Ontario Birder Has Questions re March visit

classic Classic list List threaded Threaded
2 messages Options
Reply | Threaded
Open this post in threaded view

Ontario Birder Has Questions re March visit

Hi Ken,
I was hoping to ask you some questions ?
I am on holiday this coming  March.  I am planning to visit the Sandia Crest House  March  12- 16   2010.
I want to watch the Black  Rosy Finch at close range from the feeders. From your experience,
do you think I would be guaranteed to see an adult  Black  Rosy Finch during this time frame.
Is the Sandia Crest House  the absolute best location to view these birds at close range?...
What about finding these other birds at this spot from March  12- 16   2010 ?
Gray-crowned Rosy finch ( Hepburns race)
Pink-sided Junco
White-winged Junco
Spotted owl
Northern Pygmy owl
Last question, do you do any guiding?
Dave M
Orono, Ontario, Canada

Hi, Dave--

All three rosy-finch species usually persist in good numbers into mid-March. Some years, they drop off quite precipitously by the third week, while in other years they have been seen into early April. Bottom line is that one cannot be 100% sure.

My best advice is to look at the individual sightings logs for the past several years. They are available at the links on this page

Right now the Crest House is the only location in Central New Mexico that is reporting rosy-finches. They are also present in good numbers at the Kandahar Condominium in Taos Ski Valley. One year there were flocks at a feeder in Madrid, New Mexico, on NM-14 only about 20 miles north of Sandia Crest. Monitor the New Mexico RBA and subscribe to this Forum to see if there are any other local reports.

Many, if not most, of the Rosies will have been banded by March, so you may find it difficult to photograph one with "pristine" legs.

As for your target birds, the mix of Hepburn's race among the Gray-crowns varies from rare to numerous each year. This year only one or two have been seen most days. Most of the Juncos will be Gray-headed, and Pink-sided may appear, but they are very common in the foothills or at the Rio Grande Nature Center feeders in Albuquerque. I only saw two White-winged Juncos (at 7000 feet) during the eleven years I lived in Cedar Crest, at the base of the road to the Crest. I do not think there have been any reports of the Pygmy-Owl, but if you look for them along the road up (and especially as you descend, as the background light seems better), and near the parking lot at the base of the ski area, you may be rewarded. They sometimes sit on telephone lines along NM-14-- they are so small that they may easily be overlooked. I am not aware of any nearby Spotted Owl sightings.

I have no connection with the Crest House except for working with their management to install the feeders in 1999 and enjoying their cooperation with the Forest Service and the birding community ever since. I now live in Florida and Illinois, but consider myself a "virtual New Mexican," continuing to maintain the records and provide information via rosyfinch.com. I try to get out to the Crest every year at least once during rosy-finch season.

The Central New Mexico Audubon Society has a newsletter that includes information about organized trips on weekends and almost every Thursday. If any readers of the Forum wish to suggest someone who might be able to guide you, they may post to the Forum or contact me directly so that I can get them in touch with you,

Please contact me or post to the Forum if you have additional questions.

Good luck!
Reply | Threaded
Open this post in threaded view

Re: Ontario Birder Has Questions re March visit

Dave Weaver & Fran Lusso
Dave Weaver and Fran Lusso also replied to the Ontario Birder:

Good Morning Dave,

    Good to hear from you.  Before I turn to your questions, let me
encourage you to spend some time going through Ken Schneider's
www.rosyfinch.com, which is a superlative source for information about
the rosy finches and birding in the Sandias, in addition to around New
Mexico.  You probably have already seen the website, but it is well
worth a good deal of your time while you are planning your visit.  You
may find his section on "Birding the Sandias..." most useful.  He gives
good information about sitings of most of the birds on your list.

    Now, let's try to address your specific questions:

    Yes, the feeder on the observation deck is the best place to see the
finches at close range.  By March the finches are pretty well acclimated
to people so it is possible for a person standing still outside at the
end of the deck to watch and photograph them without the dining area
glass in the way.  And sitting in the dining area (please do patronize
the snack bar, as it helps the company that runs the Crest House remain
interested in the birds) is a comfortable way to see the birds.  Even
through the glass, photography is pretty good.  And you probably will
meet some interesting birders too.

    As you know, it is very hard to guarantee any particular sighting of
any wild bird, but this year I think the Black Rosy Finches have been
pretty common, often making up about 1/3 of any flock visiting the
feeder.  Brown capped seem to be common this year too, making up about
1/2 of the flocks I have seen.  Gray Crowned finches seem fairly rare
this year, and Hepburn's are even less common, but I do see Hepburn's in
perhaps 1/2 of the flocks (usually 1 or 2 in, say, 30 birds).  So I
would say your chance of seeing Black finches will be quite good and the
chance of seeing Hepburn's would be fair, depending on how much
observation time you can schedule.

    If you take a look at Ken's "Rosy Finch Sitings", go to "Sightings
Log" and then to "Arrival and Departure Dates...", you will see that you
will be nearing the end of the season.  But the finches usually do not
leave until the end of March or early April, and if we have the snowy
winter that is predicted they may stay even longer.  So my guess is that
they will still be there in pretty good numbers in middle March.

    Speaking of snow, as Ken points out the Crest Road can be closed for
a day or two following heavy snow at any time during the winter (which
usually runs from October through April).  The State does a good job of
plowing the road, but you should plan some extra days to be sure of
having access to the Crest.  March snow storms can be pretty serious,
dropping 1 - 3 feet of heavy wet snow.  Being from Ontario, the snow and
cold will be no problem for you, but do be aware that the road
conditions can cause delays.

    In my experience, you may see pink sided juncos and white winged
juncos lower on the mountain, as I do see them occasionally at our house
at 7000 feet.  I have seen them at the Crest House too, but they seem
less common.  As for Spotted Owl, I think there are a few in the
Sandias, but confirmed sightings are very rare and their "official"
presence is debated.  Northern Pygmy Owl viewing is well described in
Ken's discussion.  I would only add that early morning and early evening
do seem the best times, as they can be pretty cryptic during the day.

    I don't own or operate the Crest House, it is run by a company in
Albuquerque called SunWest Jewelry.  Their local manager at the Crest is
Gene Romero, who is friendly to and supportive of birders.  Be sure to
say hello to Gene if he is up there when you visit.

    I do not do any guiding, as I am an amateur observer at best.  I
don't even know of any local guides, but I suggest contacting Nancy Cox,
a very knowledgeable person who runs the finch banding project, to see
if she has any suggestions.  I have copied her on this note
(sora@spinn.net).  And Lee Hopwood, at "Wags and Whiskers" in Corrales,
New Mexico might also have a few suggestions.  If you like, I can find
Lee's email address and send it along, so just let me know.

    I hope I have addressed your questions, but if not or if I can
provide any other information, please do not hesitate to let me know.  I
hope you enjoy your visit, and that it is productive in terms of the
birds you want to see and others.  Have a great time!


Dave Weaver

Dave has already answered your questions pretty well.  We thought we would add in the phone numbers he mentioned:

Sandia Crest House: 505-243-0605.  If there has been snow, be sure to call the Crest House before heading up there and confirm that they are open.  There have been days this winter when recent snow has caused them to stay closed.

Lee Hopwood: 505-898-8626.  Lee runs the Wags & Whiskers store.  They have generously donated the seed for the Rosy Finch feeders for several years now.  She may have an idea about a guide if you are still looking to do that.  And you already have Nancy Cox's email to contact for information on birding and guides.

Have a great trip!

Fran Lusso and Dave Weaver