When Christopher Rustay posted the pictures of both a Hooded Warbler and a
on the New Mexico Birding Facebook page, someone asked him where he saw them.
“Both birds were in my backyard,” he replied.
“Would that we all had yards like yours,” someone replied.
“Just keep looking out your window,” I replied to her comment.
It was not an idle reply. I have been lucky to spot some rare birds in my yard – not every year, of course, but enough to keep me looking.
The first was a Varied Thrush that stopped by to get a drink from my pond on April 26, 2007. I opened my front door to my patio. It was sitting not too far away with its back to me.
“Good morning, Mr. Robin,” I said to it. Crazy bird lady that I am, I talk to lots of birds that visit my yard.
My voice made it turn around. “You’re not a robin,” I exclaimed as I gazed at its dark chest band and orange eyebrow. The wing also had orange on them that I had not initially noticed.
I had no idea what it was. I would see my first one and hear its piercing song several times in Alaska a couple of months later. I returned to the house, retrieved my field guide, and looked under the thrushes until I spotted its picture. It was a male Varied Thrush in full breeding plumage. Unfortunately, I was not able to take its photo before it finished its drink and flew off.
My next unusual visitor was May 21, 2008. I opened the blind on the window facing my bird feeders and gasped when I saw a White-winged Crossbill eating hungrily. All of the other birds scattered from the movement from the blind. The crossbill, clearly starving, just kept grabbing seeds. As it pulled its head back, I could clearly see the over-lapping bill, and the white wing-bar was imprinted in my mind. I knew if I left to get my camera, it would undoubtedly be gone, so I just kept observing it.
Both of these observations were before eBird. Of course, when I went to enter my historical sightings, I did not have any photo documentation, and didn’t know I needed to add the specific details I had seen. Christopher Rustay and I had several conversations about the crossbill, but he must not have been convinced, because neither sighting was approved and are only on my list. Regardless, both sightings are among my vivid memories, which is all that really counts.
The next rare bird was, of course, the Harris’s Sparrow that visited my yard almost regularly between November 19, 2018 and April 30, 2019. As soon as it arrived in my yard the first morning, I immediately, went to retrieve my camera and captured its photo.
I have been in the right place at the right time – or shortly afterwards, when other rare birds have paid a visit to Albuquerque, e.g. seeing the Painted Redstart with the Thursday Birders when it was a one-morning wonder near the Albuquerque Open Space, April 11, 2011.
I often wonder how many rare birds pass by unnoticed because they chose to feed or rest in a yard where no one was looking – or knew that it was unusual.
Fortunately when the Yellow Grosbeak arrived in New Mexico in January 2006, it chose to feed in the north valley yard of someone who not only had feeders, but knew that it should be reported. I learned about it from my friend Barb while I was at work and used my lunch hour to go see it and later wrote a blog story about my lunchtime adventure. It stuck around and I went back the following week with a friend, and the street was lined with out-of-state license plates and I wrote about the Yellow Fever Twitch.
In December 2008, one of the owners of Wild Birds Unlimited reported an Ovenbird coming to her feeders. It might have seen non-descript to someone who was unknowledgeable. Before social media, news of it spread through word-of-mouth. It stuck around for several days and a number of people, including me, were able to see it from the sidewalk in front of her house. Since it was at someone’s private residence and I was observing it from the sidewalk, I did not take a photo.
Not as spectacular, but still fun, was when Ashli and Larry Gorbet discovered a Lewis’s Woodpecker visiting their neighborhood just north of San Antonio in NE Albuquerque. Ashli and Larry explained to their neighbors that local birders might want to stop by and see it and take its photo so they wouldn’t be alarmed when people with binoculars and cameras where aiming them at their backyard.
Cheryl Smith who lives in the East Mountains and has a myriad of bird feeders, was surprised to see a hummingbird at her still-hanging feeder on November 7, 2016. Looking more closely, she realized it was not one that should be there. Somehow, a Broad-billed Hummingbird was wandering out of range and luckily found her yard and feeder. She was gracious to allow a number of area birders to visit her yard to view this gem.
In June 2017, Jim Joseph spotted a White-eyed Vireo from his yard. It stayed in the area for three days and several birders were able to see it from the parking lot of a nearby apartment building.
All of these rare sightings occurred because a birder looked carefully out of their window.
It might not happen today, or even this year, but keep vigilant and look closely at every bird in your yard. At some point, a rare bird, or one you have never seen before, may visit your yard.