Thursday, November 8, 2007

Of Finches and Broad-wingeds

[Female Purple Finch on the feeder at the Northwood Center. Note the dark cheek and light eyebrow, creating a more strongly contrasting face pattern than House Finch, as well as the heavy bill and notched tail. Photo by Amy Gaberlein.]

My birding since Monday has been confined to the trek from house to car, car to office, and back again- a familar plight for many birders, I'm sure.

But since we're never not birding, and since it's building into a finchy fall, keep a weather eye and ear on the sky. At CMBO's Center for Research and Education in Goshen, and at my home along the bayshore, Purple Finches have been almost constant - their distinctive, metallic "tic" is a good sound to learn. Yesterday morning a Pine Siskin flew over the center with some goldfinches, another important flight call to remember: a shrill, rising "shhhinG" or "jiiinG!"

At Cape May Point yesterday, Amy Gaberlein reports: "Finches everywhere Wednesday at the Northwood Center's feeders! Goldfinches landing on goldfinches... Also, purple finches (at least 2) and a pine siskin gave us great views as they gorged on black oil sunflower seeds just outside the window."

[East Creek Pond, along Route 47 - colors are still peak here in South Jersey. Photo by Amy Gaberlein.]

I also note that Chris Brown recorded 3 Broad-winged Hawks and a Golden Eagle from the Hawk Watch on Wednesday. Not a usual combination in most places, since Broad-wingeds are long gone from most hawk watches in the region. Cape May acts a bit like a miniature Florida, trapping, at least for a bit, Broad-wingeds that otherwise should be well on their way to South America. Of course, a few Broad-wingeds winter in southern Florida - this hasn't happened in Cape May yet, but with climate change, who knows?
I was going to post the link to Ron Pittaway's annual finch forecast, from the Ontario Field Ornithologists web page, but the link I had seems not to be working. Instead, below are a few selected species from his report. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Evening Grosbeaks re-appeared after their long near-complete absence in the mid-Atlantic!

Pine Grosbeak: This grosbeak will irrupt south of the breeding range because crops on native mountain-ashes (rowan berries) are generally poor in northeastern Ontario and across the boreal forest. However, crops are good in northwestern Ontario west of Lake Superior. Pine Grosbeaks should wander south to Lake Ontario and perhaps farther in search of crabapples and planted European mountain-ash berries, which have average crops in southern Ontario. Watch for them at feeders where they prefer sunflower seeds. After irruptions, Pine Grosbeaks return north earlier than other northern finches. Most are gone by late March. Buds form a larger part of their winter diet when mountain-ash crops are poor.

Purple Finch: Most Purple Finches will migrate out of Ontario this fall in response to the low seed crops. Currently, Purple Finches are migrating south through southern Ontario. Very few or none will stay behind at feeders in southern Ontario.

Common and Hoary Redpolls: There will be a big flight of redpolls into southern Ontario and bordering United States. Seed crops on white birch, yellow birch and alder are very poor in most of Ontario. Expect redpolls at bird feeders this winter. Far northwestern Ontario has a good white birch crop so redpolls may be common there.

Evening Grosbeak: This grosbeak will irrupt south of the boreal forest this fall because tree seed crops are generally very poor in northeastern Ontario and western Quebec. In recent weeks scattered birds have visited feeders in southern Ontario. Beginning in the early 1980s the Evening Grosbeak declined significantly as large outbreaks of spruce budworm subsided. The larvae and pupae are eaten by adults and fed to nestlings. Expect Evening Grosbeaks at bird feeders in southern Ontario and northern United States, but not in the large numbers seen during the 1970s.

Red-breasted Nuthatch: They have been moving south since mid-June presumably because of the poor cone crop in central Canada. Almost all Red-breasted Nuthatches will depart Ontario's boreal forest by late fall and left the province. Some will be at feeders in southern Ontario, but they will be very scarce in Algonquin Park. Algonquin Christmas Bird Counts (32 years) show a biennial (every two years) high and low pattern, with some exceptions.

Bohemian Waxwing: The poor crop of native mountain-ash (rowan berries) in much of northern Ontario will cause Bohemians Waxwings to wander south and east this winter. Watch for them eating buckthorn berries and crabapples in southern Ontario. The mountain-ash crop is better west of Lake Superior with a big crop around Kenora at Lake of the Woods.

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