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Bird Band Cryptogram
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, NM & SW US, Sandia Crest
Posted by: Ken @ 9:49 pm

NM Flag WavingThe flag is waving, and flocks of up to 50 rosy-finches of all three species, including both the interior and coastal (Hepburn’s) races of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, are now visiting the feeders at Sandia Crest House just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Banding operations are underway on most Sunday mornings. See for more information, current sighting reports and correspondence.


December 12, 2008 addendum– This post contains important information and suggestions that are intended to increase everyone’s enjoyment of the rosy-finches at Crest House. Please also read the two letters in the Comments section, at the end of this page. Thanks!

(c) 2008 Ed Ruden

Bird Watching and Bird Photography: Not Mutually Exclusive

Photographers were in the spotlight at Sandia Crest House this week. First the Bad and the Ugly, and I will save the Good (and beautiful) for last.

Some patrons, probably birders, complained that their view was obstructed and the birds were being frightened away by photographers who stationed themselves on the deck. As those of you who have seen my “Cedar Crest Back Yard Birds” photos know, my bird photography in the past consisted of digiscoping through our great room windows with a point-and-shoot Canon A40 aligned with my Kowa scope by an adapter fashioned from a Durkee’s spice container. I obtained my first long (420mm) lens system this past spring, shortly after my son-in-law gave me a used Canon Digital Rebel EOS camera body. Though I thought my old fuzzy images were just wonderful, now I pay close attention to eye shine and feather detail in my avian portraits.

(c) 2008 Ed Ruden

On my recent visit to New Mexico, I was one of the transgressors. I positioned myself in the far left (SW) corner of the Crest House deck and braved the elements to get the photos published in this recent Blog post. True, I knew there were birders inside who were also enjoying the rosy-finches as a flock of 30 or so descended nervously on the feeders and departed all too soon. I was about 20 feet from the feeder, and some of the finches came within about 5 feet– so close that I had to switch to a macro setting to photograph them. Their skittishness was normal behavior for early-season Rosies, I assured myself, and was confident that I did not cause a disturbance. This well may have been true, but perceptions are important, and perhaps some non-avian feathers were ruffled.

While eating some humble pie, I made the recommendation (see the recent correspondence on this subject, which is also copied below, in the Comments section of this post) that photographers should either shoot from the comfort of the picture windows of the Crest House, or, if they wished to brave the elements, position themselves in the vicinity of the lower feeder. There, they have an unlimited choice of sun exposure and also a few trees to provide natural perches for their subjects. I should have coupled this recommendation with a plea to birders that they do not “own” the view, and to be patient with casual visitors and tourists who also visit the deck to capture the wondrous views of snow-capped peaks and the sprawling city of Albuquerque below.

(c) 2008 Ed Ruden

Ah, but now the Good! Even before the banders started their operations this weekend, a photographer “recaptured” a Black Rosy-Finch that had been banded at Sandia Crest a little over three years ago. Ed Ruden (Website) carefully cropped and enlarged the band on one of the birds he had photographed, and reconstructed the band number. Here is the sequence of photos that he used, and the graphic he produced, a replica of the band placed on the bird by the Rio Grande Bird Research team on November 27, 2005.

Here is what Ed saw on each of his images–

ABRE across, 2 along bottom:

22 along bottom, 41 along top, ABRE across:

OPEN across, 2 along top, 7 along bottom:

OPEN across, 22 along top, 716 along:

22 along top, 716 along bottom:

622 along bottom, 41 along top:

band along bottom, 41 along top:

Putting it all together, this is Ed’s product, and it was a perfect match:

All images on this page are Copyright (c) 2008 by Edward L. Ruden. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, v1.0 or later (the latest version is presently available at

2 Responses to “Bird Band Cryptogram”

  1. Ken Says:
    Here is Dave Weaver’s e-mail (from the Correspondence page in the Web suite, prefaced by my remarks:

    [An important message from Dave Weaver. I know this is a difficult topic, as photographers want to get the best possible shots of the rosy-finches. Naturally, they do not like to photograph through the window glass. Also, shooting towards the southern and western sky may create backlighting and exposure problems for them. Whether or not their presence on the deck causes the birds to spend less time at the feeder is probably not so much an issue as the fact that birders who view from inside believe that it does. Their views may be obstructed, and many come from far and wide to see the finches, and do feel strongly about this.

    Quite regularly, the birds do visit the lower feeder, located just east and downhill from the Crest House. For those photographers who are willing to expose themselves to the elements outside anyway, we suggest that they photograph the birds at the lower feeder. Depending on the angle of the sun, they can utilize vantage points to the east, south and west (and all points in between). It is stocked regularly, but if it has run out of seed, photographers can offer to add some from the reserve storage. (If anyone brings seed it should be the hull-less patio mix, to reduce waste, hull aflotoxins and germination of exotic seedlings in the spring). When we visited Sandia Crest a couple of weeks ago, we did add a dead branch to permit a more “natural” perch for avian photographic subjects.

    There have also been complaints from some photographers that too many of the birds are banded, thanks to the efficiency of our researchers. (They will also be adding some radio transmitters this winter, in the interest of science). My one-word answer to these complaints is “Photoshop.” Also, please do not remove and/or replace the feeders. They need to be anchored against the high winds with a cable to prevent damage. So, we ask that photographers please understand Dave’s very valid concerns. Ken]

    Date: December 3, 2008
    From: Dave Weaver, Feeder Project Co-Coordinator

     Hi Ken,

    We went up to the Crest today, so a Log Update is attached. The road was passable, with occasional patches of thin snow and ice starting at the bottom and a continuous thin snow and ice pack on the road from Mile 11 to the top. It will be cold for the next few days so road conditions should not improve much, if at all.

    We have been having a new set of problems this year with some people who come up to photograph the birds. Photographers sometimes take down the feeder on the deck and either move it or replace it with their own equipment. There is no need to do this and it sometimes means that someone has to come along behind them and replace the feeder. The second problem is with people who come up and set up their photography equipment on the deck itself, which may obscure the viewing for other people, can reduce the number of birds coming to the feeder, and certainly shortens their stay at each visit.

    Both behaviors show little consideration for other people who also have made the trip to the Crest to see the birds. The people who do these things often stay for hours, so it is not a minor inconvenience. Perhaps a note could be put on the website asking people not to rearrange the feeder and to show consideration for others, who also have a right to observe the birds. That’s all for now. We plan to go up again next week and will be in touch after that trip. Hope all is well! Dave
  2. Ken Says:
    [More concerns about behavior of visitors to Crest House. Dave and Fran are pretty mellow folks, but they obviously want birders and photographers to continue to be welcomed at the Sandia Crest House Gift Shop and Restaurant. First, the establishment has set hours, must prepare both areas before opening, and cannot safely or securely conduct business without a minimum staffing level. Doors open at 9:30 unless a storm or other emergency causes short staffing. A few members of the banding team are permitted to enter earlier to set up on Sunday mornings. Please do not ask or expect to be admitted until the business is open. Second, not only the deck, but also the walkways on the east side of the building can be very hazardous after a snowfall, as snow on the sloping metal roof partially melts and re-freezes overnight, only to cascade down as the sun reheats the roof. Heavy sheets of ice sometimes slide down all at once, with great force. Please obey the signs and do not enter prohibited areas. The Crest House certainly appreciates the business that the Rosy-Finches draw in, but there also want all of their birding and non-birding visitors to enjoy their stay. It is impossible for them to acommodate every need. As noted, the east feeder is available for photographers who wish to brave the elements and take their pictures outside. Ken]

    Date: December 10, 2008
    From: Fran Lusso & Dave Weaver, Co-Coordinators, Rosy-Finch Feeding Project

     Hi Ken, We’re just back from the Crest. The log is attached. It was a beautiful morning up there - clear sunny skies and trees frosted with snow! There was about 4 inches of snow yesterday at our house - a bit more on the mountain. But the road is virtually clear except for a few patches of compacted snow/slush which drivers should approach with caution. We didn’t see any rosies while we were there, but there were a few birders waiting for their arrival.

    We were happy to see that you made a point to direct photographers to Dave’s 12/3 email regarding tampering with the feeders and sharing deck access. It might be necessary to go even further and establish a special section on Guidelines for Photographers. Or you may have some other idea on how to get this information out…even though it seems like plain common sense and courtesy.

    Apparently, this year the ’serious’ photographers have discovered the rosies and are visiting in increasing numbers which is great, but some have been a been overstepping boundaries and giving the Crest House staff a hard time. In addition to the problems Dave reported earlier about the feeders being moved or tampered with, the Crest House Staff today advised us that they have run into two other problems with the photographers:

    1) Some photographers come early and are upset when they can’t come into the building as soon as they arrive - even though the Crest House is not yet open for business.

    2) There are times when the Crest House Staff prohibit access to the deck due to danger of melting snow and ice sliding off the roof onto the deck. It is their right and responsibility to do this. However, today, a photographer unlocked the door and set up on the deck in spite of signs advising otherwise and then gave the Crest House staff a hard time when they told him that he had to leave the deck.

    The Crest House staff pointed out the lower feeder and even offered to provide a cup of seed for him to take down there. But he was very unhappy, telling them they needed to provide space for photographers to work. The Crest House is a private business and viewing the rosies is greatly enhanced by their good will. They really want to support the rosy project and they try to make it a good viewing experience for everyone. It is clear that the photographers are very serious and intent about capturing the rosies on film, but it is important that they, as do the birders and other visitors, respect the Crest House hours, rules and staff.

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