The winter of 2022–2023 was very quiet in the Prairie Provinces, bird-wise. Many of the species that are usually counted on to add spice to the season were scarce or absent. Northern owls were hard to come by, with mediocre numbers of Snowy Owls and an almost complete absence of Northern Hawk-Owls and Great Gray Owls. Similarly, winter finches were present in low numbers, with a few exceptions noted in the report. There were very few mega-rarities, the best ones being an Ivory Gull in Saskatchewan and a Eurasian Tree Sparrow in Manitoba. Survival of half-hardy species was high, with the first known successful overwintering recorded for Trumpeter Swan and American Coot in Manitoba.
December was cold in Manitoba, with an average amount of snow, but January was mild, albeit dreary. Temperatures fluctuated in February, but precipitation was low. Most major snow events passed south of the border in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Alberta experienced two major cold spells, with average temperatures during the remainder of the winter. As in the rest of the Prairie Provinces, snowfall amounts were below-average in Alberta.
Waterfowl through Pelicans
Two Canada Geese at Moose Jaw, SK on 13 Feb were the earliest-ever spring migrants at that location (Bill & Lynne McDonald). A juvenile swan, first found near Oak Hammock Marsh, MB in Nov 2022, and subsequently recorded on the Balmoral, MB CBC in December and then in the following months, created much discussion as to its identity. Eventually conclusive photos and sound recordings proved it was a Trumpeter Swan (m. ob., ph.). A Northern Shoveler at Gardiner Dam, SK on 1 Jan was a good find (Vicki St Germaine). For the third year in a row, an American Black Duck wintered with a flock of Mallards in Winnipeg, MB, while a hybrid Mallard x American Black Duck was also in the city (m. ob., ph.). Green-winged Teal were found at Pinawa, MB 12 Dec (Peter Taylor, Josh Dewitt), at Echo Valley PP, SK 22 Jan–18 Feb (Jared Clarke, m. ob.) and at Regina, SK 23 Jan–5 Feb (Laurie Koepke). Of the three Long-tailed Ducks present at Pine Falls, MB in late November, one lingered until 1 Dec, while one spent a weeks at Waterton Lakes NP, AB, from 20 Nov to 17 Dec (m. ob., ph.).Also at Pine Falls on 1 Dec was a Greater Scaup (Garry Budyk, Rudolf Koes). Up to two Buffleheads were at Echo Valley PP 28 Jan–18 Feb (m. ob.). A Sora near Oak Hammock Marsh was last seen 7 Dec, providing Manitoba with its second winter record (Helen Slavuta, ph.). while an American Coot at a Winnipeg sewage lagoon survived until at least 7 Mar (m. ob., ph.). It was the first known to have made it through the winter season in the province. Unfortunately public access was denied after that date, for the usual “liability concerns”. A Wilson’s Snipe at Carman, MB on 4 Dec was at the same location as a bird in 2015; so far it is the only species of shorebird reported in winter in the province (Rhonda Smith). An immature Ivory Gull frequented ice-fishing shacks at Turtle Lake, SK from 15 to 28 Dec, surviving on fish scraps. It represented the first confirmed record for the province, after two earlier dubious reports (Cliff Nesbitt, m. ob., ph.). Wascana Lake, SK hosted a tardy California Gull 12–14 Dec (Laurie Koepke, ph.). Also tardy was an American White Pelican at Gardiner Dam 11–14 Dec (Nick Saunders), while the pelican affectionately known as “Elsa” spent her third winter at Frank Lake, AB. She is able to fly, but not very well, after she was injured in 2020. She was last seen on 19 Jan.
Diurnal Raptors through Falcons
A Golden Eagle at the Pembina Valley hawk-watch site, MB on 18 Feb was an early migrant (Luc Blanchette). Sharp-shinned Hawk reports came from Dufresne, Winnipeg (two reports), Portage la Prairie and Brandon, all in Manitoba (m. ob.), and Prince Albert and Saskatoon, SK (Dale Hjertaas; Nick Saunders). Northern Goshawks went almost unreported. A Red-tailed Hawk at the outskirts of Winnipeg on 6 and 18 Jan was rare (Vic Reimer, Ray Méthot). In southern Alberta three Eastern Screech-Owls continued through the winter (fide James Fox). Mild conditions in January induced early breeding for some Great Horned Owls in Manitoba, with fledglings being reported at the end of the month. Snowy Owls were scarce, while Northern Hawk-Owls and Great Gray Owls were almost absent. Those few that were seen vacated winter territories very early. A Long-eared Owl at Beaudry PP near Winnipeg on 2 Jan was a nice find (Barb & Dave Taylor), as were up to two Short-eared Owls at Oak Hammock Marsh in Jan and Feb (Rudolf Koes) and one on the Estevan, SK CBC on 1 Jan (Guy Wapple). The only reports of Boreal Owl came from St. François Xavier, MB on 24 Jan (Norm Short) and La Ronge, SK on 3 Feb (Nolan Hogarth). Very early breeding of Northern Saw-whet Owl was suspected in Winnipeg, with birds being seen at a nesting cavity and carrying food between 15 Jan and 5 Mar (Aaron Janzen, Cam Nikkel). One saw-whet was seen at Regina on 15 Dec (Colette Stushnoff) and another at Runnymede, SK on 24 Feb (Donna Dewores).A Belted Kingfisher at Carman on 11 Dec provided Manitoba with one of its few winter records (Peter Fuller, ph.). Also rare in winter was a Red-headed Woodpecker at Dunnotar, MB on 18 Feb (Judith Olafsson, Jill Dickin, ph.). There were at least five Red-bellied Woodpeckers in Manitoba, while one bird in Regina remained through the winter (Suzy Duckett, m. ob.). Also rare was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker near Starbuck, MB from 20 Nov to 4 Dec (Carole Penner). Gyrfalcon records were slightly below normal in Alberta; amazingly, not a single bird was reported in either Saskatchewan or Manitoba.
Bohemian Waxwings were spotty, but Cedar Waxwing numbers in Manitoba and Alberta were above average. A Brown Thrasher in Winnipeg, present since fall, was last seen on 18 Dec (Randy Mooi). As many as three Mountain Bluebirds were reported in Police Point Park in Medicine Hat, AB between 19 Jan and 6 Mar.There were at least four Varied Thrushes in Saskatchewan, at Morse, Saskatoon, Swift Current and Watrous; the latter bird survived through the season (Sharlane Toole, m. ob., ph.). The single Manitoba report came from Winnipeg (Herbert & Mary Slater Enns, m. ob., ph.). A Eurasian Tree Sparrow, about the eighth for Manitoba,was at Sprague on 11 Jan and subsequent days (Garry Budyk, Rudolf Koes, m. ob., ph.), while a hybrid Eurasian Tree Sparrow x House Sparrow frequented a rural yard near Ste Anne, MB (Vic Reimer). Pine Grosbeak numbers were described as dismal in Alberta. Evening Grosbeaks were very localized, with 900 tallied on the Pinawa/Lac du Bonnet CBC, the highest number since 1997 (fide Peter Taylor) and hundreds noted at Weeks, SK on 11 Feb (Bob Ferguson). Elsewhere numbers were low. Redpolls, crossbills and Pine Siskins were scarce to absent throughout the region. On the other hand, Purple Finches and American Goldfinches, which are usually scarce in winter, were present in good numbers. There was a good variety of lingering sparrows. Notable were a Chipping Sparrow at Winnipeg (Randy Mooi) and a White-crowned Sparrow at Morris, MB (Nelson Chubey), both through the winter. Harris’s Sparrows were prominent in Saskatchewan, with birds at Watrous, Saskatoon, Swift Current, Rockglen and Regina (m. ob.), while in Alberta at least a dozen overwintered, a much-above normal number. Also rare were a Song Sparrow at Regina, last reported on 5 Jan (Lorne Scott, Daniel Sawatzky, m. ob.) and another at Elma, MB on 27 Feb (Alvin Dyck, Rudolf Koes). Spotted Towhees at Winnipeg Beach, MB (Laurie Hoogstraten, m. ob., ph.) and near Fort McLeod, AB (m. ob.) attracted numerous birders through the winter. An Eastern Towhee at Winnipeg remained until at least late Feb (Laurie Prokopenko, m. ob., ph.), while another towhee at Moose Jaw on 10 Dec was not conclusively identified to species (Lenice Harms). A wintering flock of at least 36 Red-winged Blackbirds near Oak Hammock Marsh was unusually large for the time of year (m. ob.). A female Northern Cardinal at Red Deer, AB on 24 Feb was one of the few rarities in the province (Tanya Wieringa, ph.). Two were seen on the 28 Dec Pinawa/Lac du Bonnet CBC, where they are also rare (fide Peter Taylor).
Errata – summer and fall 2022
The Eurasian Tree Sparrow photograph by Len Ferns was of a bird at Rockglen, present from 15 to 18 Jul. The 1 Nov bird at Broadview was photographed by Don Weidl. These birds provided the 4th and 5th records for Saskatchewan.
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!