Tag Archives: finches

Birding at Sandia Crest

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Every time I mentioned that I needed to see Rosy-Finches, I was told I had to go to Sandia Crest.  The first time, I had no idea what or where Sandia Crest was.  From mid-November through March the 3 species of Rosy-finches are supposedly there at the gift shop cum restaurant.  Lest you feel out of the loop, let me fill you in.  Sandia Crest House is in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the very top of Sandia Mountain at 10,678 ft.  The tram will not get you there by the way, you have to drive up or hike the rest of the way up from the tram stop.

I was told seeing the Rosy-Finches was a sure thing, that they were there in masse.  But, you know how these sure things go, right.  I went up the day after a snowstorm, confident I was going to be ticking them off my list. With all that snow, they would surely be at the feeders. When we arrived, the staff said they had just been there and that they came about every 30-40 minutes.  Great. We sat down to wait, and we waited, we ordered lunch, and waited some more.  After an hour and a half, only 2 Black Rosy-Finches had come to the feeder.  I bounced up and snapped a few shots through the windows.  We went back to waiting.  Finally after 3 hours, we threw in the towel and went down the mountain to try for Pinyon Jays and Scaled Quail (which I did not see either).

But as luck and the birding gods would have it, my conference ended early and I was able to rent a car and quick, quick, scoot back to the mountain on the last day I was there.  The sky got darker as I drove out of town and more threatening as I drove up the mountain.  When I stepped out of the car at the top of the mountain, the wind was whipping around and the clouds looked like snow.   With an eye to the sky, I negotiated the icy walk to the Sandia Crest House.

I was not in the restaurant at a table facing the feeder for more than 10 minutes before a large swirling flock of birds came in.  I grabbed my bins afraid they would take off before I had a good look.  The feeder swayed with the wind and a tray full of birds.

rosy-finches

The Black Rosy-Finch is very distinctive looking, no problem identifying that.  The Brown-capped Rosy-Finch is brown over all with dark-centered crown feathers that fade toward rear. Of the 3 subspecies of  Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, 2 of them were at Sandia Crest, the interior (Gray-crowned) and the costal (Gray-cheeked or Hepburn).  They are all 6.25″,  slightly larger than a House Finch.

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Now a Bird Quiz.  Can you tell them apart?

Oh yeah, there were also Mountain Chickadees, Gray-headed Juncos, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, White-breast Nuthatches, Steller’s Jays and Ravens .

For detailed info on the Rosy-Finches at Sandia Crest check out their website.

All my photos were taken through the plate-glass windows, so they are not as crisp as I would like, but the birds were skittish whenever I opened the door.

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Redpoll Way Station on Their Northern Journey

I took a sip of crisp white wine then froze as my friend hissed, “Don’t move. There is a Redpoll at the feeder.” I angled my eyes over toward the feeder. Then slowly set my glass back on the table. At the feeder chowing down was a Redpoll, four more were in the trees eyeing us and the feeder, clearly wanting to eat but not terribly comfortable with our presence. We sat like statues until a Downy Woodpecker flew to a nearby suet feeder frightening the Redpolls. They all took off. I jumped up and hustled into the house to get my camera out of my bag.

I had popped over to a friend’s house for dinner and we were sitting in our coats on their a deck on a chilly early April evening, sipping white wine, eating Saga Blue, laughing and catching up. She had been emailing me about the Redpolls all week.

The feeders were hopping with Chickadees, Titmice, a family group of Downies, a Red-bellied, a smallish flock of Goldfinches and Redpolls. Her deck is ideally suited for bird photography. It is high and the property slopes down, so we were amidst the trees. We sat swilling wine; talking about work, blogging, Redpolls, the Adirondacks, writing, Redpolls, travel, what we were reading and Redpolls.

They are on their way north, her deck feeders were nothing but a way station on their trip but it was nice of them to lay-over for a few days.

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Winter Finch Invasion

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I started to hear talk of a possible winter finch invasion sometime in the fall. There were notices published on the various ListServs about the dearth of food sources in the north woods. You could hear the muttering through the emails. Then the odd winter finch started showing up at feeders. There was a building excitement over random Purple Finches and Pine Siskins. Then reports started trickling in of Evening Grosbeak. Now, that is a beautiful bird and worth seeking out. But the holidays came putting a whammy on it.

So it was not until a few weeks ago that I was able to go with a friend to the Catskills to look for winter finches. We drove 2 hours with detailed directions and a local county map. It was a brittle, cold but sunny day with lots of snow cover. The wind was fierce every time we got out of the car.

I was hoping for a Hoary Redpoll, she for Pine Grosbeaks.

We crawled up and down the back roads peering at pines trees, commenting on the delicious looking pinecones and where, oh where, were the Crossbills?

We saw 100s of Common Redpolls, no Hoary. We missed the Evening Grosbeaks by 15 minutes. Disheartened we drove to the stand of crabapples where the Pine Grosbeaks were reported. When we pulled up, it looked like we had missed out again. But as we pulled beside the trees, dozens of Pine Grosbeaks were nibbling the crabapples. Then, something spooked them and they irrupted and flew off.

We decided to eat our lunch and wait. Shortly, the birds returned and we were able to get excellent looks at them. They are as ridiculously tame as the Birder’s Handbook says.

We ended the day at the Wallkill with great views of Short-Eared Owls.

I love winter birding. You never know what may show up. I am still on a look out for a Hoary Redpoll.

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