Something a Little Different

While this update has some of the better pictures I’ve gotten recently of my usual birds and butterflies, there are also a few of a bit more unusual subjects and behaviors. Back around the middle of June (6/17), I headed down to the North Diversion Channel on hearing that the Mississippi Kites had returned and would see at least five of them flying around east of the channel where they’d first shown up last year. That prompted me to check in on Sandia View Academy where they’ve nested since at least 2012 (and I’m usually asked to lead the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to see them). None were around that day or on a couple of other visits, so it was interesting to note that by July 3 they were absent from the North Diversion Channel but at least three were now hanging out at Sandia View Academy.

Mississippi Kite

(It was only after getting home and looking closer at the picture I’d notice the lizard snack in its claw.)

It was also interesting to see that the Osprey nest at the North Diversion Channel also was still occupied as of July 3 and I got a better look at the female and two young ones that have been there for several months now.

Osprey

Again on June 17, since I’d seen a Burrowing Owl in nearby Rio Rancho back in mid-March, it seemed a good idea to see it they’d successfully nested there. Only saw one in the cavity I’d seen that earlier one and at first didn’t realized it was a young one, but then noticed a little further down the wash another cavity where the entire family was hanging out – that’s Mom on the right with her four young offspring.

Burrowing Owl

One of those four little ones was quite active and had really gotten into the flying thing, flying between the two cavities and then zooming off up the hill for awhile before showing up again. At one point, it got a little upset with me and parked it right in the middle of the arroyo below me, squawking and kicking sand at me!

Burrowing Owl

I took the hint and headed back to my car, thinking I’d next check in on the Great Horned Owl nest on a cliff in Petroglyph NM. I’d first seen two little ones there on June 2, much later than all the other nests I’d been watching but that got off to a late start after their first nest disappeared one day only to be replaced by an even better nest in the same spot a week later (most odd, since Great Horned Owls don’t build nests themselves). Expecting those little ones to be significantly more mature and maybe even moving around on the nesting ledge, it came as quite a surprise that the owls and the nest itself had again totally disappeared. I’d had a suspicion that ravens had been responsible last time and maybe they had succeeded again at running the owls off? Rather unusual, but that kind of thing seems to happen every year to at least one of maybe a dozen nests I’ll be watching. Also surprising that day was to see that one of the adults was still there, likely the male, standing in the hiding spot we’d seen him before despite the disappearance of everybody else.

Great Horned Owl

On Wednesday that week I spent a little time looking for butterflies at Ojito de San Antonio, Cienega Canyon, and Doc Long. Good to see the dogbane, a favorite nectar source for most butterflies, in bloom at Ojito but few butterflies other than a Black Swallowtail that posed nicely for me.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Doc Long and the trail to Bill Spring turned up a nice Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)

and a gorgeous Hoary Comma, a species that’s seemed a little scarce this year.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

The next day the Audubon Thursday Birders headed out to Villanueva State Park for a successful outing under perfect weather conditions. We’d started out at Clines Corner, meeting several folks that joined the group there to take a quick but unsuccessful look for Mountain Plover where we’d seen them in the past; we would get good looks at Cassin’s Sparrow, a species I’ve only rarely seen,

Cassin’s Sparrow

and right at Clines Corner a couple of Burrowing Owls I heard about later that day so we took a look on the way back home. A bit far away behind a fence on a rather windy afternoon, it got me thinking to look in on the owls in Owlville on Sunday (nearly two weeks after my last visit) and look for the young Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet I’d heard were being seen at Belen Marsh. Owlville was still in fine shape and I managed to spot two more nests…seven altogether this year.

Burrowing Owl

I might have been a week late hoping for the babies at Belen Marsh, only spotting a single young Black-necked Stilt that was too far away for a good picture. I did get a pretty good photo of one of the adults, tho.

Black-necked Stilt

The Friday after the Villanueva trip, Rebecca and I took a look for butterflies in Embudo Canyon almost a month after our last visit with our visiting friends, and were surprised to see quite a few Sandia Hairstreaks still flying, including 3 individuals on a single plant-we’ve never seen them before so late in June. And the next day, we drove to Placitas and then took the rough road up Las Huertas Canyon and over the top checking on the state of some of our better butterflying spots in the Sandias. A few good butterflies in Las Huertas, although it does seem the season has gotten off to a late start everywhere this year, and a couple of good photo ops, including good looks at the underside of a Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)

and a really fresh Variegated Fritillary.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

A week later, we had a great day of butterflying stopping first at Sevilleta NWR, then an unplanned visit to the Abo mission ruins, and a drive into Red Canyon and back home through the East Mountains. Very few butterflies to be seen at Sevilleta, but it was fun to see the walking stick insects had returned and we even found a mating pair well-camouflaged in a bush.

Mating Walking Sticks

Heading off to Abo next, we were a little disappointed in not seeing many butterflies near the visitor center but as we were leaving noticed a large area of white clover and fresh thistle blooms on the side of the road. Pulling over to take a closer look we’d see an amazing number and variety of butterflies nectaring away. In addition to one or two Black Swallowtails patrolling back and forth were some of the Southern Dogface we’d seen at a distance earlier,

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

a large number of Gray Hairstreaks,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

a couple of Juniper Hairstreaks,

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

and this sighting of a mating pair, most unusual since they are two different species, an Acmon Blue and a Marine Blue.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon) and Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

We’d also see a Bronze Roadside-Skipper there, a butterfly I’ve been expecting for several weeks now, but that we’d also find at a couple of spots along the road to Red Canyon. One in particular was a bit differently marked than the ones we’re used to but photographed well on a thistle.

Bronze Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes aenus)

At Pine Shadow and another nearby creek along the way we’d see a few butterflies, including a dang Sandia Hairstreak (June 29!), Canyonland Satyr, and Taxiles Skipper, but clouds were building up forcing any others into hiding. Up at the Red Canyon campground, the clouds parted enough to give us good looks at several Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

On the first of July, Rebecca and I met up with our friend, Tim, to look around Embudito Canyon, and while we would see a Hackberry Emperor (a species I usually see maybe once a year in that location), there wasn’t much nectar around and things are starting to dry up so the butterflies won’t be too numerous until our monsoon rains kick in later this month. Deciding on the spur of the moment to make a run to the Sandias, Rebecca and I looked at a few spots along the way to Capulin Spring. Seems we were just a little early for the sumac to bloom at Cienega Spring or the dogbane at 8000′, and a little late for a large patch of wild iris near Tree Spring, and while the large field of penstemon was in full bloom at Capulin we wouldn’t see too many butterflies anywhere. It was fun to see that the Western Tiger Swallowtail is again flying and landing long enough to photograph.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

At one spot between Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long (where I’ve seen ridiculous numbers of swallowtails in the past), we had a small group of both Western Tiger Swallowtail along with some of the quite similar Two-tailed Swallowtail. In town, the big yellow swallowtail is usually a Two-tailed while the Western Tiger is more plentiful in higher and wetter habitats. At that same spot, we saw this display of two mating pair of damselflies. From reading up on their behavior later, it seems the bright blue male first grabs the more cryptic female by the neck with his “claspers” and eventually she’ll lift her tail up to connect to his abdomen in a heart-shaped formation.

Damselflies

Another run up to the Sandias this morning showed the sumac and dogbane have come into bloom and are attracting butterflies. We didn’t manage to see a couple of our target species, but I did get a nice shot of the tiny Russet Skipperling

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

and of an American Lady, similar to its cousin the Painted Lady that has just appeared in huge numbers this year, but easy to identify by the two large eyespots on the American Lady vs four on the Painted Lady and that little white dot in that large pink area.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

 

 

 

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Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Photographs | 11 Comments

Late Spring Update

It hit me as interesting to realize how I put together blog updates for several different reasons, regularly changing the primary focus of a post. Often it’s a lot like a personal journal documenting what I’ve been up to over the last few weeks, sometimes more of a trip report on jaunts around the state or international vacations or even just summarizing one or two recent Audubon Thursday Birder trips, and occasionally focused on a single subject or aiming to highlight a favorite moment or recent photograph. Then there’s a few (like this one) where with no real point other than wanting to archive a few of the better photographs that have been building up since the last update. Hopefully, those of you taking the time to take a look will still find it interesting.

First up are the baby Burrowing Owls. I’d dropped by Owlville on May 31 for the first time since April 7 to see the first little ones out and about.

Burrowing Owl

Returning about two weeks later, I’d notice two more nests (of a total of five I’d see) and lots more young ones goofing around outside the burrow…some with just one or two visible,

Burrowing Owl

but most with a whole group of them watching what I was up to and moving around to get a better look, such as this bunch

Burrowing Owl

or these guys.

Burrowing Owl

One of the adults was usually rather obvious and keeping an eye out from a short distance away.

Burrowing Owl

Another bird I checked in on was the Western Screech-Owl in Columbus Park who I hadn’t seen on several visits since last November, who is indeed back in town, but apparently having a bit of a bad hair day.

Western Screech-Owl

After doing our bluebird survey for the Audubon Climate Watch program on June 3, Rebecca and I took a quick look at some of our butterfly spots in the Sandias and Capulin Spring, which had only recently reopened after its closure all winter. Enjoying the birds stopping in at the log for a splash or a drink, at one point two male Western Tanagers showed up and got into a little tussle with the dominant one shooing the other away.

Western Tanager

We’d return on June 8 for the annual CNMAS membership meeting at Doc Long for a delightful morning that included more butterflies and a few good birds, including this Grace’s Warbler – a bird I don’t often see especially out in the open like this one.

Grace’s Warbler

Wildflowers are having a great spring with fields of cholla all lit up with their bright magenta blooms.

Cholla

Among the butterflies we’d see over the last two weeks were an Arctic Blue, one I’d been a little surprised when we found a few in Cienega Canyon with our recent visitors,

Arctic Blue (Plebejus glandon)

Silver-spotted Skipper, first for the year, in several locations,

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

and the return of the Arizona Sister both in the Sandias and in foothill locations such as Embudito Canyon. These are pretty dramatic looking butterflies from both the top

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

as well as underneath.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

We don’t usually see Sandia Hairstreaks into June, but this year the butterfly season seems a little delayed so I was surprised to see at least 7 individuals on June 9 in Embudito

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

and even a couple on June 12 this year.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

On the way back from a June 6 Thursday Birder trip to the Jemez Mountains, a quick stop at the road to Ojito Wilderness near San Ysidro turned up a couple of Saltbush Sootywing (a spot we’d unexpectedly found them in five years ago with a visiting friend)-no great pictures this time, but good to know it’s a dependable location. The next day, I was taking a break to pamper a cold while Rebecca headed out on a search for the Dotted Checkerspot by making the long drive up to Springer NM and back through Tucumcari NM. This is a species we’d hoped to find for our recent visitors, but one that hasn’t had any recent sightings on BAMONA and all she had to go on were a few ideas from our State ‘butterfly guy’, Steve Cary, of where he’d seen them years ago. It was quite exciting later that day to hear of her success at spotting a couple of them, and wonderful that she was up for a return trip the next week so that I could add them to my lifelist.

Along the way, we’d come across quite a few pronghorn including a few that had a few very young ones. Those pictures didn’t turn out so well, but I did keep one of this group of male pronghorn.

Pronghorn

Still thinking there’d likely be might improbable that we’d successfully find the butterfly, it was rather amazing that it was the first butterfly we’d see there and that we’d end up seeing a large number of them with very little effort.

Dotted Checkerspot (Poladryas minuta)

We will certainly have to return next season for better photos (I still need a good ventral shot) and to show any of our friends that still need it.

Looking around a couple of other spots along Mills Canyon Road we didn’t see any more checkerspots that day, but found some very promising habitat for that and several other species of interest, one of which was a Giant-Skipper we’re hoping will turn out to be Strecker’s Giant-Skipper (Steve Cary might be able to make the call for us on BAMONA) along with a good number of Uncas Skipper (leading us to think it should also be good for our nemesis butterfly, the Rhesus Skipper).

Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas)

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 9 Comments

Full On Spring

Spring has come on strong here the last few weeks with many species of birds arriving and beginning to nest, new species of butterflies appearing every day, and plenty of greenery and wildflowers following good winter precipitation. All that water is raising water levels on the lakes and rivers, and all of the mountain springs and creeks are flowing better than they have in years. Being spring in New Mexico also means plenty of wind, but this year the winds seem much stronger than normal and lasted considerably longer than is typical. For most of the time since my last posting, Rebecca and I have been out checking on many of the butterfly spots we’ve visited in the past and several new ones in anticipation of a visit all last week from butterfly friends of ours from Massachusetts, Texas, and Florida. They had several species they were hoping to add to their life lists, including a few that we haven’t managed to spot yet. No new ones for us during their visit, but we were fortunate in getting good looks at several special ones for most of the group. Most of this post therefore has some of my better butterfly pictures from those outings, along with a few birds and other critters seen along the way.

We were able to join the excellent Audubon Thursday Birder trip on May 16 to Pueblo Montano Open Space, where among others we got several good looks at the normally secretive Yellow-breasted Chat.

Yellow-breasted Chat

A few days before that walk, I’d been there to check on the nesting Great Horned Owls there, but they must’ve fully fledged their young and the nest and all the owls had already disappeared. Almost a week earlier, I had checked in on the nest in Corrales to find those little ones nearly fully grown, but know of at least one nest in town that the adult must still be sitting on eggs.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

I did get nice looks at a few other species that we would see on the Thursday Birder trip, including a Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

Summer Tanager,

Summer Tanager

and Snowy Egret.

Snowy Egret

The group also spotted a porcupine not so high up a cottonwood. That was a bit unusual for me, since I usually only see porcupines in leafless trees in fall and winter.

Porcupine

One of the butterflies we’d see out scouting is one that we usually see plenty of but which would elude our visitors and is still the only one I’ve seen so far this year, the Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

And one fine day in Embudito Canyon checking the Texas beargrass for Sandia Hairstreak (one of the target butterflies for our visitors), I had this guy complain loudly that I’d disturbed his nap by almost stepping on him.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Dumb of me to not look where I was stepping, but then again I’ve only heard one rattle once in probably twenty years of stomping around there. On my next visit a few days later, I’d get a nice shot of an Acmon Blue on the Apache Plume,

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

and the next day of a mated pair of Melissa Blue while checking out a new location in the Manzanos.

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

On the weekend, we took a longer ride out to Bear Trap Campground west of Socorro to look for a couple of those target butterflies our friends were hoping to see and also spent some time at Box Canyon Recreation Area near Socorro thinking it might be a good spot to break up the drive and to see if any butterflies were showing up there. We also made a short stop at Sevilleta NWR along the way, but didn’t see much in the way of butterflies. Several lizards were dashing around there, including this short-horned lizard.

Short-horned Lizard

Bear Trap is a pleasant small USFS campground, but accessible only by a long drive on a rough dirt road. We were fortunate in that it was a bit sheltered from the continuous winds and in finding several of one of our target species, the Mountain Checkered-Skipper,

Mountain Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus xanthus)

and surprised to see Yucca Giant-Skipper there as well.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

The Yucca Giant-Skipper was our first for the year after having missed them at places close to home where we’ve had them in the past. We’d hoped they’d turn out to be Strecker’s Giant-Skipper, which was a target for all our visitors but still haven’t seen that species this year. Stopping at Box Canyon on the return trip, we were pleased to see several species that we rarely see in New Mexico including the Common Streaky-Skipper

Common Streaky-Skipper (Celotes nessus)

and a Hackberry Emperor.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

For all of the last several weeks, there has been a huge number of Painted Lady butterflies migrating through the state making it a little difficult to notice any other butterflies. One that I photographed shows well the brilliant colors and markings on the underside.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

After all of our visiting friends arrived, we headed out to look for that Strecker’s Giant-Skipper on some private land east of the Manzano Mountains with permission to a spot we’d seen them in late May two years ago. No luck seeing that species unfortunately, but it was fun to find a mating pair of Fulvia Checkerspot.

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

Continuing on to a couple of other spots in the Manzanos, in search of Mexican Sootywing and a few other species, I’d get a nice photo of one of several Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and we’d get good looks at a species that’s rather uncommon for us to see, Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper.

Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari)

After checking those locations, we headed to Quarai for lunch and to look for a few butterflies. That was a bit difficult in the wind, but it was fun to see the two little Great Horned Owls back in their niche on this visit (you might want to click on the picture to zoom in to see them).

Great Horned Owl – Quarai

Still windy the next day, after checking on a couple of spots in town four of the group headed out to Bear Trap Campground to get that Mountain Checkered-Skipper, while the rest of us took a look in Cienega Canyon, where the lupines had come into bloom and we were fairly well sheltered from all that wind. A few butterfly species about, including a nice Juniper Hairstreak,

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

but then with a few clouds rolling in, we continued on to Sandia Crest House for the view of town from 10,678 feet. I looked in on a couple of butterfly spots along the way, but saw it’s too early in the season for any nectar plants to be blooming at the higher elevations.

Friday morning, we rolled out to Eagar, AZ and nearby Greens Peak Road where my nemesis butterfly, the Rhesus Skipper, is sometimes seen on the wild iris and volcanic patches around this time of year. We’ve tried for it here before as well as a few other places, and it would’ve been a lifer for everybody, but as usual after looking hard for two days it would once again elude us. We did get good looks at a few good butterflies there, two of which I thought I’d show here, the Morrison’s Skipper (also seen at Bear Trap Campground)

Morrison’s Skipper (Stinga morrisoni)

and butterfly of the trip for me at least, a Western Pine Elfin up close.

Western Pine Elfin (Callophrys eryphon)

Back home on Sunday, we spent the next day on another visit to Embudito Canyon and then Embudo Canyon, with the wind finally cutting us a little break. At the Embudito parking lot, a Greater Roadrunner was cooing for a date from up on someone’s chimney

Greater Roadrunner

and later in the morning we’d see a Scaled Quail calling loudly out to the neighborhood.

Scaled Quail

Butterflies were pretty good that morning in Embudito, with everybody getting good looks at several individual Sandia Hairstreak butterflies (lifer for some of the group),

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

and more of another target for the trip that we’d see in several locations, Mexican Sootywing.

Mexican Sootywing (Pholisora mejicanus)

I’d always assumed I was seeing the Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus), but we had good looks at the definitive underside of these to decide they were Mexican. A couple of us went a little higher in the canyon and managed to see the first Canyonland Satyr for the year.

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

Coming back down the trail a couple of folks waited to point out a mating pair of Green Skipper, definitively matching the description in our guide books with those two overlapping white spots and slight arc to that line of three white spots.

Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis)

I’ve always had trouble making the distinction between Green Skipper and the very similar Pahaska Skipper, but we’d also see a number of the latter also clearly showing the differences between the species.

Pahaska Skipper (Hesperia pahaska)

For the Pahaska Skipper, those two white spots are a little offset from each other and the line of three white spots are more in a straight line.

In the afternoon, we went to Embudo Canyon a mile or so south of Embudito to make the fairly long steep walk up to a small spring. My first Arizona Sister of the year was flying there

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

and wandering around the area I just happened to stumble across a small gray skipper that had me calling everybody over thinking it might be one several of the group really wanted on this trip. It turned out indeed to be a Viereck’s Skipper, and there were actually several of them guarding their territories where they’d fly off only to return a short while later.

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

On the last day of the trip, we returned to several of our local spots and added a visit to Hondo Canyon, seeing a few new species for the week but none that resulted in good photos for me. All in all, despite the almost continuous wind and missing out on a couple of the species we were really hoping to see, I certainly had a good time and am pretty sure everybody else enjoyed it too.

 

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs | 8 Comments

Northern Pygmy-Owl Encounter

Of the nearly 300 posts to this blog since March 2011, there have been very few that focus on a single species. This past Monday, however, a visit to Cienega Canyon in search of the Northern Pygmy-Owl provided one of those rare and remarkable birding experiences that calls for such a separate post.

Over the last eight years, I seem to have gotten pretty good at finding nesting Great Horned Owls, sometimes see Burrowing Owls or Western Screech-Owls, the occasional Barn Owl, once a Northern Saw-whet Owl and once a Mexican Spotted Owl. The only other one on my list so far is the Northern Pygmy-Owl that I’ve gotten to see once in four of the last five years, all of which were found in Cienega Canyon.

My first one was on May 20, 2015 after hearing about them from two excellent local birders. I’d made the mile-long walk to the end of the paved entrance road twice without seeing the bird and returned for a third time the day the access road was opened to walk the remaining short distance to the nesting area. Nothing at first, but after sitting there for a while looking around, I finally saw the tiny little guy sitting way high in a tall cottonwood.

The next year, on February 9, 2016, again upon hearing they were again being seen in that area, I made the long walk in over the ice/snow covered road, and eventually the little owl appeared in pretty much the exact same spot. They fly so quickly and quietly, one second they just seem to be where there was nothing a moment before.

In April of 2017, it took two trips to spot one. No luck on April 10 when I went with a friend to look for it, but when I returned on April 15, I ran into two other friends who tried to point one out to me buried in an evergreen. After they left, I looked again but still couldn’t see the bird. But sure enough, just minutes later it popped up in the bare cottonwood where I’d seen it the last two years.

Although I surely looked a few times in 2018, I never managed to see or hear any that year.

After seeing several reports on eBird that they’d been seen there and in nearby Sulphur Canyon since early 2019, I’d looked unsuccessfully along Sulphur Canyon, and then at the end of April walked in to the area where I’d seen them in previous years. For the first time I can recall, that day I heard at least one calling regularly but had no luck spotting it despite trying to triangulate on where the call was coming from and checking the usual spots. And after telling my good friend Rebecca about having heard them that day, we decided to try again on May 6.

While taking that long walk in, just as we approached the large meadow and group reservation area (and still a quarter mile from the end of the road where I’d seen them every other time), we heard an owl calling loudly. The calls were so much louder than I’d heard before and since we were still so far from the usual nesting area, I assumed it had to be someone playing a tape trying to attract one into the open. Looking around the area, however, we seemed to be the only people around when it began calling again from what seemed a different location. They are a pretty small bird and seem to be good ventriloquists calling from high in a tree somewhere, so it had us wandering all around trying to figure out just where it might be. Rebecca soon saw one right where we’d been looking, naturally right out in the open a good ways up in a tree.

Shortly after I got on it, another one flew in and the two started mating! That’s an event that only takes a few seconds and is something I’ve only rarely gotten to see for other bird species.

The two of them sat next to each other for the next few minutes, grooming each other.

A couple of minutes later they each flew off in different directions. I’d been watching one, probably the male, fly some distance away, but Rebecca had seen the other, likely the female, pop into a nest cavity just a tree or two away from where they’d been sitting together.

Moving a bit farther away, it was possible for us to spot the cavity she was probably in, and sure enough, about ten minutes later there she was framed in the opening, sometimes looking around,

sometimes sticking her head out to get a better view,

and at other times seeming to doze off.

After a while, the male flew back to a perch a few feet above the nest, and five minutes later he’d dropped down to grip the outside of the cavity and look around.

He then climbed all the way in with the female already in there. It surprised me not only how one can get through such a small hole, but also to realize there’s enough room in there for both adults at the same time. About a minute later, he flew off and the female soon popped up back in the opening.

After watching all this for the last forty minutes, we decided it best to leave them be and as we walked away I noticed the male had once again returned to keep watch from another open branch close to the nest tree.

That was such an extraordinary encounter, we didn’t even continue on the rest of the way to where there’s supposed to be another nest near where I’ve seen them in the past.  A return visit in the near future is sure to follow in hopes of finding the other nest and maybe getting a chance to see one of this year’s little ones.

Posted in Birding, Photographs | 6 Comments

Birdathon and More

Most of the pictures for this posting were taken during last week’s Birdathon, with the rest from other outings from a week earlier. On April 24, a visit to Embudito turned up a Canyon Wren singing its heart out deep in the canyon,

Canyon Wren

accompanied by the non-stop vocalization of a Curve-billed Thrasher down in the cholla. While I’ve certainly got more than enough pictures of these guys, it’s hard to walk by without snapping another.

Curve-billed Thrasher

The next day was the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Manzano Pond and Quarai, the latter a unit of Salinas Pueblo Missions NWR. We’d end up with a pretty good bird list for the day despite birding being a little slow most of the time; no doubt numbers will pick up once spring migration is in full swing. One of the highlights at the pond was this spectacular male Mountain Bluebird blending into that New Mexico blue sky.

Mountain Bluebird

And for me (of course) the highlight at Quarai was seeing that the Great Horned Owls had returned to their nesting spot in the niches of the old Spanish Mission ruins. Everyone easily got to see the male  in an open niche and the female in another…the little ones were still a little shy and I was one of the few that got to see both of them later in the morning.

Great Horned Owl – Quarai

The next day, I checked in on a few of my other nesting owls around town and stopped by the Northern Diversion Channel (I prefer to call it Tramway Wetlands) to see that the Osprey nest is still a work in progress, and to sneak up on a few American Avocet that I don’t recall ever seeing at that location before.

American Avocet

Later that day the sunny, calm, and warm weather had me checking on the butterflies in my “local patch” Embudito, and it was fun to spot a few good species, including my first Great Purple Hairstreak there in two years, continuing Sandia Hairstreaks, and others. Close to where the stream starts its run down the canyon I had three Two-tailed Swallowtails dropping down to the damp areas, one of which might have been about finished since it didn’t fly off as I approached and at one point allowed a Dainty Sulphur to perch on its wing. (Later, a young boy walked right up to it and got to pet the butterfly!)

Two-tailed Swallowtail & Dainty Sulphur

On Saturday, Rebecca and I returned to look around to find a few more species including a Short-tailed Skipper and our first Spring Azure for the year, and to get a nice shot of a Southwestern Orangetip that had finally landed – one of the few butterflies I’ve ever seen on a dandelion.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

A few days later, a Scaled Quail posed nicely for me on a fence post close to the parking lot. Years ago, this was the most common quail species in this area of town (and my yard) and only rarely would we see Gambel’s Quail, a situation that has completely reversed itself over time.

Scaled Quail

About those owls, highlights that week included a visit to the nest at Albuquerque Academy, where the one little one was out in the branches of the nest tree but not quite ready to fly yet. It had already started learning how to hide good, and this was the best picture I was able to get while I was there.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

It was a bit surprising exactly a week later to find no evidence of the little one or the female anywhere near the nest, although the male was still around in a nearby tree. Not sure what was up with that since I would have expected the young one to have a few more weeks close to the nest. At the nest in Corrales where I’d also seen a little one about a week earlier, this time I got a short look at two of them (Rumor has it there could be 3 in there, so I’ll be back soon.)

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

That one was also a little unusual, because while I spotted the male in his usual spot across the ditch from the nest the female was nowhere to be found. Usually it seems she’ll leave the nest to give the young ones more room, but will be standing close by.

So that brings me to our May 1-3 trip down to Washington Ranch south of Carlsbad, NM for the Thursday Birder Birdathon. Since Rebecca had volunteered to organize and lead the event, we got an early start to do some scouting for water birds at three locations near Carlsbad. While it was easy enough to get to our first spot, Cheapskate Point on Brantley Lake, driving a bit further north around a cove would have been a little tricky for some of the group and with the breezy conditions that day we saw very few birds. One that popped up right next to the car, though, was a cute Snowy Plover.

Snowy Plover

We also checked out an area around Avalon Lake and then Six-Mile Dam, but again didn’t see many birds maybe due to the time of day and weather conditions, and both involved driving down some deeply-rutted, but fortunately mostly dry, dirt roads. For the Birdathon, we decided we’d focus on three main locations, Washington Ranch, Rattlesnake Springs, and Slaughter Canyon thinking we might make an afternoon visit to Cheapskate Point if we’d exhausted the other locations and the weather improved. We’d had good luck on Birdathons at those three main locations in the past, but for most of us this would be the first time to stay in the few rooms and cabins available at Washington Ranch (with others in their RVs and tents on the property). The ranch itself gets an excellent variety of birds, with lots of fruiting mulberry trees, a large pond and several water features, a wetland area along a creek through the property, all surrounded by more typical desert scrub. Rattlesnake Springs is just next to the ranch, and is also quite the hotspot for good birding. The group of 20 gathered there for a picnic dinner the night before the Birdathon before heading back to the ranch, seeing a few Lesser Nighthawks flying about as dusk faded and hearing a Great Horned Owl near the pond (that we’d find the next day) along with all those Wild Turkeys strutting around and a few of the Vermilion Flycatchers usually seen there.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Unfortunately, very early the next morning outrageously stiff winds kicked up that would blow for hours, making it nearly impossible to do any birding and difficult to even be outside. Deciding to postpone the start of the Birdathon for a few hours, we all hung out in the lobby until Rebecca realized the winds had dropped a little and the south side of the building sheltered us pretty well. The mulberries were ripe out there and the birds starting showing up to eat, doing their best against the wind, and we were therefore all out there taking a look. Good birds, too, leading to a respectable total (considering the conditions) of 93 species by the end. One of my favorites, and a bird I’ve rarely seen anywhere, was the Lazuli Bunting, one of four species of bunting we’d add to the list.

Lazuli Bunting

We had a good number of Cedar Waxwings show up at several spots; despite the crazy winds blowing I was determined to get this shot of three of them lined up in a row.

Cedar Waxwing

As the morning progressed, the winds did die down some and we found there were areas that were fairly well sheltered from it and would turn up more good birds. Of the four oriole species we’d eventually see, I got pretty good shots of Bullock’s Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

and the Orchard Oriole.

Orchard Oriole

The Great Horned Owl at the ranch was also easy to see once somebody first located it,

Great Horned Owl – Washington Ranch

and I also got a pretty good look at a male Western Tanager (one of three tanager species we’d add).

Western Tanager

The group would also tally five species of swallow, most zooming around the buildings and the large pond, but two birds I’d at first assumed were swallows circling low over the pond turned out to be Spotted Sandpiper. Here’s a picture of one once it finally landed nearby.

Spotted Sandpiper

Northern Mockingbirds are fairly commonly seen (and photographed), but this one posed quite nicely for me.

Northern Mockingbird

By the next morning, the winds had finally died down and we headed out to Slaughter Canyon for what turned out to be a wonderful day, especially as the clouds burned off. On the way there, one of the team was first to spot a young Great Horned Owl on a snag near the road.

Great Horned Owl – Cottonwood Day Use Area

We’d been there the afternoon before looking for owls since we’d seen three little ones there during last year’s Birdathon, but were unsuccessful in seeing any and noticed last year’s tree had since been knocked down. We’re thinking this year’s nest must be right where that little one’s perched since it doesn’t look old enough to fly yet. Looking around we’d also spot both parents a good distance away. On the way back from Slaughter Canyon, of course we had to stop and take another look but didn’t see that baby owl anywhere although Dad was right by the road with Mom still pretty far from the nest tree.

Great Horned Owl – Cottonwood Day Use Area

Absolute highlight for everybody at Slaughter Canyon, and a “lifer” for several, was the Varied Bunting. This one let us get fairly close and the lighting was much better than the only other one I’ve ever seen (also in Slaughter Canyon on our 2016 Birdathon).

Varied Bunting

Focused on the birds those two days, I hadn’t paid much attention to butterflies but had taken a photograph of a Painted Crescent near the wetland area of Washington Ranch,

Painted Crescent (Phyciodes picta)

and on a stop at Bitter Lake NWR on the way home, Rebecca and I were both surprised to see good numbers of Saltbush Sootywing, a species I’ve only seen twice before, once in 2013 and then again in 2014.

Saltbush Sootywing (Hesperopsis alphaeus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More Birds and Butterflies

Spring’s really kicking into high gear around here with new for the year butterflies and birds, and baby owls popping up at almost all of the nests now. The day after my last post having read about a nesting owl near the Tingley Ponds, I went for a look. We usually have one somewhere in the vicinity but I hadn’t found it on earlier visits. Not too many possible nesting spots to check and after looking closely from several different angles I finally saw a tail sticking out of a large old hawk nest.

Great Horned Owl – Tingley

Looked about the same this morning and just no way to see any more of that bird. Much closer to the ground in a nearby tree was this Cooper’s Hawk, maybe wondering about the owl taking over its nest.

Cooper’s Hawk

By the public fishing ponds and parking area, I also got a close-up look at a young Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

There have been a few interesting developments with a few of the owl nests this year. One on a cliff in Petroglyph National Monument had been totally destroyed, maybe by some ravens that were photographed harassing the owls, and both the owls and the nest vanished. Amazingly, however, about a week later somehow new nesting material appeared in the exact same location and the owls are trying again. If anything, this nest looks much more secure than the previous one and had to have been built by someone other than the owls.

Great Horned Owl – Petroglyph NM

I’d been told but hadn’t seen it before that the male hangs out just below and to the left of the nest under an overhanging rock…this time I got a good look at our guy.

Great Horned Owl – Petroglyph NM

Some friends had told me of seeing another owl near Calabacillas Arroyo, another location where we usually have a nest but hadn’t found one since 2017. Managed to finally spot the owl (but still no nest) a few days later, typically extremely well-hidden in a bare tree, but a bit more obvious from a different angle off the trail. Like most owls I see, it stayed almost motionless while I was around, but at one point got quite active scratching and preening to where I almost got organized to take a short video.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Yesterday, I started the rounds of most of the nests I’ve been following thinking it’s about time we had a few more baby owls pop out. We’ve been seeing them at Albuquerque Academy for a couple of weeks now, but there was a bit of a disaster there recently when one of the owlets fell from the nest and apparently impaled itself on a branch…the good news is that the little one was rescued and is in rehab now in Santa Fe. It was good to see that the other little one in that nest seemed to be getting along just fine this morning.

Great Horned Owl – AA

I also made my way down to Corrales where I’ve been seeing the adults all year, but had only seen the nest since my friends told me about it a couple of weeks ago. Much excitement there with both adults back high in the trees on the east side of the ditch while at least one little one popped up now and then from the nest cavity.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

There might be little ones at Willow Creek, but that nest was so high all one can see is that Mom’s sitting up so I’ll need to check back there again soon. Meanwhile, this morning I also made a visit to the one at Pueblo Montano (near Bosque School) and, yep, a little one there (and Dad perched in the open in a nearby tree),

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

and at the nest near Bridge Blvd I’d first heard about two weeks ago, Mom was off the nest leaving at least two little ones some space to move about.

Great Horned Owl – Bridge

Lastly, I made the trek to the nest near Durand Open Space that we’d first spotted at the end of February on our Audubon Thursday Birder walk, and yep, got at least one little one there today, too.

Great Horned Owl – Durand OS

On the walk to that nest, several Snowy Egrets were making their way down the irrigation ditch, flying a short distance before hunting for a snack.

Snowy Egret

Rebecca and I took a weekend trip to Sedona, AZ a few days after my last post. I’d passed through there decades ago and remembered it as being rather spectacular, and decided we had to go since Rebecca’d never been.

Sedona AZ

Obviously a bit more crowded and touristy than it was forty years ago, the scenery was indeed fabulous (We learned it’s much easier getting through town early on Sunday morning than late Friday afternoon!). We picked up a few new butterflies for the year during our visit, including the Zela Metalmark, of which we saw quite a few on a visit to the Page Springs Hatchery.

Zela Metalmark (Emesis zela)

Back home and looking for butterflies in Embudito Canyon and other foothill locations on those days when conditions looked good have turned up several good species, including Acmon Blue,

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

usually one or two Sandia Hairstreaks and Mylitta Crescents, maybe a Gray Hairstreak, and yesterday an unusual number of Southwestern Orangetips,

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

and, a species I might see there once a year, Mormon Metalmark. I’d just mentioned to Rebecca that we were in the area where I’d seen them in years past when she almost immediately spotted one.

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

On one of those visits to Embudito, a Black-throated Sparrow posed for a portrait,

Black-throated Sparrow

and, while I hear they’ve been seen in Embudito and Embudo this week as well, we got good looks at a pair of Scott’s Oriole on a visit to Copper Trailhead.

Scott’s Oriole

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was quite successful, with the group of 14 birders seeing almost 50 species of birds on a trip to Coyote del Malpais Golf Course in Grants, a new location for the group. Among those birds were several Eared Grebe,

Eared Grebe

American Avocet,

American Avocet

Ruddy Duck,

Ruddy Duck

and a Savannah Sparrow.

Savannah Sparrow

Just my second visit to that area, it deserves more frequent visits with all the amazing birds that seem to show up there.

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 4 Comments

Time Flies

It’s always amazing to me how following a few weeks of not seeing much out there to photograph,  suddenly there’s lots of new sightings for the year and the pictures just start to pile up. So, apologies in advance, but lots to post this time I hope y’all enjoy. Way back on March 27 while checking out Embudito Canyon for those Sandia Hairstreaks, a couple of new species for the year showed up, including a Mylitta Crescent

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

and a Gray Hairstreak.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Very unusual for this place, the seasonal bit of water from winter runoff this year is making its way most of the way down the canyon rather than disappearing close to the head of the wash – butterflies seem to enjoy picking up salt from the damp sand patches along the way.

The next day, Audubon Thursday Birders headed down to Bosque del Apache NWR, where it was interesting seeing the change in bird species since a trip just six weeks earlier. Fun for me were getting photos of some of them, including this House Sparrow flying out of its nest hole,

House Sparrow

one of the White-throated Sparrows that we don’t see all that often around here,

White-throated Sparrow

a Pyrrhuloxia (a bird that doesn’t seem to make it much further north),

Pyrrhuloxia

Snowy Egret, back for the season and showing off those golden slippers,

Snowy Egret

Wild Turkey (one of a flock that wandered by the side of the road),

Wild Turkey

and surprise for all of us, a Long-billed Curlew.

Long-billed Curlew

A claret cup cactus was in full bloom in the Desert Garden at the Visitor Center, somewhat earlier than I’d have expected.

Claret Cup Cactus

Once we’d all regrouped to go over the bird list for the day most folks headed for home, while Rebecca and I headed down to Deming close to the border with Mexico hoping the wet winter would lead to a great poppy display as we’d had there on about the same date in 2012. Once it warmed up enough early the next day, the poppies were indeed pretty good if not quite as amazing as before – they might well have been more impressive on a little earlier or later date, but guess you just have to be there to know.

Poppy

What was fun was seeing some new butterflies for the year and ones we don’t see all that often, including a Texan Crescent that flew off before Rebecca got to see,

Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana)

a Juniper Hairstreak, which we will see regularly but this was the first for the year,

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrus gryneus)

as is also true for Funereal Duskywing,

Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis)

and three individual Great Purple Hairstreak, a species I may or may not see every year and is the butterfly that got me turned on to this butterfly business when Rebecca first pointed one out to me in the Sandias.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

Majorly cool sighting that day was a line of Barbary Sheep along the top of a cliff in Spring Canyon.

Barbary Sheep

That’s the best I could do with my 400mm zoom lens…to give you a better idea of how extreme an environment they were fooling around in (and amazed that Rebecca was spotted those tiny creatures in the first place), here’s a wider shot of that cliff face with those sheep wandering around up on top.

Barbary Sheep

Back home, a few days later had me out checking in on some of my owls. Since I’d first seen them out of the nest on March 19, it was a bit of a surprise still seeing two of the little ones with the adult female on April 2 (and apparently they’re still there this week).

Great Horned Owl – Journal Center

Not much had changed recently at either Willow Creek Open Space

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

or Pueblo Montano,

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

so it might be a bit longer before we first see the little ones in those nests.

Back to Embudito and a couple more new butterfly species for the year, including this quite fresh Spring White,

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

a Two-tailed Swallowtail earlier than I would expect them,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and a glowing Sandia Hairstreak.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

This past Saturday, it was off to check on a couple other owl nests. Having heard from a friend about little ones popping up at Albuquerque Academy (I’d had my suspicions a few days earlier), sure enough I got to see one of at least two babies there.

Great Horned Owl – AA

Another friend called to tell me about another nest that I hadn’t known about close to the National Hispanic Cultural Center (where they nested last year); excellent directions led me right to it!

Great Horned Owl – Bridge

An interesting development a short while later at the Rio Grande Nature Center. After getting a good look at the owl that’s been hanging around the Visitor Center (that some folks tell me is likely one that had been rehabilitated and released there earlier this year), I headed north on the bike trail toward where one I’d been seeing since early February hung out until the one showed up at the Visitor Center. They’ve nested around there in the past, but oddly this year no one’s reported an active nest anywhere close to the Nature Center. Looking around rather carefully thinking there’s got to be one here somewhere, I finally spotted this one.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC North

It was perched there right next to a large, old nest, but I couldn’t see any sign of it being used actively. Definitely requires another visit soon.

And then yesterday, I heard from some other good friends that they’d finally spotted the nesting female in Corrales close to where I’ve regularly been seeing at least one adult since early last year. Here’s what the male looked like yesterday,

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

and sure enough, with more excellent directions here, here’s the female nesting just across the irrigation ditch – peeking out of a deep cavity of an old cottonwood. Am looking forward to getting a look at their little ones once they get old enough to move around the branches.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Getting back to that new nest near the National Hispanic Cultural Center, since it was nearby, I took a look at the heron and egret rookery I’d heard about last year. A bit surprising this early (indeed, a trip the next day to the huge rookery in Bosque Farms had no birds at all), the few trees used in this location had quite a few Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Cattle Egret and a number of active nests. Here’s my best shot of one of the Snowy Egrets

Snowy Egret

and of a Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

And, of course, I had to check in on the Burrowing Owls down in Owlville to see how things were going; interesting to only see a single owl where I’ve been seeing two pair recently, which makes me wonder if maybe they aren’t down in their burrows making baby owls?

Burrowing Owl

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Flowers, Photographs | 10 Comments

A Bit of Spring

The first day of spring arrived last Wednesday, and we’re finally getting a few calm, sunny days with fruit trees in bloom all over town, warmer days prompting a few spring wildflowers and a few more butterflies. We’re still waiting on most of the nesting Great Horned Owls to show their little ones, while there are at least two nests in town (one of which I’ve found) where the young ones are much further along and just about to disappear. Seeing a few other new birds for the year, too, as we anticipate the upcoming migration season.

For butterflies, I’ve mostly just gone on a couple of quick trips to check on what’s flying in my ‘local patch’ Embudito. There’s been a Sandia Hairstreak on my three trips in March, but it wasn’t until a visit last Monday that I’d pick up a few more species including the Southwestern Orangetip, Mylitta Crescent, Mourning Cloak, several Painted Lady, and a Common Checkered-Skipper among others. The Common Checkered-Skipper is usually quite common there most of the season, but usually lands on the sand with wings spread open, so it was a treat to get that ventral view while this one nectared on an early spring wildflower.

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

 

A bit of a surprise to me this early in the year was seeing two pair of Burrowing Owls last Saturday in the area known as “Owlville” down in Los Lunas.

Burrowing Owl – Owlville

And then the next day finding the one reported recently in Rio Rancho, where I’d heard they’d been seen last year as well.

Burrowing Owl – Rio Rancho

Looking around the bosque in the area of Tingley Ponds for nesting owls (unsuccessfully), I did get a nice shot of a Greater Roadrunner,

Greater Roadrunner

and later, a Hermit Thrush sitting out in the open.

Hermit Thrush

One day last week, Rebecca and I drove around the eastern plains of Torrance County on a rather slow birding day but did get nice looks at a Loggerhead Shrike.

Loggerhead Shrike

Surprised to see a picture in the Albuquerque Journal one morning of a couple of young Great Horned Owls nesting on the newspaper’s property, I headed down the next morning wondering if I’d be able to find that nest. One had been reported there for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count last December, but I hadn’t heard anything about a nest there. Turns out the nest was quite easy to spot since it was in an open sycamore tree and the three little ones were spread out on the branches.

Great Horned Owl – Journal Center

These guys are way further along than any of the other nests I’ve been watching, none of which have yet hatched their young ones. (I did, however, see a Facebook posting around the same date of another nest somewhere near UNM that also got started way early this year.) Returning about a week later, I’d see both adults;  Mom (look at her claws!) on a branch near the nest,

Great Horned Owl – Journal Center

and Pop sitting in a nearby ponderosa pine, but only one little one sitting in the nest.

Great Horned Owl – Journal Center

Later reports from a friend noted seeing one of the other little ones also in a ponderosa, so they will likely all just vanish one day soon. A little later that day, I stopped by to check on the nest at Albuquerque Academy where I’d first seen the female nesting way back on February 17 and would expect her little ones to appear any day now. But she was still tucked in pretty well waiting for those eggs to hatch with her mate perched a little higher in the nest tree.

Great Horned Owl – AA

The next day after birding around Corrales for awhile, I thought since it wasn’t far I’d go look around Willow Creek Open Space one more time. Owls have nested there regularly in the past, but none had been reported this year and on my earlier visits I hadn’t seen any in their usual spots. With rather low expectations, it was quite exciting to spot an owl sitting up in a nest just off the parking area.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

Last Saturday, Rebecca and I drove down to Bosque del Apache NWR to scout out her Audubon Thursday Birder trip there this week. Before getting to the refuge, we stopped by a house in the town of San Antonio to look for the Inca Doves she’d spotted there during the Christmas Bird Count last December. No doves that day, but it was quite unusual to note a rather large bird sitting in a tree in that yard as we pulled up – yup, turned out to be a Great Horned Owl; first I’d ever seen down there.

Great Horned Owl – San Antonio NM

Although it seems the Sandhill Cranes and Bald Eagles have all moved on after wintering there, we had a good variety of birds as we worked our way around the refuge. First up, the White-throated Sparrow and the immature Harris’s Sparrow near the Visitor Center where we’d seen them on an earlier visit.

Harris’s Sparrow

Three Great Egrets greeted us as we entered the refuge, a bird we don’t see very often here,

Great Egret

and we managed to spot both the Lucy’s Warbler and (lifer for me!) Long-tailed Duck an acquaintance working at the Visitor Center told us about.

Long-tailed Duck

I also got a nice shot of a Bewick’s Wren that popped up as we were scanning for the Lucy’s.

Bewick’s Wren

Yesterday, I went in search of a Great Horned Owl nest a friend had told me about at Valle de Oro NWR. Took me quite a bit of looking at the obvious nest from several different angles before I got a peek at the female brooding her eggs.

Great Horned Owl – Valle de Oro NWR

Interestingly enough, this nest is quite close to where the Common Black-Hawk nested last year and they were also back in town calling back and forth but not quite nesting yet.

Common Black-Hawk

Walking along the irrigation ditch toward that area, I’d also get nice looks at my first Osprey for the year.

Osprey

And then today, I get a text that our breeding pair are back at their old nest getting ready for this year’s attempt. Last year, I think, was the first year that they’d ever successfully nested in the county so it should be fun to follow developments over the next few months.

Osprey

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 4 Comments

Slow Days

More than 3 weeks have now passed since my last posting; following are a few of the better pictures I’ve gotten since then. Weather hasn’t cooperated very often lately, I’ve gotten busy with taxes and other menial tasks, and I haven’t been getting many good photo opportunities. There have been lots of porcupines about lately, which are always fun to spot.

Porcupine

I’ve been focused the last few weeks on finding more nesting Great Horned Owls after spotting my first one for the year at Albuquerque Academy on February 17 (photo shown on my last blog update). Since then, I’ve found three more. The first one, during our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Durand Open Space on February 28 was a total surprise we just happened to notice.

Great Horned Owl – Durand Open Space

(I’d actually checked eBird that morning but none had ever been reported there, and our trip leader had just mentioned looking for them unsuccessfully during her scouting trip the day before.) Another highlight that morning was a young Bald Eagle that entertained us by flying fairly low right above us.

Bald Eagle

Next up was the one at Pueblo Montano Open Space I found on March 1 after looking around where some recent eBird reports suggested they were.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Checking back a week later, we spotted the male hiding out fairly close to that nest.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

I’d imagine this is the pair that I’d seen sitting on the same branch of a tree much further south for about a month (and got to show the Thursday Birders on the February 7 trip).

Just today, I got to see my fourth nest so far for the year, interestingly nesting on the basalt cliffs of the Petroglyph National Monument.

Great Horned Owl – Petroglyph NM

There’s a couple of other individual owls I keep seeing in the same spot on every visit, but have so far been unable to locate a nest that almost has to be nearby. I’ve been seeing one near the Rio Grande Nature Center since early February, and most recently think that one has taken up a spot just in front of the entrance to the Visitor Center.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

Keep expecting to find one of the old Cooper’s Hawk nests there occupied with a female, but haven’t been able to see any evidence of one yet. And then, of course, there’s the ones I’ve been seeing in Corrales for quite some time now (including yesterday’s Thursday Birders), but try as I might still can’t find a nest.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

There’s also a quite obvious one in a tree by the City Place office building, a quite urban setting, but any nest just isn’t very easy to see buried in that tall ponderosa pine.

Great Horned Owl – City Place

Something I’d been looking for regularly over the last few weeks, knowing they should be flying any day if the temperature just got high enough and the sun was shining, was the Sandia Hairstreak. A specialty of our area that was first seen in 1958 or 1959 by Noel McFarland in the Sandia foothills, scientifically named by Paul Ehrlich and H. K. Clench in 1960, and the New Mexico State Butterfly since 2004, I regularly have visitors from all over the country hoping to see one. They do fly from here down to Texas and into Mexico, but Albuquerque is where they were first recognized as a unique species and are not that hard to find during their seasonal flight. A treat nonetheless to see one right on schedule on March 6 in Embudito Canyon.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophyrs mcfarlandi)

Also had a nice visit with a Cactus Wren that morning, a bird that’s only been seen here (nesting no less!) the last several years.

Cactus Wren

Looking forward to seeing some baby owls soon and lots more butterflies that ought to pop out as soon as the weather warms up a bit.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs | 7 Comments

Bosque Trip and Owl Update

A month to go before spring officially returns and our weather has gone back and forth over the last two weeks. Usually still pretty cool all day, the typical clear and sunny weather is regularly disrupted with stiff winds, overcast skies, and even a bit of precipitation now and then. When I have gotten out, on most days there haven’t been too many birds about maybe because of where I went and when but probably just staying quiet hidden in some warmer spot.

In my last posting, I’d mentioned hoping to show the Audubon Thursday Birder group on February 7 the pair of owls at Pueblo Montano. We were a little worried since although we’d seen them there a week earlier, they were nowhere to be found on visits a day or so before bringing the group. It was a treat to see that they were again back in the same spot when the group showed up. I keep hoping they’ll start nesting somewhere nearby soon, but as of last Sunday they were still just parked next to each other.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

The next week had the group on an all-day outing to Bosque del Apache NWR that turned up an excellent list of at least 60 species for the 19 birders on the trip. One of the first birds I’d see at our first stop on the refuge was the Brant that had been reported (and photographed for an eBird report the day before) – easily identified by its field marks but its odd posture confused us until we realized it had died sometime in the last day.  At that first pond at the north end of the refuge, we’d also have 3 Bald Eagles in the big cottonwood there and another adult in a snag off to the east – the first of at least six we’d see that day. My best picture of them was the two on the tall snag from the Eagle Scout deck.

Bald Eagle

The group spent a fair amount of time just working the gardens at the Visitor Center where we stopped for lunch. It was fun for me getting nice close-up shots of the Green-tailed Towhee

Green-tailed Towhee

and female Pyrrhuloxia,

Pyrrhuloxia (female)

but somehow got so occupied with those two (and lunch) that I missed out on nearly all the different kinds of sparrows being seen right there (Black-throated, Brewer’s, Harris’s, Golden-crowned, White-throated, White-crowned, and Song).

After lunch we drove the North Loop of the refuge, stopping first at the Eagle Scout deck to be treated to the Snow Geese lifting off in a blizzard of birds,

Snow Geese

and a flight of American White Pelicans coming in for a landing.

American White Pelican

Working our way around the North Loop, we’d get good looks at a Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk close to the road that patiently sat for pictures,

Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk

and not much further along a young Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle

Lots of Sandhill Cranes and a large flock of Wild Turkey were busy wandering the open corn fields, but none of my photos of them were all that good. Returning to the Visitor Center to run through the birdlist before heading for home, a young Red-tailed Hawk caught our attention and we weren’t sure of its identity until seeing that red tail as we watched it fly off.

Red-tailed Hawk (immature)

This past Sunday, I started out at Albuquerque Academy in search of their owls. For the last few years, they’ve had an “open campus” allowing visitors public access to the grounds any time, but recently are limiting access to students and official visitors at least when classes are in session (as I’ve noticed on two weekday occasions in the last few weeks). On Sunday, however, all the gates were open and I went first to check on the winter roost tree I’d seen one in recently but others have missed (not too surprising since they can hide really well in that big, thick Ponderosa pine). No luck for me that morning, either, but then I wandered over to the nearby tree where they’d nested before and was thrilled to see the female back in the old nest – the first owl nesting I’ve heard about so far this year!

Great Horned Owl – AA

That, of course, got me checking in on a few of the other owls around to see if any of them are yet nesting. Just saw one in the usual spot in Corrales, the two (first photo in this posting) at Pueblo Montano just sitting there, and today again saw a single individual parked in a tree close to the bike path north of the Nature Center,

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

but  none of them have started nesting as far as I can tell.

Two other fun birds to see that day were this Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

and a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet – always tough to photograph (as my book says “a hyperactive midget”) and only sometimes showing that ruby crown.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

 

 

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