Western Great Lakes: Winter 2021–2022

Winter 2021–2022: 1 Dec–28 Feb

William Marengo

Recommended citation:

Marengo, W.C. 2022. Winter 2021–2022: Western Great Lakes. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-dyu> North American Birds.

An Ivory Gull and a Tufted Duck were highlights gracing a season that, in regard to rarities, was fairly quiet. 

Sub-regional Compilers
Rob Pendergast (Wisconsin), Andrew Simon (Michigan), Ethan Urban (Michigan).

Abbreviations: Abbreviations: CP (County Park), L.P. (Lower Peninsula, MI), NL (National Lakeshore), NWR (National Wildlife Refuge), RA (Recreation Area), SGA (State Game Area), SNA (Scientific/State Natural Area), SP (State Park), SR (State Riverway), SWA (State Wildlife Area), Twp. (Township), U.P. (Upper Peninsula, MI), WPA (Waterfowl Production Area), WWTP (Wastewater Treatment Plant).

Geese through Ducks 

Scattered Snow and Greater White-fronted Geese lingered in MN through mid-December. Spring’s first spring migrant flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese were recorded 28 Feb. The last significant number of Tundra Swans in the region was in MN at the Upper Mississippi NWR in Houston Co, 2 Dec (Charlotte Pavelka). Otherwise, there were scattered overwintering reports of the species, mainly from along the Mississippi River and in the Twin Cities area. A Eurasian Green-winged Teal turned up in MI at the Rugg Pond Natural Area, Kalkaska Co, on 23 Dec (Scott Sneed, m.ob.) and continued throughout the season. This was the fourth state record of this subspecies. WI’s third state record Tufted Duck appeared at the Petroleum Pier, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Co from 26 Dec–8 Jan (Nathaniel and Steve Wagner). King Eider was documented from all three states within the region; in each of these, its status is casual. The first King was found in MN along Lake Pepin in Wabasha and Goodhue Cos, 8 Dec–2 Jan (Paul E. Jantscher, m.ob.). Presumably, this same individual was documented across the border in WI in Pepin Co on 31 Dec (Anne Geraghty, Renner Anderson). MI’s King Eider was at Lighthouse Park, Port Huron, St. Clair Co, from 24–31 Dec (Matt Parsons, m.ob.). 

In all three states, Harlequin Ducks occurred in numbers slightly above average: MN had two reports from along the Lake Superior shore; in WI, Harlequins were found along the Lake Michigan shoreline in five counties, and there were nine reports from MI. Surf Scoters, absent this season in MN, were reported from four WI counties; roughly 30 reports of the species came from MI. White-winged Scoters were reported from five inland MN counties—double the average—while in WI reports came from Lakes Michigan and Superior, with inland records from Dane and Jefferson Cos. In MI, they were reported in expected numbers, mostly from Lake Michigan, with high counts of 25–30 individuals in the southwestern part of the state. Black Scoters were reported twice from MN along the Mississippi River; in WI they were reported mostly along Lake Michigan with reports from three inland counties. In MI, the majority of the reports of this species came from the southwest part of the state. Long-tailed Ducks appeared in typical numbers in MN along Lake Superior and in four inland counties. In WI, inland reports were above average, and in MI, Long-tail concentrations reached the low thousands along the St. Clair River, St. Clair Co and along the LP’s Lake Michigan shore. 

Grouse through Gulls

Spruce Grouse reports in MN were more numerous than they’ve been for the last 10 years, coming from eight counties in the northeast and north-central reaches of the state. In WI, there were only two reports from Florence Co, where this species maintains a toehold; in MI, Spruce Grouse were reported in the U.P. from Marquette, Chippewa and Baraga counties. Sharp-tailed Grouse were reported in average numbers from 13 MN counties, ranging from the northeast to northwest. In MI’s eastern U.P., their numbers were nearly double the average. Greater Prairie-Chickens were reported from their usual range in northwest MN, as well as from their toehold in the Buena Vista Grasslands in WI; one exceptional report of 13 individuals came from Paul Olson SWA in Wood County, WI. Gray Partridge were widely reported in MN from the southern and northwestern parts of the state. In WI, there were no reports of the species, which reflects the ongoing downward trend there.

A Rufous Hummingbird from the fall that first appeared in a residential area of Duluth, St. Louis Co, MN lingered until 4 Dec (Laura Erickson, m.ob.).  A Virginia Rail overwintered in MN at the Old Cedar Ave. Bridge area of the Minnesota Valley NWR, Hennepin Co, from 15 Dec–28 Feb (m.ob.). This is the same area where the state’s previous winter record, in 2014, was recorded. MI’s second winter record of Sora was discovered at Cartier Park, Ludington, Mason Co 6 Jan (Brian Brosky, Joe Moloney, Mark Wloch). A Purple Sandpiper, casual in WI, appeared at Milwaukee’s McKinley Marina, Milwaukee Co, 22–23 Jan (Jessica Hilt). The region’s only Jaeger was an inland Pomarine reported in MN from Sherburne Co, 1 Dec (Paul L. Johnson, Mark Junghans, Jason Osowski). 

A season highlight was the Ivory Gull that appeared in Duluth, St. Louis Co, MN from 3–12 Jan (Charles Battaglia, Sam Holcomb, m.ob.). This individual was also observed from Superior, Douglas Co, WI from 4–9 Jan (m.ob.). The region’s lone Little Gull was at MI’s Pt. Mouillee SGA, Wayne Co 11–12 Dec (Robert Irwin, m.ob.). WI hosted a California Gull at Johnson Creek Landfill, Jefferson Co, 22 Jan (Caleb Frome, Neil Gilbert, Natalie Queally, Nate Shipley). In MN, Iceland Gulls were reported in average numbers with individuals at their typical areas along the Lake Superior shore, in the Twin Cities area, and along the Mississippi River. In WI they were seen most consistently along Lake Michigan and at the Dane Co and Johnson Creek Landfills. In MI there were numerous reports throughout, which is typical. 

Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present in average numbers in MN, being reported from five counties in the east-central part of the state, mostly during December. In WI, they were reported primarily from the state’s southeastern reaches; in MI, numbers were slightly above average, likely a reflection of this species’ westward expansion. MN had one Slaty-backed Gull that continued from the fall season at Lake Pepin, Wabasha Co, last seen 3 Dec (Paul E. Jantscher, m.ob.). WI had three Slaty-backed Gull reports: at the Dane County Landfill, Madison, Dane Co 8–31 Dec (Kathy Kershaw, Steve Thiessen); at the Johnson Creek Landfill, Jefferson Co, 24 Dec (Bob Honig, Kathy Kershaw, Wade Mapes, Steve Thiessen), and in Clyman, Dodge Co, 25 Dec (Dave Schrab). Both Glaucous and Great Black-backed gulls were reported in typical numbers from their usual areas in MN along the Lake Superior shore, in the Twin Cities and along the Mississippi River; in WI, numbers were consistent with those of previous years, coming from sites on Lake Michigan and landfills in the east and southeast; in MI, there were numerous reports throughout. 

Pelicans through Falcons

While not unusual for American White Pelicans to linger in this region early in the season, a MI high winter count of 82 at Sterling SP, Monroe Co 2 Jan (Skye Haas) was exceptional. A Black Vulture, accidental in MI during winter, was recorded from Troy, Oakland Co, 25 Feb (Andrew Simon). An Osprey, the third winter record for MI, was reported at Erie Marsh Preserve, Monroe Co, 4 Dec (Arnold Buehler, Ethan Urban). Golden Eagles in MN were present in slightly above average numbers, with reports coming from 18 counties, many of these along the Mississippi and Minnesota River valleys. WI reports came from the western side of the state, but the species went unrecorded in the northeast. In MI, where winter presence seems to be increasing, 25 individuals were reported.  

Two Barn Owls were reported, one from MN in Houston Co on 18 Jan (Karla Bloem), and the other directly across the WI border in LaCrosse Co on 18 Dec (Dan Jackson). In MN, Snowy Owls were reported from 45 counties, which is above average. WI had a banner winter for the species; several were reported across the state, with the eastern areas having the highest concentration. MI’s Snowy numbers were normal, with several individuals making it to the southern L.P. Just two Northern Hawk Owls were reported in MN, both along the Canadian border. One was documented in eastern Chippewa Co in MI’s U.P., which is a reliable winter haunt. MN reported typical numbers of Great Gray Owls in six counties in the northern areas. Long-eared Owl numbers were above average in MN and below average in MI, with reports from 14 and 7 counties, respectively. In MN and WI, Short-eared Owl numbers were above average, with WI having several reports from the southern two-thirds of the state. In MI, Short-eared numbers were average, with 74 individuals recorded. MN reported three Boreal Owls, Michigan one; WI had no records this season. 

The region’s only American Three-toed Woodpecker reports came from MN, where they were documented in two counties along the Ontario border. Black-backed Woodpeckers were also scarce in MN, with reports from only five counties along the Ontario border. None were reported from WI, reflecting their decline in the state. And in MI, three—below the season’s average of five—were reported in the U.P.’s Marquette Co. Two Gyrfalcons were reported, both from MI: one in U.P. near the Escanaba area, Delta Co, and a long-staying bird from Detroit, Wayne Co (John Fortener, m.ob.). MI’s sixth record of Prairie Falcon was reported in Macomb Co, 7–10 Jan (Beth and Gary Noren, m.ob.).

Flycatchers through Finches

WI’s 10th state record of Say’s Phoebe showed up at White Mound CP, Sauk Co, 20–26 Dec (Alex and Emerson Harman). Boreal Chickadees were present in their expected areas in northeast and north-central MN. While WI had zero reports, reflecting their decline, in MI the species was reported in typical numbers from the traditional area in western Marquette Co. Townsend’s Solitaires provided MN with its second highest season tally in over 10 years, with reports from 19 counties scattered from the extreme north to much of the southern half of the state. WI also had more solitaires than average this season, with reports from eight counties. MI had four reports—an average season. Varied Thrushes were reported from all three states in average to slightly above average frequency. Two Eurasian Tree Sparrows appeared at residential MN feeders, with one in Dassel, Meeker Co last seen 20 Feb that continued from the previous fall, and the other in Morton, Renville Co 28 Dec–4 Jan (Steve and Chris Hettig, m.ob.).

Reflecting a typical season, Evening Grosbeaks were reported from 11 MN counties, while WI’s decline continued, with reports from only six counties. MI numbers were normal. Pine Grosbeaks made a strong showing across the northern half of MN, while WI experienced a decent turnout; there, reports were mostly concentrated in the far north, but extended as far south and east as Manitowoc and Calumet counties. MI reported good numbers from both the U.P. and the northern third of the L.P. For the first time in more than 10 years, Common Redpolls were reported from all MN counties. In WI, Common Redpoll numbers were low at the start of the season but picked up eventually, with many reports of flocks over 100 individuals. MI reported the species from all counties. Similarly, Hoary Redpolls appeared in 59 MN counties—the most in over 10 years—and in WI they were reported in above average numbers, where they were widely scattered across most of the state, save the southwestern reaches. MI reports of Hoary Redpoll were scattered throughout the U.P. and L.P. Red Crossbills were reported in average numbers from MN, but in WI, reports were scattered and came mostly from the northern tier of the state. The species was scarce in MI. White-winged Crossbills were widespread across the region, with reports from 68 MN counties—three times the 10 year average—and in WI they were widespread across much of the state except for the southwest. In MI there were hundreds of reports from the L.P., mainly concentrated in the northwest.

Longspurs through Buntings

Accompanying the mild and warmer weather were a few notable lingering sparrows. A Lark Bunting, casual in MI, was reported at Harsens Island, St. Clair Co 5 Dec (Vikki and Cliff Jones, m.ob.). WI had a Harris’s Sparrow at a private residence in Thompson, Washington Co 24 Feb (Dharma Pack). Another infrequent winter species in WI, a Vesper Sparrow, was reported from Thayse Rd, Kewaunee Co 1 Jan (Jayson Giese). A Henslow’s Sparrow in Duluth Twp, St. Louis Co, MN on 14 Dec (Jim Lind, m.ob.) represents the region’s first winter record of the species. Winter is the season to find vagrant Spotted Towhees, and one was reported in WI at Ken Euers Wetland Preserve, Green Bay, Brown Co 10 Dec through the end of the period (James Johnson). A MI winter record of Western Meadowlark was found in Copper Harbor, Keweenaw Co 19 Dec–2 Jan (Ryne Rutherford, m.ob.). Baltimore Orioles lingered in WI, with three reports at private residences in La Crosse, La Crosse Co 7–8 Dec (Cheryl Groom), in Madison, Dane Co 1 Jan (Mike Murphy), and in Menomonee Falls, Waukesha Co 10–17 Dec (Tom Wood).

Ten species of warbler were reported in the region this winter, most of these, as usual, in December. In MI, an Ovenbird was at a residence in Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Co, 8–18 Dec. A Northern Waterthrush, WI’s third winter report, was at Myrick Marsh, La Crosse, La Crosse Co 18–30 Dec (m.ob.). The region’s second winter record of Tennessee Warbler was found at the Pine River Trail, Richland Center, Richland Co, WI on 18 Dec (Aaron Holschbach). Both WI and MI recorded Orange-crowned Warbler, which is rare during winter though reports have increased in recent years. The first WI bird was at the UW Lakeshore Preserve–Bill’s Woods, Madison, Dane Co 4 Dec (Douglas Beachy). The second report was from Hudson Park, Madison, Dane Co 18 Dec (Neil Gilbert, Caleb Frome, Nate Shipley), and the third came from a private residence in Madison, Dane Co Dec–28 Feb (Kim Kreitinger). MI’s Orange-crowned Warblers were at the Lower Harbor, Marquette Co 6 Dec–4 Jan (Ivan Wiljanen, m.ob.) and Pte. Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co 1 Jan (Andrew Simon, Lori Schutz).

WI had two Common Yellowthroats, another species that has become more common during the winter in recent years. One was from Muskrat Rd, Portage, Columbia Co 15 Dec (Aaron Holschbach); the second was documented at Riverside Park, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Co 17–23 Dec (Jim Frank). Cape May Warbler tied with Orange-crowned for the title of the most abundant rare warbler this winter. Both WI and MI recorded two individuals each. One WI bird was at a private residence in Mukwonago, Waukesha Co 17 Dec (Nick Mimer) and the other was at Quarry Park, Madison, Dane Co 5–19 Jan (m.ob.); WI has fewer than ten winter records of this species. Both MI birds were at private residences: the first came from Osceola Co 1 Dec (Roger Hagerman), and the second from Berrien Springs, Berrien Co 5 Jan (David and Paula Lawrence).

MI’s second winter record of Northern Parula came from Ann Arbor, Washtenaw Co in early Dec (Andrew and Jennifer Ayala). With fewer than ten previous winter records, a WI Black-throated Blue Warbler was recorded at Whitefish Dunes SP, Whitefish Bay, Door Co 31 Dec (Matthew Wojtyla). A Pine Warbler, casual during winter in WI, made an appearance at Veteran’s Park, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Co 18–19 Dec (Mark Korducki, Nathaniel Wegner, Greg Ongie). A Western Tanager, which is on WI’s review list, was photographed at a private residence in Racine, Racine Co 22 Dec–8 Jan. WI also had one Rose-breasted Grosbeak in Shoto, Manitowoc Co 18 Jan–24 Feb (Tom and Betsy Blitz).

Report processed by Alison Világ, 03 Jul 2022. 

Photos–Western Great Lakes: Winter 2021–2022

This Ivory Gull, photographed here on 7 Jan 2022, first appeared in Minnesota at Duluth’s Park Point on 3 Jan and was observed through the 12th. Over the course of its stay, this lovely arctic visitor crossed several times into adjacent Superior in Douglas County, Wisconsin. Photo © Dave Prentice.

Michigan’s sixth ever Prairie Falcon was found on a stretch of road in the southern Lower Peninsula’s Macomb Co. It was present from 7–10 Jan, and represents Michigan’s first winter record of the species. Photographed here on 7 Jan 2022. Photo © Caleb Putnam.

This ventral shot of Michigan’s Prairie Falcon highlights the clean breast spotting and diagnostic, dark axillaries. 7 Jan 2022. Photo © Caleb Putnam.

King Eiders are casual throughout the Western Great Lakes region, and inland records are particularly exceptional. This individual was found in Minnesota on 8 Dec 2021 at the Mississippi River’s Lake Pepin. It continued through 3 Jan 2022, and frequented both Minnesota and Wisconsin waters. It was photographed here on 31 Dec 2021. Photo © Todd Mitchell.

Michigan’s third winter Lark Bunting was a one-day wonder, appearing on 5 Dec 2021 in St. Clair Co. Photo © Andrew Simon.

This Say’s Phoebe, discovered and photographed here on 20 Dec 2021, provided Wisconsin with its 10th state record. It lingered through 26 Dec. Photo © Alex Harman.

Although still casual in Minnesota, Eurasian Tree Sparrow has now been recorded in the state for eight consecutive years. This individual, photographed on 29 Jan 2022 in Meeker Co, continued from the previous fall and was last seen on 20 Feb 2022. Photo © Demelza Larson.