Southern Great Plains: Winter 2016-17

1 Dec 2016—28 Feb 2017

W. Ross Silcock, Nebraska

Joseph A. Grzybowski, Oklahoma

Recommended Citation: Silcock, W. R. and Grzybowski, J. A. 2020. Winter 2016-2017: Southern Great Plains. <> North American Birds.

As in previous accounts, this season’s strong theme is the continued effects of climate change. Wintering ranges are shifting northward, and fall departure dates are protracted; increasingly, these occur during the winter period. This season, the array of species wintering northward included White-winged Dove, Greater Yellowlegs, Eastern Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Grasshopper and Vesper Sparrows. Late arrivals of wintering species were reflected in Common Redpolls (in Nebraska) and American Tree Sparrows, along with several gull species.

This season also continued the trend of west-northwest shifts of woodland birds like Carolina Wren, Pine Warbler and Northern Cardinal. Irruptive species were minimal this winter, and there was no significant incursion of forest finches. Other species present in diminished numbers included Western Grebe and Black-billed Magpie. Several rarities were found.           


Cheyenne Bottoms (Cheyenne Bottoms W.M.A., Barton, KS); Hackberry (Hackberry Flat W.M.A., Tillman, OK); McConaughy (L. McConaughy Res., Keith, NE); Quivira (Quivira N.W.R., Stafford, KS); Red Slough (Red Slough W.M.A., McCurtain, OK).

Contributing Observers (sub regional editors in boldface)

NEBRASKA: Edward Allen, Laurel Badura, Elliott Bedows, Matt Beisel (MBe), Jay & Ginger Belsan (J&GB), Mark Brogie, Charlotte Croshaw (CCr), Linda Deeds, Kathy DeLara, Paul Dunbar, Larry Einemann, Dave Ely, William Flack, Tom Gannon, Katie Gooby  (KGo), Alan Grenon, Robin Harding, Ethan T. Hutton, Esa Jarvi,  Jan Johnson, Joel G. Jorgensen, Alice Kenitz, Clem N. Klaphake, Steve Kruse, John Leszczynski (JLe), Bill Luedtke, Danny Mag (DMa), Robert Manning, Sam Manning (SMa), Loren & Babs Padelford (L&BP), Don & Jan Paseka (D&JP), Brian Peterson, Lanny Randolph, Allen Reyer, Justin Rink, Gary Roberts

Contributors (cont.)

Rick Schmid (RSc), Matt Shurtliff, Ruben Siegfried (RSg), W. Ross Silcock, Gary Small, Jerry Toll, Michael & Cynthia Van Den Broeke (M&CV), T.J. Walker, Bob Wells (BWe), Michael Willison, Barb Woodbeck (BWo).  KANSAS:  Andrew Burnett (ABu), Meleia Burnett (MBu), Kevin Courtois, Corey Entriken, Tom Ewert, Debbie Frederick, Matt Gearheart, Byron Grauerholz (BGz), Kevin Groeneweg, Eric Hough (EHo), Pete Janzen, Barry Jones,  Jonathan Lautenbach, Jim Malcom, Mick McHugh (MMH), Andrew Miller, Dave Miller, Chuck Otte, Rob Penner, Diane Persons, Jennifer Rader (JRa), Mike Rader, John Row (JRo), Scott Seltman, Tom & Sara Shane (T&SS), Kylee Sharp, Max Thompson, Curtis Van Boening (CVB), Adam Vesely, Janeen Walters (JWa), Phil Wedge, Suntesha Wustrack, Eugene Young, John & Linda Zempel (J&LZ).  OKLAHOMA:  Michael Anderson, Allison Anholt, Dave Arbour, John Ault, Cody Barnes, Sandy Berger, Bob Butler, Bill Carrell, Cameron Carver, Andrew Core, Steve Davis, Jim Deming, Melinda Droege, Chad Ellis (CEl), Carol Enwall (CEn), Caleb Frome, Karen Garrett (KGa), Alin Gonzales-Barnes (AGB), Joseph A. Grzybowski, Debra Halter (DHa), Ford Hendershot, Glen Hensley, Deb Hirt (DHi), Emily Hjalmarson, Steve Hodge, Dan Horton (DHo), John Hurd, D. Jamison, C. Kirkpatrick, Tomacz Kuder, Scott Loss, Brian Marra, Larry Mayes, Dan McDonald (DMD), Chuck McGowan (CMG), M. McQuaig (MMQ), Kurt Meisenzahl, Steve Metz, Jessica Mitchem (JMt), Tim O’Connell (TOC), Mark & Mary Peterson (M&MP), Zach Poland, Lewis Pond, Brett Roberts, Matthew Sabatine (MSa), Jana Singletary, Jerry Taylor (JTa), Paul & Priscilla Thut (P&PT), Lou & May Truex (L&MT), Patricia Velte, Kimberly Williams, Ellie Womack, Jimmy Woodard, Mike Yough.

Whistling-Ducks through Cranes

A Black-bellied Whistling-Duck shot by a hunter in Douglas, NE 6 Dec (fide JGJ) was, for winter, unexpectedly north. Northbound geese arriving in NE by 23 Jan included 71 Greater White-fronteds in Lancaster (LE), 175 Snow Geese in Lincoln (TJW), and 23 Ross’s Geese in Lincoln (TJW). A well-documented estimate of 1,074,080 Snow/Ross’s Geese passed over Nuckolls, NE on 4 Feb between 10:20 AM to 12:16 PM (DE); when calculating the expected “white goose” ratio of 2% Ross’s (DE), this would be 22,000 Ross’s Geese. Brant, a regional rarity, was at Cheyenne Bottoms, 30 Jan (RP). Trumpeter Swan is becoming established in the northern region. High counts were 103 in Douglas, NE 21 Jan (JR) and 135 in Washington, NE 30 Dec (fide JT). On a lesser scale, Trumpeters are also regular winterers in northeastern OK. 15 were in Washington, OK 7 Jan (MD) and 5 were in Osage, OK 24 Dec (fide JAG). Tundra Swans lingering northward included up to 6 in Douglas, NE 3 Jan-8 Feb (SMa, BP, JR), 4 in Washington, NE 27 Jan—5 Feb (DMa, BP), and 5 in Dakota, NE 21 Jan (JJ); some 16 Tundras were reported from 5  OK locations west to Custer 7 Dec—10 Jan (fide JAG). A Wood Duck in Hayes, NE 31 Jan (WF) was westerly. A Blue-winged Teal in Lancaster, NE 18 Feb (LE, photo) was likely an early migrant. American Black Ducks, now rare in the region, were reported in 4 counties in eastern and central KS 17 Dec—3 Feb (fide CO). The 950 Redheads in Cleveland, OK 12 Feb (JAG, TK) was a seasonal high count, as was the 257-317 Canvasbacks in Alfalfa, OK 14 & 28 Feb (GH). In recent years, wintering scoters have increased; this season produced reports of all 3 species. Surfs were in Coffey, KS 29 Jan (DM), Russell, KS 21 Jan (MR), and Pawnee, OK 27 Jan (BC); White-wingeds in Blaine, OK 23 Jan (L&MT) and Cheyenne Bottoms 7 Feb (RP); a Black, rarest of the scoters, regionally, was in Bourbon, KS 8—11 Feb (fide CO). All 3 states provided numerous reports of Long-tailed Duck (fide WRS, CO, JAG). Barrow’s Goldeneye is a regional rarity, particularly in OK. One was in Noble 15—16 Jan (ZP, EH, BR).

The largest flock of Greater Prairie-Chickens in NE was the 135 in Lincoln 1 Jan (TJW). A Red-necked Grebe was in Osage 11 Dec (JM), and an Eared Grebe was in Shawnee 31 Dec—1 Jan (CE); neither of these species is present every winter in KS. Western Grebes outside McConaughy were in Canadian, OK 10 Dec (2 birds; JAG) and Noble, OK 31 Dec—29 Jan (AC, SL). An easterly Aechmophorus grebe in Adair, OK 6 Dec (JMt) was photographed but not definitively identified. An Inca Dove north of its southern OK limits was in Cleveland, OK 13 Jan (CEn). A Common Ground-Dove, very rare in OK, was at Red Slough 18 Dec—3 Jan (DA, FH). White-winged Doves are now north to Scotts Bluff, NE, where one was present through 1 Feb (RSg), and 5 were in Chase, NE 30 Dec (MB). 310 White-winged Doves in the Shane yard in Finney, KS 24 Dec (T&SS) was a good tally for the central region. This species remains rare in eastern OK, so birds found in 4 counties 15 Dec—8 Jan (fide JAG) were notable. NE’s first Anna’s Hummingbird, found in Douglas 19 Nov, was last seen 9 Dec (SMa, RM, m.ob.). A Rufous Hummingbird spent 20 Nov—18 Dec in Delaware, OK (EW).  Within the region, King Rail winters regularly only at Red Slough; up to 6 were present there 22 Dec—22 Feb (DA). A Sora in Sequoyah, OK 13 Feb (SB) was noteworthy. Easterly Sandhill Cranes were in Tulsa, OK 17 Dec (12 birds; BJ). The 1000+ Sandhills at Quivira 1 Feb were early migrants, and 66,000 were in Buffalo, NE by 26 Feb (fide JLe).

Shorebirds through Gulls

Increasingly, shorebird species are wintering north and northbound individuals are arriving earlier. Up to 40 American Avocets were in Alfalfa, OK 6—13 Dec (GH), with one also there 4 & 11 Feb (M&MP, CB, AGB). Another was at Hackberry Flat (DHa) 18 Feb. 1-3 Long-billed Curlews were at Hackberry Flat 30 Dec—21 Feb (PV, JA, CC), and another was in Cotton, OK 26 Jan (L&MT). 2 Least Sandpipers in Lancaster, NE 5 Dec (LE) were northerly. Long-billed Dowitchers, typically very rare in winter, were at Hackberry Flat 4 Jan (31 birds; L&MT, KM), and 76—northbound, likely—were there 21 Feb (CC). Other reports of this species came from Oklahoma, OK 12 Jan (JA) and Red Slough 25 Jan (DA). Spotted Sandpipers were in Cleveland, OK 16 Jan & 18 Feb (TK), Tulsa, OK 17 Dec (JD), and Comanche, OK 20 Dec (JH). Greater Yellowlegs have become regular in winter; but Lessers are not; birds in Cleveland, OK 28 Jan (JAG), and at Hackberry Flat 10 Feb (BB) were notable. A late Laughing Gull was in Sedgwick, KS 7 Jan (AM); there are few regional Jan-Feb records of this species. Franklin’s Gulls, unexpected in winter, were in Tulsa, OK 17 Dec (MMQ, LP), and Oklahoma, OK 23 Feb (BM). California Gulls away from McConaughy were in Platte, NE 19 Feb (TJW), Harlan, NE 15 Dec (WRS), and Tulsa, OK 27 Feb (SM). Most Iceland Gulls in the region are “Thayer’s” types. A “Kumlien’s” type was in Cedar, NE 2 Dec (JGJ) and another pale Iceland was in Coffey, KS, 8 Jan (MG). A surprising 12 “Thayer’s Gulls” were tallied in KS during the period (fide CO), and in OK, 1-2 were reported from Oklahoma 1—12 Jan (CC, JH) and another from Payne 6 Jan (SL). A first-cycle Glaucous-winged X Herring Gull, also known as “Cook Inlet Gull,” was in Woodward, OK 30 Dec (SM). Lesser Black-backed Gull has become regular in the region, and at least 20 were present this season (fide WRS, CO, JAG). At least 12 Glaucous Gulls were reported (fide WRS, CO, JAG); this species is expected in winter. The only reports of Great Black-backed Gull, less-than-annual in the region, came from KS: singles were in Reno 8—9 Jan (PJ, J&LZ) and at Cheyenne Bottoms 13—27 Jan (MR, m.ob.).

Loons through Falcons

Red-throated Loons were in Cherokee, OK 26 Dec (KGa) and Love, OK 17 Feb (L&MT), as well as Neosho, KS 20 Jan (ABu). Pacific Loons were at 3 KS locations 4—14 Dec (MR, SS, KS), and others were in Custer, OK 10 Jan (L&MT), and Cherokee, OK 26 Dec (CC, AA). A northerly Common Loon was in Lancaster, NE 16—18 Feb (TG, GR, SK). 2 Neotropic Cormorants were at Red Slough 6 Dec—16 Feb (DA); individuals in Comanche, KS 26 Feb (EHo), and Payne, OK 11—12 Dec (SL) and 21 Feb (DHi) were northerly. An Anhinga at Red Slough 15—24 Feb (DA) was an unusual winter record. Brown Pelicans, a regional vagrant, were found in Alfalfa, OK 6 Dec (GH, m.ob.), Tulsa. OK 10 Dec—5 Jan (BC, m.ob.), and Payne, OK 10—20 Dec (TOC). The few American Bitterns wintering this season at Hackberry Flat 26 Dec—25 Feb (SD, m.ob.) were noteworthy. Great Egrets have become regular in eastern OK during winter. At least 4 were there (fide JAG), but another in Sedgwick, KS 16—17 Dec (KG) was northerly. Black-crowned Night-Herons were located in Payne, OK 11 Dec (MY, DHi) and Oklahoma 16 Jan (3 birds, JW), and 2-3 White Ibis were at Red Slough 20—22 Dec (DA, FH). Up to 9 Plegadis ibis were at Hackberry Flat 1 Jan—19 Feb; at least one of these was identified as a White-faced (ZP, JS, KW). A Black Vulture in Montgomery, KS 29 Jan (ABu, MBu) was northerly. A Turkey Vulture was in Butler, KS 7 Jan (SW); by 19—22 Feb, this species had arrived in NE (fide WRS).

Nebraska’s third-latest Osprey record came from Lancaster 5 Dec (EJ). 2 White-tailed Kites, a regional rarity, thrilled many observers in Harmon, OK 4 Jan—12 Feb (JA, m.ob.). Easterly Golden Eagles were in Dodge, NE 21 Dec (CNK), Pottawatomie, KS 1 Dec (JRo), and at Red Slough through the period (DA, FH).  Northern Goshawk is rare throughout the region; records this season came from Russell, KS 18 Dec (JRa, MR) and Reno, KS 9 Jan (J&LZ). A vagrant Harris’s Hawk was in Oklahoma 10—28 Feb (MA, ZP, m.ob.). A juvenile Ferruginous Hawk in Shawnee, KS 4 Dec (KC, DP) was easterly. Snowy Owl distribution this winter was typical: 3 were in NE (fide WRS), and one was south to Lyon, KS 18 Dec (fide CO). Several Northern Saw-whet Owls were heard in Dawson and Lincoln, NE 8—27 Feb (TJW, LD, PD). Easterly Lewis’s Woodpeckers were in Pottawatomie, KS 1—13 Dec (fide CO) and Geary, KS 7 Dec (fide CO). A westerly Red-bellied Woodpecker in Sheridan, NE 17 Feb (BWo) was just the second county record. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was in Lincoln, NE 19 Dec—20 Feb (TJW), with another there 31 Dec (LR, RH). Peregrine Falcons now breed at 3 eastern NE locations; copulation was observed at the North Omaha Power Plant, Douglas 17 Feb (JR). Easterly Prairie Falcons were in Le Flore, OK 14 Feb (P&PT), Washington, NE 30 Dec (AG), and Douglas, NE 11 Feb (SMa, BWe).

Phoebe through Finches

Eastern Phoebe was found as far north as Neosho, KS 3 Feb (ABu, MG) this winter. 3 Northern Shrikes were south to KS in Douglas 27 Jan (MMH), Allen 9 Feb (PJ, KG), and Bourbon, also on 9 Feb (PJ, KG). A late Blue-headed Vireo in Payne, OK 20 Dec (MY) was northerly. Black-billed Magpie continues to decline in NE, and is largely limited to the Panhandle (fide WRS). An early Fish Crow was in Tulsa, OK 12 Feb (BC). In recent years, Chihuahuan Raven has become scarce outside extreme southwestern KS and the western OK Panhandle. Singles in Jackson, southwest OK 27 Dec & 17 Feb (JA, CEl) suggest reentry to portions of their previous range. 2 Common Ravens wandered east to Stanton, KS 3 Jan (TE). KS has about 8 records of Pygmy Nuthatch, so one easterly in Johnson (fide CO) was exceptional. 4 Tree Swallows at Red Slough 13 Feb (P&PT) were early, as was a Northern Rough-winged Swallow in Cotton, OK 19 Feb (CF). A Tufted Titmouse in Dodge, NE 19 Dec (BL) was northerly. An extralimital Rock Wren continued throughout the period at McConaughy (J&GB), and another was in Riley, KS 3 Dec (JL). The Canyon Wren in central Cherry, NE from 28 Oct was last noted 3 Dec, when the ranch owners departed. Carolina Wrens in Cedar, NE 21 Dec (GS) were northerly, and one in Lincoln (TJW) was westerly. Ruby-crowned Kinglets, rare in mid-winter, were westerly in Lincoln, NE 19 & 30 Dec and 19 Feb (TJW). A Mountain Bluebird in Jackson, KS 31 Dec—13 Jan (JWa) was surprisingly east. Also easterly were Townsend’s Solitaires in Logan, OK 13—14 Jan (ZP) and Lancaster, NE 18 Dec (ETH, MBe). A grayish Hermit Thrush—representative of one of the western subspecies—was in Frontier, NE 19 Feb (MB, photo). Varied Thrush, a rare winter visitor to the northern region, was in Butler, KS 25 Feb. Unfortunately, it fell victim to a Sharp-shinned Hawk. (SW, fide CO).

There were 2 reports of Gray Catbirds: northerly in Sarpy, NE 28 Dec (D&JP, GR), and also at Red Slough 20—22 Dec (DA). Curve-billed Thrashers wandered to Finney, KS 13 Dec (AV), Stanton, KS 3 Jan (TE), Kearny, KS 27 Jan (DF), and Texas, OK 6 Jan (DHo). Northerly Brown Thrashers were in Lancaster, NE through the period (M&CV), as well as Douglas, NE through 5 Jan (KGo), A Northern Mockingbird in Webster, NE 16 Feb (LB) was one of very few mid-winter records for the state. Also northerly were the 3-4 American Pipits at McConaughy 1 Jan (JR, BP). The male Brambling, Nebraska’s fourth, was an obvious winter highlight. First noted 8 Jan at the Padelfords’ Sarpy, NE feeder, it remained there to 10 Jan, and was then found about 4 miles away 16 Jan (fide L&BP). A westerly Purple Finch was in Comanche, OK 16 Feb (LM). The only report of Cassin’s Finch this season was at McConaughy 31 Dec (6 birds; WRS). Red Crossbills were scarce this season. The only reports were from Scotts Bluff, NE 20 Dec (fide AK) and from a Shawnee, KS cemetery 2 Jan (5 birds; JM). Common Redpolls went unreported this winter. Lesser Goldfinches are occasional in winter. A green-backed male showed again from 10 Dec—14 Jan in Cass, eastern NE (RSc, m.ob.), and another was in Canadian, OK 25 Feb (fide JAG).

Towhee through Tanagers

Several Eastern Towhees were noted north to Sarpy, NE 22 Jan & 16 Feb (JR) and 4 Feb (MS); KS sightings from Saline 17 Dec (BGz) and Ellsworth 5 Feb (MR) were westerly. The winter range of American Tree Sparrow is retracting in the region. One in Sequoyah, OK 5 Jan (MSa) was southerly. Chipping Sparrows are now regular in much of OK during winter, but one that likely wintered in Sarpy, NE 7 Jan & 20 Feb (AR) was less-expected. A Field Sparrow in Washington, NE 30 Dec (fide JT) was northerly, as was a Savannah Sparrow in Sarpy, NE 19 Feb (EB). Grasshopper Sparrows may be expanding their winter range; records came from Comanche, OK 20 Dec (JAG, SH, DMD) and Stephens, OK 11 Jan (L&MT). A Henslow’s Sparrow 22 Dec at Red Slough (DA, CMG) may represent a northward wintering trend. Lingering NE Lincoln’s Sparrows were in Richardson 11 Feb (JGJ, photo) & 20 Feb (4 birds; MS), in Sarpy 18 Feb (DMa, photo), and in Lancaster 19 Feb (EA). A Swamp Sparrow in Harlan, NE 15 Dec (WRS) was westerly. 2 Golden-crowned Sparrows were exceptional. One, found 7 Jan, was in Ellsworth, KS; it lingered through the period into mid-Apr (KG, fide CO). The other was in Knox, NE 1 Jan through the period (MB, m.ob.). This individual was accompanied by easterly western-race White-crowned Sparrows and a “Pink-sided” Dark-eyed Junco 7 Jan—6 Feb (MW, m.ob.; photo). The only reported “Gray-headed” Dark-eyed Junco frequented a Scotts Bluff, NE feeder 14—20 Dec (KD, photo).

Yellow-headed Blackbirds normally depart the region during winter; this year, 2 were in in Sarpy, NE 18 Feb (DMa), and another was in Clay, NE (JGJ) the same day. Baltimore Orioles, lingered in Douglas, KS 17 Dec (PW), Oklahoma, OK 17 Dec—1 Feb (JTa), and in Tulsa until at least 9 Jan (DJ). High counts for Rusty Blackbird, a species of concern, were 136 at Red Slough 3 Jan (DA) and 139 in Sequoyah, OK 13 Feb (SB). A Common Yellowthroat was in Barber, KS 15 Dec (CVB) was northerly. A Palm Warbler in Sumner, KS 26 Feb (MT, EY) was notable. A Pine Warbler in Dodge, NE 4 Dec (CCr, photo) was late and northerly. A pair of Northern Cardinals in Sheridan, NE 20 Feb (BWo, photo) were westerly. Pyrrhuloxia is becoming more regular in southwestern OK; 1-2 were in Jackson 12—24 Feb (JW, JA, SD), and 2 were in Tillman 19 Feb (JS, KW).

Report processed by Alison Világ, 3 Nov 2020

Photos–Southern Great Plains: Winter 2016-17
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.