The rarest winter finches!
These were just the birds at the edge of the lower parking area, I'd have to climb the stairs to find my target. So I hiked up to the gift shop & snack bar, ordered a green chili chicken quesadilla, and settled in on the far end of the outside deck. I then stared at the famed tray feeder I'd seen in so many images over the years with great anticipation.
I sat and watched as common montane species came and went. First Mountain Chickadees then Juncos.... a Clark's Nutcracker sailed overhead.
Finally I saw the first of the birds I'd come to see. A lone Gray-crowned Rosy Finch swept into a nearby tree and then cautiously flew over to the platform feeder. As I watched, a second bird came in from out of nowhere. I soaked in views of these awesome little birds until a massive Abert's Squirrel leapt to the feeders and chased them off.
I sat and continued to eat wondering if it was too early or perhaps too pleasant for these nomadic tundra nesters to be here in any number. More chickadees came and went, Red-breasted Nuthatches chased each other wildly, and a Golden Eagle sailed over with 8 Common Ravens hot on its tail!
Wow!... stunning views of Black Rosy-Finches sitting right below me. As I soaked up my first ever views of these wonderful little birds my study was disrupted by a loud rush of wind. A brown streak split the Rosies and they burst into the air, circling off as a group, and finally disappearing against the distant hillside. Wings emerged and the streak transformed into an aggressive (and still hungry) little Sharp-shinned Hawk. Unsuccessful but not undeterred, the young bird continued to sail over the ridges in search of food.
A pair of noisy Steller's Jays commandeered the feeder, but before long a brave bird came in and nervously bounced back and forth on the handrail of the deck. I carefully studied the bird and have to admit I was more than a bit confused.
I really didn't know what to make of this one, lightly colored like a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, but patterned similarly to a Brown-capped... ?!? Who knew?... It was a Rosy-finch, it was neat looking, but since I so rarely get an opportunity to study these birds I couldn't put a name to it.
intermediate plumaged Rosy-Finch @ Sandia Crest
Gray-crowned... Brown-capped?!?... couldn't say! The guides don't begin to cover the full range of variation in this group. So when I finally checked into my hotel that night, I searched online for more information and images. It was funny to note that the VAST majority of Rosy-Finch pictures have come from this exact feeder although in most it was ice-laden! My research showed me a number of birds that were extremely similar that folks has labeled as Brown-capped. Again I can see cases for either Brown-capped or Gray-crowned so would love to hear your opinions.
I lingered a bit longer and was able to get excellent views of the Black Rosy-Finch flock when they came back and weren't blasted off by a dive bombing Sharpie! Content after a few hours of sheer enjoyment with some of the most difficult finches in North America to see, I decided to make my way down the mountain in the fading light. Before getting even 1/4 way down I was treated to one more consolation prize!
Great Horned Owl digiscoped in low light along Sandia Crest Road 11/14/07
Leica APO Televid 77 scope, Zoom lens, C-Lux 2 camera, and digital adapter2