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Winter finch forecast from Canadian birder

Sep 22, 2017 10:27AM ● Published by Editor

By: JIM WILLIAMS - The Minneapolis Star Tribune - September 21, 2017 - 2:59 PM

Red Crossbills are moving south for the winter, in search of food. We knew that because Minnesota birders were reporting west-central Minnesota sightings in August. 

Ron Pittaway’s annual winter finch forecast agrees with those sightings. Pittaway publishes his forecast as a member of the Ontario Field Ornithologists in Toronto. Most of his observations pertain more to eastern North America than the center, but he does see some finch movement from the west.

It is failure of coniferous cone crops in mountains to our west that is bringing us birds. 

The Northeast region, particularly in Canada has the best cone crop in a decade or more. 

Pittaway predicts this will be a banner winter for boreal finches in central and northeastern Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, northern New York, and northern New England States. 

He notes that 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. 

His forecasts: 

Most Pine Grosbeaks should stay in the north because the mountain-ash berry crop is good to excellent across the boreal forest from Alaska to Newfoundland. 

Most Purple Finches east of Lake Superior should stay north this winter because of heavy seed crops on eastern conifers and mountain-ashes. He makes no mention of appearances central or west, but cone crops are likely an influence on this species, too.

He guarantees sightings of White-winged Crossbills — in the east. He makes no mention of our part of the continent.

He expects Common Redpolls to move south because White Birch and alder seed crops are below average in northern Ontario, BUT, not far enough south for us. He writes, 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 south of latitude 45, good seed crops on birches and European Black Alder, and an abundance of weedy fields this year will attract them. 

Pine Siskins could have the same coniferous cone problem as the crossbills. We might see some. 

Pittaway expects most Evening Grosbeaks to stay in the north this winter because of abundant conifer seed crops and increasing outbreaks of spruce budworm. This species almost never makes as far south as central Minnesota, regardless.

Pittaway collects the information he uses in his predictions from dozens of birders, including many Ontario Ministry of Natural Resource staff members.

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