2014 Fall and Winter Habitat Conditions in Canada 

Conditions potentially favorable throughout Canada 
Provided by Ducks Unlimited Canada

After a decent freeze-up, winter conditions have been variable in the BC/Western Boreal Region.  Favorable wetlands conditions are supporting large flocks of waterfowl along the BC coast, and it looks like the Boreal will welcome migrants back to positive spring conditions.  Most of the Prairie Region has been colder than usual, and precipitation has varied.  Some areas have experienced over twice their normal winter snowfall, while amounts have been more modest in southwest Manitoba.  Spring conditions should be good to very good in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and a recent return to below-average temperatures in Alberta should offset the lack of frost seal and improve spring runoff prospects.  Fall and winter conditions have generally been good in the Eastern Region.  Ontario wetlands are holding ample water, St. Lawrence levels are close to normal and high numbers of eiders are being observed in Newfoundland and Labrador.

British Columbia

Conditions were generally good going into freeze-up, except in the Peace where they were above average due to a long stretch of good precipitation and soil moisture.  The fall flight was also average for most areas of the province.

Coast

Winter has been drier than normal this year.  This, coupled with milder temperatures, has led to a poor snowpack on the south coast and on Vancouver Island. It is still too early to predict spring conditions because more accumulation is likely to occur over the next few months.  Local wetlands and coastal estuaries are in good shape, and are supporting large flocks of waterfowl.  Around the Fraser River Delta and east coast of Vancouver Island, many waterfowl (e.g., snow geese, trumpeter swans, mallards and American wigeons) are feeding in farm fields and winter cover crops.

Interior

In the northern Interior, the snowpack is above normal — significantly so in some areas — and prospects are good for the spring runoff.  

Winter precipitation has been variable so far in the southern Interior.  Conditions were drier than normal in October and December, and wetter than normal in November.  However, there hasn't been fresh snow for a few weeks, and mild January weather has melted much snow at southern latitudes.  Habitat quality is declining, but prospects are still good for the spring runoff if precipitation returns to normal again.  

In the southeast Interior, snow packs are slightly below normal.  The spring runoff should be good.

Peace

Despite a recent decline in precipitation and above-normal temperatures, the majority of the Peace region (and Fort Nelson) has had over 200 per cent of its usual precipitation since November 1.  The warm temperatures have caused the snow to settle and melt, resulting in water pooling on the ice of many wetlands and lakes.
 
Significant snow cover remains — in the order of 18 inches or so of hard, icy snow — and some Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) projects are likely already topped up to full supply level with the mild weather.  For example, the Swan Lake project is flowing about 2-3 inches over the stop logs at its weir.  Prospects are very good for the spring runoff, and may be excessive, depending upon spring temperatures and speed of melt.

Western Boreal Forest

Throughout the region, habitat conditions remain good, with little change observed since the end of October.  Most areas experienced unseasonably cold temperatures and above-average snowfall in November and December, and January weather conditions were near normal.  If the current trend continues, spring habitat conditions should be very favorable for breeding waterfowl.

Yukon

After a late-arriving fall, snow cover didn't occur until very late in October in the north and in early November in the south.  A cold November was followed by a very snowy December, with above-average snow accumulations in the valleys but average amounts in the mountains.  January has been quite warm, with lots of melting occurring.

There have been reports of more overwintering birds in open water areas near Whitehorse than in past years.  The area's habitat conditions are very good, while the rest of the territory is experiencing good conditions.

Northwest Territories

Similar to last year, winter arrived in November with the onset of colder-than-average temperatures and below-normal snowfall.  The trend continued into December, with temperatures remaining near -40 C for about two weeks and dipping as low as -50 C on two consecutive days.  The New Year then ushered in above-seasonal temperatures and slightly-above-average precipitation.  You know it has been cold when -18 C feels like t-shirt weather!  
Wetlands were in good condition going into the winter, and are expected to remain that way when spring arrives.

Northeast British Columbia

Below-normal temperatures and above-average snowfall should improve wetland conditions as spring approaches.

Boreal Alberta

Fall turned to winter rather quickly this year.  As temperatures plummeted and snow fell, migrating waterfowl headed south sooner than most waterfowl enthusiasts would have like, but there were still ample opportunities to enjoy the spectacle of large concentrations of ducks and geese in boreal wetlands.

November and December temperatures were colder than normal, while snowfall was above average.  The opposite has occurred in January, and the unseasonable temperatures have caused the snowpack to settle.  However, given the amount of snow remaining on the ground, habitat conditions should be favourable for returning waterfowl.

Boreal Saskatchewan

The region has experienced below-normal temperatures since the Polar Vortex clamped down.  After a November of good wetland conditions, winter precipitation has been above average, so habitat conditions remain favourable.  They should remain that way when spring finally arrives.

Boreal Manitoba

November and December were colder than average but soil moisture was well above average prior to the extended cold period.  In November, the area near The Pas received 260 per cent of normal precipitation.  This was mainly in the form of snow as about 67cm (2 feet) accumulated.  Conversely, December saw 5 per cent less precipitation than normal but was significantly colder than average (by 7.9 C).  

So far, January temperatures have been near average, and about 32.5 mm of precipitation (twice the monthly average) has fallen.  Rain fell on January 15, which increased local Snow Water Equivalent values.  Overall, there is currently about 45 cm of snow on the ground, which is a third more than average for this time of year. Consequently, spring habitat conditions should be good throughout the region and very good around the Saskatchewan River Delta near the Pas.

Alberta

After a generally warm and dry fall, wetland water levels receded and there were no major delays to the agricultural harvest.  Field reports indicated that the fall flight was good, with little sense of urgency given the extended, mild fall.  Winter arrived in early November with below-normal temperatures and significant snowfalls.  

In November and December, temperatures were generally below normal.  During the same period, regular snowfall — particularly in areas along and west of the Calgary-Red Deer-Edmonton-Grande Prairie corridor — resulted in record accumulations in excess of 200 per cent in some areas.  Further east and south, precipitation totals have generally been average to above average since November.

January weather conditions have moderated, with above-average temperatures.  Chinook winds have sublimated the snow in the Prairie south of the Trans Canada Highway.  Fields are generally snow free, and sheet water is pooling in some fields.  North of the highway, warm temperatures and wind have exposed hillsides, but 10-20 cm of snow remains on the ground in the Prairie and the eastern Aspen Parkland.  Accumulations have been 30-45 cm in the west, including in the Red Deer-Edmonton-Camrose area.  Similar amounts are also found in the Boreal Transition Zone (BTV) and Peace Parklands.  Periods of sometimes-heavy freezing rain have occurred in the northern Aspen Parkland, BTZ and Peace Parklands, although greater amounts of snow are encountered in some areas where snow has drifted into roadside ditches, wetland and bush areas.  Snowfall has been average in the mountains.

Alberta Agriculture models indicate average soil moisture levels in the southern Prairie and well-below-average levels in much of the remainder of the agricultural zone.  The sudden onset of winter insulated the ground.  As a result, a limited frost seal occurred at freeze-up.  The recent return to below-average temperatures has created an ice crust to the snow, which may offset the lack of frost seal and improve spring runoff.

The usual overwintering waterfowl can be found on urban rivers and other open water areas associated with power plants and dam spillways.

Saskatchewan

This winter has been eerily similar to last winter, with many areas being locked into snow and below-average temperatures since early November. 

The heaviest snowpack exists in north central and western portions of the province, where winter precipitation has reached above 200 per cent of normal and some areas have received 2-3 feet of snow since November 1.  However, central and southern Saskatchewan has received below-average snowfall.  Recently, extremely high winds — exceeding 100 km/hour in some areas — have blown snow off open fields and into drifts in fence lines, shelterbelts and wetlands. 

The first above-freezing temperatures of the winter occurred in late January, and resulted in some thawing and settling of the snowpack.
Most of the province, except the extreme southeast, had a dry fall before the snow fell in November.  Taking into account last fall's wetland conditions and frost seal, as well as current snowpack conditions, most areas will likely have good to very good spring habitat conditions.

Manitoba

In general, potholes throughout the province entered winter in favorable condition due to consistent summer rains and frequent fall rain events.  This restricted producers' field activities, translated into less tillage of potholes and kept many basins inaccessible due to their flooded or moist states.  Moist soil conditions translated into a good frost seal, especially in the more southwest regions of the breeding range, which received additional autumn rainfall.

Minnedosa and Shoal Lake areas have received average snowfall so far this winter, while accumulations in the Killarney and Southern Virden pothole regions are slightly below average.  Despite the modest snowfall, a decent covering exists on uncultivated uplands and a good snow catch can be observed in wetlands within cultivation.  Assisting with the wetland snowpack this season have been frequent prairie wind events and extended extreme cold weather events, with average monthly temperatures greater than 5 C below the norm.
 
Overall, given the wet conditions of last fall and the lack of fall field work lessening impacts on potholes, wetland conditions are considered good in most of the primary breeding range and very good in certain pockets in more southwesterly regions that received additional fall rains.

Ontario

This fall and winter were colder than normal, with an earlier freeze-up and much more snow than in the recent past.  Field reports from Windsor to Temiskaming liken this winter to those of 20-30 years ago.

A normal to above-normal snowpack has accumulated from November onwards.  By mid-winter, it varied from less than 10 inches (20 cm) along the north shore of the Great Lakes to greater than 24 inches (60 cm) in south-central Ontario, and it approached 40 inches (100 cm) in the Eastern Boreal.  Most (if not all) wetlands were full prior to freeze-up due to abundant late-fall rains.  The frost seal appears to vary significantly, but it is not as crucial a factor in determining spring wetland conditions in Ontario as it is in other regions.

Great Lakes water levels have returned to at- or near-long-term levels.  The one exception is Michigan-Huron, which is 14 inches (35 cm) higher than one year ago but still 14 inches (35 cm) below the long-term average.

Reports on waterfowl numbers indicated abundant Canada geese across the province last fall.  Duck numbers where generally normal or higher than normal, although reports from central and eastern Ontario indicated lower numbers than normal combined with a shortened season due to early freeze-up.  This spring, waterfowl should be welcomed back to good conditions thanks to ample water in Ontario's wetlands.

Québec

December was colder than normal — the coldest it's been in the past 13 years — especially in North Shore and Saguenay areas.  After an early-January cold spell that brought wind chills of -40 to -55 C, temperatures have reached closer to the norm, even slightly above normal in the east.  In fact, a mid-month thaw brought temperatures above 0 C and rainfall.

Total December precipitation was below normal everywhere, except south of the St. Lawrence River where it's been normal to slightly higher than the norm.  The Lower St. Lawrence experienced the snowiest December in the past eight years.  Just before Christmas, nearly 54, 000 customers were without power — some for up to a week — as southern Quebec was pelted with 10-25 mm of freezing rain and 15-30 cm of snow and ice pellets.  January has brought some relief in the form of below-normal precipitation throughout the province.

Snowpack remains normal or below the average, especially in the Ottawa River Valley region where it is 50 per cent less than usual.  The average St. Lawrence water level remains close to the norm.

In the Eastern Boreal Forest, interior habitats are buried under snow and ice.  Meanwhile, coastal habitats in the Gulf of St. Lawrence remain relatively free of ice, and are hosting wintering sea ducks as usual.

The cold temperatures of early January contributed to a good frost seal on the St. Lawrence channel, particularly on St. Peter Lake.  The outlook for spring conditions looks good throughout the province.

Atlantic Canada

After a good but late fall flight, December brought colder and snowier conditions than normal, forcing birds into the remaining open water areas (e.g., springs, bridge abutments and moving creeks).  In early December, there was more sea ice observed in the Northumberland Straight than in recent years.  

January weather has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, with several freeze-thaw events accompanied by mixed precipitation, resulting in localized flooding across all provinces.

Environment Canada is predicting above-normal temperatures for most of the Maritime Provinces and southern NL, with average to below-normal temperatures for northern NL.  Normal precipitation is predicted across the entire region.

Good numbers of typical winter waterfowl (e.g., American black ducks, mallards, mergansers and common goldeneyes) are being observed along the coasts and where open water persists.  In NL, high numbers of eiders (common and king) are being reported.

DUC's wetland projects are experiencing high water levels but remain ice covered, even with fluctuating temperatures.  There should be no shortage of water this spring.  Habitat conditions are good overall.

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