Southern Great Plains: Winter 2018-2019

Winter 2018-2019: 1 Dec–28 Feb

Joseph A. Grzybowski

W. Ross Silcock

Recommended citation:

Grzybowski, J. A., and Silcock, W. R. 2021. Winter 2018-2019: Southern Great Plains. <> North American Birds.

This winter season was colder than the norm. The increasing array of individuals wintering further north than expected still occurred, but it does not tell us how many of them made it all the way through. Some species, like Black-crowned Night-Herons, seem to be establishing local urban pockets in the southern region. Common Mergansers were abundant on larger reservoirs in Nebraska, but almost absent south to central Oklahoma—the latter being a recent phenomenon. The lack of irruptive finches and mountain species was noteworthy.

Contributing observers (Sub-regional editors in boldface)

NEBRASKA:  Chris Alred, Noah Arthur (NAr), Elliott Bedows, Susan Bonfiglio (SBo), Scott Bradley (SBr), Stephen Brenner (SBn), Ed Brogie (EBr), Lee Brogie (LBr), Mark Brogie, Mary Bomberger Brown, Scott Buss, Virginia Clark, Mary Clausen, Jen Corman (JCo), Kelly & Jen Corman (K&JC), Colin Croft, Allyson Dather, Linda Deeds, Kathy DeLara, Stephen J. Dinsmore, Boni Edwards, Larry Einemann, Dave Ely, William Flack, Rita Flohr, Tom Gannon, Dave Heidt, Joel G. Jorgensen, Karen Kader, Sam Manning (SMa), Sharla Meester (SMe), Steve Mlodinow (SMl), Wayne Mollhoff, Steve Morris, Jonathan Nikkila, Loren & Babs Padelford (L&BP), Don & Jan Paseka (D&JP), Brian Peterson, Andrew Pierson, Justin Rink, W. Ross Silcock, Mike Swanson, Jason Thiele (JTh), Jerry Toll, Matthew & Cynthia Van Den Broeke (M&CV), Amber Wesely, Erica Wilson (EWn), Elizabeth Winter.  KANSAS:  Nic Allen, Henry Armknecht, Aaron Batterbee (ABa), Jeremy Birket, Emily Brosnan (EBs), Andrew Burnett, Jeff Calhoun, Kelli Egbert, Gregg Friesen, Malcolm Gold, Harry Gregory, Jennifer Hammett, Steve Hofhine, Mark Keller, Dave Klema, Chris Lake, Tony Leukering, Micky Louis, Jim Malcom (JMa), Terry & Sam Mannell (T&SM), Kathy McDowell,

Contributing Observers (cont.)

Mick McHugh (MMH), Debbie McKee, Joseph Miller (JMi), Andrew Mitchell, Atcha Nolen, Mark Nolen, Chuck Otte, Mark Pheasant (MPh), Marie Plinsky, Nadia Qureshi, Jenn Rader (JRa), Mike Rader, John Row (JRo), Carolyn Schwab, David Seibel, Sara Shane (SSh), Faith Shapley-Queen (FSQ), John & Linda Zempel (J&LZ).  OKLAHOMA:  David Arbour, James W. Arterburn, Jane Boren (JBo), Bill Carrell, Zeke Cornell, Bill Diffin, Melinda Droege, John Edd-Brown (JEB), Chad Ellis, Joseph A. Grzybowski, Becky Hays, Ford Hendershot, Glen Hensley, Jim Hoffman (JHo), Daniel Horton (DHo), Todd Humphrey, Laurie Ireland, Austin Jones, John Kennington, Jeanine Lackey, Scott Loss, Dustin Lynch, Brian Marra, Calen McKinney, Kurt Meisenzahl (KMe), Terry Mitchell, John Moyer (JMo), John Muller, Jack Olson, Kristina Paliwoda, Zach Poland, Brad Rose, Ben Sandstrom, Jana Singletary, Kathy Stewart, John Tharp (JTp), Torie Thompson, Lou & Mary Truex (L&MT), Greg Wilbert, Ken Williams, Jill Wilson (JWi), Chris Wood, Doug Wood, Jimmy Woodard (JWo), Rachel Wrenn.


Hackberry Flat (Hackberry Flat WMA, Tillman, OK); Hefner (Lake Hefner, Oklahoma, OK); McConaughy (Lake McConaughy Res., Keith, NE); Red Slough (Red Slough WMA, McCurtain, OK).

Geese through Greater Yellowlegs

A blue-morph hybrid Snow x Ross’s Goose was detected in Sequoyah, OK 21 Dec (JWA, KW).  Such hybrids crossing with Ross’s might create the rare blue-morph Ross’s phenotype. Photographs showed a Brant in Lincoln, KS 2 Feb (HA, JC) was an Atlantic Brant (B. b. hrota). Three Barnacle Geese photographed in a Colfax, NE field 2 Jan (MS fide JGJ) were the sixth report for Nebraska. However, the provenance of Barnacle Geese in Nebraska is still in question by the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee. Best tally of Trumpeter Swans was the 106 in Shawnee, KS 7 Feb (DM, MPh). Tundra Swans are the rarer white swan in the region; four Tundras were as far south as Tulsa, OK 27–28 Jan (JS, JHo) with singles in Washington, NE 25 Dec (EBr, MB) and Keith, NE 30 Dec (fide SJD). West of the expected winter range in Nebraska were single Wood Ducks in Keith 30 Dec (fide SJD) and Hall 8 Jan (SM). American Black Duck reports in Kansas suggested a mild influx; singles were in Linn 20 Dec (MG), Neosho 13 Jan (AB), Miami 27–29 Jan (MG, ML), and Wyandotte 26 Feb (NA). Easterly were the first-arriving Cinnamon Teal in Shawnee, KS 24 Feb (JMa) and at Red Slough 28 Feb (FH). The 21 Ring-necked Ducks in Cherry, NE 14 Jan (MC, SBo) were northerly. Scoters, rare in the region, normally winter south of Nebraska; unusual were a White-winged in Lincoln 15 Dec (JGJ) and a flock of five Blacks in Lancaster 19 Jan (JGJ). Still rare farther south, Surf Scoters were found in Douglas, KS 2 Dec–15 Jan (CS), Sedgwick, KS 5 Dec (MN), Red Slough 19 Dec (DA, ZC), and in Jefferson, OK 24–27 Jan (JWo, JEB, L&MT). A White-winged Scoter was in Russell, KS 20 Jan (DK), and 1–2 were at Hefner through 20 Jan (fide JAG). Surprisingly, Black Scoters were most numerous this season, with 7 in Butler, KS 17 Dec–7 Jan (AN), one in Russell, KS 28 Dec and 21 Feb (DK), and three at Hefner through the period (fide JAG, m. ob.). Long-tailed Ducks were much in evidence this season; at least 17 were reported in all three states (fide WRS, CO, JAG). Barrow’s Goldeneye has been more frequent in Cimarron, OK recently where one was noted 23 Jan (BC), with others in Jefferson, KS 16 Dec (fide CO) and Knox, NE 14–21 Dec (EBr, LBr, SMe). Huge numbers of Common Mergansers stage at Harlan County Lake, Harlan, NE; this winter estimates were of 20,000 on 13 Dec (JGJ) and 31,000 on 14 Dec (WRS), both being a record high winter tally for the state. In stark contrast were the fewer than 10 Common Mergansers reported in central Oklahoma this season (fide JAG), where formerly common.

Greater Prairie-Chicken is doing well near the eastern edge of its Nebraska range in Boone, where 254 birds were tallied 29 Dec, including a flock of 150+ (JTh). A Pied-billed Grebe and Horned Grebe in Lincoln, NE 2 Feb (SMl) were unexpected during winter. Two Red-necked Grebes at McConaughy 30 Dec (SJD) were tardy. An Eared Grebe at Hefner 9 Jan–4 Feb fringed its northern winter-range boundary (fide JAG). Western Grebes in Custer, OK 28–31 Dec (JO, BS) and Meade, KS 1 Feb (SSh) were noteworthy, and even more so, a Clark’s Grebe in Ellsworth, KS 15 Dec (MR), with another, exceptional for season, at McConaughy 5 Jan (SMl, DE). White-winged Doves wintering northward were in Lincoln, NE 23 Feb (VC); others made it only into Jan, including as many as five in Lincoln through 19 Jan (fide WRS) and one in Dodge through 31 Jan (fide WRS). A surprising first county record was a northerly Greater Roadrunner in Lyon, KS 9 Dec (NQ). Establishing the northern edge of current winter range were a Sora in Johnston, OK 21 Jan (DW) and a Yellow Rail at Red Slough 12 Jan (CW, AJ, KP). Up to four Sandhill Cranes in Saunders, NE 4–6 Jan (KK, m. ob.) were possibly early; easterly were eight Sandhill Cranes at Red Slough 11 Dec (DA) and two in Sequoyah, OK 25 Feb (JS). A Long-billed Curlew at Red Slough 18–28 Feb (DA) was an odd occurrence, both easterly and possibly early. Among a growing array of mid-winter Spotted Sandpipers in Oklahoma were singles in Noble 1 Feb (CM) and Cleveland 5 Jan–21 Feb (GW, JTp, JMo). A Lesser Yellowlegs in McCurtain 25 Feb (FH) was the exception. Tardy Greater Yellowlegs were singles in Buffalo, NE 17 Dec (AP) and Butler, KS 5 Dec (CS).

Gulls through Falcons

Our “Where’s Waldo” Black-legged Kittiwake was in Ellsworth, KS 15–17 Dec (DK). Unexpected for the date and number were the 50 Bonaparte’s Gulls in Geary, northeastern KS 4 Jan (JRo).  Franklin’s Gull is a mid-winter oddity in the region; singles were in Douglas, KS 18 Jan (MG, MMH), Russell, KS 22 Feb (HA), and Tulsa, OK 5 Jan (TM). The only Mew Gull reports were of single adults at McConaughy 30 Dec (SJD) and 19 Jan (NAr). Adult California Gulls were reported at Hefner 10 Dec (JWA, KW) and 13 Jan (BC), with arrivals for Kansas in Miami 25 Jan (MMH) and 2 Feb at McConaughy (SMl). Iceland (Thayer’s) Gull was reported from all three states, most from Kansas, and southernmost in Payne, OK 29 Jan (SL), and Tulsa, OK 19 Feb (ZP). Lesser Black-backed Gull is now a rare migrant and winter visitor in the region, but with few to Nebraska during winter, this season at McConaughy 5–20 Jan (SMl, DE, m. ob.) and in Lancaster 11–13 Jan (EW, TG); up to five were in Reno, KS 9 Feb (JMi). Fourteen Glaucous Gulls were reported from nine Kansas counties through the period (fide CO) with others south in Oklahoma to Payne 1–5 Dec (SL, m. ob.) and two in Woodward, OK 23 Dec (BC). The only Great Black-backed Gull reports were all from Kansas; singles were Geary 5 Feb (CL), Russell (and adjacent Lincoln) 10–22 Feb (MR, HA), and Shawnee 24 Feb (KE). Two Red-throated Loons at Hefner 4–5 Jan (BD, BM, ZP) were the only report. Unexpected northerly mid-winter Common Loons were singles in Chautauqua, KS 6 Jan (MP, KM) and at McConaughy 16 Jan (JGJ). Hefner hosted the single Yellow-billed Loon, present 2 Jan–17 Feb (BD, m. ob.).

Neotropic Cormorants edging northward earlier were singles 8 Feb in Blaine, OK (BS) and at Hefner (BC), with 1–2 at Red Slough 7–24 Feb (DA). A sick or injured American White Pelican lingered in Douglas, NE 5–6 Jan (SMa, BP). Northerly herons for the winter period were a Great Blue Heron in Antelope, NE 1 Feb (WF), two Great Egrets in Neosho, KS 1–5 Dec (AB) and two in Sumner, KS 15 Dec (FSQ), and one in Alfalfa, OK 14 Dec (GH). Black-crowned Night-Herons (one or two) were also northerly in Sedgwick, KS 11 Dec-26 Feb (MN); the nine Black-crowneds at Hefner and Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma, OK through the period (fide JAG) seem to be part of an establishing local winter group. Underscoring the increasing presence of Black Vulture in southeastern Kansas were the 50 in Cherokee 13 Jan (JRa); nine were at a nearby location the same day (T&SM). First spring Turkey Vulture in Kansas was one in Cherokee, KS 14 Feb (JRa), and in Oklahoma an Osprey appeared in Delaware 20 Feb (LI). Easterly Golden Eagles were in Osage, OK 6–7 Jan (JWi, DHo, BH). Rare anywhere in the region, a Northern Goshawk was in Dixon, NE 13 Dec (EBr). Red-shouldered Hawks edging westward in Nebraska were immatures in Harlan 14 Dec (WRS, photo), Cedar 24 Dec (EBr, LBr) and Buffalo 16 Jan (fide JGJ). Now quite southerly was a Rough-legged Hawk in Johnston, OK 18 Jan (DW). The only Snowy Owls reported were two in Nebraska, both of which stayed for around two weeks in Rock 17 Jan–3 Feb (JCo, AD) and Dodge 16 Jan–9 Feb (AW, fide JGJ, m. ob.). Barred Owl is continuing its move westward along the Republican River Valley in Nebraska; westernmost were two in Furnas 17 Feb (WF) and three in Harlan 14 Dec (fide JGJ). A Northern Saw-whet Owl was calling early in Lincoln, NE 12 Jan (LD); pre-migratory calling usually occurs in mid-Feb, but breeding may occur in the cedar canyons there.

Northerly mid-winter Red-headed Woodpeckers included four in Cherry, NE 5 Jan (K&JC) and one in Keya Paha, NE 7 Jan (K&JC). Reports in Nebraska in mid-winter of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker continue to increase; noteworthy away from the southeastern area were one in Hitchcock 15 Dec (JGJ), 1–2 in Lincoln 16 Dec (JGJ, JN) and one in Madison 4 Jan (WF). Another Yellow-bellied was quite far westerly in Cheyenne, KS 7 Feb (MK). An intriguing and unexpectedly easterly report was of a putative Red-naped x Red-breasted Sapsucker photographed in Osage, OK 7 Dec (KS). A quite far westerly Pileated Woodpecker was in Clark, KS 1 Jan (J&LZ). Crested Caracaras are appearing in extreme southern Oklahoma with one in Jefferson 25 Jan (JWo) and two at Red Slough 5 Feb (DA). A Peregrine Falcon in Tulsa, OK 15 Dec (JS) may be part of an urban group. Easterly Prairie Falcons in Nebraska were in Burt 8 Feb (JT), Douglas 8 Dec (JR), and Cass 30 Dec (BP, MC).

Flycatchers to Pipits

Eastern Phoebe extended into Kansas this winter, with singles in Barber, KS 20 Dec (HA) and Sumner, KS 4 Feb (FSQ). Scarce in the southern region, a Northern Shrike was as far south as Custer, OK 31 Dec (BS); at least seven made it to Kansas (fide CO). A Blue-headed Vireo lingered in Sedgwick, KS 15 Dec (JB, SH, HG). A Steller’s Jay wintered through at least 31 Mar at feeders in Scotts Bluff, NE (CC, m. ob.). Away from the Panhandle and North Platte River Valley in Nebraska, Black-billed Magpie is in serious decline; an odd observation east was of two in Madison, NE, 27 Jan (SB, DH). A Fish Crow appeared early at its Kansas stronghold in Cherokee 9 Feb (ABa). Chihuahuan Raven continues to re-invade its former range slowly in western Oklahoma and southwestern Kansas; three were in Greeley, KS 28 Dec (TL), two in Hamilton, KS 31 Dec (TL), and one in Harmon, OK 5 Jan (JEB). Becoming the norm for arrival, up to 12 Tree Swallows were at Red Slough 15–18 Feb (DA). Still outside the norm were a February Rough-winged Swallow and Barn Swallow at Red Slough 21 Feb (DA) with another Rough-winged in Bryan 28 Feb (DW, TT). One or two Purple Martins arrived at Red Slough by 20–21 Feb (DA).  A Petrochelidon swallow, Cave or Cliff, in Comanche, OK 25 Feb (JM) was also quite unexpectedly early, whichever the species.

SA: After a major decline in numbers of Black-capped Chickadees 2003–2013 in parts of Nebraska generally attributed to West Nile Virus (, recovery has occurred in many places with levels returning during the last few years to those prior to the outbreak. However, some areas have been slow to recover or have suffered another recent decline. The Harlan County Reservoir CBC, Harlan, averaged 99/year 19962001 but only one was found on the 2018 CBC, following a new low of 12 in 2016 (fide JGJ). Surprisingly also, the Lake McConaughy CBC, Keith, found only one chickadee in its 30 Dec 2018 iteration; peak tally there was 84 in 2001 (fide SJD). One in a Dodge yard was the “first for years” (D&JP).

Not the best year for Mountain Chickadees: they appeared at Scotts Bluff, NE locations 20 Dec through the period (fide WRS). Scott State Park, Scott, KS is a magnet for rarities; three Bushtits, marginal in Kansas, were there 15 Dec (JC). Possibly from the Nebraska Pine Ridge, one White-breasted Nuthatch subspecies nelsoni was noted southward in Keith 2 Feb (SMl). Far east of its usual winter range, a Rock Wren was in Tulsa, OK 27 Jan (TH). A House Wren lingered in Cowley, KS to at least 16 Dec (DS). Two westerly reports of Winter Wren (carefully excluding Pacific) were of one at McConaughy 16–17 Jan (SM, JGJ) and 1–2 in Lincoln 2–10 Feb (SMl, recording, BE & JN, photos). A Sedge Wren in Lancaster, NE 4 (M&CV) and 5 Jan (TG) was an exceptional winter find. Rolling the dice further north this winter were Ruby-crowned Kinglets in Lincoln, NE 16 Dec (JGJ, JN) and Harlan, NE 14 Dec (SBn), five Eastern Bluebirds in Garfield 10 Jan (MC, SBo), and one and four at two locations in Cherry, NE 14 Jan (MC, SBo) and 14 Feb (WF), respectively. A Mountain Bluebird was easterly in Lancaster, NE 4 Jan–22 Feb (LE, m. ob.). Also pressing northern winter range limits was a Hermit Thrush in Lincoln, NE 2 Feb (SMl). Varied Thrush, a very rare winter vagrant, made a “hat-trick” appearance with singles in Lancaster, NE 13 Nov–18 Dec (M&CV), Hall, NE “a few days” through 8 Dec (SM), and Brown, KS 19 Feb (AM). Gray Catbirds lingered northerly with singles in Harlan, NE 14 Dec (fide JGJ) and Labette, KS 4 Dec (HA), and at Red Slough to at least 9 Jan (DA). Edging northerly was Curve-billed Thrasher in Stanton, KS 31 Jan (TL). A surprising seven Brown Thrashers were reported for Nebraska 1 Jan–22 Feb (fide WRS), with other northerly singles in Cheyenne, KS 21 Dec (MK) and Johnson, KS 15 Feb (EBs). The only Bohemian Waxwing, most likely in Nebraska, was in Harlan 14 Dec (MBB). Also northerly was an American Pipit in Keith, NE 30 Dec (fide SJD).

Rosy-Finches to Dickcissel

The best count of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches was the 50 at the Henry Road, Sioux roost site 16 Feb (BE). Far more exciting were the five Black Rosy-Finches there 2 Feb (JR, CA, SBr, photo) for only the fifth state and regional record. Westerly Purple Finches were singles in Caddo, OK 24 Dec (DL) and Keith, NE 5 Jan (SMl). Common Redpoll and Red Crossbill were both in surprisingly low numbers and only reported in Nebraska; totals were four Common Redpolls at three locations and 16 Red Crossbills also at only three locations (fide WRS). A few Lesser Goldfinch continue to appear eastward during winter; singles were in Cleveland, OK 29 Dec–13 Jan (JTp, RW) and Murray, OK 30 Jan (JL). An Eastern Towhee in Sarpy, NE 17 Jan (EB) was a mid-winter rarity there; another was northwest of expected winter range in Ellsworth, KS 11 Jan–15 Feb (MR). Lark Sparrows now fringe into southern Oklahoma during winter this season with two in Stephens 27 Dec (L&MT), and singles north to McClain 30 Dec (BM) and Oklahoma 16 Feb (BR). Wintering Chipping Sparrows now rarify in northern Oklahoma and Kansas, northernmost now reaching Nebraska with singles this season in Sarpy 24 Dec–12 Jan (L&BP) and Lancaster 2–14 Feb (M&CV). Fox Sparrows in Buffalo, NE 20 Jan (JN) and Beaver, OK 22 Feb (DHo) were westerly. In recent years, American Tree Sparrow has become scarce in central Oklahoma; thus noteworthy were singles in Tillman 23 Jan (JM, DHo) and Johnston 3 Feb (DW, TT), with four in Tulsa 10 Jan (BC). A Lincoln’s Sparrow wintering in Cass, NE was still present 17 Feb (WM), and a Swamp Sparrow in Nuckolls, NE 20–21 Feb (DE) was westerly for the date. Dark-eyed (Pink-sided) Junco is rare in eastern Nebraska; one was documented in a Lancaster yard 21 Jan (M&CV). Westerly Harris’s Sparrows were in Cherry, NE 11 Dec (WF) and a Scotts Bluff, NE yard 30 Dec–6 Feb (KD). Northerly for winter were single Vesper Sparrows at different locations in Osage, OK 9 Feb (JK) and 26 Feb (MD). A bit more winter-hardy, but still northerly were single Le Conte’s Sparrows in Pottawatomie, KS 10 Dec (JH), Reno, KS 24 Dec–19 Jan (JMi), and westerly in Beaver, OK 26 Feb (DHo).

Northerly Yellow-headed Blackbirds, rare in mid-winter, were in Hall, NE 27 Jan (RF) and at Hackberry Flat 14 Feb (L&MT, KMe). While it is difficult to identify meadowlarks to species in winter, Easterns in Nebraska are still a rare event; this season, they were identified at three Lancaster sites 4–26 Jan (M&CV, NAr). Western Meadowlarks wintering northerly were two in Cherry, NE 14 Jan (MC, SBo). Two Baltimore Orioles (male, female/immature) persisted to at least 5 Dec at a Hall, NE feeder (EWn, photo, fide JGJ). Rusty Blackbirds westerly were in Lincoln, NE 10 Feb (BE) with a surprising 75 in Kearny, KS 16 Dec (SSh). Another icterid unusually far north was Brewer’s Blackbird, with 30 apparently wintering in Garden, NE noted on 5 Jan (SMl, DE) and a surprising 120 there on 2 Feb (SMl). Another Brewer’s was in Lincoln, NE 12 Jan (BE).  A Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler was northerly in Brown, NE 27 Jan (JCo). Less hardy than its Myrtle counterpart, a Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warbler was a rare winter find at McConaughy 5 Jan (SMl, DE). Joining the tardy/northerly neotropic crowd were Summer Tanagers in Wyandotte, KS 2 Dec (DS) and Cleveland, OK 17 Dec (JBo), a Painted Bunting in Oklahoma, OK 8 Dec (CE), and a Dickcissel in Harvey, KS 5 Jan (GF).

Report processed by Randi Minetor 16 Mar 2021.

Photos–Southern Great Plains: Winter 2018-2019

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