by Ron Pittaway

Male Evening Grosbeak in Algonquin Park by Jean Iron


First post 11 June 2000 on Ontbirds

This spring I've been assessing the wild tree seed and berry crops that are developing in central Ontario between Lake Ontario and the Ottawa River. This huge area includes Algonquin Park and is part of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest Region. This area is south of the Boreal Forest, but many of the plants have boreal affinities. My predictions are prelimenary, but I do see some definite trends.

1. Eastern White Pine: A large crop of cones will mature this fall. Red-breasted Nuthatches and some forms of the Red Crossbill will be just a few of the birds responding to a big supply of white pine seeds.

2. Tamarack or Eastern Larch: A huge crop of cones is maturing that will benefit White-winged Crossbills.

3. White and Yellow Birches: Both of these species are developing big seed crops. If redpolls come south this winter, they'll have lots of birch seeds to eat in central Ontario.

4. Cherries and most other berry producing trees and shrubs are producing large to bumper crops this year. So this fall and winter are beginning to look good for some winter finches and Red-breasted Nuthatches in places such as Algonquin Park. I'll keep you posted as I assess the crops developing on White, Black and Red Spruces and Eastern Hemlock. My hunch is that they'll have good crops too. In the meantime, enjoy this summer's birds.


Follow-up post 3 February 2001 on Ontbirds

This report summarizes the winter finch sightings this past week in Haliburton County along Highway 35 between Minden and Dorset about 200 km northeast of Toronto. Winter finches are more numerous the closer you are to Algonquin Park. The snow is deep so walking in the forest is almost impossible without snowshoes. Most birds can be seen from roadsides and around feeders. There are feeders at the Frost Centre along Highway 35 about 40 km north of Minden or 12 km south of Dorset. Squeaking works well on winter finches. Squeak as loudly as you can if you see or hear a flock flying over; they will often turn around and perch in a nearby tree. Pine Grosbeak: I have not seen any so far this winter in Haliburton County. There are a few along Highway 60 in Algonquin Park.

Purple Finch: A few are at feeders. More may drift southwards as natural foods (tree seeds) diminish. Some years Purple Finches appear suddenly in mid-February and March at feeders in southern Ontario as tree seeds farther north are exhausted.

Red Crossbill: None lately.

White-winged Crossbill: Some are singing (and probably nesting) in hemlock stands and spruce woods.

Common Redpoll: Not a redpoll year in central Ontario. A few may drift south later in February, but most appear to have stayed much farther north in the boreal forest, suggesting good birch and alder seed crops are holding them there.

Pine Siskin: A few have appeared lately at the Frost Centre feeders. Some are in full song suggesting that nesting may begin soon. They sometimes breed when snow still covers the ground, usually later in March and April. American Goldfinch: This is the most common winter finch. Most are at feeders.

Evening Grosbeak: A few have appeared at feeders in Haliburton over the last two weeks. This species has declined as a feeder bird in central Ontario during the past 20 years. Evening Grosbeak breeding habitat is forests with a high percentage of cherries (genus Prunus). In fact, Evening Grosbeaks may be keyed to cherries as a breeder. Breeding populations appear to be down in central Ontario because of maturing forests and selective logging (rather than the heavier cutting of the past in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Forest Region, a wide band of mixed forests which includes Algonquin Park) and better control of forest fires. North of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest is the Boreal Forest Region. Northern Ontario forests have clearcutting which should favour the sun-loving cherries, but forest fires are now put out better in Ontario than in the past, which may be having a negative affect on cherry reproduction.

I thank Ron Tozer, formerly Algonquin Park Naturalist, for his insights on winter finches. Ron is now spending some of his time writing The Birds of Algonquin Park.


Happy birding,

Ron Pittaway
Ontario Field Ornithologists
Minden, Ontario