A Passing of a Legend, Ron Pittaway

A Passing of a Legend, Ron Pittaway

By Tyler Hoar

I first met Ron in the early 1990s at The Cranberry Hawk Watch. Ron was an educator, and so he generally preferred to stand back from the platform and exchange in conversations with anyone on various topics of natural history. He had an infectious enthusiasm whenever discussing natural history topics, and finches were no different — they were one of his favorites! His enthusiasm towards finches and why they irrupted entranced myself and many others. Within minutes, Ron would often have birders looking at the trees assessing whether there were cones on the trees, and the birds that landed on the trees would become secondary. I soon became one of Ron’s trusted cone crop reporters. As a cone crop reporter for many years, I did not fully appreciate the amount of work he put into the Winter Finch Forecast each year until I stepped into his shoes. They are big shoes to fill, and its been a great honor to step into this role the last few years.

Ron also had non finch interests. Each fall Ron and Jean would be found along the Niagara River enjoying other birders company while enthusiastically discussing with everyone the fine differences between Iceland Gull subspecies. Another interest was the Carden Alvar, a now popular birding location northeast of Toronto. Thanks to Ron’s keen eye and promoting of this relatively obscure area in the 1990s, we now have a protected park home to Loggerhead Shrikes, Upland Sandpipers, Golden-winged Warblers and many more species.

Ron Pittaway developed his passion for birds during his youth, and this passion became a career and a lifetime interest from which all of us have have benefitted. In addition to his Winter Finch Forecast started in the 1990s, Ron authored countless articles on birds, and was a member of the Ontario Rare Bird Committee and Loggerhead Shrike National Recovery Team.

The Winter Finch Forecast became one of the most highly anticipated ornithological/birding articles every year……and was awaited by birders as like it was Christmas day. Hannah Hoag wrote a great article on Ron and the finch forecast in January 2020, which I recommend people read to know Ron even more: How Ron Pittaway Developed His Acclaimed Winter Finch Forecast | All About Birds.

All of us at the Finch Research Network are saddened by the passing of Ron, especially Matt of course. As we talked on the phone yesterday, it was apparent by the crackling of our voices how much Ron meant to both of us. Matt also was a cone crop reporter and he helped Ron with the crossbill part of the forecast for more than a decade. And, when Matt launched the Finch Research Network with the help of myself and many others (Ron introduced us), he made it known that it all would not have been possible without Ron building a legion of finch fans for the past several decades.

Many years have passed since Ron and I sat on driftwood on the shores of Lake Ontario watching waterbirds dive below the lake surface, discussing what they were feeding on and why their prey was there at that time of the year. I always will look fondly on those mornings discussing the local ecosystem and how the birds we enjoyed fit in.

Our deepest condolences go out to Jean his partner of many years and all that knew him! And, I will find it hard to not think of Ron when I write this year’s Finch Forecast next month, look at every cone laden white pine, watch flocks of passing finches, and glance at Pine Grosbeaks in the cold dead of winter. Safe travels my friend!

Cover Photo of a “Mope” Melissa Groo

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