Wyoming: Winter 2016–2017

Winter 2016–2017: 1 Dec–28 Feb

Matthew Fraker

Recommended citation:

Franker, M. 2021. Winter 2016–2017: Wyoming. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-apE> North American Birds.

December 2016 temperatures in Wyoming were “Below Normal” statewide, being the 17th coldest December in 122 years of data. Of the 10 climate divisions, temperatures were “Normal” in one, “Below Normal” in four, and “Much Below Normal” in five. January 2017 temperatures in Wyoming remained “Below Normal” statewide, being the 32nd coldest January in 123 years of data. Of the 10 climate divisions, seven were “Below Normal” and three were “Normal.” Things warmed up quickly in February 2017, going “Above Normal” statewide as the 15th warmest February in 123 years. Divisionally, eight were “Above Normal” and two were “Much Above Normal.”

December 2016 precipitation in Wyoming was even wetter than the temps were cold. Statewide precipitation was “Much Above Normal” as the sixth wettest December in 122 years. Six divisions were “Much Above Normal” and four were “Above Normal.” January continued the “Much Above Normal” heavy precipitation trend being the eighth wettest January in 123 years. Two divisions were “Normal,” five were “Above Normal,” and three were “Much Above Normal.” Not to be outdone, February was the wettest of the three winter months, continuing “Much Above Normal” statewide as the fifth wettest February in 123 years. Eight climate divisions were “Much Above Normal” while one was “Normal,” and one was “Below Normal.”

Wyoming’s drought status entered the winter in good shape and finished February in excellent shape with no areas in D4 (Extreme Drought) or D5 (Exceptional Drought). Drought categories were as follows (by state area percentage):

No drought:                        Dec 43% to Feb 85%

D0 (Abnormally Dry):        Dec 40% to Feb 5%

D1 (Moderate Drought):  Dec 15% to Feb 10%

D2 (Severe Drought):        Dec 2% to Feb 0%

The main distributional trend for the season seemed to be the earlier arrival of waterfowl (at least six species) during the abnormally warm February. However non-waterfowl water birds such as American White Pelicans, Pied-billed Grebes, Virginia Rail, and Sandhill Cranes continued to make wintering inroads into the state. Otherwise, it was a winter of a handful of unseasonal finds that were not exceptionally rare.


Tiffany Almonte (TA), Nathaniel Biel (NB), John Cataldo (JC), Doug Eddy (DE), Shawn Goodchild (SG), Bob Harris (BH), Zach Hutchinson (ZH), Don Jones (DJ), Libby Megna (LM), Del Nelson (DN), Jen Ottinger (JO), Cody Porter (CP), Chuck Seniawski (CS), Mike Toth (MT), Tina Toth (TT).

A Ross’s Goose reported and photographed in Riverton, Fremont 15 Dec (DN) was the sixth winter report and 11th winter individual for Wyoming. Wyoming’s ninth winter Blue-winged Teal, and first for Feb, was an individual found 19 Feb near Cheyenne, Laramie (CS). Wyoming Canvasbacks have historically been very rare in winter with general arrivals in mid-Mar. For the last two years, Canvasbacks have returned to Wyoming, mostly in the SE, in fairly solid numbers by mid-Feb (just about 40 total birds in 2017) (m. ob.). Like Canvasbacks, the Wyoming Redhead spring swell—historically an early Mar occurrence mostly in the SE, for the last three years has clearly begun in late Feb (m. ob.). Wyoming Ring-necked Ducks have been newly abundant for the last two years in Wyoming during Jan and Feb, with a record eBird count for the state of about 400 birds being reported 15 Jan from Gray Reef Reservoir, Natrona (ZH). Rare in the state year-round, an adult male Greater Scaup reported from Gray Reef Reservoir, Natrona 15 Jan (ZH) was the third time in the last four winters that Greater Scaup have been reported from this location. With generally not even an annual winter presence, Wyoming’s total of at least 16 Pied-billed Grebe around the state was a very large tally for the winter season (m. ob.). An Eared Grebe at the Dave Johnson Power Plant, Glenrock, Converse 8–19 Jan (TA, JO) was only the fourth Jan report for Wyoming. For the second winter in a row, and very rare in Wyoming for the season, a Virginia Rail was roaming the Mammoth Hot Springs area of YNP, Park 14 Jan (JC) suggesting a possible “warm springs” overwintering location for the species. For the sixth year out of the last nine (see Wyoming S.A. Winter 2015–16), Fremont, Wyoming hosted up to 13 Sandhill Cranes near Riverton 27 Dec—10 Jan (DN) at their only known Wyoming wintering grounds. Wyoming’s sole winter report of Common Loon was a bird at Gray Reef Reservoir, Natrona 11 Dec—30 Jan (ZH). For the second winter in a row, Wyoming hosted overwintering American White Pelicans near Alcova Dam, Natrona with three birds present 11 Dec—30 Jan (ZH, DJ).

A Sage Thrasher discovered at Gray Reef Reservoir, Natrona 30 Jan (SG) provided Wyoming’s fourth winter record of this species.

Common Redpolls were very scarce in Wyoming for this winter period with only eight reports, seven of which involved a total of 18 birds, and the eighth report tallying a flock of 35 (m. ob.). Wyoming’s only White-winged Crossbill report was of a single bird near Brooklyn Lake, Albany 12 Feb (CP, NB). Surprisingly underreported in Wyoming, this winter saw several decent reports of Lapland Longspurs including an estimated flock of about 150 near Laramie, Albany 24 Feb (DE, CP, NB) which provided a record high eBird count for the state. White-crowned Sparrows, considered fairly rare in Wyoming in winter; especially after the CBC season, had a big winter in Wyoming with eight reports involving 78 birds, including 55 from a single CBC at Riverton, Fremont 27 Dec (BH, DJ). Wyoming’s sixth winter Swamp Sparrow was found at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Albany from 5 Jan (DJ) through 22 Feb (NB, DE, CP, LM). Wyoming’s 20th and 21st Rusty Blackbirds (10th and 11th for winter) were found 10 Dec in East Ten Sleep, Washakie (MT, TT) and in Laramie, Albany 25 Feb (NB, DE, CP). Rather rare in Wyoming in winter due to their cold intolerance, Common Grackles had a big winter in Wyoming with five reports involving 18 birds (m. ob.). Expected with the recent range expansions over the last several years but still surprising was the presence of 10–14 Great-tailed Grackles in Laramie, Albany (NB, DE, CP), providing only the second winter report for Wyoming.

Report processed by José R. Ramírez-Garofalo, 1 Apr 2021.