THE Bird Find of a Lifetime!

Rare Yellow Grosbeak in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Feb. 22, 2006
Photos by Mark Justice Hinton (c) 2006

New Photos posted on full blog at www.merridancing.com/wp (see especially photo posted 3/14/06 March 2006 Folk Enews, 2nd Half)

This all started when my court administrator Lori gave me an article from the Albuquerque Tribune about a rare sighting of a yellow grosbeak. If you read the Sibley Guide to Birds, you will learn that the yellow grosbeak normally lives in Mexico and points south. Sibley states, “There are few confirmed records of Yellow Grosbeak from Arizona, despite many reports. As always when reporting such a rare bird, take extra care in the identification and be sure to eliminate all similar species….” Until a few weeks ago, there were no known reports of yellow grosbeaks in New Mexico, ever.

I had heard about this grosbeak in January 2006 when our friends Dave Mehlman, an ornithologist with the Nature Conservancy, and Kathleen Hall came over one Saturday. That morning they had been in the yard of Ray Powell, a veterinarian, environmentalist, candidate for state land commissioner, and friend of mine, who lives across the road from Dave and Kathleen. Apparently, the bird was making quite a stir and had attracted about 30 or 40 folks, including our teenage neighbor Michael Hilchey, there to observe it.

Then I read the Tribune article. It so happened that Dave Mehlman, who is also an ace contra dancer, was giving a talk at the Natural History Museum’s Dynamax Theater on Tuesday, February 21, about the ivory-billed woodpecker recovery project. [Aside: Dave is on the national recovery team for the ivory-billed woodpecker, and we’re very proud of him.] I told Dave I would bring him the article from the Tribune, which he hadn’t seen.

A young woman named Laurel with the New Mexico Audubon Society was sitting in front of us in the Dynamax, along with Turtle Bear Guillermo who also dances with us on occasion. Laurel overhead us talking about the article and said, “The grosbeak moved to 1412 Las Lomas. I saw it there this afternoon.” “Really?!” I said, “Our friends live at 1601 Las Lomas.” About that time, Melissa and Lew, who live at 1601 Los Lomas and are also dancers, walked into the theatre (we didn’t even know they were coming). We passed them the article and decided we’d go see Lew today and walk down to 1412 to look for the bird.

As small town Albuquerque goes, 1412 Las Lomas NE turned out to be the home of Kay Bratton, an attorney I’ve known for more than 20 years! Mark, Lew and I went there at noon with burritos from Golden Pride. Kay had left a sign in the front with instructions about where to sit and where to look. We went in the backyard and settled around the patio table. Her signs didn’t tell us there was a “vicious guard dog”!

Grosbeak Guard Dog
Photo by Mark Justice Hinton (c) 2006

Actually, he was darling and his main objective was to beg for burrito bits and to try to drag the lunch sack off the table. Kay’s backyard also has a covered swimming pool, so be careful not to step on the cover and fall through into the water.

After 10 or 15 minutes of watching, I saw a large bird with white patches on his wings land in the pine tree above the feeders. “I think he’s here,” I told Mark and Lew. A few minutes later, the grosbeak hopped down and settled onto the seed tray with the sparrows and finches for some sunflower seeds. We saw him three times in the half hour between 12:30 and 1 p.m. Mark took several photographs and created the above collage. Identifying a yellow grosbeak is like identifying a bald eagle–even for casual birders, the yellow color and thick parrot-like beak are bulls-eye field marks. We felt a little guilty at how easy it was and how lucky we were, but we relished our brief foray into birding history. The day was truly charmed. My hubby posted his unique views about birding at http://www.edgewiseblog.com/mjh/index.php (“Bird Man of Albuquerque, no, not me!,” posted 2/22/06).

Birdwatchers Lew and Merri
Photo by Mark Justice Hinton (c) 2006

We also saw juncos, several ladder-backed woodpeckers, and a spotted towhee. Kay came home to go to a dentist appointment and invited us inside where we signed the guest book. A dozen or so people had signed in today. On our way out, we met a couple from out of town who had heard about the bird. We gave them instructions, including “don’t let the dog out of the yard,” and headed home.

I love this town.

P.S. Melissa, Lew, Mark and I saw the grosbeak again last Friday. February 24. He is a very accommodating rare bird. And a few weeks later, a visiting Californian took this shot:

Yellow Grosbeak\\\'s Still at Kay\\\'s on 3/11/06
Photo taken on March 11, 2006 by Matthew Matthiessen, Ukiah, CA, who visited the bird in Albuquerque, (c) 2006

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