The cars parked on either side of Pueblo Solano Street in NW Albuquerque had vanity license plates with words like Nuthatch and Ivory Bill and represented seven states, from as far away as New York. They belonged to avid birders who had learned about the Yellow Grosbeak that was hanging out on this residential street.
On Thursday I took my friend Val out so she could see this visiting bird. A cluster of serious birders hovered in front of the house where I had seen the bird the prior week. Others wandered in either direction down the street, focusing their binoculars on the trees and bushes. A couple of men walked along the irrigation ditch that provided a view into someone’s back yard where the bird had been spotted a few days prior feasting at a bird feeder. The scene resembled paparazzi waiting for a celebrity.
“Have you seen it?” we asked as we ambled across the street to join them. Most had been there since early morning, but the bird was elusive that day. Strong gusts of wind rustled through the bushes and bare tree limbs, and fewer birds came into the feeders than on my previous visit. There was a loud symphony of bird song from the depths of the pyracantha, but they stayed under cover. We watched for a while, but decided we would return when the weather was better.
What would spur someone to drive from the east coast to see a bird?
“I am in New Mexico to attend a meeting next week, and checked the local sightings so I could take advantage of the weekend,” a woman reported.
Like this woman, several of the posts on the Listserve were from people who were heading to or through New Mexico and wanted to make sure they didn’t miss an opportunity.
However, some visitors were true “twitchers” – rarity-seekers who travel long distances to see a new species, especially one that is out of its normal territory.
“I had been out to Arizona a couple of weeks ago,” a man from Florida told me. He had a camera with a two-foot lens. “We were out there for the Streak-backed Tanager (a rare bird that has been visiting in southern Arizona.), and my friend needed a Rufous-backed Robin.” Birders who maintain lists, will talk about “needing” a certain bird, meaning they have never seen it before.
He continued, “I had just returned to Florida when I scanned the Rare Bird Alert and learned about the Yellow Grosbeak.” He had flown into Albuquerque on Friday evening and spent Saturday “adding birds to his New Mexico list.” He had hung out on Pueblo Solano for several hours, but the bird hadn’t appeared.
Meanwhile, folks are twitching in Northern Virginia where a Snowy Owl, a bird associated with the arctic tundra, has been seen in the vicinity of Dulles Airport. According to an article in the Washington Post, birders have been flocking to the parking garage adjacent to the airport for a chance to spot the owl. One of the hopefuls who finally saw the owl as he swooped in and landed on a lamppost, had the following comment: “Birding,” she said, “is like antiquing. You search and search, mostly finding common junk, hoping for the bargain treasures.”
Today at Pueblo Solano there was mostly common junk. Perhaps the twitchers will find their treasure before heading back to North Dakota or Oregon.