Friday, September 26, 2008

2008/2009 Winter Finch Forecast

It's time for Ron Pittaway's winter finch forecast. Here are some highlights:

Pine Grosbeak: A mountain-ash berry specialist in winter, Pine Grosbeaks will stay north of most birders this winter because mountain-ash berries are abundant in northern Ontario. A few normally get south to Algonquin Park, but they are unlikely farther south.

Purple Finch: This finch stays in the north only when most tree species have heavy seed crops. This fall most Purple Finches will migrate south out of the province because overall tree seed crops are too low. A very few may winter in southern Ontario.

Common and Hoary Redpolls: The Common Redpoll is a white birch seed specialist in the boreal forest in winter. White birch crops are poor in the northern two-thirds of the boreal forest, but seed abundance increases southward. In central Ontario, such as Algonquin Park, crops on white and yellow birches range from fair to good. It is uncertain whether the birch crop is large enough to stop the southward movement in central Ontario about latitude 45 degrees. Some redpolls, including a few Hoarys, may get south to Lake Ontario if birch seed supplies run low.

Pine Siskin: A conifer seed specialist in winter, most siskins should leave the province this fall because the spruce cone crop is poor in the boreal forest. It is uncertain whether the huge white pine seed crop will keep some siskins in central and northern Ontario this winter.

Red-breasted Nuthatch: Movements of this nuthatch are linked to cone crop abundance, particularly spruce, white pine and balsam fir in Ontario. Good numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches should winter in Ontario this year feeding on the bumper white pine seed crop and good spruce/fir crops in many areas such as Algonquin Park.

Blue Jay: Good numbers of jays will winter in central Ontario because the red oak acorn crop is good and beechnut crop is fair in central Ontario. Many other fruits and berries are abundant. Therefore this fall's flight should be average or smaller along the shorelines of Lakes Ontario and Erie.

Evening Grosbeak: A conifer and hardwood seed generalist in winter, Evening Grosbeaks should make a small southward movement this winter because food supplies are probably sufficient in the north. Older birders remember the 1970s when the Evening Grosbeak was a common feeder bird. Their memory is based on the greatly inflated numbers 30 years ago in Eastern Canada due to huge outbreaks of spruce budworm.

The last Algonquin Christmas Bird Count to have high numbers of Evening Grosbeaks was in 1984 with 1474 individuals, which was the North American CBC record that year. A significant decline in grosbeak numbers began in the mid-1980s because the size of annual budworm outbreaks decreased. Ontario's breeding population is currently probably stable, subject to periodic fluctuations in spruce budworm (Hoar 2007 in Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario).

White-winged Crossbill: This crossbill wandered widely this past summer searching for extensive spruce cone crops. Reports came from Alaska, Yukon, Hudson Bay Lowlands, Ontario, Quebec and many northern states such as Michigan and New York. Most kept moving but some
stopped and their singing suggested nesting but spruce cone crops are generally not large enough in most areas to support major nestings. The White-winged Crossbill specializes on the small soft cones of black and white spruces and hemlock when bumper in Ontario. This winter they should be widespread in small numbers in traditional areas such as Algonquin Park. However, spruce cone crops are generally low in most of Canada and as seed supplies ar exhausted this fall and winter so a moderate southward irruption is probable, perhaps extending south into the central United States. Watch for them on ornamental spruces and European larch.

Read the full report here and read past Winter Finch Forecasts here.

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