Northern Winter Birding Season 2009-2010
Canada, Iceland, Saint-Pierre et Michelon
14 March 2010
The birding this past winter season in Canada was less exciting than normal. With two exceptions (see Manitoba and Quebec, below) every province recorded winter season species totals that were lower than average. Here are some possible reasons for this:
- The active El Niño circulation in the Pacific caused Canada to experience its warmest and driest winter since 1948. Precipitation was down by nearly 25%, and the average temperatures were 4 degrees Celcius above normal. The Arctic had its warmest winter ever.
- Wild food was easier for birds to access, and most feeder-watchers reported less activity at their feeding stations.
- There were few irruptions of northern owls and finches.
- Though twitchers did have good birds to chase, there were not as many rarities as a typical winter.
- The first day of the winter birding season, Dec. 1, fell on a Monday, which meant that, in most areas, the concerted search for winter birds did not begin until the first Saturday of December, six days into the winter season, by which time an early cold snap had pushed waterfowl further south, and likely removed many “half-hard autumn lingerers”.
- The first day of the Christmas Bird Count period also fell on a Monday, which meant that most counts were held later in December than is usual, reducing the number of species recorded.
Here are the links to the Winter Birding web pages for all ten Canadian provinces, as well as the French islands of Saint-Pierre et Michelon, and the country of Iceland.
PROVINCES FROM EAST TO WEST:
Newfoundland and Labrador: http://tinyurl.com/2jqo5p
129 species. Highlights: Northern Lapwing (3 separate birds); Yellow-legged Gull (2); Slaty-backed Gull; +++ Ivory Gulls; White-winged Dove (1st winter record); Redwing.
There were sufficient gaps between winter storms to allow Newfoundland birders to locate a good variety of rare and regular species, though slightly fewer than in recent years. The province continues to offer superb gull watching in the St. John’s area, but that may change soon, and there are plans to stop pumping sewage in the harbour. And rumours are floating about that authorities might consider changing landfill practices at the famous St. John’s garbage dump. Both actions make sense environmentally, but would cause much anguish to gull-watchers.
Nova Scotia: http://tinyurl.com/nswinter
181 species. (average = 195). Highlights: Red Phalarope (3rd winter record); Empidomax flycatcher sp.; Prairie Warbler (2nd winter record); Spotted Towhee (1st winter record, 2nd provincial record). Big Misses: Northern Fulmar, Spruce Grouse (resident), Red Knot, White-crowned Sparrow.
We’ve been keeping track of Nova Scotia’s winter birds since 1996, and the total this past winter tied the lowest previous total, set in 1998/99. Almost every observer was complaining about the scarcity of birds. The mood was glum.
Prince Edward Island: http://tinyurl.com/peiwinter
107 species (average = 113). Highlights: Cattle Egret (2nd winter record); Broad-winged Hawk (2nd winter record); Black-legged Kittiwake (1st winter record). Big Misses: Sharp-tailed Grouse (resident, introduced).
A soft winter made it hard to find winter specialties, and kept the province’s total below the long-term average.
New Brunswick: http://tinyurl.com/nbwinter (updated 12 Feb)
151 species (average = 162). Highlights: Virginia Rail (1st winter record); Marsh Wren (2nd winter record); Ovenbird (2nd winter record); Lark Sparrow (2nd winter record). Big Misses: Wilson’s Snipe; Carolina Wren; American Pipit.
A dearth of rarities kept the province’s total well below the long-term average.
178 species (10 year average = 166, not including exotics). Highlights: Pacific Loon (1st winter record); Great Egret (2nd winter record); Black Vulture (1st winter record); Barnacle Goose (1st winter record); Rock Ptarmigan (1st winter record); Arctic Tern (1st winter record); White-winged Dove (1st winter record); Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1st winter record).
Quebec birders took advantage of the mild winter to really explore their large province, and ended up with one of their highest totals to date. They added seven species to their 10-year cumulative winter list.
191 species. Highlights: Barnacle Goose (2nd winter record); Yellow-billed Loon (2nd winter record); Black-tailed Gull (2nd winter record); Ivory Gull; Phainopepla (2nd provincial and Canadian record, 1st Canadian winter record); Northern Waterthrush (2nd winter record). Big Misses: Eurasian Wigeon; Yellow-headed Blackbird.
The province had fewer species than the previous two winters, but managed to surpass the Nova Scotia total for the first time. The Phainopepla took pride of place, of course, and attracted many admirers.
109 species (average = 99). Highlights: Wood Duck (2nd winter record); Greater Scaup (1st winter record); Common Loon (2nd winter record); Western Grebe (1st winter record); Sora (1st winter record); Thayer’s Gull (1st winter record); Lincoln’s Sparrow (2nd winter record); Swamp Sparrow (2nd winter record); Yellow-headed Blackbird (2nd winter record); Brambling (1st winter record; 2nd provincial record).
Manitoba birders pulled out all the stops in the first few days of December, and their diligence was rewarded when they achieved the highest total since they started keeping records nine years ago. And equally as important – for the first time they bettered the total of their provincial rival, Saskatchewan.
100 species (average = 111) - Highlights: Wood Duck (1st winter record); Sandhill Crane (2nd winter record); Rustic Bunting (1st provincial record, 2nd Canadian record); Rose-breasted Grosbeak (2nd winter record); Baltimore Oriole (1st winter record). Big Miss: American Three-toed Woodpecker
Perhaps if Saskatchewan birders knew how determined their Manitoba neighbours were they might have pushed harder in the first days of December. But, alas, they didn’t, and struggled to reach 100 species, the lowest total since they started winter listing 8 years ago. But there was a great consolation prize in one of the rarest birds across the country this winter.
136 species (average = 142). Highlights: Cape May Warbler (3rd winter record); Green-tailed Towhee (1st Canadian winter record); Lincoln’s Sparrow (1st winter record). Big Miss: Red-breasted Merganser.
Alberta turned in a slightly lower than normal performance, no doubt due to a paucity of rarities, though the Green-tailed Towhee was outstanding.
British Columbia: http://tinyurl.com/bcwinter
237 species (average = 250). Highlights: Pectoral Sandpiper (2nd winter record); Oriental Turtle-Dove (1st Canadian record, if accepted); Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1st winter record); Western Scrub-Jay; Nashville Warbler; Western Tanager (2nd winter record); Clay-colored Sparrow (3rd winter record); Brambling (3rd winter record). Big Misses: Least Sandpiper; Cassin’s Auklet.
B.C. had a lower-than-average winter total, but the weather was mild, and there was the distraction of the Winter Olympics, at which winter birding was not a competition, more’s the pity. And there were no pelagic birding trips, so tubenoses were absent from the list. Several key Christmas Counts have not yet reported in, and there are rumours of a documented Jack Snipe on one of them, so the total could inch up later on.
Other Reporting Regions:
French Islands of Saint-Pierre et Michelon: http://tinyurl.com/spmwinter2
83 species (average = 84, 14 years of data). Highlights: Hairy Woodpecker (1st winter record); Brown Creeper (3rd winter record); Meadowlark sp. (1st winter record). Big Misses: Purple Finch; Common Redpoll; Pine Siskin.
SPM birders enjoyed a winter of above average temperatures, but only an average number of species, among which were only a few finches.
98 species. (average = 91, 10 years of data) Highlights: Bean Goose (1st winter record); Northern Shoveler (1st winter record); Stellar’s Eider (1st winter record); Northern Lapwing (1st winter record); Bonaparte’s Gull (1st winter record); Ross’s Gull (1st winter record); Black Redstart (1st winter record); Brambling (2nd winter record)
30 species of waterfowl, 13 of shorebirds, 13 of gulls, and seven new winter species (in the past 10 years of data) helped Icelandic birders surpass their long-term average.
Environment Canada’s Winter Seasonal Forecast:
Reference: What is Winter Birding?
In Canada, perhaps because of (or in spite of) experiencing a bit of weather during the winter, winter birding has become a very popular activity. The origins of this slightly insane behaviour apparently date from southern Ontario in the 50's and 60's, but the sport's appeal really took off with the promotion afforded it by Gerry Bennett in the 1980's, through his "Birdfinding in Canada" newsletter. Winter Birding remains popular today. The winter birding period comprises the three months of December through February, matching the reporting period of "North American Birds" journal.
"For those who may be unfamiliar with the concept, it basically involves a frenzied search during the first couple of weeks to squeeze in as many late migrants as possible before the onslaught of usually more severe weather conditions. Christmas Bird Counts often jack up our total, as do normal winter activities. Plus, it gives us birders something to do for the three slowest birding months of the year other than sitting idle on our hands until March. To me, at least, a winter list is great for maintaining birding enthusiasm, and gets a person active and out of the house to ward off the winter doldrums that tend to creep up mid season."
- Ryan Dudragne, Saskatchewan
Good (winter) birding,
White's Lake, Nova Scotia, Canada
Editor, "Nova Scotia Birds"
author, "Birding Sites of Nova Scotia"
“A true Canadian loves the Winter, revels in it, especially in the North. . . .Winter is on, the air becomes like rich wine that strengthens and invigorates; pure, crisp and health-giving. Those who have not travelled in the vast, snowbound lake country of the North, or tramped on snowshoes in the Winter forest, where the brilliant sun, shining out of a sky that is pure, clear blue; those who have never witnessed the wild, majestic spectacle of a swiftly marching snowstorm—To them I will say that no matter what they may have seen and done, life still holds something for them that they should not miss. Not every country has these things and I, for one, say we are fortunate.”
- Grey Owl