The flag is flying-- Rosies have arrived!!! (Trip Report)
After visiting our son and his family in Canyon, Texas, Mary Lou and I drove to Albuquerque on Monday (November 4), and stayed two nights. Before getting into town we traveled up to Sandia Crest to meet the new Crest House Manager, Nick Harada. As we started up the 14 miles to the Crest, we noted that the temperature was 55 degrees (F) at the base of Crest Road (about 7,000 ft elevation). The skies were clear and there was little wind, a perfect day. On the way up I photographed a Townsend's Solitaire at Doc Long Picnic Area.
Up at the top, at an altitude of over 10,000 feet, the temperature was 32 degrees! The feeders had been put up a few days previously and were hosting Steller's Jays, both Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, juncos, a Downy Woodpecker, and Mountain Chickadees. There had only been a dusting of snow the previous week, and no snow cover, so it was not surprising to find that the rosy-finches had not yet arrived. The first real snow storm was expected to hit that night and continue into the next day.
Although Nick had only been on the job for a day or two and had never heard much about the rosy-finches he was very interested in learning all he could about them and the other feeder birds. We reviewed pictures of the three rosy-finch species and the Hepburn's variant.
We talked to the other workers and enjoyed Green Chile Cheeseburgers. The famous bowl of red chile is still on the menu. I feel confident that the staff will continue to be very birder-friendly, and I hope that visitors reciprocate by purchasing food and drinks as well as merchandise.
That evening we had a very pleasant meeting and dinner with the Crest House owner, Andy Mayer. He has given a lot of thought as to how to make birders feel at home, and is supportive of the scientific and educational value of the banding program. The banding team is working out the details of how banding will be conducted. He also plans to put up hummingbird feeders on the deck after the rosy-finches depart, which also should attract much interest from the general public.
The weather indeed took a nasty turn the next day (November 5th). When we set out at about 8:00 AM there was light rain and the temperature was 45 degrees in Albuquerque (5200 feet elevation). The Sandia Mountains were shrouded in clouds and the weather reports predicted that the snow that started there during the night would continue until around noon. We therefore decided to first visit Rio Grande Nature Center State Park in Albuquerque. A Harris's Sparrow has been present there for the past three days.
The rain let up, and Mary Lou and I birded the area and searched for the sparrow until the interpretive center opened at 10:00 AM. Unfortunately, no one had left a record of exactly where the sparrow had been seen, and we were unsuccessful in our quest. We were amazed to see that huge numbers of White-winged Doves were mobbing the feeders. When we led bird hikes there until 2004, only a few White-wings showed up just before we moved to Florida. We saw another Townsend's Solitaire, and a Western Grebe as well as a pair of Hooded Mergansers were on the Nature Center Lake, along with the usual dabblers.
We again drove up to Crest House for lunch. The sky was blue and the road was clear until we got near the ski area, at about 9,000 feet elevation. Clouds and blowing snow suddenly caused episodes of near white-out conditions. The road was snow-packed above Nine Mile Picnic Area, but we continued up in our rental Toyota Camry. At Crest House, the temperature was down to 24 degrees (F) with high winds and 3 inches of snow on the ground. We could barely see the lower feeder from the picture window, and the hanging tray feeder on the deck was swinging wildly (We previously had it tethered with cable attached to the railing to stabilize it and keep the seed from spilling).
The only birds we saw were Steller's Jays, White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, ravens and a few juncos. An acrobatic Abert's Squirrel jumped up on the deck feeder. With those wonderful snow conditions we knew that the rosy-finches would be there on the heels of the storm. We were right!
At about the same time we were boarding the plane to return to Florida, John & Thelma Dalmas of Nacogdoches, Tx saw 4 Black and 2 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches at the feeder. Later in the day, Alan Mickelson (the new feeder coordinator) went up to fill the feeders and saw a single Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.