, m. ob., ph.). Both represented the third confirmed records for each province. The bulk of hybrid dabbling duck reports came from Alberta: Blue-winged Teal x Cinnamon Teal at Weed Lake 19 Apr (m. ob.) and at Edmonton 13 May (ph. Marg Reine); Eurasian Wigeons x American Wigeons at Calgary 3 Apr (m. ob.) and at Airdrie 16 Apr (ph. Andrew Hart); Gadwall x Mallard at Calgary 1–3 Apr (m. ob.); Mallard x Northern Pintail at Calgary 24 Mar (m. ob.). In Saskatchewan a hybrid Northern Shoveler x Gadwall was present 16 May at Reed Lake (ph. Laurie Koepke) and a Gadwall x Mallard was at Little Quill Lake 13 May (Vicki St Germaine). Also of note were a male Cinnamon Teal at Portage la Prairie, MB, from 29 May into Jun (ph. Helen Slavuta, m. ob.), a Eurasian Wigeon at Netley Marsh, MB 9 May (fide Lee Fehler) and a Eurasian Green-winged Teal at Weed Lake 7 Mar (m. ob.). There were also several sightings of hybrid diving ducks in Alberta: Redhead x Lesser Scaup at Calgary 17 Apr (m. ob.), Bufflehead x Common Goldeneye at Frank Lake 12 Mar (m. ob.) and at Ardrossan 10 Apr (Gerald Romanchuk), Common Goldeneye x Barrow’s Goldeneye at Calgary 29 Apr (m. ob., ph.) and Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser at Calgary 19 Mar (m. ob.). Other rarities included a Harlequin Duck at Delta, MB 11 May (Spencer Sealy), single Black Scoters at North Shoal Lake, MB 30 Apr (John Weier, Gene Walz) and at Jasper, AB 8 May (ph. Ethan Denton) and a Barrow’s Goldeneye at Harris Reservoir, SK 2 Apr (Al Hartley).

A male Black-chinned Hummingbird at Pincher Creek, AB on 24–25 May (ph. Asher Warkentin) was followed by a female in the same area 27 May (Asher Warkentin, m. ob.). As of 2018 there were only four photographic records of this species for the province, but there have been seven in the past three years. Some 2000 American Coots massed at Delta 1 May (Joel Gortemaker, Josiah van Egmond, Ben Ginter). Two Whooping Cranes at Broadview, SK 21 Apr were nicely photographed (Don Weidl); another was spotted at Foam Lake, SK 14 May (Andrew Martens). Two American Avocets at Whitewater Lake 10 Apr tied Manitoba’s previous earliest spring arrival date (ph. Rudolf Koes, Garry Budyk). An unprecedented number of Black-necked Stilt reports came from Saskatchewan. Between 22 Apr and 31 May birds were seen at Waldeck, Muddy Lake, Porter Lake, Swift Current, Chaplin Lake, Prince Albert, Reed Lake, Maple Creek, Piapot and Bradwell, for a total of at least 21 individuals (m. ob.). One was found at Forest, MB 12 May (ph. Kathryn Hyndman). In Alberta, Black-necked Stilts continue their range expansion north. In 2021 the species bred as far north as the southern edge of the boreal forest at Cold Lake. A Killdeer at Winkler, MB on 5 Mar was a record-early arrival (Ben Ginter). Whimbrels were more prominent than usual in southern Manitoba, with a peak of 25 at Sandy Bar I.B.A. 18 May (ph. Bob Shettler, Joanne Smith). Likewise, a flock of 40 in the Edmonton area 23 May was noteworthy (ph. Julie Jewitt & Wolfgang Lubey). A Ruff was at Calgary 3 May (ph. Gavin McKinnon). A tally of 11,500 Pectoral Sandpipers at Whitewater Lake 16 May probably represented the largest-ever concentration reported in Manitoba (Colin Blyth, Gillian Richards). A Black-legged Kittiwake at Calgary 10 Apr was seen by many (m. ob.). It spent time at a small pond next to a garbage dump and was photographed at the dump itself—unusual locations for this species. Southern Manitoba hosted an unprecedented number of scarce or rare gulls, with most reports coming from the Portage la Prairie garbage dump, better known as the PR 227 dump. Between 30 Apr and 17 May it hosted up to 14 California Gulls, at least four Iceland Gulls (two “thayeri” and two “glaucoides”), three Lesser Black-backed Gulls, three Glaucous Gulls and a probable Great Black-backed Gull (m. ob.). Saskatchewan attracted a similar array of gulls: Iceland Gulls at Wascana Marsh (Regina), Saskatoon and Prince Albert, Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Wascana Marsh and at Saskatoon, Glaucous Gulls at Saskatoon and Wascana Marsh and Great Black-backed Gull at Saskatoon, all between 20 Mar and 30 May (m. ob.). An Arctic Tern at Cattleland Slough, AB 25 May was a good find (ph., m. ob.). 

Herons through Falcons

In Alberta, Great Egrets were seen 9–30 May at Hanna, Spruce Grove, Mountain View, Bragg Creek and Hastings Lake (m. ob.). A gathering of 48 Great Egrets at North Shoal Lake, MB 30 May was unusually large (Rudolf Koes). Much rarer were a Snowy Egret at Pakowki Lake, AB 29 May (ph. David Campbell) and a Little Blue Heron at Riverton, MB 20–24 May (ph. Marvin & Janet Hamm, m. ob.). White-faced Ibis numbers continue to increase in the parkland region of central Alberta, with some flocks numbering 300–400 birds. In southern Manitoba the species was much scarcer than in recent years. Diurnal raptor migration in southern Manitoba was a drawn-out affair, with no notable peaks or rarities being reported. In April a Barn Owl was present at an undisclosed location in southern Alberta (fide James Fox); another one was photographed at Regina 20 May (Chelsey Vargo Wilson). Alberta’s third Western Screech-Owl was photographed and voice-recorded at an undisclosed location in the south of the province (anonymous). Four Eastern Screech-Owls, at three undisclosed locations, were reported in southern Alberta in Apr (fide James Fox), while another bird was audio-recorded at Eastend, SK 17–18 May (Bob Godwin). Of concern was the near-absence of Burrowing Owls in Alberta. Whereas in a normal year 10–12 different burrows would be occupied, this spring there was only one confirmed record. Northern Saw-whet Owls bred astonishingly early at Saskatoon, where on 23 Mar two juveniles were found, including a fledged bird that was rescued and later released (fide Stan Shadick). Lewis’s Woodpeckers have been frequent in Alberta recently: they were recorded at Pincher Creek 27 Apr, Beaver Mines 6 May, Carmangay 7 May, Columbia Icefields 8 May, Hinton 9 and 24 May and Calgary 10 May (ph., m. ob.). Although Gyrfalcon is a regular migrant and winter visitor to the southern Prairie Provinces, finding two perched together near Hodgson, MB 19 Mar made for a fine day of birding (ph. Joanne Smith). 


An Eastern Phoebe at South Lake, MB 13 Mar (Stephen Cornelson) and a Blue-headed Vireo at Bird’s Hill PP, MB 5 Apr (Daryl Maiers) were both record-early spring arrivals. West of its range was a Yellow-throated Vireo at Moose Jaw, SK 13 May (Ryan St Louis). A Rock Wren at The Pas, MB 22 May was well out-of-range (ph. David Raitt). The Carolina Wren that had successfully wintered at Winnipeg, MB was last reported 3 Apr (Charles Begley). Three Western Bluebirds at Gap Lake, Canmore, AB 24 Mar were seen by many; another bird was at Morley, AB 5 Apr (ph. Mike & Dave Russum). A Wood Thrush was in Winnipeg 17 May (Kelsey Bell); another was found 28 May on the same territory at Whitemouth Lake Road in southeastern Manitoba where one was last year. It remained to at least late Jun (Robert Parsons, m. ob.). The Northern Mockingbird that wintered in Okotoks, AB continued into early Mar; additional birds were at Big Valley, AB 10 Apr (Jennifer Bennett) and at Spring Coulee, AB 31 May (Bob Pruner). Eurasian Tree Sparrows occur now almost annually in southern Manitoba; one was at Blumenort 19 Apr (ph. Peter Reimer). Several Evening Grosbeaks were seen in early May in southern Manitoba, outside of the boreal forest: they had been rare in spring in recent years (m. ob.). A Lesser Goldfinch at Mountainview 6 May was about the 10th for Alberta (ph. Nancy West). A large influx of Thick-billed Longspurs was noted in the Tide Lake area near Brooks, AB, with some observers reporting 100–200 birds. Unfortunately, this area was burned by a grass fire during the summer. A hybrid towhee, presenting mostly as Eastern, was at Del Bonita, AB 22 May (ph. Marcia Stahl). A meadowlark near Whitemouth, MB, first seen 25 May, was believed to have been an Eastern Meadowlark x Western Meadowlark hybrid, based on song and call notes. It was seen by many well into Jun (ph. Peter Taylor, Rudolf Koes, m. ob.). A tally of 450 Rusty Blackbirds near Seven Sisters Falls, MB 5 May was a high number for this declining species (Peter Taylor). The only warbler wave of note in southern Manitoba occurred on 22–23 May, after two days of steady rain. Record-early was a “Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warbler at Regina 10 Mar (Christopher Harris). A Townsend’s Warbler at Broadview, SK represented about the 25th record for Saskatchewan (ph. Don Weidl). Surprisingly, Manitoba cannot claim a single record of this species. Western Tanagers were noted near Steinbach on the early date of 5 Apr, and again on 2 May (fide Harv Lane), at Winnipeg 14 May (Katharine Schulz), at Saskatoon 17 May (Ryan Dudrange), and near Swan River, MB 30 May (Nonni Jonnson). A Northern Cardinal at Kitscoty, AB 1 Mar was a continuing bird (Joann McLaren Aman); another was at Elk Point, AB 29 Mar (Lisa Neilsen). A Lazuli Bunting at Winnipeg 2 May was rare (ph. Paolo Alexander), as was an Indigo Bunting at Innisfail, AB 13 May (ph. Marina Rasmussen).

Report processed by Andrew Keaveney, 31 Jul 2021.

Photos–Prairie Provinces: Spring 2021

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