Monday, March 5, 2012

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch in New York

Sunday night, March 4th and I'm finally kicking back after a long week when the phone rings.  It's Joan Collins and she wants to make sure that I've heard about a report of a GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH at a feeder in Boonville, NY (maps are quickly consulted).  I really haven't heard as yet but I soon get up to speed, make some new friends on Facebook, connect some dots, find my way to the home-owner and send a message asking for permission to visit.  Asking permission to visit a private feeder is always a tense moment and I know lots and lots of people will ask, hopefully not overwhelming the welcome.  I also know though that I'm one of the first to track down the home owner, so I hope my message gets me a shot at the bird in the morning.  As it turns out, I needn't have worried.  Nancy Loomis, the homeowner, is a treasure and is thrilled to share her bird with the throng of people who make their way up to her yard.  So at 5:30am on Monday morning, I'm heading North with Rosy-Finches on my mind.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
I'm actually quite keen to get this species, not because it would be a lifer (I've seen them before in Colorado), but because it's one of my favorites species and I'd love to get it in my home state.  There was actually one seen in December of 2011 on top of a mountain in the Catskills, but it was never re-found and certainly not something you could chase.  While this is New York's second record, its really the first one that someone could actually go and see.

It's a 5+ hour drive up to the site and all the way up I'm texting with Corey Finger who, along with Seth Ausubel, Isaac Grant, and Benjamin Van Doren, are an hour ahead of me.  I get regular updates and when they get there they quickly see the bird and then see it fly away across the road and into some woods (!).  Some updates are more helpful than others.

When I pull in to the site, the bird is not being seen and I have that most treasured of birding moments - 'arriving just after the rarity has left, and standing around with a bunch of people who've just seen it' while hoping that it comes back.  In these situations the birders who have seen the bird traditionally discuss how wonderful the bird was, waxing lyrically about the glorious plumage and intriguing behaviors they saw.   Gritting my teeth, I stand in the snow and wait, but probably let out a huge sigh of relief when Seth spots the bird returning to the feeders.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch bullying Purple Finch

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch bullying House Sparrow
So relief all around and I get to watch quite the charismatic (and quite dominant) Western wanderer feeding and interacting with the local finches and sparrows.  It's #183 on my New York State year list and goes a long way to get me through the March doldrums.  Nice bird, good day.