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Brief Encounters

Far-Out Finch

article spread
by Hugh Powell
Photograph by Kevin McGowan

To see a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, most people hike up to the snowline out West and then look for something brown flitting among the rocky talus. A closer look reveals a bird of rare color: rich brown accentuated with dusty pink. Conventional wisdom says you can’t see one in your backyard in northern New York.

So it certainly wasn’t something Nancy Loomis expected to see on a routine Project FeederWatch count. Her field guide didn’t help her when one turned up in early March, so she snapped a photo and uploaded it to our Facebook page.

About 15 minutes later she had her answer—as well as immediate requests to notify rare bird alerts and to enter the sighting into our eBird program.

Soon people were asking permission, right on Facebook, to come over to her house. Loomis took two days off work to welcome more than 150 bird watchers to her home, including a couple from North Carolina and another from “New Jersey via Scotland.”

Two of the visitors were Dr. Kevin McGowan and his son, Jay, both Cornell Lab staff members. “I don’t think I’ve ever been thanked for looking at someone’s house with binoculars and drinking their hot chocolate before,” Kevin said later.

The finch stayed for five days. “I just wish the bird had stuck around longer,” Loomis said, “I met a lot of neat people.”