Western Great Lakes: Winter 2022–2023

Winter 2022–2023: 1 Dec–28 Feb

Ethan Urban

Recommended citation:

Urban, E. 2023. Winter 2022–2023: Western Great Lakes. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-fwq> North American Birds.

This mostly unremarkable winter season was warmer than average, and included a few notable rarities such as Ivory Gull, multiple Slaty-backed Gulls, Yellow-billed Loon, and Prairie Falcon. It was a poor winter for Snowy Owl and, with the exception of Evening Grosbeaks, winter finches. Note that many of the casual and accidental species have yet to be reviewed by their respective records committees. This report will be updated accordingly as the committees review the records.

Sub-regional Compilers

William Marengo (Minnesota), Andrew Simon (Michigan), Dar Tiede (Wisconsin).

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), WTP (Wastewater Treatment Plant).

Waterfowl through Grouse

A Eurasian Wigeon, casual in MI, was found at St. John’s Marsh, St. Clair Co 26 Feb (Vikki Jones, m.ob.) and continued into the spring season. Harlequin Ducks were reported from eight MI counties—above the winter average—and in WI and MN, they were reported from five counties and one county, respectively. Of note was the individual that spend the winter inland near Taylors Falls, MN.

Surf Scoter was absent this season in MN, but present in four WI and 12 MI counties, which is typical for both states. White-winged Scoters were reported from four counties in MN, which is slightly more widespread than average in winter. In WI, this species was reported from eleven counties, with a maximum of 31 individuals. In MI, White-winged Scoters were present in 23 counties, which is average; Justin Labadie recorded a Lake Erie high count of 107 at Luna Pier, Monroe Co., on 11 Dec. In WI, Black Scoters were observed in small numbers from four counties; in MI, they were reported from 13 counties which is an average distribution. This species was absent in MN. Long-tailed Ducks were present in above average numbers in MN, being recorded from nine counties. In WI, numbers and distribution were slightly below average, with ten counties and a maximum of 800 individuals reported. In MI, Long-tailed Ducks usually concentrate in the St. Clair River, but with average ice cover on the Great Lakes the fourth-lowest in the last half-century, waterfowl were more dispersed than they are in some winters. Long-tailed Ducks were observed in 37 Michigan counties, which is an average distribution.

An average number of Spruce Grouse reports came from both MN (eight northern counties) and MI (two U.P. counties) this season. Spruce Grouse went unreported this winter in WI, which is typical. In MI, Sharp-tailed Grouse concentrations and populations seem to be increasing throughout the eastern U.P.; a high count of 56 was recorded in eastern Chippewa Co. In MN, Sharp-tails were reported from thirteen northern counties, which is typical. Greater Prairie-Chickens were observed in five northwestern MN counties and three counties in central WI, which is typical. A high count of 117 individuals was tallied at the Buena Vista Grasslands, Portage Co. Gray Partridge was reported from 34 MN counties—the most in over a decade.

Doves through Gulls

A White-winged Dove lingered from fall at a residential feeder in MI in Cheboygan, Cheboygan Co, and was last reported 3 Dec (Michael Turisk). Virginia Rail, an unseasonable find in winter in Wisconsin, was reported from two counties: one to three individuals 9 Dec–11 Jan in Columbia Co (m.ob.); four individuals at on 31 Dec at Pickerel Lake Fen, Walworth Co (Eric Howe). In MI, this species is an uncommon but regular winter bird, and is increasing in the southern part of the state. MI’s Southern Lapwing, which was first noted in late Jun 2022, continued through 22 Dec in Iosco Co. 5 Dec proved a productive day for shorebirds in WI: WI’s first winter record of Semipalmated Plover was found in Sauk Co (Aaron Holschbach), and in Manitowoc Co, a Purple Sandpiper, casual in the state, was documented along Lake Michigan (Charles Sontag). Not to be left out, MI birders found the state’s first winter record of White-rumped Sandpiper at Shiawassee NWR, Saginaw Co, on 16 Dec (Ryan Dziedzic, Samuel Stankiewicz).

This winter was a good one for gulls, with several review species reported from all three states. Black-legged Kittiwakes were reported from all three states. The species is casual in MN, where one was at Lake Pepin, Wabasha Co 16 Dec (Paul Jantscher). It is also casual in WI, where one frequented Port Washington, Ozaukee Co 8–17 Dec (Jim Frank, m.ob.); four individuals provided a first for Grant Co at Eagle Point 18 Dec (Emerson Harmon); and one more was at Lake Columbia, Columbia Co 31 Dec–12 Jan (Al Shea, m.ob.). MI recorded four during the season. MI’s third Ivory Gull made a brief appearance in the U.P.’s Keweenaw Peninsula at Chassell Boat Launch, Houghton Co on 4–5 Jan (Dean Grasso). A potential Short-billed Gull, casual in MI, was photographed on Lake Michigan at Tiscornia Park, Berrien Co, on 25 Feb (Tim Baerwald, m.ob.). A California Gull, casual in WI, frequented the Johnson Creek Landfill, Jefferson Co from 1–3 Dec (Steve Thiessen, m.ob.). MI hosted its first “Vega” Herring Gull in Canton, Wayne Co 10–17 Dec (Andy Dettling, m.ob). This subspecies is a candidate for a split in the future.

Iceland Gulls made an average showing in all three states, being reported in seven MN counties, 16 WI counties, and 25 MI counties; both Thayer’s and Kumliens were observed throughout the region. Southeast MI continues to host the region’s largest numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull, which is increasing there. This season’s high count was 35. Just one of this species was reported from MN, and in WI, they were reported from 12 counties, which is typical. Slaty-backed Gulls, which seem to be becoming more regular throughout the region, were reported from MI and WI, where they are casual. The WI record was on 5 Dec at UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve, Dane Co (Tyler Beames), and in MI, individuals were reported at Muskegon Wastewater, Muskegon Co in early Dec (m.ob.) and at Grace Lake (Visteon Pond), Wayne Co 26–28 Dec (Woody Goss, m.ob.). Glaucous Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls were reported in average numbers from all three states, occurring in the highest numbers in MI.

Loons through Falcons

Red-throated Loons wintered in typical numbers around Lake Michigan, being reported from six counties in WI. One Pacific Loon made an appearance in WI, where it was found along the Wisconsin River in Sauk Co 22 Dec (Aaron Holschbach, Melody Walsh). Another highlight for the season, an accidental Yellow-billed Loon, was reported in MN at Lake Bde Maka Ska, Hennepin Co 3 Dec (David House, m.ob.). This was the seventh record for the state. A Black-crowned Night-Heron, rare during winter in WI, was observed in Onalaska, La Crosse Co 31 Dec (Claire Meany).

The region’s only Black Vulture this season was an individual in Harrisville, Alcona Co, MI, on 18 Feb (Tom Heatley, Christine Brackett). This was the state’s sixth winter record. Golden Eagles showed well in all three states, and in MI, where this species is being detected more frequently, they were reported from 25 counties—above average. Throughout the region, Snowy Owl numbers were low: they were reported in just 14 MN counties, which is fewer than any winter in the last decade, and MI and WI birders also recorded below average numbers. The only reported Northern Hawk Owl was in Sax-Zim Bog in northern MN—lower than expected. Three Great Gray Owls were reported: two in northern MN and one in eastern Chippewa Co, MI. Long-eared Owls also seemed scarcer in MN than they’ve been in over a decade, showing in only six counties; the species was not reported this season in WI. It was an average season for Short-eared Owl in MI and WI, with reports coming from 19 and 24 counties, respectively, while MN reported this species in below average numbers.

An American Three-toed Woodpecker, casual in MI, was observed in theU.P.’s Keweenaw Peninsula at Le Chance Creek, Houghton Co, on 17 Dec (Drew Meyer). In MN, this species was present in the expected northeast and north-central areas, as was Black-backed Woodpecker. In MI, Black-backed Woodpeckers were found in average numbers, with one at Munuscong WMA in eastern Chippewa Co being slightly out of range. A Prairie Falcon, accidental in WI, was documented in Iowa Co 16 Dec (Jacob Drucker, Josh Engel); it was the state’s second winter record.

Flycatchers through Finches

WI’s second winter record of Say’s Phoebe was found in Dodge Co on 7 Dec (Scott Olson). WI also produced a Black-billed Magpie, casual, at Rice Lake, Barron Co 1 Dec (Mark Miles). Boreal Chickadees were found in their typical areas throughout the region, including north-central and northeast MN, Forest Co in WI, and MI’s U.P. The four individuals reported along the Lake Huron coast of eastern Mackinac Co, MI, were less expected. It was an average winter season for Townsend’s Solitaires, which were reported from fifteen MN counties, five WI counties, and two MI counties. The same applies to Varied Thrush, which also was reported in average numbers throughout the region. Eurasian Tree Sparrow, soon to be considered regular in MN, was reported throughout the winter in Dakota, Goodhue, and Meeker counties.

This winter, finch numbers varied. Evening Grosbeaks showed strongly in all three states: MN produced reports from 15 counties—an above average number—WI had reports from a record high 26 counties, and MI experienced an irruption. There, the species was reported from 48 counties, with several individuals documented in the southern L.P. Pine Grosbeaks were common in MI’s U.P., while WI and MN reported average numbers of the species. Common Redpoll numbers were lower than average in all three states, being reported from 35 MN counties, 32 WI counties, and 44 MI counties. Hoary Redpoll was only reported from MN, where it was found in four northern counties. Red Crossbills were reported in below average numbers in MN and MI, but were average in WI. White-winged Crossbills were even scarcer this season regionally, keeping to northern MN and MI’s U.P.

Longspurs through Buntings

The mild weather this season facilitated interesting passerine discoveries. WI hosted its first winter record of Grasshopper Sparrow in Milwaukee Co 12 Dec (Larson Birdsong); MI’s third winter record of Lark Sparrow was reported from Marquette, Marquette Co 17 Dec (Scot Stewart); and a Vesper Sparrow was reported in MI at Pte. Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co 16 Dec (Bruce Arnold, Arnold Buehler). MN’s latest-ever LeConte’s Sparrow was reported from Minnesota Valley NWR, Hennepin Co, on 17 Dec (Elizabeth Steiner). Two Spotted Towhees were reported in Wisconsin, where they are casual: the first was in Milwaukee Co from 4–18 Dec (Brad Bumgardner, m.ob.)., and the second came from Clark Co on 1 Feb (Roxana Reitz).

Seven species of warbler were reported regionally this winter. Two Ovenbirds were found in southeastern MI: one at Lafayette Park, Wayne Co 5 Dec (Karl Overman), and the other at Heritage Park, Oakland Co 8–9 Dec (Nancy Bogart, m.ob.). An Orange-crowned Warbler, casual in MI during winter, was reported from Lansing, Ingham Co 15 Dec (Pam Rasmussen). WI’s third winter record of Yellow Warbler came from Coal Dock Park, Ozaukee Co 19 Dec (Alex Mann). Two Summer Tanagers were reported this season, one in WI at Weston, Marathon Co from 4–19 Dec (Stephanie Nagel, m.ob.), and the other in MN at a residential feeder in Anoka Co on 2 Dec (Mark Junghans), the eighth winter record for the state. An Indigo Bunting, accidental in MI during winter, was present at a residential feeder in Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Co from 26 Jan–4 Feb (Aaron and, Susi Trolear).

Report processed by Alison Világ, 27 Jun 2023.

Photos–Western Great Lakes: Winter 2022–2023

Minnesota’s seventh Yellow-billed Loon appeared in downtown Minneapolis on Lake Bde Maka Ska 3 Dec 2022. Birders attempting to re-find it the following day were disappointed to discover the lake had iced over and the loon had departed. Photo © Michael Sack.

This “Vega” Herring Gull, a first for Michigan, was discovered on 10 Dec 2022 at a golf course near Canton. It remained through 17 Dec, and is shown here on 12 Dec. Photo © Andy Dettling.

Wisconsin produced six Black-legged Kittiwakes during winter 2022-23. This one, found on 31 Dec at Lake Columbia, represents one of just a handful of records inland from the Great Lakes. It lingered through 12 Jan, and is shown here on 7 Jan. Photo © Ted Keyel.

This California Gull, found and photographed here on 2 Dec 2022, stayed for just two days in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin. Photo © Derek Sallmann.