Each year, for many , many years Ron Pittaway has studied and produced the winter Finch forecast, the basis of his forecast is the boreal forest cone crops, as you will see here this year is a bumper crop. We all have noticed changes at our feeders this fall, the weather has played a roll for sure, no one knows what tomorrow will be like. The storms and hurricanes to the south and continued climate change are reeking havoc on our historical weather patterns. A recent trip to our wilderness property confirmed this erratic bird behaviour, the Ruffed Grouse were drumming like it was spring, many male birds were in the area competing to be heard by their female counterparts . We also saw many species of warblers, several Phoebes and more. The whippoorwill still sang at night which traditionally they would have been gone to their winter home. To that end we will need to keep our feeders full as it is also predicted that we will see above average snow again this year. Because of the cone crop we may see lots of siskins and red polls also , although as Ron suggests it may depend on how far the birds move out of the boreal forest. Perhaps a winter trip or two to the Boreal should be planned. That sounds like a great idea!
GENERAL FORECAST: Cone crops in the Northeast are bumper in 2017. It is the best cone crop in a decade or more. This will be a banner winter to see boreal finches in central and northeastern Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, northern New York, and northern New England States. The Big Question is: will finches concentrate in areas of highest cone abundance or be spread out across the Northeast? Cone crops are generally low west of a line from Lake Superior to James Bay extending west across the Prairie Provinces, British Columbia and Alaska which should drive birds our way this winter, the areas I frequent in Lanark and North Frontenac have an abundant cone crop as well, keep your eyes open for our winter birds, please let me know what you’re seeing and when, document the arrival date. It makes great data to compare year to year.
PURPLE FINCH: Most Purple Finches east of Lake Superior should stay north this winter because of heavy seed crops on eastern conifers and mountain-ashes. They prefer black oil sunflower seeds at feeders and will often just appear one morning, be on the lookout.
RED CROSSBILL: There will be a good showing of Red Crossbills in Ontario and the Northeast this winter. Western cone crop are not as hearty as here in Ontario’s Boreal forest so we should see a good number of birds. Should you have a chance a trip to Algonquin park should increase the opportunity to see these wonderful birds.
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: This crossbill flooded into the Northeast over the summer, drawn here by the bumper cone crops. Winter trips to hotspots such as Algonquin Park, Laurentians and Adirondacks are guaranteed to see this crossbill. Watch and listen for their loud trilling songs given from tree tops and during circular slow-flapping display flights. Expect to see streaked juveniles in the flocks also.
COMMON REDPOLL: I’m excited to hear that Red poll are expected to be abundant, last winter we barely saw any at our feeders, make sure you keep the Nyjer seed topped up to increase their interest around your yard. Redpolls should move south because White Birch and alder seed crops are below average in northern Ontario. However, as redpolls move south they likely will be slowed or stopped by abundant conifer seed crops and better birch crops. If they get into southern Ontario , good seed crops on birches and European Black Alder, and an abundance of weedy fields this year will attract them. When redpolls discover your nyger seed feeders, feeding frenzies result. Feeders are best for studying fidgety redpolls. Watch for the larger and darker “Greater” Common Redpoll.
HOARY REDPOLL: Watch for Hoaries in flocks of Common Redpolls. The “Southern” Hoary Redpoll breeds south to northern Ontario and is the subspecies usually seen in southern Canada and northern USA. Watch for “Hornemann’s” Hoary Redpoll.I love this bird, notably different once you make the id as they all travel together in the same flock, so be sure to watch for the different Red Poll species. It is the largest and palest of the redpolls. Hornemann’s was formerly considered a great rarity south of the tundra, but recently it has been documented in the south more frequently with better photos.
PINE SISKIN: Siskins will be frequent and locally common this winter in the Northeast drawn here by abundant cone crops, particularly on White Spruce. Feisty siskins prefer nyger seeds in silo feeders. If you remember two years ago we had a finch irruption, meaning we had thousand of the birds here in our area, keep an eye out for their arrival this year, as with the Red Poll’s last year numbers of these birds were down locally.
EVENING GROSBEAK: Most should stay in the north this winter because of abundant conifer seed crops and increasing outbreaks of spruce budworm. The most reliable spot to see this spectacular grosbeak is the feeders at the Visitor Centre in Algonquin Park. In 2016 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assigned the “Evening Grosbeak as a species of Special Concern due to strong population declines occurring mainly in central and eastern Canada.” While nesting these birds feed their young the Spruce bud worm, in recent time spraying for the bud worm has declined so hopefully the birds can make a come back, please let me know if you have these colorful birds at your feeders.
BLUE JAY: Expect a much smaller than usual flight of jays from mid-September to mid-October along the north shorelines of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The acorn, beechnut, hazelnut and berry crops are generally good in Ontario. Up until recent weeks our feeders have been void of Jays, their small migration pattern takes then north at certain times of year, if you are seeing more jays over the last while expect to see the finches soon after, they tend to mirror one another in their movement.
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH: This nuthatch is now in areas with high cone abundance. Its presence indicates that White-winged and Red Crossbills, Pine Siskins and Purple Finches will be in the same areas. As soon as more historical fall weather begin I suspect the arrival of these bird will be in our area also.
BOHEMIAN WAXWING: Only a small flight south is expected because native Mountain-ashes have good to excellent berry crops across the boreal forest from Alaska to Newfoundland. In recent times Bohemians have been coming south more frequently probably due to now reliable annual crops of introduced Buckthorn berries. When they come south, Bohemians relish European Mountain‐ash berries and small ornamental crabapples. It was historically called “Bohemian Chatterer” because flocks make a continuous “buzzy ringing twittering”. So when planning your garden for next year be sure to include berry tree’s for the wax wings.
HISTORICAL NOTE: This is a fun fact about our history of watching winter birds as reported in Toronto in 1873.
WINTER VISITORS by A.M. Ross (1873)
The Canadian Ornithologist Vol 1, No 1, Toronto, Ontario. “The past winter was remarkable in the unusual variety of rare northern birds which visited this section of Canada. During the month of January 1873, which was remarkable for the extreme cold and stormy weather, we observed small ﬂocks of Red Crossbills, White-winged Crossbills, Bohemian Chatterers (Bohemian Waxwing), Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Finches (Pine Siskin), Lapland Longspur. Our regular winter visitors also appeared in greater numbers than usual with large ﬂocks of Snow Buntings, Lesser Redpolls (Common Redpoll), Snowbirds (Dark-eyed Junco) and Shore Larks (Horned Lark). The appearance of so many rare northern birds in this section was doubtless owing to the extreme cold weather in northern Canada during last winter.” As it has turned out over time and with much study the cold really has no bearing on the number of winter bird coming south from the Boreal forest into our area as much as it is the food crops and the cycle of bird populations. Just look at the Snowy owls of the last couple years, research has determined that it wasn’t so much the lack of food that drove them here from the tundra as it was an increase in bird population and available real estate for young male Snowy’s to lay claim to.