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The Magic of Allenspark

January 18, 2006

After my previous short post on seeing the Rosy-Finches, I thought I should say a little more about them. I made it sound almost like all I cared about was ticking them off on some of my many lists.

As I mentioned earlier, it was a brutally cold morning. Allenspark is at about 8,000 feet elevation, and it’s not far from Longs Peak, the northernmost of Colorado’s 14ers. A strong westerly wind was coming down the long slope toward Allenspark, and at 7:20am it was about 12 F with 20-25 mph winds, gusting to 40. Couple that with my lack of good gloves, and I was only good for about 10-15 minutes at a time outside, before retreating to my truck to thaw out a bit.

But I had the Rosy-Finches to cheer me up. I was thoroughly charmed by them, and spent much time studying their behaviors. They were already at the feeders when I arrived, so no waiting or struggling see them. And even though I’m a wuss in this mountain weather, the finches are unflappable, just doing their thing in spite of the conditions. They’d arrive and park in the treetops for a few minutes, as pictured here, and after a few minutes a couple brave finch souls would head to the ground to start foraging, either at the feeders, or more often than not, in some other seemingly random area around the inn. The fun was trying to figure out what on earth they were going for, but whatever it was, it certainly had them interested. A few scattered seeds, perhaps – it was hard to say. But they’d walk and hop around, and even get pretty close to me as I stood there snapping photos of them.

I also spent considerable time studying their plumages. They of course come in what is now recognized as three varieties – Gray-crowned, Brown-capped, and Black. I find their colorations difficult to describe, especially collectively; they consist of a subtle yet elegant blend of browns, pinks, grays, and blacks. And it often seemed as if each bird had a unique blend of these colors, with personal gradations specifying a precise age, wear, and sex. Perhaps it was just the cold affecting my brain, but I found it hard to concentrate on watching any individual for long – trying to separate each bird by species and so on became very difficult after a time. Their behavior borders on madcap in character, and coupled with their exotic appearance, I became transfixed not on details or individuals, but on the whole roving mass. If not for the comparative permanence of the camera, I’m not sure I’d remember what I’d seen today.

If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend a special trip to see these birds. Hopefully we’ll all see them next in more amenable weather than I had today, but rest assured that whatever conditions await you, the Rosies can handle it.

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