It was early November when we received an invitation to participate in an American Birding Association rally in Albuquerque, N.M. What a great adventure I thought. Take the RV (aka the Bird Buggy) across country, birding as we went, and end up trying to find a group of rare finches in New Mexico. So we planned a route and expected to leave in late October. Ah, the best laid plans. We finally got underway on the first of February just before one of the nasty snow storms. We visited friends in Mamaroneck, N.Y. and Washington D.C. and Flip decided our October route would not work so we dipped a bit further south than our original plans. Our new route took us through Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and then Amarillo, Tex. It was cold every night, but we stayed warm with a small heater and an occasional blast from our propane furnace.
We were stunned when the drive between Oklahoma and Amarillo took us through a driving snow storm. This was not what we had anticipated! As I recall, my husband Flip suggested that if we decided to join another ABA event, we do so in Florida!Amarillo to Albuquerque was a pleasant jaunt and included a stopover at Santa Rosa State Park, N.M. where we spotted several new species of birds including a canyon and spotted towhees and western scrub jay. We arrived at the RV Park located 10 minutes from the Best Western Inn where the ABA rally was based.
The next three days were magic. Our first morning we birded Embudito Canyon located just outside of Albuquerque in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. The area included a combination of desert grassland, shrubland and canyon riparian habitats. We found many old friends including dark-eyed juncos and white-crowned sparrows but were thrilled to find cactus wren and both Gambel’s and scaled quail. The birds of the day, however, were two thrashers, the curve-billed and the Crissal thrashers both of which sat up on shrubs and afforded us fabulous looks and photo ops!
The second day took us to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge which “is considered one of the premiere locations in the country for observing and photographing waterbirds.” We were not disappointed. We had never seen so many snow geese in our lives and a good number of Ross’s geese were in the mix. Fourteen species of ducks were spotted including a single male blue-winged teal which is unusual for that area. We found both Harris and sage sparrows, the Pyrrhuloxia (a bird that looks like a female Northern cardinal), and chestnut-collared longspurs in with a flock of horned larks.
The final day we hoped to find the rare rosy finches. We drove up the east side of the Sandia Mountains on the Sandia Crest Road watching the vegetation change from pinyon-juniper to ponderosa pine and finally to spruce and fir forest in the high elevation. Thankfully, it was sunny and there was very little wind. Flip and I had on four layers of clothes and we looked like “Michelin Men”. We were stepping out of the vans at the crest when a birder said, “there is a flock of rosy finches coming into the feeders.” Sure enough we spotted both brown-capped and grey-crowned rosy finches almost immediately. Shortly thereafter we watched black rosy finches come into the feeders. Was the snow storm between Oklahoma and Texas and the cold weather worth it? Yes! By the end of the ABA rally, Flip and I had seen 20 life birds!
What do birds do during a winter storm? Many of them visit feeders, and from the reports there were several great bird visitors. Sue Silva had quit a collection at her Indian Hill feeder on Feb. 11 including a brown thrasher, two chipping, a tree, a fox and savannah sparrows, two pine siskins, a common grackle, 13 male and 14 female northern cardinals, 43 dark-eyed juncos including several pink sided subspecies and a hermit thrush which has been around all winter, Sue added.
Lanny McDowell found and photographed an ivory gull which was snacking at the Menemsha scallop pine on Feb. 14. The next day Gus and Deb Ben David spotted the ivory gully flying around Menemsha harbor. Gus and Deb still have six red crossbills at their feeder at the World of Reptiles and Birds. Gus also said a red phase screech owl was brought in from Chappaquiddick. Unfortunately, it was so weakened that it died.
Jeff Bernier photographed an American bittern at Crackatucket Cove on Feb. 14. This is a rare winter visitor and this is the first official February record.
Jules Ben David counted five cedar waxwings by the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital on Feb. 14.
There has been a report of a leucistic downy woodpecker by the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
Simon Perkins had a good birding day on Feb. 15. He spotted a dark morph rough-legged hawk flying over Vineyard Haven harbor. At Long Point he spotted a pair of field sparrows, two male northern harriers, a peregrine falcon, 75 yellow-rumped warblers and 16 common mergansers.
Jeff Bernier photographed great blue herons at both Katama and West Basin in Aquinnah between Feb. 15 to 17.
Lanny McDowell photographed the common mergansers at Long Point on Feb. 17. Adam Bresnick sent a photo of a sharp-shinned hawk which was poised on his lower Lambert’s Cove Road feeder on Feb. 16.
Steve Rose heard a screech owl in his Edgartown yard the night of Feb. 17 and had four eastern bluebirds and a pine warbler at his feeder on Feb. 18.
Laura Murphy called to report that during the snow storms in early February she had five bobwhite quail visiting her yard on two occasions. Laura also added that she found three dead razorbills at Lambert’s Cove Beach on Feb. 15. It seems that other dead razorbills have been found at Lucy Vincent Beach and Long Point Beach as well as on Nantucket. There is always a percentage die off of any sea bird during the winter months. I will try to find out if there is something unique to this die off.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.