Start of the New Year

Since Christmas, we’ve had three snowstorms one after another. In recent years we haven’t had much snow, but are expecting some this year with the El Niño weather pattern. We can always use the moisture and they’ve now gotten enough on the mountain for the Sandia Peak Ski Area to open. At least in town, the snow hasn’t made driving difficult for long since it typically evaporates from the roads rather quickly. Also typical is how the powdery snow finds a way of drifting into a tall pile right in front of my garage door – always a treat to discover when I decide to head out.

Having completed three Christmas Bird Counts under remarkably nice weather conditions before the holiday, the Sandia Mountain CBC is traditionally conducted the day after Christmas coinciding with the start of the first of those three snowstorms. It hadn’t really gotten going in town yet, but on the east side of the Sandias where our count area is the snow had been coming down over night and would continue to fall all day. We managed to cover most of our assigned roads and ended up with a reasonable number of birds and species variety, despite the birds generally seeking cover and a few of the roads starting to get a little dicey. What was most interesting that day was that when we would see birds, it usually was a large number of one species parked together in a tree. These Cedar Waxwings had taken up their position in a short tree just next to a mailbox station and were obviously waiting out the snow since they didn’t fly off despite all the people driving up and walking around to check their mail.

Cedar Waxwing

Another surprise flock was this bunch of Western Meadowlarks parked (unusually) in a tree. That yellow really popped out in my binocular view and it was thrilling to realize what they were since they normally are tucked into a grassy field or one or two individuals will be spotted on a fence or similar perch.

Western Meadowlark

Bluebirds all seemed grouped together as well if not quite so tightly packed. Mountain Bluebirds were fun to see, including this male

Mountain Bluebird (male)

and a nearby female.

Mountain Bluebird (female)

The next day was the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to the Rio Grande Nature Center. Roads in my neighborhood in the foothills had been plowed but still looked a bit tricky, so it was pleasant surprise to find perfectly dry roads and little snow closer to the river and a sunny day for the outing. The birding turned out well, too, but my only picture from that morning was this Greater Roadrunner we very nearly overlooked sitting on a fence all fluffed up to soak up a little sun.

Greater Roadrunner

A few days later, I made another visit to the open fields of Los Poblanos Open Space hoping to photograph one of the several species of raptors that are often there this time of year. Not much luck on that score, but I did have a close encounter with the roadrunner that seems to have adopted the garden area at the northwest corner of the area,

Greater Roadrunner

and did find one of the Western Screech-Owls at home.

Western Screech-Owl

Most places I’ve gone over the last several weeks have turned up at least one porcupine, a critter easy to see snoozing away the day up in a tree during the winter.

Porcupine

It was a hardy bunch that appeared the next week for the Thursday Birder walk around Los Poblanos Open Space the morning after another good snow, but while it was indeed pretty chilly at the start the weather was calm and sunny and made for a most enjoyable outing with a good list of birds seen. No owl that day, unfortunately, which I suspect was deep in the nest box keeping warm. We saw a number of American Kestrels around the fields, a couple of which posed nicely for photographs.

American Kestrel

This past weekend, Rebecca and I drove down to Truth or Consequences to do a bit of birding around the area on Saturday and then joined Kim Score for a CNMAS Field Trip on Sunday to Percha Dam State park and taking a leisurely drive home at a few more spots. First up was a visit to Animas Creek where I’d never been before. The (dry) creek is lined with large sycamore trees, which aren’t often seen in New Mexico but are known to attract several bird species not commonly found in the state. One that we were hoping for popped up high in a sycamore right at the start, but then showed up again toward the end of our visit just feet from the car, a Bridled Titmouse.

Bridled Titmouse

A few other fun birds we’d see there included quite a few Acorn Woodpeckers,

Acorn Woodpecker

several Phainopepla (of which we’d see plenty later in the trip), and a few Cedar Waxwings (we’d see lots of them later as well but I wouldn’t get good photos of any of them).

Cedar Waxwing

After Animas Creek, we headed back through Truth or Consequences to have lunch at Paseo del Rio campground just downstream from Elephant Butte Dam. We spotted a small flock of Pyrrhuloxia just as we pulled in to park and I jumped out to try to get a few pictures since I rarely see them and they are usually pretty far away and buried in the bushes. I worked them a bit that day and would try again the next day when we returned with the Audubon group, but never quite got the picture I was hoping for; this one at least shows the bird out in the open.

Pyrrhuloxia

I also had a very cooperative Hermit Thrush presumably trying to stay warm and out of the breeze while I snapped away.

Hermit Thrush

A nice surprise that day was coming across a Hooded Merganser pair in one of the two ponds of this former fish hatchery.

Hooded Merganser

They were nice enough to let me to take a couple of pictures before they flew off to points unknown and wouldn’t be seen when we looked the next day.

The field trip the next day was most enjoyable despite the weather starting out with a bit of unexpected drizzle and ending with a good list of birds seen, several of which I don’t see all that often, and some really excellent photo opportunities. An easy one was an American Kestrel early in the walk,

American Kestrel

while we were busy looking at a good-sized flock of Cedar Waxwings, assorted bluebirds and goldfinches, and a ridiculous number of both male and female Phainopepla. Here’s my best shot of a female from that morning,

Phainopepla (female)

and this is my best one of a male (taken later that day at Paseo del Rio).

Phainopepla (male)

This was my first winter visit to the park and we covered quite a bit more of it than I’d done on previous visits, making it interesting seeing a different variety of birds this time. Bird of the day for me, however, was when we finally spotted the Prairie Falcon other birders had mentioned earlier that morning. Although it flew off as we first approached, it soon returned and stayed around long enough for all of us to get a good look and some good photos.

Prairie Falcon

A bit later we wandered over to the dam but wouldn’t see too many birds since the upstream side was pretty much frozen over. A couple of birds were hanging around on the downstream side, including a single American Pipit, a couple of ducks and this Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

Then it was off to Paseo del Rio for another visit with those Pyrrhuloxia, but no Golden-crowned Kinglet that Kim had heard about there or the Hooded Mergansers we’d seen the day before. While everybody was busy checking out the ducks in the nearly dry river, I’d slipped off to look for Pyrrhuloxia – they eluded me until I rejoined the group, but I did get a good look at a Great Egret that flew over (and that we’d seen in the river the day before).

Great Egret

The egret appeared headed for one of the ponds, but wasn’t there by the time the group took a look. We also had two very cooperative Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in different spots that seemed much more interested in poking around for something to eat than to worry about all those birdwatchers staring at them.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

We ended the day with a stop at the marina on Elephant Butte Lake, where there were more grebes than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Mostly Western Grebe and a few Clark’s Grebe, they were still pretty far away and the water pretty turbulent under a stiff breeze.

Western Grebe

Heading for home the next day, Rebecca and I were surprised to note several Golden Eagles on the power poles close to the interstate south of Bosque del Apache.

Golden Eagle

This time of year there are usually plenty of hawks (most often Red-tailed) sitting on those poles, so it was quite surprising to realize first one and then the next couple we’d see were indeed eagles. We tried to sneak up on them but they’d be pretty quick to fly away before taking up watch usually a couple of poles further down.

A quick stop at Bosque del Apache turned up two Bald Eagles hanging out on their usual snag in the middle of a large frozen pond, a couple of Northern Harrier that wouldn’t stick around long enough to photograph, and a fun bunch of Bufflehead – all male except for one female. Here’s a picture of the boys figuring out what to do next after the female decided to leave.

Bufflehead

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The Days Before Christmas

The last two weeks leading up to Christmas tomorrow have included some remarkably nice weather for this time of year and some good bird sightings mostly from the three Christmas Bird Counts we’ve participated in so far this year.  On December 14, we joined the count for Sevilleta NWR, the next morning the count for Bosque del Apache NWR, and a week later the Albuquerque count. We’ll do one more, the count for the Sandia Mountains, the day after Christmas, when the weather is expected to turn a bit iffy with the weather forecast to get colder and with a good chance of snow.

Before our trip to Socorro for the first two counts, Rebecca and I did a little scouting for the area of Corrales we’re assigned to for the Albuquerque count. One of the birds we’d see that day but miss during the count was a Black Phoebe, normally rather common along the irrigation ditches.

Black Phoebe

At a spot further down the ditch a Great Blue Heron posed regally from its tall perch. We would see one during the official count, but only from a distance standing in the ditch.

Great Blue Heron

A treat to see that day but would also miss on count day were a couple of Green-winged Teal, this one really flashing that green wing patch.

Green-winged Teal

We enjoyed the Sevilleta count that Friday, where we got to drive and walk areas normally behind locked gates near the small settlement of San Acacia. A nice sunny day that warmed up nicely, but we wouldn’t turn up too many species. Interestingly, however, was that some birds, such as Eastern Bluebird and American Kestrel, were rather unusual for that area while common maybe 25 miles south around Bosque del Apache NWR in what seemed to me fairly similar habitat.

For the Bosque del Apache count the next day, Rebecca has long been responsible for the area within the count circle north of the refuge to Hwy 380 through the town of San Antonio, NM which we’ve done together for the last several years along with our friends Bernie and Pauline (and Lenny the dog). We had some good sightings that day, starting with a Phainopepla in a spot we’ve seen one before and right next to the car,

Phainopepla

a Verdin, again in a likely location – not a great photo, but I’ll keep working on getting a better one,

Verdin

most of the usual suspects, including large numbers of Western Meadowlarks in several spots.

Western Meadowlark

I’d have never looked for that Verdin if Rebecca hadn’t recognized one calling as we drove slowly past some mesquite bushes. Her incredible birding by ear skills would later turn up a most unusual species, a small group of five Inca Dove buried in a large flock of other more commonly seen doves.

Inca Dove

I can’t say I ever even detected that soft call, let alone would have recognized (as Rebecca did instantly) it as anything unusual. Good find!

Late in the afternoon, Bernie and Pauline took us to a hotspot they’d found earlier that day where we’d see Cedar Waxwings, bluebirds, American Kestrel, Phainopepla, and several other species, most notably one that would turn out to be a Prairie Falcon. Not a bird I’ve seen very often at all, this was the first we’d get close looks at and that for me was the first time I’d realize how similar their facial markings are to a Peregrine Falcon (also not often seen but more often than a Prairie).

Prairie Falcon

Sunday morning, I wandered down to Corrales again to check on my owls for a friend that hadn’t succeeded in seeing them earlier in the week, and hoping to maybe see the kingfisher or teal we’d stumbled across scouting almost a week earlier. Waldo and Waldette were right there in the same tree, and my friends also would find them there later that day.

Great Horned Owl

A couple of days later I got out to Embudito for a short visit. It was a bit windy and the birds were mostly hiding, but I got a nice shot of a Bushtit

Bushtit

and had a scrub jay making quite a bit of a racket in the scrub oak.

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay

Friday morning had me checking out Los Poblanos Open Space unsuccessfully hoping to see a Northern Harrier or one of the other raptors that tend to hang around there at this time of year along with all the Sandhill Crane and Canada Geese. No harrier (or even any screech-owls in those nest boxes), but did get a fun picture of a young Cooper’s Hawk eyeing me from a Russian Olive near the vegetable gardens.

Cooper’s Hawk

Count Day for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count started out a bit chilly and a few clouds started building, but the weather would turn quite pleasant, sunny and warm later in the day before a bit of a breeze kicked in at the end. Usually for this count, we spend most of our time cruising around in a warm car without doing much walking, but this year spent quite a bit more time walking and exploring a few areas that we don’t often visit. Cedar Waxwings were seen in several spots, including some early on, so we knew it was going to be a good day. We’d go a little out of our way to ensure Waldo and Waldette were included in the count, since I’ve rarely found an owl anywhere in December,

Great Horned Owl

and Waldette (I’m assuming since females tend to be a little larger than males) continued to pose for her close-up.

Great Horned Owl

Interestingly that day they had moved back to the tree I’d first seen one in on December 5 before they’d moved a bit further north for the last couple of weeks.

A house along the ditch with a variety of bird feeders attracted a good number of species, including a flock of Bushtits that would flit among the bushes, take a break at the feeders, and then take off somewhere before returning a few minutes later. Fun to get this shot of a pair of them goofing around in the open.

Bushtit

Also got a nice photo of this adult Cooper’s Hawk bathing in the ditch. I’d first spotted it from quite far away and was surprised it let me close in and pass right by without taking off in alarm; I’m guessing it figured it was pretty well-hidden and it would only slowly turn its head to keep an eye on me as I passed.

Cooper’s Hawk

At one spot we had a few turkeys wandering around I thought look like Wild Turkey, but that are probably being fed regularly by the neighbors as I suspect is true for other flocks I’ve seen recently in Corrales.

Wild Turkey

Toward the end of our day, it was fun coming across a pair of Belted Kingfishers unusually staying put on a phone line hanging above the dirt road along a ditch despite people occasionally driving by in cars or even out walking their dogs. Here’s the best I got of the male

Belted Kingfisher (male)

and then the female.

Belted Kingfisher (female)

And it wouldn’t be Christmas (or at least winter) around here without a visit to the Crest for the rosy-finches, where Rebecca and I joined some friends visiting from Arizona the next day. The birds, lifers for our friends, put on quite the show for the holidays!

Black Rosy-Finch

 

 

 

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Seasonal Highlights

Moving into December it does get darker and colder but it’s good to see more and more species returning for the winter (or at least more visible now that the leaves have fallen). One of my favorites that I’m pretty sure is here year-round, but much easier to see without those leaves is the Porcupine, this one unusually low in a tree next to a trail. A bit unusual to see one so alert during the day, but there was a rather large group of colorful birders standing around staring at this guy that morning.

Porcupine

Birding was a little slow at first on the last Audubon Thursday Birder outing in November to the Corrales Bosque, but the group ended up with a good list for the season and weather. Interestingly, a number of species were seen right at the end of the walk at a watering spot that all the birds seemed to enjoy. A highlight for me (and everybody else) were several Cedar Waxwings that would come to the water for a bit before flying off and returning a few minutes later. My first good look at this species in some time, this was also the first time I’ve gotten a photo or even noticed those waxy red wingtips on a couple of the birds.

Cedar Waxwing

On the first of December, Rebecca and I drove down to an eBird hotspot, the Longspur Tank, east of San Antonio hoping to see one or more species of longspur that recently had been reported there and at locations. A rather brisk and breezy morning while we were there, we did see a couple of Chestnut-collared Longspurs in with a large flock of maybe 50 Horned Larks that would swoop in (but never very close), grab a quick drink and then disappear in the wind.

Horned Lark

We’d planned to just hang out for awhile waiting to see what would show up, but that cold wind convinced us to save that for another day. Since we were in the area, we decided to check out Bosque del Apache NWR after a quick stop in San Antonio for a Phainopepla where we can usually find them.

Phainopepla

Quite common anywhere around here at this time of year is the White-crowned Sparrow. So common I’ve got way too many photos of them, but I liked the light on this one waiting in the shade before going down for a drink.

White-crowned Sparrow

We were teased by several Northern Harriers that would appear low and close while I was driving, naturally heading for the hills long before I could get my camera ready. It’s been interesting how many male harriers we’re seeing this year, since it’s usually much more often females are seen. We didn’t try all that hard, but it was a little surprising we didn’t come across the usual huge flocks of Snow Geese (although occasionally they’d lift off in the distance) and only saw a single immature Bald Eagle. Plenty of Sandhill Cranes, of course. We did have some good sightings at the large pond right as you enter the refuge, including an alert Killdeer,

Killdeer

several Bufflehead (this one showing off quite a bit of color) in among all the Northern Shovelers,

Bufflehead

and, first for the year and a species I’ve been looking for the last month or so, a Wilson’s Snipe.

Wilson’s Snipe

Determined to get a picture since it was out in the open, I tried sneaking up on it, but it’d quickly scoot off a short distance away and do a remarkable job of hiding in the limited amount of cover available. On my third attempt, it took to the air to put some distance between us  and I managed this shot of it coming in for a landing before deciding I’d best leave it to go on about its business.

Wilson’s Snipe

A few days later wandering around Pueblo Montano Open Space near the Rio Grande, I’d spot another winter species I’d been waiting to see for the last month, a Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle

This adult apparently had been dining on a rather large fish it caught that I hadn’t noticed until it took off up river to dine in private.

Bald Eagle

The next day, I headed back to Corrales thinking maybe I’d find Cedar Waxwings again along a different stretch of the bosque than we’d gone the previous week. No luck on the waxwings, but I did see a good mix of species for this time of year. At my first stop, this Downy Woodpecker was just so focused on tapping the branches of this bush that he totally ignored me while I watched for at least ten minutes.

Downy Woodpecker

Then later, while walking the irrigation ditch from La Entrada to Dixon Road, I’d see a male Belted Kingfisher, who’d (typically) let me get just so close before flying a short distance further away,

Belted Kingfisher

Great Blue Heron,

Great Blue Heron

and get a pretty good shot of a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Surprising to me, since I’m really not at all good at sparrow identification, was spotting a White-throated Sparrow working the brush alongside the irrigation ditch.

White-throated Sparrow

You can’t see that white throat in this next picture of the same bird, but those yellow eyebrows are my main clue it’s not a White-crowned Sparrow, and this picture shows it from a rather unusual perspective.

White-throated Sparrow

Another highlight of that morning was spotting the Great Horned Owl that I’d seen there a few times back in March and April. Admittedly, I had to spend some time and look pretty hard at that stretch of trees, but just had a feeling it might be around. Absolutely incredible how well such a big bird can hide in a tree with few leaves, but from one particular spot next to the trail something about the view had me look close, and there it was (naturally looking right at me!).

Great Horned Owl

It was rather cloudy that day, so 3 days later I returned thinking the day would be sunnier and maybe the owl still there. Still kind of cloudy and once again I had to work pretty hard for it, but yep, there  it was in a little bit different spot. To give you an idea of how well these guys can hide, here’s a shot of it from the path–that’s it in the top center of this picture lined up perfectly with the main trunk of the tree.

Great Horned Owl

Once I knew what tree it was in, I circled back along the east side of the irrigation ditch to see if it was visible, and yep, if you know what to look for, those ears are perfectly obvious just a little left of center in this picture.

Great Horned Owl

Returning along that route (I’d done it the opposite direction last time), this time I didn’t see the kingfisher but instead had two Great Blue Herons standing in the ditch, one of which marvelously took off and flew right over me.

Great Blue Heron

 

 

 

 

 

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Something a Little Different

This post is going to be a little different than usual since it seems some of the pictures I’ve gotten recently are of a couple of other critters, birds in unusual poses or ones not seen all that often around town. Weather, distance and equipment issues had some of them turn out leaving a little to be desired, but I figured still worth sharing.

This shot of a coyote at Poblanos Open Space turned out reasonably well. The leader of the pack, this one struck me as looking in great shape and kept its eye on me as Iong as I was in the area….three others were a short distance away lazing around in the field.

Coyote

A few days later wandering around Bear Canyon on a bit of a cloudy, blustery morning I wouldn’t see many birds at all but did spot a couple of Black-tailed Jackrabbits that would high-tail it outathere as I approached. Always surprising to me how much larger they are than our more usual Desert Cottontail.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

On November 15, Rebecca and I went with our friend, Ken, to Coyote del Malpais Golf Course in Grants, NM on a scouting trip for a future Thursday Birder trip.  The course had a number of large ponds and has done a good job of leaving some undisturbed natural habitat away from the fairways that resulted in our having fun seeing a variety of ducks and other waterfowl and a fair number of raptors. A highlight for us was getting good looks at a Rough-legged Hawk, a species we’ll only see in winter and not all that often.

Rough-legged Hawk

A couple of Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels also appeared along with several Northern Harriers. Highlight for the duck species was the Common Goldeneye, which I’ve only seen maybe once every other year – on this trip we had about six individuals, including both male

Male Common Goldeneye

and female.

Female Common Goldeneye

It was fun getting a shot of a male Bufflehead in flight that morning.

Bufflehead

On the way home after lunch in Grants, we stopped at La Ventana Natural Arch and then The Narrows since it was basically on the way but hoping to maybe see the Peregrine Falcons or Pinyon Jays we’ve seen there before. Neither of them were around then, but we did get good looks at a couple of Juniper Titmouse working in the shade of the juniper trees. Fairly common in that kind of habitat, it’s rare for me to be able to get a decent photo of one.

Juniper Titmouse

Seeing a report on eBird a few days later that the rosy-finches had arrived at Sandia Crest House, we headed up there Sunday morning to take a look. The flock would swirl in for a feeding frenzy for a few minutes before flying out of sight for awhile before suddenly appearing again. Occasionally, a few would perch in the nearby trees long enough to photograph.

Black Rosy-Finch

On the way home, we stopped at Doc Long and Ojito de San Antonio, both of which were fairly quiet (no surprise given the season and time of day), but did have fun watching a few White-breasted Nuthatches working the leaf litter for something to eat,

White-breasted Nuthatch

and a Townsend’s Solitaire catching a little late afternoon sun.

Townsend’s Solitaire

Back to Poblanos Open Space and the Rio Grande Nature Center a couple of days later didn’t turn up any of the species I was hoping to see, but gave me a few nice looks at Sandhill Cranes,

Sandhill Crane

and at the Nature Center what is obviously the resident Greater Roadrunner – this guy seems to be running around their parking lot on almost every visit there.

Greater Roadrunner

The next morning I made my way to Valle de Oro NWR and got several photographs of Western Meadowlarks quite close to the road. I’d never before noticed the fascinating fractal pattern of feathers on their back.

Western Meadowlark

Over Thanksgiving this year, Rebecca and I headed to Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge looking for some of the raptors and waterfowl that hang out there for the winter. Weather the first day wasn’t that great – cloudy, cold, and windy, but turned up quite a few raptors often “kiting” by hanging in the air searching the fields and with the steady wind able to hold their position without having to flap their wings much at all. There were some ducks, grebes, coots, and such on some of the ponds, and a young Bald Eagle on one of them but they were too far away for other than views through a spotting scope.  The second day was clear and sunny but still pretty windy as we first stopped in at Storrie Lake and then another loop through Las Vegas NWR. A fun picture from the first day was this Red-tailed Hawk settling down in the wind.

Red-tailed Hawk

All the clouds turned up lots of Ferruginous Hawks, sometimes one on each of several power poles along the road. Interestingly, while we saw so many on the cloudy day, very few were seen on the following sunny day.

Ferruginous Hawk

We also had a good number of Northern Harriers in the area that we’d spot flying low over the fields, but only one that was still close enough by the time I got my camera squared away. And although most were the brown colored females, this one was the “Gray Ghost” male that is less commonly seen.

Male Northern Harrier

We kept our eyes out for any shrikes having seen a report of a Northern Shrike from earlier that week, but only saw the usual (but still not all that common) Loggerhead Shrike, this one with an insect snack.

Loggerhead Shrike

There were several Mountain Bluebirds around, typically sitting on fenceposts like the shrike, but one I was photographing in a tree flew off just as I clicked the shutter.

Mountain Bluebird

It was also a treat to see a few Black-billed Magpies in several of the areas we visited. They don’t seem to get quite as far south as Albuquerque, but are reasonably common further north. What we hadn’t noticed before were those white bands on the top of their wings. Pretty cool, but I’ll have to work on getting a shot like that under more favorable conditions someday.

Black-billed Magpie

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Fall Treats

The autumn colors have been spectacular for the last few weeks, but that show is just about over after our first taste of cold wind and a little wintry snow this morning. Most days I get out wandering around my usual birding locations sometimes hoping to see a particular species, but am usually content just to be out there and see what pops up. Some of those days at this time of year very few birds appear and I might not take any photographs, but other days are just the opposite.

The Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Embudito Canyon on the first of the month was one of those really good birding days. Checking it out on my own on a pretty regular basis hadn’t been turning up many birds recently. One would think with such a large group as usually turns out for these walks the birds would be harder to spot, but somehow having lots of folks looking in all directions tends to help us see quite a few species and especially that day some pretty unusual ones. Three remarkable species seen that day I’d never seen there before included a female Northern Harrier, a bird more typically seen flying low over open fields,

Northern Harrier

and a Merlin, a bird I’ve only seen a few times in the past down by the Rio Grande (not the greatest picture, but good enough to document the sighting).

Merlin

The third unusual sighting for the day was a Peregrine Falcon, too far away for me to attempt to photograph. I don’t see them all that often anywhere either, but they do breed in protected areas in the Sandia Mountains.

That Saturday, Rebecca and I drove down to the Bernardo Waterfowl Area to check out the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese that have started to arrive, but again found the entrance gate locked. Although they are supposed to be open most days for wildlife viewing, there doesn’t seem to be any information online about closures so you find out when you get there. Fortunately, Sevilleta NWR is just a bit further down the road and it’s not that much further to other birding locations near Socorro or even Bosque del Apache NWR. Also along the way was San Lorenzo Canyon, a place we’d heard about recently but had put off visiting after reading a 4 wheel drive vehicle is “highly recommended” for the drive. My Subaru can do that if the road isn’t too ridiculous, so we gave it a shot figuring we could always turn around. Turned out not to be all that difficult a drive most of the way on a graded dirt road, but then the last part basically driving up a  wash with a couple of areas of deep sand and one or two lumpy spots, and we made it just fine (Later, a ranger would tell me conditions vary depending on flash floods, runoff and such). Anyway, a very cool spot that will definitely require future visits. First thing you see are some interesting geologic outcrops, this one explained as a good example of a geologic unconformity,

Geologic Unconformity – San Lorenzo Canyon

the tilted sandstone and mudstone layers being 7-10 million years old, capped by that horizontal layer that’s only 0.5 million years old. Continuing a short distance further up the wash brings you to an area of slot canyons and various rock formations.

San Lorenzo Canyon Wash

It was fun poking around some of the canyons and walking a little further up the wash, and I plan to get back there again to explore it all in more detail.

I’d heard the Western Screech-Owl was being seen again at Columbus Park and was successful Monday morning finding it at home.

Western Screech-Owl

I’ve been a little surprised lately that owls are already being seen and in the same spots as before, since usually I don’t see any until late December or after they start nesting in late February and only sometimes in the same locations. So that had me this week out looking in those few places I’ve seen them before, but this one and those mentioned in my last blog posting are the only ones I’ve seen around town so far. While doing that, I did come across a Ladder-backed Woodpecker one morning in Corrales,

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and also had a large flock of Wild Turkeys wandering around the neighborhood blocking traffic and apparently unaware of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Wild Turkey

So many folks showed up for last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip that we split into two groups to walk the Open Space Visitor Center and nearby bosque. Even with two still large groups, we ended up with a pretty good list of species although missing several expected species and having some pretty quiet stretches on the trails. Along one line of trees at the north end of the property, we were a bit surprised to see four species of woodpecker, including quite a few Hairy Woodpeckers, a species we never see nearly as often as Downy Woodpecker or Northern Flicker.

Hairy Woodpecker

Roadrunners showed up in a number of locations, usually acting as if they wanted us to pay attention to them.

Greater Roadrunner

Last Saturday ended up being a pretty amazing day, with Rebecca and I heading out following her suggestion of looking for birds in the Moriarty/Estancia area. We started out by taking a look around Arthur Park in Estancia, where there’s a large pond and some cattails, tall cottonwoods, and big weeping willows. The pond seems to attract a few ducks (and had a kingfisher and sandpiper on an earlier visit); those trees attracted plenty of warblers. We’d first visited this park in early September and both thought it seemed a likely spot for an owl, but didn’t see any on that trip after taking a pretty good look. An eBird report listed two Great Horned Owls seen there in late October, however, so we took some time looking a little harder. Just as we were about to give up and head back to the car, I just happened to spot them way the heck up in a cottonwood. In the photo below, you can see one down in the lower left – that’s the one that first caught my eye as about the right size and shape but sitting up more vertical than most of the  surrounding branches; other one’s there in the upper right.

Great Horned Owl

Unlike most of the ones I usually see, these two were much higher in the tree and neither one deigned to turn to look at me. Here’s a little closer look at the one on the left.

Great Horned Owl

Seeing those two more than made my day, but then we toodled around the back roads toward Moriarty and added a few more special birds. We got to see several Loggerhead Shrikes out there, a species whose numbers are down and we tend to see more in the winter.

Loggerhead Shrike

As usual, there were several American Kestrels in the area but the possibility of one of them turning out to be a Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, or Prairie Falcon had us giving them all a good look; one that kept flying off as we got closer would turn out to be a Prairie Falcon, one of the very few times I’ve seen that species (again, not the greatest photo but enough to nail the identification).

Prairie Falcon

We’d also see several young Red-tailed Hawks, this one much more strikingly marked than most,

Red-tailed Hawk (Juvenile)

and a Ferruginous Hawk that has arrived for the winter.

Ferruginous Hawk

While we wouldn’t see any of the longspurs that Rebecca was hoping to find, we did get a few Horned Lark flocks flying about and had one individual pose on a fencepost close to the car for several minutes, totally oblivious to our presence (or maybe just wanted to be famous).

Horned Lark

 

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A Few Goodies

Definitely moving into Fall around here the last couple of weeks with a few of those spectacularly nice days as all the trees turn color along with a couple of cooler, rainy days, and today even a bit of snow for the foothills. Most interesting the last two weeks has been seeing a few birds around that are either passing through on migration or have returned for the season since they aren’t usually seen in the summer. Then there’s a couple other special sightings of a couple of owls, supposedly here year-round but that I almost never see for a few more months from now.

Two weeks ago, Audubon Thursday Birders were out on a rather chilly morning at Valle de Oro NWR for what turned out to be a pretty good trip. At several spots, we’d see good-sized flocks of mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers with maybe one or two other species.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The highlight for me that day was seeing a couple of shorebirds on the mud banks of the Rio Grande. After walking through the bosque to the riverbank, we’d first spotted them far upstream and couldn’t quite decide what species they were. But after getting much closer at a spot where you could get through the tall brush to the river, we did get good looks at a couple of Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

and a Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

A couple of days later, Rebecca and I returned to Bosque del Apache NWR where we’d hoped to get closer looks at a cool moth, the Nevada Buckmoth, that we’d seen flying around in good numbers a little more than a week before. After that much time had passed and having had at least one cold snap, we didn’t have very high expectations of getting to see it. It was a treat therefore not only seeing quite a few of them still flying, but spotting several quietly perched. We think it was mostly the males busy flying around while the females were the ones sitting around.

Nevada Buckmoth (Hemileuca nevadensis)

Along with all the moths, we noticed a few Common Buckeye butterflies that seemed to sit on the ground, flying up to chase any of the buckmoths that passed over.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

One of the few butterflies we still have flying, these seem to have only recently started to be seen most places I’ve looked. Still a few dragonflies hanging out, too, but those I’ve seen recently turn out to be Variegated Meadowhawk.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Kind of fun at Bosque del Apache NWR seeing a couple of grebe species, including an Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

and a Western Grebe.

Western Grebe

More than a week later, back home at Tingley Ponds there was a Pied-billed Grebe, which is generally more common and can be seen there pretty much year-round.

Pied-billed Grebe

A little more than a week ago, I stopped by Los Poblanos Fields wanting to see if the Sandhill Cranes had started arriving (a few were there already) and maybe a Northern Harrier or other raptor species who tend to show up there in late Fall (nothing but a Kestrel for me that day). Couldn’t help myself but take a look at the owl boxes to see if any of Western Screech-owls had yet appeared, although I usually don’t expect to see them until after the New Year. So it wasn’t too disappointing not to see any on my first pass, but after walking around the farm fields just happened to take one more look at the boxes close to where I had parked and there one was!

Western Screech-Owl

Checking back maybe a week later, no sign of anybody home in any of the boxes, but I did see a few feathers around the easternmost box which makes me think that box might well be occupied, too. Maybe you just gotta be there at the right time of day to get lucky to spot these guys. Stopping near the Open Space Visitor Center on the way home, it was fun to play tag up and down the irrigation ditch with a Belted Kingfisher. He’d only let me get so close before flying a little further down the ditch and wait for me to catch up – we’d do this about five times before he finally tired of the game and darted past me heading back to where we’d started.

Belted Kingfisher (male)

I’d managed to spot a Great Horned Owl at Piedras Marcadas in mid-August and the end of September this year, and since I was in the area I decided to take a look there again last Friday. More typically, I’ll see Great Horned Owls while they’re nesting from late January until late April when they seem to just disappear one day after the little ones leave the nest and the trees leaf out for the summer. So, anyway, I looked around the huge cottonwoods where I’d seen the one before and after looking closely from different directions (it’s amazing how well a bird that large can disappear into the background), saw it sitting in the sun and snapped a quick picture.

Great Horned Owl

It wasn’t until I got home to look at the pictures I noticed the second one there on the left. I did take a little time after that first picture to get a bit closer and a better angle on them where both of them are more obvious and definitely focused on whatever I was doing there. These birds seem a little more nervous having people around than most of the others I see, so I didn’t hang around for more than a minute before leaving them alone and heading back to the car.

Great Horned Owl

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Beyond Balloons

Every year since 1972, the skies above Albuquerque fill with hot air balloons most mornings for nine days in early October. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta brings nearly 600 balloons from all over the world to town for our biggest event of the year along with huge numbers of visitors who come to see the show. Hundreds of these balloons float above town each morning, drifting about depending on which way the breezes blow.  Quite the sight and the subject of innumerable photographs over the years, it also seems to be the time of year that the weather switches seasons with the arrival of the first serious cold front, bringing with it cooler temperatures (appreciated for the increased lift for the balloons), and a bit of precipitation and a couple of windy days (not so appreciated if flights are cancelled). This seasonal weather change also brings a few changes to what I see out looking around for birds, butterflies, and other nature subjects.

A visit to Tingley Ponds almost two weeks ago was quite entertaining as two Belted Kingfishers squabbled over territory. Both females I’m pretty sure, one would sit in a tree calling continuously until the other would swoop in and chase it off; they’d then head to their respective corners and go again. It got to where I could almost predict where they would fly, usually around the north pond and sometimes off toward the south pond before returning, and I enjoyed watching the show for at least 20 minutes. Of several pictures I took, this is the one I thought came out best.

Belted Kingfisher

Since then, I’ve also checked out my ‘local patch’, Embudito, a number of times seeing some good butterflies now that things have picked up a little with various plants in bloom and the chamisa coming into its full autumn color. A butterfly we’ve seen a few times this year in different locations but that isn’t seen at all in other years is the American Snout, a rather unusual looking species.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

More typical this time of year are some of the sulphurs – Clouded Sulfur (in unbelievable numbers anywhere alfalfa grows), the very similar Orange Sulphur (a mating pair shown below),

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

and Sleepy Orange.

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

Lately, I’ve also seen a few of the Painted lady butterflies that got everybody’s attention last year as they were seen in very large numbers all over town, but strangely absent this year. There also has been at least one Variegated Fritillary on almost every visit.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

At Bosque del Apache NWR on another day, a Queen posed nicely for me on the chamisa in full bloom.

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

There have been a few other notable sightings in Embudito recently, too. Among these is the gorgeous Sacred  Datura, with blooms that open early in the morning and evening but close up in the heat of the day. Some (I think maybe freshly blooming ones) take on a classy purplish tint that eventually fades.

Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

Always a few dragonflies working the canyon, too, that usually turn out to be Variegated Meadowhawks.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Embudito is an excellent birding location for this high desert habitat of the foothills; it was fun getting this picture of a young (I’m guessing) Say’s Phoebe sitting high on a cholla.

Say’s Phoebe

Another nice odonate (damselflies and dragonflies) seen last week at Alameda Open Space was this female American Rubyspot, a species I usually see about this time of year along the Rio Grande.

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Bosque del Apache NWR was quite a success and much more productive than we had expected. CNMAS held their monthly field trip there the previous weekend. That field trip group found little water present at the refuge, which limited the number of waterfowl species seen and they ended up with a respectable, but rather low number of only 26 species. With an unusually small number of 11 Thursday Birders, we were almost certain to exceed our success criterion of more birds than people and delighted with our total of 40 species by the end of the trip.  Of those 40, there were a few really good ones and some that allowed me decent photographs. One that we’d see in Luis Lopez along the way to the refuge was pretty far away for a photograph but unusual enough for us to see was a Vermilion Flycatcher, which almost made up for our not seeing the Phainopepla we’d expected to see in that area.

Vermilion Flycatcher

One of my favorites that we usually see there but never at home is one someday I hope to photograph completely in the open, a Pyrrhuloxia; this female let me get pretty close but is still a bit tucked into the weeds.

Pyrrhuloxia

While wandering around outside the Visitor Center, several members of our group kept getting good looks at a kingbird in the low trees near the parking lot. Earlier in the day, we’d seen a Western Kingbird a little late in the year for them and the our other common kingbird, Cassin’s Kingbird. This one, however, was obviously a different species.

Couch’s Kingbird

It was either a Tropical Kingbird or Couch’s Kingbird, either of which is rarely seen in New Mexico and, as we discovered later, distinguishable mainly by sound. One of our group submitted the picture and description to eBird later that day, a rare enough sighting that a number of local experts ran down over the next few days to determine from audio recordings that it was indeed a Couch’s Kingbird. eBird shows one had been seen at Bosque del Apache NWR back in November 2016; eBird only shows a couple of reports for Tropical Kingbird near Carlsbad NM earlier this year and from Santa Teresa NM (outskirts of El Paso TX) from 2010. Now that’s what I call a Bird of the Day!

Another good one at the Boardwalk Lagoon, about the only spot on the refuge that day with plenty of water were the American Avocet, the first time I’d seen them in their winter plumage and at closer range than I usually see them.

American Avocet

 

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September Surprises

Just wrapped up the month of September with delightful weather, lots of late summer wildflowers in bloom, and the chamisa, cottonwoods and aspen all changing to their bright golden foliage. It’s been a interesting couple of weeks, too, photographing a few of the birds that I rarely see, getting nice photos of a couple that are more common, and of a few butterflies and other insects.

The Audubon Thursday Birder trip on September 20 to Ojito de San Antonio Open Space almost didn’t happen. From our meeting place in town, the mountains were completely covered in low clouds, fog, and it looked like a good chance of rain that morning. But our small group of intrepid birders voted to head on out and give it a shot. And while the weather never quite cleared up, the group had a pleasant enough walk and a good mix of species. Bird of the day was a Lewis’s Woodpecker that our leaders had seen a few days earlier and a species that is quite uncommon to see in the area these days, and I’ve only ever seen in northern New Mexico. Returning a couple of days later, it was a treat not only to see it was still there but that while I was taking its picture on one of the wooden power poles (where it had been at first), it flew much closer and busied itself working to get one of those seeds.

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Two days after that on a scouting trip for this week’s outing to Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe, one of the first birds we’d see was Clark’s Nutcracker, another bird that was seen more regularly in the past in the Sandias but I’ve only seen further north in recent years.

Clark’s Nutcracker

Interesting fact that these two birds are indeed named after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark of the 1804-1806 Corps of Discovery Expedition.

While poking around Randall Davey, we managed to spot a couple of butterflies that we just haven’t seen nearly as often this year as in past years. A Painted Lady was busy nectaring on the fragrant chamisa – one of only two we’ve had for our checklists this year, this species was seen in very large numbers all over town last year.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

We also had a Hoary Comma in the chamisa, a species we’ve seen a little more regularly but still smaller numbers than in recent years.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

On the day I got that nice look at the Lewis’s Woodpecker, I later headed up the mountain stopping at a few other favorite spots to see what might be around and got a fun picture of a Spotted Towhee at Capulin Springs.

Spotted Towhee

For a month now, Wilson’s Warblers seem to be flying pretty much everywhere and much more commonly seen than in the past (at least by me), and just the last week or so Ruby-crowned Kinglets have shown up about every place I visit along with the usual Lesser Goldfinches busy working on the sunflower seedheads. Several other warbler species are being seen as their migration gets underway, and it was quite unusual for me to see a Macgillivray’s out in the open at very close range and not flitting around as they usually do.

Macgillivray’s Warbler

The Audubon Thursday Birders went to Cochiti Lake and Pena Blanca last week on a day that was a little slow for birds at first but picked up nicely as the morning went on. We’d get most of our target species, including the Sage Thrasher, Black-billed Magpie, and Red-naped Sapsucker,

Red-naped Sapsucker

and a few other surprises of a couple of warbler species and a female Mountain Bluebird.

Mountain Bluebird

We usually get a few interesting shorebirds by scanning the lake and lakeshore, but unfortunately didn’t see any that morning, so might have to make another visit someday soon.

A visit to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area last Saturday turned up some good butterflies, including huge numbers of Clouded Sulphurs and Western Pygmy-Blues

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

another one of those Painted Lady butterflies that were so numerous last year, but rarely seen this year, several Common Buckeye,

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

and a Common Checkered-Skipper (quite common, but this one posed nicely).

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Rebecca in particular and I are paying much more attention to moths and caterpillars this year, and she’s getting pretty good at not only spotting them in the first place but in figuring out the identity of most of them. One caterpillar that we saw that day, however, has so far eluded our figuring out its identity despite its being pretty rather uniquely marked.

Unknown Caterpillar

Will wrap this one up with this shot of one of my Great Horned Owls spotted at Piedras Marcadas Dam on the last day of the month. Almost always the owls I see during their nesting season disappear after their little ones mature and aren’t seen again until the next year. But I’d spotted what could well be the same individual on the same branch back in mid-August, so I’m thinking this might be its regular roost. This time, I’d only thought to check after waking up (at 4:12 am!) to one calling in my backyard on September 25 – one of the few times I’ve heard one vocalize and the first time I’ve ever had one in my yard.

Great Horned Owl

 

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Photographs | 3 Comments

Not So Creepy Crawlers

Since my last post, in addition to the usual birds and butterflies I’ve been seeing a few other cool-looking critters including caterpillars, some special insects, and several lizards. Thinking of a title for each blog post is always the toughest part for me and a necessary first step before adding text and pictures.  So the title of this one refers to these unusual sightings.Not all that easy coming up with the text part, either, but fun to describe and keep a record of what I’m seeing out there and to put some of those photos in context.

Those lizards include this Eastern Collared Lizard seen on a visit to the Abo ruins with Rebecca last Saturday,

Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris)

and another lizard I haven’t yet tried to identify seen earlier that day at Sevilleta NWR.

Lizard

We’d been to Sevilleta NWR a week earlier when Rebecca happened to notice this colorful Greater Earless Lizard from the car as we were entering the refuge.

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texana)

Although this next one is quite commonly seen all around town, it’s only been recently that I found out it’s our New Mexico State Reptile. News to me, too, is that they’re all female – reproducing through a process termed “parthenogenesis” and are essentially all clones.

New Mexico Whiptail (Aspidoscelis neomexicana)

Last but not least, while looking around for butterflies at Oak Flats was my first Short-horned Lizard (probably Phrynosoma hernandesi) for the year.

Short-horned Lizard

Having had a great time at Sevilleta NWR at the end of August helping with their annual Butterfly Count, we headed down there again two weeks later for their most interesting “Moth Night and Friends!” event. After a short presentation on insect identification, we headed outside late in the afternoon spotting a good variety of interesting insects before waiting for sunset to see some good moths attracted to UV lights set up on the Visitor Center patio. Among the insects was this robber fly who’d captured a bee,

Robber Fly

and a large number of spreadwing damselflies.

Spreadwing Damselfly

Very cool, however, was seeing a couple of mantises (and managing not to get any good pictures of them) and a crazy number of walking stick insects, neither of which I’d ever seen in New Mexico before. On that and a subsequent visit, we’d spot a couple hiding in the broom dalea

Walking Stick

and others clinging to the stucco walls of the Visitor Center.

Walking Stick

Since then, I’ve been checking the broom dalea that’s in bloom around town now but haven’t yet found any walking sticks on it. Interesting, too, has been how colorful the desert is these days. Since the summer monsoon rains hit, wildflowers have popped out, several types of ground cover have appeared out of bare soil, and the other grasses, bushes, and cacti are looking much healthier. One wildflower I’d never noticed before is Devil’s Claw with that gorgeous flower and unusually broad leaves and thick stems compared to other more typical desert species.

Devil’s Claw

The first Audubon Thursday Birder outing for September was a nice morning visit to Alameda Open Space. One of the first birds seen was a young Swainson’s Hawk, whose identity fooled us at first with some thinking it might be a young Red-tailed Hawk.

Swainson’s Hawk (immature)

We’d later see Wood Ducks in their eclipse plumage where the males in particular lose their colorful breeding plumage after breeding, something I’d never noticed before.

Wood Duck

That day, Rebecca also would draw everybody’s attention to a Viceroy butterfly (a species we don’t see around here very often) she’d spotted near the trail.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

On a butterfly trip a few days later, we drove by the Estancia Playa and huge new El Cabo windfarm that I’d first seen earlier last month. Every time I’ve been near Estancia or seen it from an airplane, I’ve wanted to get a closer look at that playa.

Estancia Playa

Pretty impressive with that bit of standing water, this area of dry lake beds extends north for almost 18 miles. Unfortunately, seems to be on private ranch land so it’s not really accessible on foot. Later that morning just west of Willard NM, we stopped along the highway to look for butterflies and were surprised to spot an Uncas Skipper, a species we’d only seen a couple of times before and never close to Albuquerque.

Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas)

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was once again a nice visit to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area and the Belen Marsh with a good range of birds including a flyover of a large flock of White-faced Ibis. Seen when the birds were busy hiding in the brush were a few cool looking caterpillars (that Rebecca was later able to identify as Clouded Crimson Moth),

Clouded Crimson (Schinia gaurae)

several butterflies including this tiny Dotted Roadside-Skipper, which we also don’t see very often at all,

Dotted Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes eoa)

and a couple of Monarch butterflies including this one posed rather dramatically on a sunflower.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Finally, I’ve been seeing roadrunners out and about pretty regularly the last few weeks, this one especially friendly following me around for a few minutes and posing nicely for a portrait.

Greater Roadrunner

 

 

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Hints of Fall

Over the last few days, hints that Fall is on its way in just a couple of weeks have started to appear everywhere you look. Lots of warblers are being seen and starting their migration, formations of Canada Geese have been flying over, the chamisa and some of the trees are starting to take on their autumn colors, and it seems the days and certainly the nights are getting a little cooler. Always my favorite time of year here, by the end of the month the weather should be just about perfect, those autumn colors spectacular, and no doubt we’ll experience some amazing cloud formations and extraordinary sunsets.

The Audubon Thursday Birders spent a nice morning on August 23 cruising the back roads of the open fields east of the Manzano Mountains south of Moriarty near McIntosh and Estancia. Normally a spring trip for the group, this year our leader, Bonnie Long, also had us out in late summer and turned up a good variety of the raptors she monitors out there along with several other species. One of the few photos I managed that day was of a young Red-tailed Hawk keeping an eye on our caravan of vehicles.

Red-tailed Hawk

A bit of a surprise seeing a young one, since they typically spend their summers way up in Canada, and I didn’t think they nested here.

A couple of days later, Rebecca and I drove down to Sevilleta NWR to help with their annual butterfly count. My expectations for the day weren’t very high since butterfly numbers have seemed low this year around here and you’d think the situation might be even worse in that area’s drier desert environment. A fun group showed up for the count that split into two groups, one headed down toward the riparian habitat along the Rio Grande while our group poked around the trails near the Visitor Center. Expectations, however, dropped even lower after looking over the species list from earlier counts…a good number of species, but all pretty commonly seen around Albuquerque. However, the day turned out way better right from just about the first butterfly spotted – a Palmer’s Metalmark!

Palmer’s Metalmark (Apodemia palmeri)

One of only two species of metalmarks I’ve seen in New Mexico, usually it’s only a very few Mormon Metalmark every year and a Palmer’s Metalmark once every 2-3 years. And, of course, on this day we’d see two different individuals of that species. Parked right next to the second Palmer’s Metalmark was the first of several Rita Blues, another species seen about as rarely by me.

Rita Blue (Euphilotes rita)

Both of these were unusual enough that I submitted photos to butterfliesandmoths.org for verification by our resident NM expert. Rather uncommon most years, too, was the American Snout.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

All day, we kept seeing a couple of larger yellow butterflies flying by that wouldn’t land for us to identify. We were thinking they might be Southern Dogface from the size, color, and time of year, but when we finally did get a good look at one it turned out to be a Cloudless Sulphur – another crazy sighting of a species I’d only seen in New Mexico once before, way back in 2011! Never did get a decent photo of one that day, but plan to head back down there again soon and hope they’re still flying. Rebecca had even spotted their caterpillars on their senna host plant earlier that day, so they must be regular there, but so unexpected we hadn’t considered that’s what all those yellow adults might be.

A couple of other more common butterflies we’d see that day that posed nicely for photographs included Reakirt’s Blue,

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

and Western Pygmy-Blue.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

After such an amazing day at Sevilleta, on Monday we drove out to a spot west of Socorro on Hwy. 60 that had been productive in the past. Not too much flying at our first stop (other than some more American Snouts – go figure!), but stopping at a large patch of Apache Plume off the side of the highway near Water Canyon we surprised a number of Variegated Fritillary butterflies flitting about that rather damp area. With no better idea, we then decided to check out The Box Recreation Area for a picnic lunch and to see if there were any butterflies about. We did see more of those Variegated Fritillaries (one of which we got a quick look at during the Sevilleta butterfly count),

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and a good number of Sleepy Orange (maybe the most numerous of the butterflies at Sevilleta two days earlier).

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

More surprising was to spot a couple of Common Sootywing and then a couple of Hackberry Emperor, neither of which are seen all that often by me and certainly the first for this year.

After having such good luck on the last two outings, the next couple of days had me out poking around my ‘local patch’, Embudito, and several spots in the Sandias. Those days, however, were more typical of what I’ve been experiencing this year…. Embudito had a grand total of two butterflies, a Green Skipper parked in its usual spot in the dry wash, and a single Two-tailed Swallowtail on the Redwhisker clammyweed.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

I did note that the canyon was much greener following the summer monsoon rains and there was a bit of water around, so there might still be a chance for a few more butterflies this year. The Sandias were rather lacking in butterflies, too, and about the only species I saw was way at the Sandia Crest, Melissa Blue.

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

Rebecca led last week’s most successful Audubon Thursday Birder trip to La Ventana Natural Arch and The Narrows in the El Malpais National Conservation Area. Birds were the order of the day, and got off to a great start spotting two Peregrine Falcons high on a cliff across from La Ventana. The very next bird spotted was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a species that I’m starting to see more frequently but had rarely seen in previous years.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Birding was a little slow at La Ventana, maybe because it was a little cloudy and those two falcons were around, but we’d make up for that at the next stop, The Narrows, where we birded awhile before having lunch. We’d expected to see a couple of butterflies attracted to a small stand of bee plant, but all that showed up were a couple of female Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. I’d thought they were Rufous Hummingbirds, but seems the females of both species are quite similar.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

From the start, we were hearing Pinyon Jays calling from all about and soon had quite a few of them flying by, including this one that seems to have a couple of pinon nuts in its beak.

Pinyon Jay

We’d go on to see a nice mix of species, including a Red-tailed Hawk, several Lesser Goldfinches, various warblers, and even a Green-tailed Towhee, but the best was first seen during lunch and then seen quite well a little later just after most of the group headed for home, a Lazuli Bunting! Quite possibly the first I’ve seen in New Mexico and only the second I’ve ever seen anywhere, so very cool to get a nice photo.

Lazuli Bunting

Thinking butterflies have been better south of town this year, on Monday Rebecca and I took a drive along the East Mountains, checking out Oak Flat (lots of blooming buckwheat, but too cool/cloudy for butterflies), Manzano Pond, and Quarai. A couple of good ‘bugs’ at Quarai, including two Monarchs

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

and a few of those Southern Dogface butterflies we’d been expecting to see somewhere the last couple of weeks.

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

On the return trip, we stopped again at Oak Flat but were right on the edge of a nice afternoon deluge that kept the butterflies out of sight. Just a thought, we also stopped at Tijeras Ranger Station where once again we were surprised to spot a couple of skippers, probably Green Skipper, and a nice fresh Gray Hairstreak.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Very few birds or butterflies making their presence known today on a visit to Pueblo Montano (several Wilson’s Warblers and one of the few porcupines I’ve ever seen in summer) or Piedras Marcadas Dam (no Great Horned Owl, but the milkweed was looking pretty good and there were easily 5-6 Monarch butterflies cruising around), but still a treat seeing a couple of the Osprey hanging out at the first successful nest site in the county that we’ve all been watching since at least early April.

Osprey

These are most certainly a couple of this year’s young ones, since that one on the left was busy crying for the adults to bring it something to eat.

Looking forward to the arrival of Fall around here, gorgeous weather and scenery, lots of returning migratory birds, and some late season butterflies.

 

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