Spring is officially here! But as anybody who inhabits the Canadian prairies knows, winter is never very far away – except perhaps in August. Five years ago southern Manitoba had two feet of snow and freezing temperatures at the end of May. We all keep our parkas, toques, and snow shovels at the front of the closet the whole year long.
The vanguard of bird migration has begun. Yesterday between 5,000 and 6,000 Canada Geese (with a couple of White-fronted Geese tagging along), one intrepid Mallard, three Bald Eagles, a Harrier, a Rough-legged Hawk, a Merlin, and various Ravens and Crows flew over my favorite migration-monitoring spot – the St. Adolphe bridge just south of Winnipeg. Someone reported hearing a Killdeer this morning – a sure harbinger of spring.
But, since spring can be so fickle here (usually late, often interrupted, sometimes non-existent), it’s probably better to look back at the winter than forward to spring.
Winters in Manitoba usually begin with a blizzard on Halloween and end with the break-up of the ice on the Red River on April Fool’s Day. This year was a major exception; it was almost temperate enough for Lady Gaga to survive outside in one of her weird stage costumes. Almost. In other words, it was a wimpy winter but a birdy one.
Winter Birding (December, January, February) has become very popular in Manitoba thanks to the Internet. Provincial lists have been compiled and circulated ever since 2001-2002. This winter was the best winter yet: 109 species sighted; the average is just under 100. Yeah, 109 species in Manitoba, in winter!
Highlights included some late-to-migrate waterfowl (Wood Duck and Common Loon — 2nd winter record for both; Greater Scaup and Western Grebe –1st winter record for both); a doomed Sora Rail and a Thayer’s Gull –1st winter records; and some very hardy passerines (Lincoln’s Sparrow and Swamp Sparrow –2nd winter records; a straggling Yellow-headed Blackbird; and a misguided Brambling –1st ever winter record and only the 2nd provincial record for this European visitor).
Most other provinces in Canada had lower than normal bird counts this past winter – for a variety of reasons, though many of them had larger counts than Manitoba. For the competitors among us, and what birder isn’t a competitor, it was particularly gratifying for Manitoba to log more birds this year than our prairie neighbor Saskatchewan. They only had 100. Nyah, nyah!
For a full account, see Blake Maybank’s site: http://tinyurl.com/mbwinter