Saturday I had to give a talk to the New Mexico Organic Farmers Conference, so Friday I flew out to Albuquerque, got my rental car, and headed up to Sandia Crest, the best place in North America to see all three species of Rosy Finch. Sandia Crest is at the top of the Sandia Mountains adjacent to Albuquerque. From the top of the mountain, you are only a couple miles away from the streets and buildings of town, but you are 7,000 feet higher. It takes an hour to drive up to the top of the mountain, and you climb from pinyon juniper flats through ponderosa pine, douglas-fir, and spruce forests before reaching the lodge at Sandia Crest at over 10,000 feet elevation.
I was starved when I got there, so I ordered chicken quesadillas, and started my vigil at the bird feeder on the lodge deck. No rosy finches. Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and "Gray-headed" Dark-eyed Juncos made up most of the feeder visitors. My lunch arrived and I ate it while watching the feeder through the window.
After lunch, I went back out on the deck just in time to see a flock of 150+ rosy finches flying around, circling the lodge. They never settled down. I could see some were a bit larger looking and darker--Black Rosy-Finches. The others were swirling around too much to tell. Then they dove down the mountainside and were gone.
Fortunately, ten minutes later a few came in to the feeder. Then almost out of nowhere, there were dozens of them milling around the feeder and on the ground underneath. Perfect looks at all three species--Black Rosy-Finch, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch. The brown-capped, which only lives at high elevations in NM and CO was a lifer for me, but all three were great to see. There were two types of gray-crowneds, the interior ones with the small bit of gray behind the eye and back around the head, as well as a few of the Hepburn's subspecies, with the mostly gray heads. For several minutes the birds graced us with their calls and frenzied feeding. Then, quite abruptly, they were gone.
Driving back down the mountain I saw a few other goodies, including a pair of Williamson's Sapsuckers. But it was the magic of the swirling rosy finch flock flying over, 7,000 feet over, the streets of Albuquerque that will stay in my mind for a good long time.