Nick Bonomo nbonomo at gmail.com
Thu Sep 23 19:58:32 EDT 2010

Much thanks to Ron Pittaway of Ontario for putting that together for
yet another year.

Nick Bonomo
Wallingford, CT

On Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 4:44 PM, Alexander Burdo <alexanderburdo at mac.com> wrote:
> This winter's theme is that some finch species will irrupt into southern
> Canada and the northern United States, while other species will remain
> in the north. As an example, Common and Hoary Redpolls will move south
> whereas Pine Grosbeaks will stay in the north. See individual finch
> forecasts below for details. Three irruptive non-finch passerines are
> also discussed.
> Key trees in the boreal forest affecting finch abundance and movements
> are white and black spruces, white birch, and mountain-ashes. South of
> the boreal in the mixed coniferous/deciduous forest region, white pine
> and hemlock are additional key finch trees. Other trees play a lesser
> role, but often boost or buffer main seed sources. These include
> tamarack (American larch), balsam fir, white cedar, yellow birch and
> alders.
> SPRUCE: White spruce cone crops are very good to excellent across the
> northern half of the boreal forest in Canada, except Newfoundland where
> crops are poor. However, spruce crops are much lower in the southern
> half of the boreal forest and poor in the mixed forest region of central
> Ontario such as Algonquin Park. The spruce crop is good to very good in
> central and northern Quebec, but generally poor in Atlantic Canada and
> northeastern United States. Spruce cone abundance is very good in the
> foothills of Alberta and eastern side of the Rocky Mountains in Canada,
> but poor in the southern half of British Columbia and in Washington
> State. A bumper white spruce cone crop in southern Yukon attracted high
> numbers of White-winged Crossbills and Pine Siskins this past summer and
> they may remain there through the winter. Spruce crops are generally
> poor in the Atlantic Provinces, New York State and New England States.
> WHITE PINE: Cone crop is spotty with scattered good to excellent crops
> across Ontario. White pine crops are low in Atlantic Canada, New York
> and New England States. HEMLOCK: Cone crop is poor in Ontario and
> elsewhere in the East. WHITE BIRCH: Crop is poor across the boreal
> forest of Canada and in central Ontario, but birch crops are much better
> in southern Ontario south of the Canadian (Precambrian) Shield.
> MOUNTAIN-ASH: Berry crops are generally excellent across Canada and
> Alaska, but poor in Newfoundland.
> Forecasts apply mainly to Ontario, but neighboring provinces and states
> may find they apply to them.
> PINE GROSBEAK: The Pine Grosbeak breeds in moist open habitats across
> northern Ontario. It is most common in northeastern Ontario which
> receives more precipitation than northwestern Ontario (Peck and Coady in
> Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007). Most Pine Grosbeaks should
> stay in the north this winter because the mountain-ash berry crop is
> generally excellent across the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska,
> except for a poor crop in Newfoundland. The feeders at the Visitor
> Centre in Algonquin Park usually attract Pine Grosbeaks even in
> non-flight winters. If Pine Grosbeaks wander into southern Ontario they
> will find good crops of European mountain-ash berries and ornamental
> crabapples.
> PURPLE FINCH: This finch winters in the north when the majority of
> deciduous and coniferous seed crops are abundant, which is not the case
> this year. Most Purple Finches will migrate south of Ontario this fall.
> A few may frequent feeders in southern Ontario. Purple Finch numbers
> have declined significantly in recent decades due in part to a decrease
> of spruce budworm outbreaks since the 1980s (Leckie and Cadman in Atlas
> of Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007).
> RED CROSSBILL: This crossbill comprises at least 10 "call types" in
> North America. Each type has its particular cone preferences related to
> bill size and shape. These crossbill types may be at an early stage of
> evolving into full species and some may already qualify for species
> status. They are exceedingly difficult to identify in the field and much
> remains to be learned about their status and distribution. Types 2 and 3
> and probably 4 occur regularly in Ontario (Simard in Atlas of Breeding
> Birds of Ontario 2007). Most Red Crossbill types prefer pines, but the
> smallest-billed Type 3 (sitkensis subspecies of AOU Check-list 1957)
> prefers the small soft cones of hemlock in Ontario. It will be absent
> this winter because hemlock crops are poor. Type 2 may be the most
> frequently encountered Red Crossbill in the province. Some Type 2s
> should be found this winter where white pine crops are very good such as
> northeastern Algonquin Park and along Highway 69 north of the French
> River in Sudbury District. Possible this winter are other Red Crossbill
> types associated with red pine, which has some locally good crops.
> WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: High numbers of White-winged Crossbills are
> currently concentrated in southern Yukon where the white spruce cone
> crop is bumper. These may remain there this winter. This crossbill's
> highest breeding abundance in Ontario is in the spruce dominated Hudson
> Bay Lowlands and adjacent northern Canadian Shield (Coady in Atlas of
> Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007). Most Ontario reports this past summer
> came from this area where the white spruce cone crop is heavy. Some were
> singing and presumably nesting. They might remain in northern Ontario
> this winter if seed supplies last. Some may disperse southward as spruce
> seeds run low and could appear in southern Ontario and northern United
> States. However, they will be rare or absent this winter in traditional
> areas such as Algonquin Park where spruce and hemlock cone crops are
> very poor. Unlike the Red Crossbill, the White-winged Crossbill has no
> subspecies (monotypic) or call types in North America. Its nomadic
> wanderings across the boreal forest mix the populations and allow gene
> flow, which inhibits geographical variation and the formation of
> subspecies.
> COMMON REDPOLL: Redpolls should irrupt into southern Canada and the
> northern United States this winter. The Common Redpoll's breeding range
> in Ontario is mainly in the Hudson Bay Lowlands from the Manitoba border
> southeast to southern James Bay (Leckie and Pittaway in Atlas of
> Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007). Redpolls in winter are a birch seed
> specialist and movements are linked in part to the size of the birch
> crop. The white birch crop is poor across much of northern Canada.
> Another indicator of an upcoming irruption was a good redpoll breeding
> season in 2010 with double and possibly triple broods reported in
> Quebec. High breeding success also was reported in Yukon. Samuel Denault
> of McGill University has shown that redpoll movements at Tadoussac,
> Quebec, are more related to reproductive success than to tree seed crops
> in the boreal forest. Redpolls will be attracted to the good birch seed
> crops on native white birch and European white birch in southern Ontario
> and to weedy fields. They should be frequent this winter at feeders
> offering nyger and black oil sunflower seeds. Watch for the larger,
> darker and browner "Greater" Common Redpolls (rostrata subspecies) in
> the flocks. It is reliably identified by its larger size and
> proportionally longer thicker bill and longer tail in direct comparison
> with "Southern" Common Redpolls (nominate flammea subspecies).
> HOARY REDPOLL: The breeding population in northern Ontario is the most
> southerly in the world (Leckie and Pittaway in Atlas of Breeding Birds
> of Ontario 2007). Careful checking of redpoll flocks should produce a
> few Hoary Redpolls. There are two subspecies. Most Hoaries seen in
> southern Canada and northern United States are "Southern" Hoary Redpolls
> (exilipes subspecies). During the last large redpoll irruption in
> 2007/2008, several "Hornemann's" Hoary Redpolls (nominate hornemanni
> subspecies) were found and supported by photographs. Hornemann's Redpoll
> was previously regarded as a great rarity south of the Arctic, but it
> may be more frequent than formerly believed. Hornemann's is most
> reliably identified by its much larger size in direct comparison with
> flammea Common Redpolls or exilipes Hoary Redpoll. Note that white birds
> loom larger than life among darker birds and size illusions are
> possible.
> PINE SISKIN: Similar to the White-winged Crossbill, there are currently
> high numbers of siskins in southern Yukon attracted to a bumper white
> spruce cone crop. They could stay in Yukon for the winter. Siskins show
> a tendency for north-south migration, but are better considered an
> opportunistic nomad (Pittaway in Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario
> 2007). Banding recoveries show that siskins wander from coast to coast
> searching for conifer seed crops. They were uncommon this past summer in
> Ontario and the Northeast. Some might winter in northern Ontario where
> the white spruce crop is heavy. However, siskins are currently uncommon
> in the Northeast so there are potentially only very small numbers that
> could irrupt south in eastern North America.
> EVENING GROSBEAK: Highest breeding densities in Ontario are found in
> areas with spruce budworm outbreaks. Current breeding and wintering
> populations are now much lower than a few decades ago mainly because
> large spruce budworm outbreaks have subsided since the 1980s (Hoar in
> Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007). If some come south this
> winter, they will find large crops of Manitoba maple (boxelder) seeds
> and plenty of black oil sunflower seeds at feeders waiting for them.
> BLUE JAY: This will be an average flight year with smaller numbers than
> in 2009 along the north shorelines of Lakes Ontario and Erie. Beechnut
> crops are poor to none. Acorn crops are spotty, but considerably better
> than last year. More Blue Jays will winter in Ontario than last winter
> due to caches of acorns and other mast crops.
> RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH: This nuthatch is a conifer seed specialist when
> it winters in the north, thus its movements are triggered by the same
> crops as the boreal winter finches. The southward movement, which began
> in the summer, signaled the generally poor cone crops on spruces, balsam
> fir and white pine in the mixed coniferous/deciduous forest region
> across Ontario and in Atlantic Canada, New York and New England States.
> Red-breasted Nuthatches will be very scarce this winter in central
> Ontario such as Algonquin Park. White spruce crops are excellent in the
> northern half of the boreal forest, but it is uncertain how many
> Red-breasted Nuthatches will winter that far north.
> BOHEMIAN WAXWING: Most Bohemians Waxwings will stay close to the boreal
> forest this winter because mountain-ash berry crops are excellent across
> Canada, except in Newfoundland. Some should wander south to traditional
> areas of eastern and central Ontario such as Ottawa and Peterborough
> where planted European mountain-ashes and ornamental crabapples are
> frequent. If you get the opportunity to visit northern Ontario this
> winter, you may see Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks feeding
> together on mountain-ash berries. The grosbeaks eat the seeds and
> discard the flesh whereas the waxwings swallow the entire berry and
> sometimes eat the fleshy leftovers of the grosbeaks. The similar
> coloration of Bohemian Waxwings and female Pine Grosbeaks may be
> functional, perhaps reducing interspecific aggression when they feed
> together.
> A winter trip to Algonquin Park is a birding adventure. The park is a
> three hour drive north of Toronto. Finch numbers will be low in
> Algonquin forests this winter, but the feeders at the Visitor Centre
> should attract redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Grosbeaks. Gray Jays
> frequent the suet feeder and sometimes Pine Martens and Fishers feed on
> the suet and sunflower seeds. A high observation deck overlooks a
> spectacular boreal wetland and black spruce/tamarack forest. Eastern
> Timber Wolves (Canis lycaon), which until recently was a subspecies of
> the Gray Wolf (C. lupus), are seen occasionally from the observation
> deck feeding on road-killed Moose put out by park staff. The Visitor
> Centre and restaurant at km 43 are open on weekends in winter.
> Arrangements can be made to view feeders on weekdays. For information,
> call the Visitor Centre at 613-637-2828. The Spruce Bog Trail at km 42.5
> near the Visitor Centre and the gated area north on the Opeongo Road are
> the best spots for finches, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse
> and Black-backed Woodpecker.
> ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I thank staff of the Ontario Ministry of Natural
> Resources from across the province designated by an asterisk* and many
> others whose reports allow me to make annual forecasts: Dennis Barry
> (Durham Region and Washington State), Eleanor Beagan (Prince Edward
> Island), Ken Corston* (Moosonee), Pascal Cote (Tadoussac Bird
> Observatory, Quebec), Mark Cranford,  Samuel Denault (Monts-Pyramides,
> Quebec), Bruce Di Labio (Eastern Ontario), Carrolle Eady (Dryden),
> Cameron Eckert (Yukon), Brian Fox* (South Porcupine), Francois Gagnon
> (Abitibi, Lac Saint-Jean, Saguenay, Quebec), Marcel Gahbauer (Alberta),
> Michel Gosselin (Canadian Museum of Nature), David Govatski  (New
> Hampshire), Charity Hendry* (Ontario Tree Seed Plant), Leo Heyens*
> (Kenora), Tyler Hoar (Central and Northern Ontario), George Holborn*
> (Thunder Bay), Eric Howe*, Peter Hynard (Minden), Jean Iron
> (Northeastern Ontario and James Bay), Bob Knudsen (Sault Ste Marie,
> Ontario), Bruce Mactavish (Newfoundland), David McCorquodale (Cape
> Breton Island), Erwin Meissner (Massey), Andree Morneault* (North Bay to
> Renfrew County), Brian Naylor* (North Bay to Renfrew County), Martyn
> Obbard*, Stephen O'Donnell (Parry Sound District), Fred Pinto* (North
> Bay to Renfrew County), Dean Phoenix*, Rick Salmon* (Lake Nipigon),
> Harvey and Brenda Schmidt (Creighton, Saskatchewan), Don Sutherland*
> (Northern Ontario), Ron Tozer (Algonquin Park), Declan Troy (Alaska),
> Gert Trudel (Gowganda), Mike Turner* (Haliburton Highlands), John
> Woodcock (Thunder Cape Bird Observatory), Alan Wormington, and Matt
> Young of Cornell University, who provided detailed information about
> seed crops in New York and other eastern states. Jean Iron and Michel
> Gosselin made many helpful comments and proofed the forecast.
> LITERATURE CITED: Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007 by editors
> M.D. Cadman, D.A. Sutherland, G.G. Beck, D. Lepage and A.R. Couturier.
> http://www.birdsontario.org/atlas/index.jsp
> Ron Pittaway
> Ontario Field Ornithologists
> Minden, Ontario
> 23 September 2010
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