Manitoba Christmas Bird Counts – December 2016 – January 2017
Reports compiled by Rudolf Koes and Robert Parsons
By Rudolf Koes: Seventeen Christmas Bird Counts were held in Manitoba between 14 December 2016 and 4 January 2017 in, generally, very cold conditions. Counts covered the southern portion of the province, but were also held in northern locations, such as Cranberry Portage, The Pas and Thompson.
Brandon and Winnipeg shared top honours with totals of 48 species each, with both counts adding another two species during count week. Notwithstanding the cold conditions, many observers ventured out and were rewarded with some interesting birds.
Waterfowl were scarce, with the most noteworthy sightings being a Lesser Scaup at Winnipeg, single Hooded Mergansers at Minnedosa and Winnipeg, and a Common Merganser on the Oak Hammock Marsh count (with a count week bird at Pinawa – Lac du Bonnet). Willow Ptarmigan was reported count week at Thompson; Hodgson had the best Sharp-tailed Grouse numbers, at 137. Wild Turkey tallies of 97 at Brandon and 67 at Glenboro – Spruce Woods were noteworthy.
Bald Eagles numbers continue to increase in early winter. The highest counts were eight at Balmoral, five at Winnipeg and four at Pinawa – Lac du Bonnet. Like Bald Eagles, increasing numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawks winter in the province. Brandon had three, Delta one, Glenboro – Spruce Woods one, Winnipeg one (a bird at Pinawa – Lac du Bonnet was seen count week).
Cooper’s Hawk is much rarer in winter, but one was at Brandon and one was photographed at Winnipeg. Also rare were two Red-tailed Hawks at Winnipeg. It was a good year for lingering Rough-legged Hawks; seven were found at Winnipeg and other reports came from Delta, Glenboro – Spruce Woods, Minnedosa and Oak Hammock Marsh. Golden Eagles at Brandon and Cypress River – Spruce Woods added spice to those counts.
It was a rather quiet year for owls. Snowies were in short supply and only seen at Balmoral, Brandon, Cypress River – Spruce Woods, Gimli, Oak Hammock Marsh and Winnipeg. Northern Hawk Owls were at Gimli and Pinawa – Lac du Bonnet (count week), while Great Grays were seen at Hodgson, Pinawa – Lac du Bonnet and The Pas (count week birds were at Thompson and Whiteshell).
Red-bellied Woodpeckers continued their strong showing from the fall. They were found at Brandon, Delta, Morden (two), Oak Hammock Marsh and Winnipeg (two). Gyrfalcons are among the most iconic of winter birds, and birders at Glenboro – Spruce Woods, Oak Hammock Marsh and Pinawa – Lac du Bonnet were lucky to see them.
Common Ravens are thriving; Winnipeg had a record-high count of 301. The only report of Golden-crowned Kinglet came from Hodgson. It is a wonder how these tiny sprites survive. Minnedosa had a Varied Thrush, while another one at Winnipeg was seen only during count week. Also rare were a Townsend’s Solitaire at Winnipeg and a Brown Thrasher at Balmoral. Winnipeg enjoyed a fine incursion of Bohemian Waxwings, with 2766 reported (By late January they seemed to have vanished, after stripping all the mountain ash of berries).
A Spotted Towhee at Winnipeg was the rarest of the sparrows reported on the counts, but also noteworthy were a Harris’s Sparrow at Brandon, a White-crowned Sparrow at Glenboro – Spruce Woods and a Fox Sparrow at Winnipeg. Unprecedented numbers of Purple Finches lingered, with best counts of 46 at Brandon, 62 at Cypress River – Spruce Woods, 130 at Glenboro- Spruce Woods and a staggering 382 at Pinawa – Lac du Bonnet.
Counts in the west of the province also recorded high numbers of American Goldfinches: 203 were at Cypress River – Spruce Woods and 404 were at Glenboro – Spruce Woods. And finally, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow which had graced the Winnipeg count in the past two years did not show up on count day, but was seen during count week.
By Robert Parsons: The CBC count period was preceded by an intense cold snap in early December, combined with heavy snow accumulation, which persisted into the period, resulting in lower than usual party hours and may have been responsible for the loss of at least one count. Counts held later in the period had milder temperatures.
Twenty counts were held this year, a decrease of one. A new count from Whiteshell was offset by the loss of the Lyleton CBC and the near loss of Thompson. The latter count was held, but the effort and species count are too low to be meaningful and aren’t discussed below. A new compiler stepped forward very close to count period with little organization time and so we are hoping for a better result next year and perhaps the return of the Lyleton count as well. Sadly, these counts reflect a continuing decline in participants on most Manitoba CBCs.
A total of 81 species were on count days across the province, down five from last year, including a Ring-necked Pheasant, probably not from an established population, at Brandon; plus two count-week only species (seen on at least one of the three days before or the three days after the count, but not on count day itself), American White Pelican at Selkirk and the long-staying Eurasian Tree Sparrow at Winnipeg.
Winnipeg retained top spot this year at 48 species, three more than last year’s total, edging out Brandon’s 47, followed by Glenboro-Spruce Woods (38), with Pinawa-Lac du Bonnet & Cypress River-Spruce Woods, both at 37, rounding out the top five. The lowest totals were recorded at Whiteshell (12), Inglis (16), The Pas (17), Cranberry Portage (18) and a tie for fifth lowest between Carman & Dauphin at 25 species.
Only four species were seen on every count, Downy & Hairy Woodpecker, Common Raven and Black-capped Chickadee. In the almost everywhere category were Blue Jay (missed at Cranberry Portage), Black-billed Magpie (missed at Whiteshell) and Red-breasted Nuthatch (missed at The Pas).
The following species, not mentioned elsewhere, were found on one count only: Lesser Scaup at Winnipeg; Common Merganser at Oak Hammock; Cooper’s Hawk at Winnipeg (nicely photographed by Garry Budyk), a species fairly often reported, but seldom withstanding scrutiny; Red-tailed Hawk (two) at Winnipeg; Boreal Owl at Riding Mountain; Northern Flicker at Winnipeg (in a very poor winter for this species); Townsend’s Solitaire at Winnipeg; Brown Thrasher at Balmoral; Lapland Longspur (two) at Carman; American Tree Sparrow at Brandon; Fox Sparrow at Winnipeg; White-crowned Sparrow at Glenboro; Harris’s Sparrow at Brandon; Spotted Towhee at Winnipeg; and Red-winged Blackbird at Selkirk.
The cold weather had pushed out most water-related birds by count period.
Gray Partridges were in good numbers, totalling 811 on twelve counts.
Sharp-shinned Hawks totalled at least six over four counts. Rough-legged Hawks reached 13 on five counts, including an impressive seven in Winnipeg.
Eurasian Collared-Doves numbered 41 on four counts (plus a count week bird at Carman), including an impressive 23 at Glenboro, by far their highest total yet on Manitoba CBCs.
It was a great winter for Red-bellied Woodpecker, numbering seven over five counts, including two each at Winnipeg (very much under-counted) and Morden; and singles at Brandon, Delta Marsh (same bird for several year years running) and Oak Hammock.
A total of 2,766 Bohemian Waxwings in Winnipeg was a fine total, about two thirds of the provincial CBC total of 3,642, but far from being a record.
House Finches totalled a mere 376 across all counts, with Brandon’s total of 118 actually exceeding Winnipeg’s 105. Winnipeg compiler Rudolf Koes has noted a recent, continuing decline for this species.
The winter of 2016/17 could quite accurately be described as the winter of the Purple Finch, especially in much of eastern Manitoba, typified by their total of 382 at Pinawa, exceeding the Pinawa total of “only” 241 Evening Grosbeaks, unheard of on a Pinawa CBC and unthinkable only a few years back. More impressively, their numbers continued to build as winter progressed—had the counts been held a few weeks later, their numbers would have been even greater than the 743 total over 15 counts.
All Manitoba CBCs can be viewed on the National Audubon Society website and I can also provide an Excel file of all the counts to anyone requesting it. Thank you to all compilers and everyone who took part.