May 22, 2012 by Joseph C. Neal
By Joseph C. Neal
“You are going to think I am crazy, but I just saw and photographed a GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH next to the visitor center parking lot here at Mount Magazine State Park!!!!” This is from Don Simons who works at Magazine.
It’s a small bird, maybe cardinal size, rosy colored, bold patch of bluish-gray on its head, and black in the middle of gray. It doesn’t react to people, since none live in the austere, rugged country of its origin. You can stand within a few feet and watch it search for food among small flowers and grasses. It occasionally looks up and around at the world, but not ours of Fords and iphones.
A bird that usually inhabits the highest altitudes in the far Northwest has found the highest place in Arkansas. It’s a new bird for Arkansas. It’s in one of our state’s finest parks. No one caught one on Rocky Top and brought it here. It came on its own wings.
Don Simon’s discovery came before noon on Sunday May 6. Before another gorgeous Magazine sunset, a bunch of eager-birders from Little Rock and other places have rushed the mountain hoping to see this first for Arkansas. The idea is, you snooze, you lose.
Meanwhile, I have rosy-finch whirling an endless loop. My brain turns to mush. I really want to see this new state bird. I’m out the door at 4:30 AM and arrive atop this surprising, temporary rosy-finch-land before 7 AM. I’ve got binoculars, scope, and camera. By 7:30 AM, I have rosy-finch in a bright yellow patch of Krigia flowers (tiny and dandelion-like). It’s a miracle!
A high school student from Jonesboro, Mitchell Pruitt, also wants to see it. Last year, as a junior, he embarked on a project to see as many bird species within the state of Arkansas as he could. He eventually tallied 308 different bird species, ALL in Arkansas. He is coming to the University in Fayetteville this fall.
Mitchell and few of his friends are headed here, too. Maybe it’s 9:30 or so. A couple from Oklahoma walks over where I’m watching. They are also in the bird business — growing chickens — and curious about rosy-finch, 10 feet away, beak full of attractive yellow flowers.
At that moment, I see Mitchell and others pulling in. Rosy-finch starts and flies. We wait. When a big mower fires up, Mitchell’s friend Edie Calaway runs over to the driver. “You can’t mow here there’s a rare bird from the Rockies and you’ll take away all its food.” They readily and gracefully move to another job. We wait, but rosie-finch seems to have moved on.
So just when we think we know everything worth knowing, how do we explain a tiny creature locating the highest rocky place between the Alleghanies in the Eastern and the Rocky Mountains in the West?