Prairie Provinces: Spring 2023

Spring 2023: 1 Mar–31 May

Rudolf Koes

James Fox

Recommended citation:

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

Spring across the Prairie Provinces saw extremes in the weather. March was rather cold and windy, while in Manitoba, April temperatures were below-average for the sixth year in-a-row. In May the weather turned very warm and dry; the month was the second-warmest on record in Manitoba and the hottest-ever in Alberta, with the average temperature nearly 6﮿C above normal. Many localities shattered all-time highs by as much as 4﮿C. Although the migration on the whole was behind schedule, there were some exceptionally early arrivals. The forest fire season started early, especially in Alberta, followed by Saskatchewan. Manitoba was spared the worst of it. At the end of the season the situation was dire in the west of the region, with smoke drifting as far east as the Midwest and the Atlantic Seaboard. Smoke was so thick and heavy that Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan had the unpleasant distinction of having the most polluted air in the world two days running. No doubt boreal forest bird populations were severely impacted. Hopefully we will have some measurable data and anecdotes in future reports.

Fine rarities included a Tufted Duck, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Eastern Wood-Pewee and Pinyon Jay in Alberta, a Slaty-backed Gull in Saskatchewan, Northern Pygmy-Owl breeding in Saskatchewan, a Bullock’s Oriole in Manitoba and a Worm-eating Warbler also in Manitoba. The first wave of sparrows in southern Manitoba took place on 10 May and was followed by a massive passerine wave on 20 May.

Geese through Terns

Among the earlier-than-usual returning migrants were seven Cackling Geese on 7 Mar at Boundary Bay, SK (Kathy Hedegard). Manitoba’s first known overwintering Trumpeter Swan, at Oak Hammock Marsh, was last reported on 22 Mar (m. ob., ph.). Four Tundra Swans at Meadow Lake, PP, SK on 4 Mar were early (Vicki St Germaine). A Tufted Duck at Picture Butte 4–8 Apr, seen by many, provided Alberta with its third record (m. ob., ph.). Otherwise it was rather quiet on the waterfowl front. Black-chinned Hummingbirds were noted at Mountainview, AB 21–25 May (Nancy West, ph.) and at Pincher Creek, AB 25 May (Cornell Van Ryk, ph.). Black-necked Stilt has become regular, albeit still uncommon to rare, in Manitoba and much of Saskatchewan. It continues its range expansion in Alberta and can now reliably be found as far north as Cold Lake, at the southern edge of the boreal forest. This spring there were reports from Marsden, Blaine Lake and North Battleford in Saskatchewan and from Whitewater Lake in Manitoba. A hybrid Black-necked Stilt x American Avocet was an interesting find at Reed Lake, SK on 13 May (m. ob., ph.). Other shorebirds of note were a Ruff, which lingered at Calgary, AB from 14 to 22 Apr and was enjoyed by many (m. ob., ph.) and a Western Sandpiper at Reed Lake, SK 24 May (Tom Hince). Although Sabine’s Gull is a regular spring migrant through Alberta, a tally of 250 at Buffalo Lake on 26 May was remarkable (Ethan Denton). Elsewhere three were seen at Branch Lake, SK on 28 May (Kale Worman, ph.). An Iceland (Thayer’s) Gull was at Winnipeg on 19 Apr (m. ob., ph.), while at the PR 227, MB landfill the species was reported on 6 May (m. ob.) and on 26 May (John Weier). Lesser Black-backed Gull is now an annual, albeit still uncommon, visitor to the Prairie Provinces and is found almost annually each spring and fall in the Calgary area. Between 2 Apr and 28 May there were at least seven different birds in southern Manitoba (m. ob., ph.), one was at Ft McMurray, AB on 21 Apr (anon., ph.) and one was at Swift Current, SK on 24 May (Tom Hince). A Slaty-backed Gull at Prince Albert, SK on 26 Apr was the rarest larid in the region during the period (John Lundgren, ph.). Nearly as rare were Glaucous-winged Gulls at Calgary 31 Mar–1 Apr (m. ob. ph.) and one in the same area on 29 Apr. Both birds were immatures and the sightings may involve a single bird (m. ob., ph.). A third report came from Ft McMurray on 20 Apr (anon., ph.). Lastly, a Glaucous Gull frequented a Winnipeg landfill 18–22 Apr (Rudolf Koes, m. ob., ph.). An Arctic tern was a good find at Seven Persons, AB on 13 May (David Bell, ph.).

Loons through Flycatchers

Red-throated Loons frequently stop over on Lake Winnipeg at Hecla Island, MB during spring migration, with numbers typically highest in years of late ice breakup, which was the case in 2023. Up to 170+ were present between 5 and 12 May (Bob Shettler, m. ob., ph.). Two Great Egrets visited Jansen, SK on 26 Apr (Bronwyn Robinson), with single birds at Spruce Grove, AB from 29 Apr into Jun (m. ob., ph.), at Buffalo Lake, AB 6–13 May (Mason Prokop) and at Regina and Last Mountain Lake between 7 and 13 May (m. ob., ph.). There were no fewer than four Snowy Egrets in Manitoba between 9 and 27 May (m. ob., ph.), plus a single bird somewhere in central Saskatchewan during May (David Cooper, ph.). The only Cattle Egret report came form Oak Hammock Marsh on 28 May (Paula Grieef). Both Western and Eastern Screech-Owls continued through spring in southern Alberta, at two, respectively four, undisclosed locations (m. ob. ph.). Northern Pygmy-Owl was first discovered in Saskatchewan in 2016 and has been seen annually since. On 8 Mar a bird was found at Meadow Lake PP (Dan Zazelenchuk), with frequent sightings thereafter (m. ob., ph.). Then on 25 May an adult was seen carrying food into a cavity, which provided the province with its first confirmed breeding record (John Patterson, Marten Stoffel). Alberta Lewis’s Woodpecker records came from Pincher Creek on 4 May (Pat Lucas, ph.), Cochrane on 17 May (Maureen Hills-Urbat, ph.) and from 27 May into Jun at Waterton, where nesting was recorded (m. ob., ph.). To the east, where the species is much rarer, one was at Echo Valley PP, SK on 22 May (Cindy & Dan Parliament). The Red-bellied Woodpecker that had wintered at Regina, SK was present until at least 4 Apr (Suzy Duckett). A Williamson’s Sapsucker at Bragg Creek, AB 13 to 22 May was the third for the province (m. ob., ph.). Very early arrivals included a Western Kingbird in the Prince Albert area on 22 Apr (Vicki St Germaine) and an Eastern Kingbird at Blumenort, MB on 29 Apr (Brady Kornelson). An Eastern Wood-Pewee at Edmonton, AB was audio-recorded on 26 May, providing what was probably the fourth record for the province (Percy Zalasky).

Jays through Buntings

Alberta’s second-ever Pinyon Jay, at Rockview County on 14 Apr, was a great find (Dee MacInnes, ph.). A Rock Wren was found at a quarry near Ashern, MB on 31 May (Garry Budyk, Deanna Dodgson). It remained into Jul (m. ob., ph.). A very early Marsh Wren was audio-recorded at Winkler, MB on 17 Apr (Ben Ginter). Twelve very tardy Bohemian Waxwings were noted at Winnipeg on 3 May (Jennifer & Mike Fisher), followed by a single bird there on 14 May (John Weier). A Northern Mockingbird at Bow Valley PP, AB on 18 May (Rob Fuller, ph.) and a Wood Thrush near Whitemouth Lake, MB (Rob Parsons) were rarities. The latter bird occupied a territory for the fourth year in-a-row. A Eurasian Tree Sparrow x House Sparrow hybrid remained through the spring at a feeder near Ste. Anne. It was joined by a pure Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the summer (Vic Reimer). A Brambling lingered at Lake Louise, AB from 22 to 28 Apr (m. ob., ph.). It furnished the seventh record for the province. Crossbills were virtually absent through the spring. A Lark Sparrow near The Pas, MB on 11 May was unusually far north (David Raitt). A White-crowned Sparrow at Regina and Harris’s Sparrows at Regina, Saskatoon and Swift Current, SK, all in Mar and early Apr, had no doubt overwintered locally (m. ob.). A very early Orchard Oriole was at Regina on 28 Apr (Trevor Herriot). Manitoba had its first confirmed records of Bullock’s Oriole in 2022. This year a male was at Portage la Prairie on 13 May (Cody Roy, ph.). A Brewer’s Blackbird at Carmichael, SK on 8 Mar was early (Jody Wells, ph.). Among the more notable warblers were a well-described Worm-eating Warbler, only the third for Manitoba, at Winnipeg on 1 May (John Wylie), a Hooded Warbler at Saskatoon on 10 May (Bill MacKenzie), a record-early Yellow Warbler at Regina 21–22 Apr (Annie McLeod, ph.) and an Audubon’s x Myrtle Warbler hybrid at Winnipeg on 27 Apr (Kirstyn Eckhardt). Summer Tanagers were found at Notre Dame-de-Lourdes, MB on 14 May (Paolo Matteucci, ph.), Delta, MB on 16 May (Paul Friesen, ph.) and at Winnipeg on 22 May (Hillary Smith, ph.). There were four reports of Western Tanager in Saskatchewan between 18 and 27 May (m. ob., ph.). Rounding out the rarities were a Northern Cardinal at Red Deer, AB on 17 Mar, perhaps the same bird as reported on 24 Feb (John Speelman, ph.), a Lazuli Bunting at Oakbank, MB 21–22 May (Josh Dewitt, m. ob., ph.) and an Indigo Bunting at Edmonton on 27 May (Sue Lentle, ph.). One Indigo Bunting at Winnipeg on 3 May was early (Liz Cieszynski).

Report processed by Andrew Keaveney, 08 Aug 2023.

Photos–Prairie Provinces: Spring 2023

Alberta’s third Tufted Duck visited Picture Butte from 4 (here 7) to 8 Apr, where it was seen by many. Photo @ Kerry Korber.

This Ruff spent about a week at Calgary, Alberta. Present from 14–22 Apr, here it is seen on 15 Apr. Photo @ Evan Walters.

Three Sabine’s Gulls were seen at Branch Lake, Saskatchewan on 28 May 2023. One of them was nicely captured by the observer. Photo @ Kale Worman.

One of the rarest gulls reported in the Prairie Provinces during spring 2023 was this Glaucous-winged Gull, present at Calgary, Alberta on 31 Mar–1 Apr (here). Photo @ Ethan Denton.

Not only was this Snowy Egret at Flin Flon, Manitoba on 25 May 2023 a provincial rarity, it also provided a very northerly record. Photo @ John Corden.

Of the five Red-shouldered Hawks reported in Manitoba during the spring of 2023, this bird at Winnipeg on 12 Apr provided the best photography opportunities. Photo @ Stu Hughes.

Reports of Lewis’s Woodpeckers in Alberta have increased in recent years. This bird was at Cochrane on 17 May 2023. Photo @ Maureen HillsUrbat.

Alberta’s third Williamson’s Sapsucker resided at Bragg Creek from 13 (here) to 22 May 2023. Photo @ Rick Courtney.

his Pinyon Jay at Rockview County, Alberta on 13 Apr 2023 was only the second for the province. Photo @ Dee MacInnes.

This Brambling at Lake Louise, Alberta provided the seventh record for the province. It was present from 20–28 (here 23) Apr and delighted many observers. Photo @ Ian Maton.

Lesser Goldfinch is one of the species that is being seen more frequently in recent years in the western part of the region than in previous decades. This bird was at Calgary, Alberta on 14 Apr. Photo @ Nathan Reinhardt.

Bullock’s Oriole was first confirmed in Manitoba in 2022, when four birds were documented with photographs. Spring 2023 brought this male to Portage la Prairie on 13 May. Photo @ Cody Roy.

Given the cold April of 2023 across the southern Prairie Provinces, this Yellow Warbler at Regina, Saskatchewan was surprisingly early. Present on 21–22 Apr (here 21), it established a record-early arrival date for the province. Photo @ Annie McLeod.

There were at least four spring 2023 Summer Tanager reports in Manitoba. This male was found near Stephenfield on 14 May. Photo @ Paolo Matteucci.