A Maine naturalist named Norm Famous, whom I mentioned in this past week’s column, recently sent me another e-mail about birds. This one contained a report from a researcher named Ron Pittaway up in Ontario, who issues an annual prediction for what various species of North American finches and some other non-finch species will be doing this coming winter.
Following are some much-edited excerpts from this forecast concerning northern species for the winter of 2007-2008:
This winter’s theme is finches going in three directions depending on the species. Most coniferous and deciduous trees have very poor seed crops in much of Ontario and western Quebec. White-winged and red crossbills and pine siskins will not be moving south out of Ontario as they do in some flight years, because most have already gone east and/or west. However, other winter finches such as pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks, purple finches and redpolls are moving or will move southward out of northern 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.
Evening grosbeak: This grosbeak will move south of the boreal forest this fall because tree seed crops are generally very poor in northeastern Ontario and western Quebec.
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.
Bohemian waxwing: The poor crop of native mountain-ash in much of northern Ontario will cause bohemian waxwings to wander south and east this winter. Watch for them eating buckthorn berries and crab apples.
Small mammal populations were abundant this summer in northern Ontario, presumably increasing after the big seed/berry/fruit crops in 2006. However, crops this year are very poor in much of the north, partly caused by cold weather and snow in late spring that froze the buds and flowers of many plants. If small mammal populations crash this fall, then great gray owls, northern hawk owls and boreal owls will move, possibly southward into areas accessible by birders.
Hearing about house finches and goldfinches does not get my heart racing. The movements of fine siskins and crossbills begin to wake me up. When there is talk of northern owls coming in our direction and predictions for unusual movements southward of redpolls, pine grosbeaks or bohemian waxwings, I am definitely wide awake and paying attention. Winter movements southward or eastward out of Canada for species which normally do not venture down to our neck of the woods at any time of year definitely would add some spice to the cold season and make for pleasant surprises during the Vineyard Christmas Count.
Susan B. Whiting compiled the following report:
Passerine migration is beginning to slow down, although Aquinnah is still producing well. There are many fewer warblers moving through, but sparrows are on the increase. Interesting pelagic species have been spotted in a couple of locations.
On Oct. 1 at Aquinnah, Laurie Walker and Katharine Colon spotted white-throated, white-crowned, Savannah and field sparrows as well as a yellow-bellied sapsucker, sharp-shinned hawks and merlin. Three days later, Laurie and Katharine were joined by Allan Keith and several chipping sparrows and six palm warblers as well as a bobolink in the dense fog. The same day Gus Ben David watched as hundreds of common loons streamed over his Oak Bluffs house heading south.
Cuckoos were in the news on Oct. 3. Linda Alley spotted one at Sepiessa that day but without binoculars was unable to tell which species. At Quansoo I spotted a black-billed cuckoo that day and while driving to Lenny Jason Sr.’s funeral on Oct. 10 a yellow-billed cuckoo flew across the road by the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
On Oct. 4, while offshore, Flip Harrington spotted northern gannets and large numbers of white-winged scoters. Flip mentioned that two weeks ago there were large numbers of black scoters offshore and just a few white-winged. They moved on until the 4th when scoters started appearing in numbers off the south shore of the Vineyard. The same day, Andrea Hartman spotted a dark-eyed junco at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. She added that she had juncos first at her West Tisbury feeder on Oct. 27.
On Oct. 5, Dick Jennings of The Trustees of Reservations came up with another good bird species. This time an immature black skimmer was at Katama Bay on Norton’s Point. Dick also reported an adult male peregrine falcon at Cape Pogue.
Janet Norton was stunned when, on Oct. 5, she looked out into her shallow duck pond to see an osprey dive down and become stuck in the mud. The bird was able to get out finally and was last seen drying off at the edge of the pond. This was undoubtedly a young bird that had to have been powerfully hungry to dive into this shallow pond looking for a small fish.
Also on Oct. 5 at Gay Head the fog was so thick it was almost impossible to bird, but I did find eight palm warblers, two bobolinks and a common yellowthroat.
Offshore at Squibnocket, Flip Harrington, Frank Lo Russo and Henry Burkin spotted a Northern fulmar, an elegant pelagic species as they fished in and out of the fog.
On Oct. 6, Brian Harrington, Martha Sheldon, Lanny McDowell, Allan Keith and I ventured offshore. We went about 12 miles south of Noman’s Land. Around Noman’s we spotted a peregrine falcon, 50 great cormorants, 15 white-winged scoters, 300 common eiders, five black-scoters, three black-bellied plovers and a very pale lesser black-backed gull. Further offshore we saw another peregrine falcon, a Northern fulmar, a Wilson’s storm petrel, and a red-necked phalarope. At Menemsha we spotted an American oystercatcher, an osprey and five laughing gulls. At Quenames in Chilmark, Brian Harrington spotted a field sparrow, several blackpoll and yellow-rumped warblers, and a palm warbler. His best bird was a yellow-billed cuckoo.
The same day, Larry Hepler watched a Cooper’s hawk unsuccessfully chase a gray squirrel around an oak tree at Black Point in Chilmark.
Hugh Taylor of the Outermost Inn reported two female northern harriers, two peregrine falcons and an American kestrel on Oct. 8. Hugh also added that the young osprey that was hanging around his nest finally took off on Oct. 7.
Lanny McDowell, Flip and Brian Harrington, Martha Sheldon and I went to Katama for some birding on Oct. 8. We spotted two golden plovers, 135 black-bellied plovers, one dunlin, six semipalmated plovers, 12 killdeer and a merlin at Herring Creek Farm. At the warbler trap, we spotted a Wilson’s warbler, a red-eyed vireo, a common yellowthroat, 25 black-capped chickadees, 15 savannah sparrows and a golden-crowned kinglet. We counted 150 double crested cormorants moving through and watched a male harrier hunting the Katama airport fields. At Sengekontacket Pond, we spotted a greater yellowlegs and 40 laughing gulls to name a few.
Prudy Whiting spotted a flock of eastern bluebirds, a belted kingfisher and a red-tailed hawk at Quansoo the same day. Later on at Quenames and Black Point, Flip and Brian Harrington, Martha Sheldon and I spotted a Cooper’s hawk, both male and female northern harriers, a blackpoll warbler, a white-crowned sparrow, a ruby-crowned kinglet and four dark-eyed juncos. And speaking of juncos, Gus Ben David spotted his first yard junco of the fall on the same day.
Call your sightings into the bird hot line at 508-627-4922. Thanks.