Essential Escapes

Spring has been getting into high gear around here for the last couple of weeks with almost perfect weather and all manner of new nature sightings. I’m still being pretty good about complying with pandemic restrictions, limiting trips usually to fairly close locations and going out of my way to avoid contact with others, and only weekly visits to stores to stock up on food and supplies. A couple of times over the last two weeks, I have gone a little further afield but again only when and where there are few others. Last Thursday and Friday, however, I made an exception following Rebecca on an “essential” trip to Globe AZ. We’d planned the trip a year ago hoping to track down some special butterflies there, and while being around others was sometimes unavoidable (gas stations, food, hotel check-in) we took care to minimize those interactions and regularly use sanitizer.  More on the results of that trip below.

One weekend day, I motored up to Ojito de San Antonio Open Space not really expecting to see the most unusual Scarlet Tanager that had been reported there recently, but not having been there in months wanted to take a look. I did get  a nice look at a Western Tanager

Western Tanager

and also saw large flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwing

Returning about a week later turned up a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Usually the female would sit inside the nest for a few minutes before flying off for a bit and returning with more nesting material; the male would also put in an occasional appearance. That day would also find a Black-headed Grosbeak in the shade pecking along the ground.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Of course, I had to take a last look at a couple of my Great Horned Owl nests. The little ones have all left the nest now and as soon as they’re ready will disappear into the woods. In Corrales on May 4, I’d seen one of the two owlets out of the nest working it way up the nest tree and on May 10 saw both owlets “branching”. Not having them both look at me for their portrait that day, I tried again the next day. At first, they still wouldn’t look my way but were fun to watch.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

As some woman was walking her (unleashed) dog down the ditch toward me, the dog decided to jump into the water – that certainly got the owls’ attention!

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Fun seeing several Viceroy butterflies in Corrales that day, too, a species I don’t see all that often.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

A few days later, it was off to check in on the owls at Pueblo Montano. It can be a little trickier avoiding people there, but usually not that bad. Others had reported both Great Horned Owl adults and three owlets there, but I’d only ever seen the adult female and one owlet. Success that day, however, with Mom and all three owlets close together (and the male somewhat lower in the same tree).

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

You’ll have to zoom in on the picture to see Mom on that diagonal branch on the right and all three little ones lined up on the horizontal branch-I didn’t realize the third owlet was there hiding in the leaves on the left until going through my pictures back at home.

Yellow-breasted Chats were in abundance there that morning as well. Loudly chattering away but usually well-hidden in the bushes, one or two of them would perform out in the open for me.

Yellow-breasted Chat

A few other sightings this week included this stunning cactus,

Cholla Cactus

my first short-horned lizard of the year,

Short-horned Lizard

and the first of what will likely be lots of White-lined Sphinx Moths; this one gave me time to crank the shutter speed way up to freeze those wings.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

The last couple of weeks have been really good for butterflies. Almost daily trips to Embudito which is quite close to home and normally not too many people around. Lately, I’ll take the old trail up the south side of the canyon where one is unlikely to run into any others and good butterflies are attracted to all the recently blooming thistle. Some of the butterflies seen there recently include the Python Skipper,

Python Skipper (Atrytonopsis python)

plenty of Pahaska Skippers and a few Viereck’s Skippers, this one on a prickly pear blossom rather than thistle.

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

The old trail eventually dips down to meet the arroyo at Oso Spring where the water and damp sand can attract a good variety of butterflies. It’s also be popular with people, many of whom don’t seem concerned at all about social distancing or choose to sit around taking a break or having a snack. That’s occasionally caused a problem when I’ll spot an unusual butterfly and try to get a photograph while folks are getting closer or want to see what I’m up to. One time, I ended up passing on trying to get a shot of the first Silver-spotted Skipper I’d seen this year because a family was parked there with no intention of leaving anytime soon. Nonetheless, on other visits I did get a good look at my first of the season Canyonland Satyr,

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

a Two-tailed Swallowtail licking up some salt,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and an Arizona Sister catching some sun.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

Several times, Rebecca and I have met at Three Gun Trailhead, recently discovered by us as having some very good butterflies that seemed quite happy nectaring on large areas of blooming fendlerbush at first and more recently on the newly bloomed thistle, horehound, wallflower, and other wildflowers.

This is a nice shot of a Sleepy Orange on that wallflower.

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

A Mormon Metalmark on (I think) Apache plume,

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

and a Reakirt’s Blue on the horehound.

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

As I mentioned earlier, last Thursday Rebecca and I made the fairly long drive (870 miles round-trip) to Globe (and Oracle) AZ. Butterfly friends of ours in Florida told us of locations around there that they’d seen two butterflies last year that we’d been planning to look for this year; both would be “lifers” and one was a species we’d tried for several times in recent years. I keep my expectations for success pretty low on this kind of quest, since finding a particular species is not at all guaranteed and depends on all sorts of things. In search of the Ilavia Hairstreak, we’d easily found a large patch of white yerba our friends had told us about, but very few butterflies. Driving on to another location they’d mentioned, we located a small, almost scraggly bit of the yerba that at first glance also seemed devoid of butterflies. But when Rebecca looked just a little closer, sure enough there was a Ilavia Hairstreak hiding there that hung around the whole time we were there – trip lifer #1!

Ilavia Hairstreak (Satyrium ilavia)

Also coming to visit that bit of yerba was a California Tortoiseshell,

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

which was much easier to identify when it opened its wings for an instant.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

Later that afternoon, we headed for Oracle AZ in hopes of adding that other target species, the Soapberry Hairstreak. Although our friends had given us very specific directions (GPS coordinates no less!), we had a little trouble finding the spot and finally parked and started walking looking for their host plant, Western Soapberry. My phone was directing me to the spot a few minutes walk away, and we’d about decided to give up after not seeing any soapberry and wondering if the habitat would even support it. It came as a bit of a surprise that by just walking a little further, we’d spot a small grove of blooming soapberry trees and even more surprising to see hundreds of Soapberry Hairstreaks buzzing around the blooms – it’s unusual for me to see more than a small number of most butterfly species. So there ya go, trip lifer #2!

Soapberry Hairstreak (Phaeostrymon alcestis)

Heading for home the next morning, we decided to make a short stop at Green’s Peak Road just outside of Springerville on the off-chance we might see a Rhesus Skipper. This species has been our “nemesis butterfly” for as long as I’ve been interested in butterflies. For years we’ve looked in likely habitat and locations suggested to us by others including Green’s Peak Road a number of times in the past. No luck again that morning, especially with the wild iris way past blooming and a bit of a breeze blowing. Remember that name – Rhesus Skipper – it might come up later.

We next pulled over on the far side of Quemado NM mostly to stretch our legs and take a break from driving, but figured it couldn’t hurt to see if any butterflies were around. I wasn’t expecting much since there didn’t seem many flowers about, but we’d end up getting some pretty good ones, including the tiny Western Pygmy-Blue which we usually see later in the season,

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

a Fulvia Checkerspot, which we do seem to spot one or two of every year,

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

and a Leda Ministreak, a species we also might see later in the season and one I haven’t seen since 2015.

Leda Ministreak (Ministrymon leda)

With another 160 miles to go, we got back in our cars thinking we might stop after 60 miles at The Narrows of El Malpais National Monument or maybe just keep heading for home. With Rebecca in the lead, she pulled off at about mile marker 17 (NM-36) after seeing some thistle and a few other flowers blooming and thinking we might see a few butterflies. Almost immediately after getting out of the car, we’d notice a different-looking skipper on the thistle. Not the Pahaska, Viereck’s, or Python we’ve been seeing on it lately, but, yep, you guessed it – that long-time nemesis, Rhesus Skipper! Oh, and trip lifer #3!

Rhesus Skipper (Polites rhesus)

We’d see several of them on thistle in that general vicinity and get great photos of them. Definitely worthy of a high elbow (high fives being out of fashion these days), we headed on. Stopping at another thistle patch near mile marker 10 on NM-117, dang, but we’d see even more of them! And certainly worthy of note at that location were also one or two Uncas Skipper, a species that we have occasionally seen in the past and have sometimes confused with Rhesus, but that usually flies a little later. It’s a little bigger, doesn’t seem marked quite so darkly, and definitively shows white veins through that dark patch near the center of the wing.

Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas)

An incredibly successful trip adding three species to our lifelists including that elusive Rhesus Skipper, on top of a couple of great weeks of so many good sightings despite the restrictions imposed by this bizarre pandemic.

 

 

 

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Spring Lockdown

Not much changed pandemic-wise around here over the last two weeks, but there have been plenty of new butterfly species for the year, further developments among my nesting owls, and several other interesting sightings. I keep seeing reports of a good variety of warblers starting to pass through and a few other rarely-seen birds, but haven’t gotten around to finding any on my own. I’m still probably being a bit over-cautious, but am doing my best to minimize contact with others and to limit the frequency and distance traveled to destinations for observing nature.

Anyway, let’s start with the owls. In my last posting, I noted seeing an owlet and its mom at Willow Creek for the first time on 4/19. On my most recent trip on 4/27, I got to see that there were now two visible owlets with Mom perched on a branch a close distance away.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

It was the same story for Pueblo Montano…on 4/19 there was one owlet and its mom, but by 4/29 two owlets were seen but I wasn’t able to spot either adult.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Someone’s reported on eBird reports having seen three owlets and both adults there, but I’ve yet to see the third owlet or the male near that nest. On my most recent afternoon visit on 5/4 , I could just barely make out an owlet snoozing in the nest and was surprised to hear an adult calling attention to itself from not very far away. Looking pretty intently all around, finally I spotted it, naturally looking right at me.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Although I’d managed in mid-April to spot the owls at Calabacillas Arroyo, who fledged so early this year, they’d disappeared entirely during my most recent visits.

In Corrales, where I’d first seen two owlets on April 19, on May 30 I didn’t see anybody on a first visit but returned to see one of them looking back at me from that deep nesting cavity.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

By May 4, they had started to venture out from the nest off and on and I lucked onto a interesting interaction with one that climbed out of the nest to look around  a bit and check me out. Others have seen both owlets out and about but that will have to wait until my next visit.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

On April 23, Rebecca and I met to take a look for butterflies at Embudo Canyon. Not too many butterflies about, but it was good to see water flowing at the far end of the canyon and to spot a few of these poppy flowers already in bloom.

Poppy

Another day at Piedras Marcadas, several of these lizards were running around. No idea what species it is, but interesting pattern and coloration.

Lizard

Birdwise, plenty of Spotted Towhees are working the undergrowth anywhere in the bosque,

Spotted Towhee

and Black-headed Grosbeaks and Summer Tanagers have been calling out.

Summer Tanager

On May 1, Rebecca and I spent the morning butterflying at Three Gun Trailhead where she’d earlier seen good butterflies on all the blooming Fendlerbush close to the parking area. It was pretty amazing what we’d see there that day and satisfying how well the pictures turned out. One of the first I’d see was an American Snout,

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

followed by a good look at a fresh Checkered White.

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

Rather common that day, too, was the Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and more of the Common Buckeye, which seem unusually plentiful this year.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

In addition to the (also unusually plentiful) Sandia Hairstreak,

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

we started noticing that some of the hairstreaks on the Texas Beargrass, (host plant for the Sandia Hairstreak) blooms were Juniper Hairstreaks.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Several Gray Hairstreaks were also working the Fendlerbush,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and we even had a Great Purple Hairstreak on it.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

The blooms of the Texas Beargrass would turn up a Mormon Metalmark,

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

and once we thought to look for them, quite a few of what we are pretty sure were Sandia Hairstreak caterpillars.

Sandia Hairstreak Caterpillar

Another reasonably uncommon species seen that morning, of which we’d see several individuals was Viereck’s Skipper.

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

Also new for the year was a Pahaska Skipper, which I’d start seeing a few days later in Embudito nectaring on one of the few thistles that have opened.

Pahaska Skipper (Hesperia pahaska)

On her earlier visit, Rebecca had also seen a Thicket Hairstreak (I’d see one a few days later in Embudito but didn’t get a good photo) and what was likely an Uncas Skipper.

And, finally, also from my Embudito walk a few days later is the quite commonly seen Common Checkered-Skipper, unusual in being one of the few times I’ve seen one with its wings folded.

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

 

 

 

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Owl Business

Like everybody else, over the last month I’ve mostly been hanging around the house and keeping my distance from people whenever I do get outside. The most stressful part for me has been my weekly trip to the grocery store. Timed for when it won’t be crowded and all set up with face mask, disposable gloves and sanitizer, most folks seem conscientious about social distancing but there’s always a few acting totally oblivious to the whole idea. Managed to get out a few times to check in on birds and butterflies, usually reasonably close to home but a couple times to good spots farther from home but decidedly few people about. The day after my last posting, Rebecca had the idea of meeting at Mars Court, where we successfully located two of those Acorn Woodpeckers she’d thought we might find…pretty distant, so the pictures of them aren’t that great. However, we’d also see a surprising number of other species including a Cassin’s Finch

Cassin’s Finch

and a ridiculous number of Pygmy Nuthatch, a bird I rarely see and had never gotten a decent photo. This time I did.

Pygmy Nuthatch

We’ve also taken a few other trips to Three Gun Spring trail and one to a new butterflying spot, Canon Monte Largo, in the foothills east of Belen. Three Gun’s been good since we run into very few other people and it’s had some good butterflies and birds lately. Canon Monte Largo is way out in the boonies, where we’d only see one other vehicle and I never did see any other people but was good for butterflies that day. In addition to our usual Sandia Hairstreak and Southwestern Orangetip, Painted Ladies (of course), and a few others, we’d see the first duskywings for the year, the first Acmon Blue

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

and Short-tailed Skipper.

Short-tailed Skipper (Zestusa doris)

Most interesting was seeing like 20+ Mormon Metalmarks, a species I might see one or two times every year but never more than one.

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

That weekend, I made an early morning run by the Great Horned Owl nests that are still accessible (the little ones at the Nature Center and Albuquerque Academy appeared a while ago but are off limits these days due to the pandemic). Big news of the day (4/11) was seeing a little one at Pueblo Montano who I got a better look at a week later (4/19). Interestingly, if you zoom in on that picture you’ll note (as I did on getting home) what appear to be a pair of paws from maybe a rabbit brought up for dinner? Also, a large feather just below the cut off branch on the left from maybe a Cooper’s Hawk?

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Fun surprise as I headed back to my car at Pueblo Montano was first hearing Killdeer and then spotting an entire family of the two adults and three of their tiny little ones. I’d only walked to the edge of the field they were in to try to get some quick pictures, but found it fascinating to watch their behavior for maybe a minute. The two adults ran off a little to the north and northwest with the female giving me quite the “broken wing” display to get my attention,

Killdeer

while those little ones somehow had already been trained to dart off in the opposite direction, stop for a second, and then run off a little further.

Killdeer

Next, I took a look at Calabacillas Arroyo, where those owls had been unusually early nesters this year and we’d seen two owlets already out of the nest in mid-February. I managed to spot two of the owls that day (4/11) close to where I’d seen three of them a week before.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Nothing had changed at Willow Creek or Corrales that day, although in Corrales the female was more visible sitting up even higher in the cavity than she had earlier.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

I’d return a week later (4/19) and didn’t see her anywhere around, although the male was in his usual spot, but in that cavity that at first looked vacant eventually got a brief look at two little ones!

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Shortly after that, a run by Willow Creek turned up at least one little one there, too.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

Several visits over the last two weeks to Embudito Canyon, where it’s usually pretty easy to avoid running into people early in the day. I haven’t seen any new butterflies there lately but the birds have been good. Like everybody else (and it’s always fun running into some of the other birders who are getting out for their “essential” exercise), it took a few trips to track down the Scott’s Oriole first reported last Thursday. I’d maybe heard it once or twice, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I got close enough for a pretty decent photo.

Scott’s Oriole

While looking for it last Friday, I did get good looks at several others including one of the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers,

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

a Black-throated Sparrow showing off from the top of a cholla,

Black-throated Sparrow

and a Cactus Wren from whose nest I’d inadvertently surprised it.

Cactus Wren

On the way to Embudito, I’d taken a look at the Cooper’s Hawk nest I’d first noticed a couple of weeks ago. I was a little surprised this time seeing the hawk standing up on the nest, and even more surprised to get home and look closer at my photo, where you can see the female’s tail as she sits on her eggs while this other one’s standing tall – most unusual.

Cooper’s Hawk

So that’s the latest from here. There should be even more new butterflies and birds appearing soon and I’ll hope to be able to get out there now and then despite all this pandemic business.

 

 

 

 

 

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Essential Spring

Despite all this social distancing, home lockdowns, travel restrictions and closing of all non-essential businesses, the Spring season seems to have declared itself an essential activity and is fully operational. Trees are bursting out with their new blooms, wildflowers are popping up, birds are returning, and more and more species of butterflies have been appearing. Weather’s getting warmer without the spring winds kicking up too often. I’m still getting out fairly regularly but making a significant effort to keep my distance from others, avoiding peak times and overly-crowded parking areas, and minimizing trip distances.

Among those butterflies seen the last two weeks was this Great Purple Hairstreak. It’s one of those that are usually only seen a few times every year and usually in unexpected locations. It’s also the butterfly that first got me into this butterflying thing – amazed that something so spectacular was around, but that you’d never notice it unless you were looking.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

Of the very few butterflies we’d see that day, there was also a Mourning Cloak, a species that several friends had mentioned recently. Mourning Cloaks over-winter as adults in leaf litter and start flying whenever the weather warms up sufficiently. Usually seen flying by or on the ground with wings spread to soak up the sun, this one gave me a good look at the underside of those wings.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

It’s been a little unusual this year seeing so many of our Sandia Hairstreaks around all their usual locations. Usually lucky to spot one or two and to hopefully have them perch long enough to photograph, this year there seem to be several on just about every stand of beargrass as well as by damp areas and other nectar sources. A bit variable in their coloring, now and then a fresh one really catches my eye with that brilliant emerald green.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

The Southwestern Orangetips have also been flying for the last few weeks, but are still pretty tricky to find perched anywhere long enough to photograph.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthcharis sara thoosa)

Rebecca’s recently turned me on to Three Gun Spring as a new spot for both butterflies and birds. I’d been there a few times in the past without finding it all that productive, but it’s going to be on my list of places requiring regular visits. Parking can get a bit crowded (at least these days), but we saw very few people there once we started up a side trail. It had plenty of those Sandia Hairstreaks, Southwestern Orangetips, the ubiquitous Painted Ladies that are showing up everywhere again, but what really got our attention was the Yucca Giant-Skipper. We’ve only seen this species in a few locations and were thrilled to see at least three individuals on a recent visit.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

A few other more common species were also seen there most for the first time this season, including a Variegated Fritillary, Spring White and Checkered White, Common Checkered-Skipper, and the tiny Dainty Sulphur.

Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)

Most of my outings lately have been to my ‘local patch’, Embudito Canyon, which is quite close to my house and usually not too crowded. Butterflies have been pretty good there recently, but it was fun seeing a few new birds showing up again, including Black-throated Sparrow,

Black-throated Sparrow

the somewhat more secretive Black-chinned Sparrow,

Black-chinned Sparrow

and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker that popped up right next to the trail.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

The other interesting sighting in Embudito last week was what struck me in these unusual times as a unicorn.

Unicorn

Turns out it’s (obviously) a young Mule Deer that’s shed one of its antlers. Still, tho, it’s the only unicorn I’ve ever seen out there.

On the way to Embudito, I’ve also noticed a Cooper’s Hawk has taken up residence that I’ll be keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.

Cooper’s Hawk

Made the rounds of most of my owl nests this past Sunday since it had been a few weeks and those little ones should start appearing any day now. A month since my last visit, things seemed about the same at Pueblo Montano although she might be sitting up a little higher.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Also seen at Pueblo Montano was my first Snowy Egret for the year, hanging out at the pond at Bosque School.

Snowy Egret

Also a month since my last visit, Willow Creek was pretty much unchanged (which was also the case for the Dixon Road nest).

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

Since I was in the neighborhood, I also thought to take a look at Calabacillas Arroyo. It had been a month since I’d seen any of those owls who had so surprisingly finished nesting way earlier than I’ve ever seen. I had been back a couple of times after the day they all disappeared and had pretty much given up seeing them until next year. Having read somewhere that owls tend to stay in the same area all year, however, it seemed worth another look. And, yep, this time it was fairly easy to spot one adult and one of the little ones not far from the nest cavity. It wasn’t until I got home to look at the pictures that I saw a third owl…the two adults on either side of that squawking youngster. Bet the other little one is somewhere nearby, and I’ll be taking another look soon.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Heading home finally gave me a look at the two Osprey nesting at the North Diversion Channel. I hadn’t seen anybody or maybe one adult there in recent visits, but this time had the male fly in with a rather large fish while I was focused on the female looking off in the direction from which he was approaching.

Osprey

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Viral Spring

Like everywhere else, the times have certainly been a little strange since my last posting on March 11. The next day, our Audubon Thursday Birders did their usual thing heading down to a new location, San Lorenzo Canyon, but already folks were starting to think about the oncoming pandemic. By the next day, we’d already decided to discourage carpooling for future trips and planned to start keeping that “social distance” apart from each other. By the end of the weekend, we had cancelled all trips, meetings, and events through at least the end of May. Since then, things have gotten even more isolating as a lot of us older folks are doing our best to minimize personal contacts and our state and local governments are actively addressing the threat by closing stores, malls, movie theaters, bars, restaurants, playgrounds and more. Most recent was a State Public Health Order on March 23 that is basically an order to stay at home except for essential activities that sounds a lot like what’s been going on in England and other places lately. It still seems acceptable to go outside for “essential exercise”, although some are interpreting that in a more limited sense such as not driving to a park or only allowed if you’re actively walking your dog or fitness walking. Having gotten quite well practiced at retirement in recent years, other than the lack of direct social interaction and learning how to buy food to last a week, so far I haven’t had to modify my behavior significantly and certainly haven’t suffered the economic impact on all those employed in those businesses that have been forced to close. Getting outdoors to look for birds, butterflies, and whatever else is going on seems to be my main thing and for the most part hasn’t been significantly affected.

Social distancing has surely become a key concept bandied about in all this, which I acknowledged by posting in my Facebook caption of this photo, “Social distancing…Corrales NM today”.

Great Horned Owl

The fact that we’ve been seeing her head peeking out since at least March 9 almost certainly means she’s hatched a few owlets that we should be seeing soon. A few days later, I noticed the male parked in his usual spot, but looking away from the nest and the trail I usually photograph him. Walking around to the other side of the eastern ditch, he was fairly easy to spot, but still did his best to camouflage himself with branches breaking up his profile.

Great Horned Owl

Two of the nests I’ve been following this year are now off-limits with the closing of the State Park and a school, but it was fun getting to locate a new nest near Tingley Ponds that a friend told me about but swore me not to reveal its location. I probably won’t visit it again until the little ones start appearing.

Great Horned Owl

That same day, Rebecca and I, strictly maintaining our social distance but at least getting a chance to talk to each other for the first time in a week, found a porcupine snoozing at eye level in the bushes near the trail. What I like about this shot is that it really shows off those defensive quills usually hidden by its fur.

Porcupine

Another pandemic-related sighting yesterday was of this nesting Curve-billed Thrasher, who seems to have cornered the market in toilet paper which has vanished from all my local stores recently.

Curve-billed Thrasher

That was going on in Embudito Canyon, close to where she’d nested in 2017 in a nest very close to the main trail and that eventually failed for unknown reasons. Embudito’s been my go-to place the last couple of weeks since it’s easy to get to and hasn’t been too crowded except on weekends. Yesterday, I noticed that everybody was following the new guidance of keeping group size to no more than 5 people, but nobody seemed particularly worried about keeping six feet apart. Ever since that social distance rule came out, I’ve gone out of my way (literally) to keep a good distance from others; just wish everyone else was paying as much attention. Interestingly, on most visits there since the beginning of March, good numbers of Sandia Hairstreaks have been flying about, often to the exclusion of any other butterfly species.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

This is a special butterfly that was first discovered in the Sandias (in La Cueva Canyon just north of Embudito) in 1958 and was named the state butterfly of New Mexico in 2004. Although it is now known to range from southeast Colorado down to northern Mexico, I typically get a few requests every year from folks about where and when to find them and enjoy getting to track one down with those who come to visit. It’s always fun to point one out to others out for a walk in Embudito, which I’ve done this year for anybody who asks or looks as if they might be interested. New this year is my asking them to keep their six foot distance, but almost every time people get so interested in seeing these tiny guys they end up standing quite close. So for the rest of this year’s season, either I won’t mention them at all or will try to point them out with a laser.

On several visits over the last two weeks, everything seems to have come together butterfly-wise that for the first time this year I’m seeing a few more species flying, most of which I’ve managed to photograph. First up is a much better shot of the Southwestern Orangetip that I’d first seen on March 11, this one from March 16.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

That day was also good for a Spring White

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

and a Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

People had been telling me about the Mourning Cloaks they’d been seeing recently, which like the Hoary Comma, is a butterfly that overwinters as an adult in leaf litter and can be seen early in the year on the occasional warm, sunny day. Before I got this picture of the Hoary Comma perched on that stick, I’d seen it and a Mourning Cloak chasing a Two-tailed Swallowtail, the latter a little earlier in the season than I’ve seen in the past.

You’ll notice that Southwestern Orangetip above nectaring on catkins of our local willow. There is a small stand of those willows just above the spring in Embudito that seems to attract a good variety of butterflies at this time of year. In addition to the orangetip, yesterday I had one of those Sandia Hairstreaks on it, my first Gray Hairstreak of the year,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and the first of what some years is the ubiquitous Painted Lady.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Highlight of the day (and of the year so far) was spotting a California Tortoiseshell close to the spring area. From a distance I somehow realized that it wasn’t just another of those more common Hoary Commas but had to try to get closer for a picture without running it off, a situation complicated by the arrival of a person walking their dog and wanting to keep them a social distance away. They of course kept coming and decided this would be a good place to stop and give the dog a drink. All turned out well in the end, however, with the butterfly coming much closer and posing for a few seconds while the lady and her dog stayed far enough away.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

Looks like it’s going to be a good Spring, especially once we “flatten that curve” and this virus becomes history.

 

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Almost Spring

Just a week away from the first day of Spring and the signs are starting to appear out there. A week after looking in on the Calabacillas Arroyo owls to find the two owlets and the adult female way out on a branch away from the nesting cavity, the little ones had learned to fly and I’d see all four of them, each in a different tree but reasonably close to the nest tree. Here’s one of the little ones.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

This was also the first time this season I managed to spot the male, not too surprisingly in the same tree he’d used several years ago. No doubt these guys will all just disappear sometime in the next few weeks.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Not much change at the other nests I’ve been watching, although I did get a much better shot of the nesting female

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

as well as one of the male in his usual spot at Rio Grande Nature Center (RGNC).

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

During the Audubon Thursday Birder walk there, somebody noticed near the owl nest was an old Bushtit nest that the Bushtits were busy refurbishing for their upcoming season.

Bushtit

Stopped in on the Western Screech-Owl in Columbus Park, but it’s just hanging out as usual with no indication if or when nesting might begin.

Western Screech-Owl

I managed to check out a few other possibilities on the west side of town a week ago, but failed to spot any nesting owls. One, however, had a Cooper’s Hawk busy working on her old nest since owls hadn’t taken it over.

Cooper’s Hawk

And at another spot, a Greater Roadrunner was acting out and cooing loudly trying to attract a female.

Greater Roadrunner

Very few birds the day I was in Rinconada Canyon, but did hear a couple of Canyon Wrens and saw several Rock Wrens, one of which posed nicely for me.

Rock Wren

A return visit to Willow Creek gave me a better look at the nesting female,

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

and for the first time since early February, the male was back in his usual spot.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

I hadn’t been back to Pueblo Montano in a few weeks, so stopped by there one day to get a little better view of her.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

The big development this week was with the pair in Corrales, where I’d only seen the male since mid-February. I’d suspected nesting was going on in the old cavity from a single white feather clinging to its edge, but earlier this week saw that the female was just peeking out of the cavity.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

That could well mean that she’s sitting up and has a couple of little ones in there with her that maybe we’ll get to see in a few weeks.

Fun picture of a Cooper’s Hawk that day, sitting in the irrigation ditch.

Cooper’s Hawk

I’d been hearing that folks had been seeing a Burrowing Owl out in Rio Rancho so motored out there yesterday to take a look. Sure enough, I saw the one that had been reported, but if you look a little closer you’ll see a second one parked back there in the shadows.

Burrowing Owl

The last couple of weeks had also kicked off the start of our spring butterflies, which are always to treat to see back in business. First up is our Sandia Hairstreak, which I started seeing on March 2.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

I’ve been seeing a good number of them in Embudito Canyon and a few other spots since, and have been returning to Embudito regularly hoping to see our first Southwestern Orangetip. Had my first Orangetip yesterday, and saw several more today. Early in the season, they seem to be constantly on the move and only settle down for a few seconds quick to fly off as I try to get closer. This is the best I could do so far, but hope for better photos over the next few weeks.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

 

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Owl Developments

For the last two weeks, it’s mostly been about looking around for more owl nests and checking on the latest status of those I’ve found. Before we get into that, here’s a couple of other pictures I’ve gotten since my last update. A week ago while at the Rio Grande Nature Center for their annual Friends meeting, we’d heard about Wilson’s Snipe being seen from the bridge over the irrigation ditch and decided to take a look. Sure enough, two of them were right there working along the bank and unusually oblivious to the presence of all the people going by or stopping to give them a look. They would duck behind the overhanging grass now and then, but soon reappear and go about their business.

Wilson’s Snipe

That week’s Thursday Birder trip to Tingley Ponds turned up a nice number of species, only one of which I managed to photograph, a Pied-billed Grebe.

Pied-billed Grebe

Naturally, my camera was nowhere ready when a young Bald Eagle came flying low right over the crowd. I did get organized pretty quickly the next day as a Cooper’s Hawk flew by during a visit to Embudito.

Cooper’s Hawk

Now, about them owls.

Last time, I’d reported that we were thrilled to find owls nesting near Calabacillas Arroyo where we’d last had them nest back in 2017. I’d gotten a photo of an adult at the nest site on two visits and had heard reports of at least one owlet being seen in the nest cavity already (which would be astonishingly early in the season, and normally I expect to start seeing active nesting around Valentine’s Day). Stopping by on February 18, I did indeed see an owlet peeking out.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Way beyond the “fuzzy tennis ball” stage when we usually first get a look at the little ones, it was even more astonishing to hear the owlets had started “branching” the next day, moving out along the branches of the nest tree before they learn to fly. Of course, I got back there a few times over the next several days to see and here’s what they looked like by February 29.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

In my last posting, I’d also mentioned finally seeing both adults at Willow Creek Open Space back in early February, but they hadn’t started nesting. On February 20, the Thursday Birders were at Willow Creek and fully expected to see the owls in that same spot, but were completely unsuccessful. We also looked pretty closely at the only old hawk nest nearby but saw nothing. That’s happened to me before…at Pueblo Montano last year we’d reliably see the adults near a previous nesting site for weeks until one day they vanished only to find them nesting almost a half mile away.

Dropped by Willow Creek yesterday, again didn’t see anybody where I’d first seen them, did the whole loop trail again looking at other possibilities without success, and just like my first time thought to give the original location another look. This time, yep, Mama Owl was sitting on that old nest (where she probably was on the Thursday Birder visit), but I just happened to take a look from a little different angle.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

In other news, I’d been to the aforementioned Pueblo Montano area a few times looking for owls particularly after seeing a recent eBird report. It was satisfying when I finally spotted the nest to note that of all the old hawk nests around, they’d settled on one that I’d thought looked like the best on my earlier visits.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

One more new nest to report – I’d seen a photo on Facebook yesterday of an owl looking out of a nesting cavity at the Rio Grande Nature Center, and was definitely headed down there today to try and find it. We usually have at least one nesting pair in the vicinity and have been looking regularly without success, so it would be a relief to finally find it. Turns out it’s right next to the entrance walk but only visible from the restricted area. Fortunately, the regular weekend walks there do get to visit that area and I was able to get a photo. Unfortunately, she was kinda tucked in there this morning and this is all one could see. At least we’ll be able to take a look every weekend and once the little ones are old enough might get to see them more easily. I did look pretty hard for the male this morning but without any luck.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

I’ve also checked in on the Corrales nest a few times, but all I ever see (other than the male keeping an eye from across the irrigation ditch) is a single telltale feather above that cavity. I did hear a report that the female was seen peering out of the cavity yesterday, so maybe we’ll be seeing little ones there soon.

A visit to the Albuquerque Academy today showed the female still sitting on them eggs,

Great Horned Owl – AA

but this time I also saw the male perfectly obvious in the next tree over.

Great Horned Owl – AA

So here we go. That’s a good half dozen nests going on so far this year; no doubt a few more will be discovered in the next few weeks.

 

 

 

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Owls and More

With the leaves off the trees and the days starting to get longer, ’tis the season to start looking for this year’s Great Horned Owl nests. Usually by late December, they’ll start pairing up and start looking for a nest site, and over time I’ve realized Valentine’s Day is about when I’ll first start finding occupied nests. Those leafless trees also make it easier to spot the old hawk nests that the owls seem to prefer. Any large lump in the trees is worth taking a closer look at and will probably be either an old nest or surprisingly often a snoozing porcupine.

Porcupine

Only last year did I realize owls regularly use the same nesting spot year after year so in addition to looking around for new nesting opportunities as I walk the trails, I definitely take a look at old nesting sites. Not too much luck so far this year, although I’m now up to four likely locations they’ll be nesting soon if not already. Along the way, there’s been a few other interesting sightings as well, such as this Spotted Towhee lit by the sun,

Spotted Towhee

a Hairy Woodpecker busy looking for bugs,

Hairy Woodpecker

and a pair of Common Mergansers; birds that are usually only seen way out in the river.

Common Merganser

In addition to the owls in Corrales and the Albuquerque Academy mentioned in my last posting, I’ve now found some in two more locations following up on suggestions from friends and eBird reports. First up was the exciting news that owls were again seen near the spot they’d nested in several years ago near Calabacillas Arroyo. Indeed, the first time I stopped by one was sitting right on the snag with the nesting cavity.

Great Horned Owl

A few days later it higher up the branch to the right of the broken off snag

Great Horned Owl

and trickier to spot – here’s more what it looks like without a zoom lens. Going up that right diagonal branch, the owl’s lined up with that vertical branch.

Great Horned Owl

Friends report that they’ve actually photographed an owlet at least two weeks old peeking out of that snag, which would be quite unusual in my experience having hatched at least a month earlier than any I’ve known before. Naturally, I’ll be returning again soon in hopes of spotting that little one.

My other sighting was of both owls at Willow Creek Open Space. I’d been unsuccessful in spotting them on a visit a week earlier, but found the first one very easily on my next visit sitting out in the open not very high above the ground.

Great Horned Owl

Having missed the other one at first, when I returned later that morning, the second one popped out at me very close to the trail but well-hidden in the branches.

Great Horned Owl

A couple of other fun pictures over the next few days included a Rock Wren at Piedras Marcadas,

Rock Wren

and from our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to El Oso Grande Park, the famous headless Greater Roadrunner.

Greater Roadrunner

Some friends I’ve kept in touch with over the years, but haven’t seen since meeting them on my first Peru trip in 2004, dropped into town this past weekend and we’ve been out to a few spots looking for some of our local residents. Missing the rosy-finches up at Sandia Crest on their first visit, we headed out to Clements Road near Estancia for some raptors. Several good sightings that afternoon including Scaled Quail, several Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrel, and Prairie Falcon, but it was a great treat to get good looks at one of what may have been a total of 3 Golden Eagles,

Golden Eagle

and a Ferruginous Hawk that let us approach rather closely.

Ferruginous Hawk

We figured it was less interested in us than in a large flock of Horned Larks working the field by the side of the road.

Horned Lark

The next day we met up at Bosque del Apache NWR, where we would see the last of the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese now migrating back north. Several Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks, but it seems the Bald Eagles may have already departed. It was fun getting good pictures of a Pyrrhuloxia despite shooting through the Visitor Center window,

Pyrrhuloxia

and one of my Lesser Goldfinch shots from out in the garden area came out well.

Lesser Goldfinch

One of our target birds, the Tundra Swan, wouldn’t appear until our very last stop for the day and was just off the Flight Deck.

Tundra Swan

Yesterday, I made my rounds of all of those Great Horned Owl nests (except Willow Creek) to see if nesting had yet commenced. No luck near Calabacillas, seeing only one owl even further away from that snag and other than possibly a single white feather caught in the bark, no evidence of the female or that little one. Fun, however, to see a Great Blue Heron first in a tall cottonwood and later along the irrigation ditch, and then to have a Belted Kingfisher drop by.

Belted Kingfisher

I hadn’t been to Corrales for awhile, and interestingly only saw a single owl there

Great Horned Owl

…the female could easily be nesting in their usual cavity, but I couldn’t see any evidence that she might be there. Wrapped up my morning by stopping by Albuquerque Academy where I’d last seen one of the owls tucked into its winter roost in a big Ponderosa Pine. Surprise of the day was to find nesting finally underway in their favorite spot!

Great Horned Owl

 

 

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January Wrap-Up

Here’s some of the photos from a few good outings over the last couple of weeks. Over the third weekend in January, Rebecca and I headed down to the area around Truth or Consequences, NM, to join Kim Score’s CNMAS trip to Percha Dam and to scout out a few locations Rebecca’s planning to include in this year’s Birdathon coming up in mid-May. In addition to Percha Dam, we’d spend time looking around Caballo Lake, Animas Creek, Paseo del Rio, Mim’s Lake, and several locations along the western shore of Elephant Butte Lake. At some of those spots at Elephant Butte Lake, we’d come across small groups of javelina (or collared peccary). I don’t see them very often and when I do, they’re usually pretty far away or on the run. One group we came across on a dirt road close to the lake was a little slower to take off, especially one young one that didn’t seem too bothered by us or in the mood to run.

Javelina

All weekend, we were surprised to see Verdin pop up in several places, a bird I usually don’t see very often at all…of those we’d see on this trip (Mim’s Lake, Paseo del Rio, and Percha), this is my best shot showing that yellow head and those red epaulets.

Verdin

A late afternoon trip to Animas Creek (a unique habitat for New Mexico of large sycamore trees along the creek) didn’t turn up the Bridled Titmouse we were hoping to see (and did early in 2019), but had plenty of our other target for the area, Acorn Woodpecker.

Acorn Woodpecker

After an interesting evening staying in the restored CCC cabins of the Dam Site Lodge (pelicans, herons, mergansers, and grebes appearing at dawn on the lake below), we met up with Kim and the group at Percha Dam State Park the next morning. Before we even got organized to start the walk we had lots of Phainopeplas flying around, a bird we’ve had a little trouble seeing lately in its usual spots closer to Albuquerque.

Phainopepla

More amazing was getting a great look at that Bridled Titmouse right out in the open also just as we were getting ready to get started.

Bridled Titmouse

As expected, the walk was quite good and we’d see a good variety of birds as the day went on. A highlight was having a mature Bald Eagle fly right over the group,

Bald Eagle

and later at Percha Flats on Caballo Lake, while not a highlight for the day flybys of some of the Ring-billed Gulls were a nice opportunity for some in flight photos.

Ring-billed Gull

Later that afternoon we stopped by Paseo del Rio Campground at the base of the Elephant Butte Dam, not only was it good to find a Verdin and the expected Pyrrhuloxia and cool to see a Great Blue Heron in its unusual, but regular, spot up on the cliff, but to also spot a Great Egret hunting in the water,

Great Egret

and have two Osprey fly by.

Osprey

In what was probably about an hour walking around the area around 4pm, we’d see 17 species which seems pretty good for this time of year.

Taking our time the next morning headed for home, we were unsuccessful in hoping to see the Golden Eagles, where a year ago we’d seen several perched on the power poles along the freeway south of Bosque del Apache NWR. A stop further north at the Bernardo Wildlife Area turned up a close view of a female Northern Harrier,

Northern Harrier

none of the Snow Geese we’d heard folks had been seeing recently, and not nearly as many Sandhill Crane as had been reported just days earlier.

Sandhill Crane

It was pretty good, however, seeing several White-throated Sparrows working the swampy ground covering.

White-throated Sparrow

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip returned to Bernardo where we finally managed to spot the White-throated Sparrows again,

White-throated Sparrow

along with a pretty good look at the Harlan’s race of the Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed (Harlan’s) Hawk

As usual, with all those eyes and a number of excellent birders on the trip, we’d end the day with a nice variety of species.

This past weekend, I got out to start looking for some of those owls that could start nesting in a few more weeks. In Corrales, where Great Horned Owls had nested last year and we got to see one for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count on December 15, this time I got to see both adults and even get a shot of them both looking right at me.

Great Horned Owl

Not yet nesting either, just on a hunch I checked in on the Albuquerque Academy where I’ve spotted them on a winter roost in past years, and sure enough managed to spot one of them.

Great Horned Owl

This ponderosa is close to where they’ve typically nested and when they do, is the easiest to watch of any in town.

I also had to stop by Columbus Park where the  Western Screech-Owl has reappeared after being off somewhere since last June.

Western Screech-Owl

Finally, after wandering around the Rio Grande Nature Center bosque without yet finding the owls that are undoubtedly somewhere around, it was a major thrill to get to see a Bald Eagle on the east side of the river where I’ve occasionally seen one in past years. For the first time there, this one didn’t immediately fly off and sat there posing nicely for me.

Bald Eagle

 

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First Post for 2020

Well, I’m just not keeping up with blogging of late and can’t come up with any particular reasons why that is. Since returning from that delightful Thailand trip described in my last posting, days were pretty busy first getting through all those trip pictures, followed by all the holiday activities and events and including three Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs). Already two weeks into the new year and it seems I haven’t been getting out all that often either and when I do things have been pretty quiet in most of my usual haunts. Nonetheless,  a few decent photographs have appeared during that time that I thought worth sharing here.

For the Bosque del Apache CBC, Rebecca and I were out from dawn to dusk covering the San Antonio area just north of the refuge. She’s done that area for quite a few years now and knows what to look for and where. I’ve joined her for the last eight years and always have fun getting some special birds and sometimes decent pictures. For this year’s count, the weather was just about perfect and here’s a few pictures from that day. Early on we got good looks at this Red-tailed Hawk,

Red-tailed Hawk

and later in the day a Pyrrhuloxia who came out in the open for a change.

Pyrrhuloxia

A highlight for me was seeing a Merlin, a bird it seems I only manage to find maybe once a year.

Merlin

Quite a few Western Meadowlarks around, this one showing off that bright yellow chest.

Western Meadowlark

The next day found us covering all of Corrales for the Albuquerque CBC where we ended up with a pretty good list. It was fun getting to add the Great Horned Owl for the list, found close to last year’s nest as a friend had reported on eBird a few days earlier.

Great Horned Owl

We only spotted the one, while more recent reports had both owls with one remarkably well-hidden close to the other.

The day after Christmas falling on a Thursday this year, the Audubon Thursday Birders added to the Sandia Mountain CBC by covering the area of Bear Canyon included in the count circle. As usual, we ended up seeing more species than on any of our scouting visits. Later that day, Rebecca and I headed out to our usual count area in the East Mountains and added a few more species. Somehow, I didn’t end up with any photographs from that day unfortunately.

To kick off 2020, I did get a nice close-up of a Spotted Towhee.

Spotted Towhee

A few days later, Rebecca and I wandered down to Shining River Open Space hoping to see the American Dipper that had been reported in the same spot it had been a couple years ago. No luck on our first attempt, but we went with some friends we met on our way back who quickly spotted it right where they’d expected to see it. I returned again the next day to find it still hanging around that same location.

American Dipper

Following that success, we decided to drop in on the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo, where Rebecca wanted to show me their new penguin exhibit she’d seen earlier. It was indeed pretty interesting, but a little tricky getting good photographs. I can’t help but take pictures of male Wood Ducks when I come across one,

Wood Duck

and while I rarely take photos of zoo animals, I liked this one of one of the gorillas catching some rays.

My local gorilla

Off to San Lorenzo Canyon and then Bosque del Apache last weekend turned up a few good birds, such as this Rock Wren,

Rock Wren

a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes,

Loggerhead Shrike

and close flybys of a Ferruginous Hawk,

Ferruginous Hawk

and a female Northern Harrier.

Northern Harrier

Two birds from today’s walk south of Alameda on the west side of the Rio Grande included a closer view of a young Bald Eagle that we’d seen a couple weeks ago from much further away,

Juvenile Bald Eagle

and one of several Hermit Thrushes that were working their way through the trees.

Hermit Thrush

We’ll see what the next few weeks turn up as hopefully I’ll be getting out more and see a few more birds. My owls should be appearing again about now as they start scouting out nesting locations for the upcoming season.

 

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