18 December 2011

Nuthatches at the Double...NEW MEXICO (16 Nov)

The feeders at Sandia Crest, not far from Albuquerque, are famous for attracting rosy-finches, (all three species at the height of winter usually). On this day only the rarest, and in my view the best, species turned up, Black Rosy-Finch. I was happy enough with that though, believe me. Although just a single, small, bird table, this feeder attracted quite a variety, and number, of birds. This is one thing that stuns me in the US is how great the smallest of feeders can be. It was a photographers dream with Hairy Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee, and two species of nuthatches dropping in at close quarters, time and again. The nuthatches are always an impressive group to me, there is not a bad one on the planet. Nuthatches were named sitta for their woodpecker-like habits by the ancient Greeks. White-breasted Nuthatch was impressive enough, and I was thrilled to see it. Although I have to say the showstopper for me was an immaculate Red-breasted Nuthatch, with its striking head pattern and more colorful plumage, a real breathtaking species.

The latter brought back memories to me of my very first one: at Holkham Pines in Norfolk, England in 1989, when a very lost stray turned up and caused chaotic scenes in that famous birding spot. I managed to get my boss to let me leave work immediately on the Saturday that it was found, so that I could race straight up there (with a group of birders from my home county Surrey), the moment the electrifying news broke. This seemed like the perfect plan as we would get there within hours of the original sighting, and thought we could be home safely and with the bird checked on our list by Saturday night. Wrong. As it turned out though, the bird went to ground and could not be found later that day. So what had seemed like the perfect plan, went awry. In the end we decided to sleep over in the reserve car park, (we were all birders on a tight budget). This entailed sleeping in a cold part of the country in a cold part of the year, (fall/autumn). The problem was we had not come at all prepared for this, as we simply dropped everything and drove straight up there when the news broke. Needless to say then, in the absence of a sleeping bag or blanket to keep warm, we endured (and suffered), a very cold night indeed. So cold in fact, that we could not get any sleep, and simply spent lots of time running up and down the car park to keep warm. I have never been a fan of jogging and doing this on an icy cold autumn night in Norfolk did not convert me! Eventually, and painfully slowly, dawn came around and we could once more go on the trail of our quarry, the Red-breasted Nuthatch. We were feeling positive and upbeat...Until we discovered that what seemed like the entire British birding community had descended on Holkham for this mega birding event! (i.e. literally thousands of birders) The upshot of this was that the moment this tiny blue-and-red bird appeared pandemonium ensued, and the bird would run for its life from the marauding pack of birders. So, I spent the day "chasing shadows", not seeing this striking bird until late in the afternoon, more than 24 hours after I had first set foot in the woods! Let's just say, I think now I preferred this bird that dropped in to the feeders regularly at Sandia Crest, and let me ogle every fine detail of its exquisite plumage over and over again with just a handful of gathered birders! Still Holkham had been a lot of fun!

I am not done with New Mexico just yet...

1 comment:

eileeninmd said...

Sounds like a great place to go birding. Wonderful birds and photos and a great post.