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Nature Happenings - January 2001
A Finch At My Feeder

      It is the dawn of the New Millennium, literally. Steam from my coffee cup curls upwards and fogs the back-door window. The morning winter sun has crested the nearby La Sal Mountains, bathing the backyard in rich light. A new day, a new year, a new century — a bird watcher's dream because now I can start a new list.

Nature Happenings

      Let's face it: bird watchers are obsessed with lists. Some days the entries in my field journal are brief, but they always include lists. Birds I've seen in my backyard. Birds on the daily walk. Though I don't keep lists of birds I've observed on TV shows, there are birders out there that do. Maybe that someone is you.
      But back to this morning. I wait with anticipation; who will be the first? Will it be one of the usual winter suspects: the aggressive house sparrows that show up like long lost relatives during holiday dinners, the hooded juncos that try to reach the thistle feeder by craning their necks or perhaps will it be one of those sweet singing goldfinches?
      In winter, we get a lot of finches at our feeders. American goldfinches in casual winter garb, their brilliant canary-yellow plumage currently at the cleaners. Lesser goldfinches, whose Latin species name psaltria means "one who plays the lute' but whose small stature makes it "lesser" than the American goldfinch. Evening grosbeaks that appear some winters, but have chosen somewhere else this list-making day. Occasionally a white-crowned sparrow, another member of the Finch Family, makes a foray into our yard, searching out millet seeds that the house sparrows toss like confetti from the feeders.
      Yes, the finches rule the backyard, bickering over the feeders and hogging the prime spots. But when a low-flying sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk stalk the yard, the finches push themselves away from the table, often in a big hurry. When these raptors cruise through, the finches burst from the backyard like an exploding water balloon.
      But back to this morning. I watch with great anticipation for today is not like yesterday. Sure it's cold and a few gray clouds clot the canyon rims and it seems like yesterday - except it isn't. It's the 21st Century, Buck Rodgers. And so I wait.
      I drain the last of my coffee before I see my New Year Bird. He perches on the tool shed, partially hidden amongst last years trumpeter vines and surveys the situation. Cautious as a mouse at a cat convention, this finch (of course) takes his time. So do I. I savor the moment, not because this is some Accidental or Irregular, a bird that only appears once-a-millennium, but because he is the first. Safety concerns checked, this finch proceeds to the feeder and scarfs down some seed -nothing like being a member of the food chain to keep one honest.
      Looking dapper in his reddish fedora, this bird is a house finch, a common member of the feathered tribe that haunts this neighborhood. On a diet of weed seeds and a few bugs or fruits, the house finch is a western original, but whose accidental arrival in the East - an illegal shipment of birds was released on Long Island and the rest is history, as they say - has not produced many sympathetic listeners. But today, the house finch rules as Bird of the Millennium. And now with my New Year's resolution accomplished, I can go and start my newest list.

by Damian Fagan

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