April to May

Quite a few pictures this time of the usual butterflies and birds, but also a few other interesting sightings during the last couple of weeks from mid-April into early May. On February 21, I’d noticed a Great Horned Owl taking up her usual nesting cavity in Corrales, but hadn’t had any indication of little ones until April 20 (and even then only by looking closely at the photos at home later and seeing that little puffball low in the cavity).

Great Horned Owl

Returning on May 4 (and waiting around a bit), two of the three little ones made it up out of the cavity to look around.

Great Horned Owl

On February 28, I’d seen nesting going on at another nest from last year across the river from the Biopark. Checking in on them on April 23 showed success there as well, with at least two little ones taking in the scene from quite high in a cottonwood.

Great Horned Owl

That same day, at the Rio Grande Nature Center, I’d come across a good-sized flock of Cedar Waxwings busy working the New Mexico Olive trees.

Cedar Waxwing

Of my other owl nests this year, the one near the Rio Grande Nature Center we’d first spotted on February 21 disappeared sometime in mid-April, possibly from being destroyed during excessively high winds. Haven’t made it back to any of the other nests, and it doesn’t seem likely the owls near Calabacillas Arroyo will be nesting this year.

On April 21, we were off in search of butterflies first at Three Gun and then Ojito de San Antonio. Highlight of the day at Three Gun was the first of two Yucca Giant-Skippers we’d spotted parked right on the trail.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

Although we were a little disappointed in how few butterflies were out that day, we’d spot a Sandia Hairstreak, whose numbers seem to have dropped off recently although I expect will pick up again soon.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

We’d also see two Scott’s Orioles calling to each other while staking out their territories. Not the best photo, but the best I’ve gotten so far this year.

Scott’s Oriole

Ojito de San Antonio turned up a few goodies, although not as amazing as that earlier visit on April 8. We would get another nice Thicket Hairstreak

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

and another Great Purple Hairstreak,

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

but it was surprising to see quite a few White-lined Sphinx Moths this early in the year,

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

and a Rocky Mountain Clearwing Moth.

Rocky Mountain Clearwing (Hemaris thetis)

April 24 had us out checking on Sulphur Canyon and Las Huertas where we’d add another Yucca Giant-Skipper and a few other butterflies. The next couple of days found me poking around in Embudito where I’d see a few new birds for the year. These include one of several Canyon Wrens who seem intent on nesting,

Canyon Wren

a Bushtit collecting nesting material,

Bushtit

a male Ladder-backed Woodpecker (one of a pair that nested here last year),

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

a Cactus Wren nesting in a yucca right on the trail,

Cactus Wren

a nesting Curve-billed Thrasher a little further away from the trail (and who seems to have since abandoned the nest),

Curve-billed Thrasher

one of several Black-chinned Sparrows (a species typically hard to get close enough to for a photo),

Black-chinned Sparrow

my first look this year at a Black-chinned Hummingbird,

Black-chinned Hummingbird

and the usual Gambel’s Quail (who’s little ones should soon put in an appearance).

Gambel’s Quail

Embudito on April 26 would turn up the first Lupine Blue of the year.

Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)

Earlier this year, Litocala Moths were getting out of hand making it difficult to locate any butterflies there, and now, the Eight-spotted Forester Moths are adding to the confusion – still a nice-looking bug, tho.

Eight-spotted Forester Moth (Alypia octomaculata)

No good story for this one, but while wandering around Pueblo Montano on April 27, this pair of Painted Turtles posed nicely for a portrait.

Painted Turtle

April 28 had us checking out The Box and Water Canyon near Socorro NM, where we’d successfully spot most of the butterflies we were expecting there about now. The Box provided good looks at the Orange Skipperling

Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantica)

and the Common Streaky-Skipper.

Common Streaky-Skipper (Celotes nessus)

Also seen there were several small, dark butterflies that turned out to be new for us at that location, the Saltbush Sootywing.

Saltbush Sootywing (Hesperopsis alpheus)

Before we got a close enough look at them, I’d noticed one hitting a wildflower that was new to me and I think is Yellow Desert Flax (Linum puberulum).

Yellow Desert Flax (Linum puberulum)

It was fun to see a Greater Earless Lizard there, too, not quite as colorful as it should get in the next few weeks.

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)

Pretty quiet a little later at Water Canyon, but we finally spotted a small plant next to the road that attracted a number of good species, including several Viereck’s Skipper (one had been seen earlier at The Box),

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

and a Morrison’s Skipper (first of the year).

Morrison’s Skipper (Stinga morrisoni)

New for the year, a Northern Cloudywing graced us with its presence during our butterfly survey in Embudito on May 2.

Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)

I had no idea what that grasshopper-like guy was facing off with the cloudywing, but of course the astonishing Seek app tells me is a Mexican Bush Katydid.

Coming full circle for this post, yesterday’s visit to Corrales to see the Great Horned Owlets turned up a couple of other good bird photos. One was a Spotted Towhee on the power line between me and the nest cavity.

Spotted Towhee

Another was one of several Ash-throated Flycatchers, the first I’ve seen this year.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

News to me, however, was how unusual this same bird looks from head-on.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

One last picture from the North Diversion Channel. On April 20, I’d seen an Osprey pair apparently thinking of starting a nest on the western tower. They’d used it in the past until the nest blew down, and for some reason chose not to use the big nest they’d built on the eastern tower. Yesterday, they were hanging out on the eastern tower, but still seemed to prefer building a new nest there rather than use the old one.

Osprey

Only time will tell if they ever get serious about nesting this year and if they’ll try with a new nest or end up in the old one.

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Flowers, Photographs | 2 Comments

April Butterfly Bonanza

This post, my first of the month, is going to focus entirely on some of the amazing butterflies we’ve been seeing around here lately. Some are from my Oso Spring survey route in Embudito for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network, and others from an early season visit to Capilla Peak Road near Manzano NM, a few sites in the east side of the Sandias (Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, Sulphur Canyon, Doc Long), and only my second visit ever to Canon Monte Largo near Belen NM.

Starting off with two visits to Embudito in early April were a few of our usual early season regulars, including the overwintering Hoary Comma, first a dorsal view,

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

and then a ventral view.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

We’d also see good numbers of Southwestern Orangetip, which some years seem to fly by without ever landing, but this year giving good opportunities for photographs of them nectaring on various plants.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

Occasionally, a Spring White shows up and it’s helpful for identification to get both the dorsal

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

and ventral views.

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

Starting to see a few duskywings again, too, some of which can be a little tricky to identify. This one is most likely a Dreamy Duskywing.

Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus)

On April 8, we thought to take a look at Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, where old apple and pear trees might be coming into bloom as well as a few other nectar sources, and later stopping at Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long to see if anything was flying this early.

Not too many butterflies (or flowering trees) at Ojito, but those that did appear were pretty special. There were a couple of Red Admirals around, a species not too commonly seen here,

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

and, surprisingly, in addition to a couple of the more commonly seen Hoary Comma was a California Tortoiseshell.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

Moving on to Sulphur Canyon, the willows were working to draw good numbers of Mourning Cloak and Hoary Comma, but quite a surprise to spot even before we’d parked was a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell.

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti)

On the trail to Bill Spring close to Doc Long Picnic Area, another surprise and first for the year, a Thicket Hairstreak.

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

Two days later, it was off to Capilla Peak Road, an area that’s turned up some good butterflies in recent years, but that we’d never been to quite this early in the year. It would also turn up a California Tortoiseshell, more Southwestern Orangetips,

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

and Mylitta Crescent (seen earlier in Embudito, but not as good a photo op).

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

The next NMBMN survey at Embudito picked up most of the usual suspects for this time of year, including this nicely-posed Mourning Cloak,

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

but also our first Sonoran Metalmark for the year.

Sonoran Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus)

Last Friday, it was off to Canon Monte Largo, located at the base of the Manzano Mountains east of Belen. It’s a bit of a rocky road getting there especially the last mile or so. From the trailhead, a decent trail heads about 1-1/2 mile into the canyon to a small spring and what I assume is an old mining operation. Anywhere along the trail, and especially near the spring, can turn up good butterflies.

One of our first sightings there was a mating pair of Rocky Mountain Duskywing.

Rocky Mountain Duskywing (Erynnis telemachus)

We’d also see several Sandia Hairstreaks and a first of the year Juniper Hairstreak.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Prize for the day, however, was getting to see Arizona Hairstreak, and we’d see a total of seven individuals!

Arizona Hairstreak (Erora quaderena)

We’d known this species was a possibility here, but had only seen them a very few times before in Arizona and southwest New Mexico.

The spring at the far end of the trail had large numbers of duskywings, a few other species seen earlier that day, and good numbers of Short-tailed Skipper, a species we’d been expecting in Embudito for a few weeks now.

Short-tailed Skipper (Zestusa dorus)

A final treat for the day was coming across the only blooming thistle anywhere along the walk (or that I’ve seen yet this year). When I first came up to it, there were two Sleepy Orange butterflies busy getting nectar. (For those who may be interested, one was already in summer form while the other still in the winter form.) This image is of the one still in the drab winter form.

Sleepy Orange (Abeis nicippe)

As the Sleepy Orange was about to leave, another yellow butterfly arrived that we weren’t sure of, but eventually correctly identified as a female Southern Dogface (a species I usually see later in the season and maybe the first female I’ve ever noticed).

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

On the way back from the spring, the Southern Dogface was still there, but now there was also a Two-tailed Swallowtail (which isn’t often seen early in the season except flying by).

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) & Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

It’s been a real treat seeing all these special butterflies in both my usual places as well as a few that don’t get nearly enough attention especially early in the season. Stay tuned as the plan for the next few weeks is checking in on a few more local spots that have been productive in the past.

Posted in Butterfly, Photographs | 6 Comments

Here Come the Butterflies

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything, but finally a couple of days recently turned up an amazing variety of butterflies for so early in the year. Photos of some of these butterflies will form the bulk of this post. Found myself hanging around the house a lot lately, busy painting and fixing up in anticipation of having porcelain tile replaced in my entrance hall and dining room. It’s been interesting noting how things can build up a bit of dust and grime over more than a quarter century if you’re careful to avoid ever disturbing them. Anyway, with the cool mornings lately and a couple of bursts of rain and snow, it hasn’t been very motivating to go looking for birds. Two birds that made the cut this time include this Cactus Wren at Embudito,

Cactus Wren

and the Western Screech-Owl back in its cavity at Columbus Park.

Western Screech-Owl

Instead of birds, it seems if the weather got just warm enough, I’d head over to Embudito hoping to spot a few butterflies just starting into their flight periods. Last time, I mentioned starting to see Sandia Hairstreaks on March 2, and they’ve been around pretty much every time since, including this mating pair.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

I would usually see one or two other species on a visit, but was expecting to start seeing Southwestern Orangetips any day. One would fly by on March 16 without stopping for a photograph, but I haven’t seen any at all since then.

Thinking we might see a few more butterflies about 200 miles south in the Organ Mountains just east of Las Cruces, and one butterfly in particular, we headed out early Thursday morning making our first stop at the La Cueva Picnic Area and the Fillmore Canyon Trail. Almost immediately, we’d start seeing good numbers of Southwestern Orangetips flying by, and unlike the ones in Albuquerque, these would readily land to nectar on various small flowers. Here are just two of the many we’d get to photograph, first a ventral view

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

and then a dorsal view.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

While busy chasing after a couple of these, I’d dismissed a small yellow one nearby as the usually quite common Dainty Sulphur. When it landed, however, it sure looked more like an orangetip than a sulphur. The reference books suggest some Southwestern Orangetips can be yellow, but this one also had a different ventral pattern. Upon returning home and reviewing things a bit more, I’d decided this was the related Desert Orangetip, which was quickly confirmed following submittal to BAMONA. Cool – a species I’d only seen once before in Anza Borrego, CA in 2015.

Desert Orangetip (Anthocharis cethura)

Continuing on further up the trail, we eventually noticed quite a bit of New Mexico buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa), the host plant for our target butterfly for the trip, Henry’s Elfin. We’d seen it once before in early April 2017 at Last Chance Canyon near Carlsbad, NM, but were aware of past reports of it being seen in Fillmore Canyon. We’d hoped to focus our search by spotting the bright pink flowers of the blooming buckeye, but it was just too early in the season for the buckeye to show any sign of spring. The large seedpods of the buckeye were easy to spot, but we assumed our search was likely in vain without any flowers or even buds out yet. We did, however, have fun seeing good numbers and varieties of other species on a few sumac bushes in the area…orangetips, Gray Hairstreaks, Marine Blues, Funereal Duskywings, and even a Painted Lady.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Just starting back down the trail, I happened to spot a small butterfly on a dry stalk. Hmm, dang if that don’t look like a Elfin; indeed, it was our target species, Henry’s Elfin!

Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici)

At home later, I’d read that they go into diapause as pupae (chrysalis) over summer and winter before emerging in early spring, so the lack of flowering buckeye wasn’t that critical.

Later that day, we’d head over to Soledad Canyon where we’d had some good luck on our last visit in early October 2021. We’d notice a few spots with sumac bushes attracting butterflies, but getting late in the day decided to return the next morning to explore a bit further. That turned out to be a pretty decent plan, as we’d end up seeing a nice mix of species most for the first time this year. One of them was the species that originally sucked me into this butterfly business, Great Purple Hairstreak.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

We’d also see good numbers of Gray Hairstreak, a species that seems rather common but can pop up just about anywhere,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and even an American Snout, which some years we never see and other years (like 2021) everywhere.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

The last species we’d see there was hiding in the underbrush and originally assumed as just another Southwestern Orangetip until we looked a little closer. Yup, something different and one of the three Euchloe species in NM. Got a couple of quick partial shots of it in the weeds before it took off, fortunately just a short distance away where we tracked it down again. Turned out to be a Desert Marble (Euchloe lotta), a species I’d only seen once before in Arizona.

Desert Marble (Euchloe lotta)

Most successful outing! Heading for home, we took a break at Paseo del Rio Campground outside of Elephant Butte where we’ve sometimes had good butterflies. Quite dry and still just a week or so away from leafing out for Spring, but we managed to spot a few butterflies, including the first Queen for the year,

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

and several of the overwintering Mourning Cloaks we’ve been seeing around town lately…this one with a nicely blurred background.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Next couple of months should be entertaining around here now that the butterflies are back, bird migration is getting underway, and undoubtedly a few baby owls and other birds will be putting in an appearance.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs, Travel | 4 Comments

Let the Nesting Begin

Since my last posting, it seems most of the owls have joined the party and started their nesting season. We’d stumbled across a first nest on February 10 near the Rio Grande Nature Center, and about a week later started coming across a few others. Owls were being seen in different locations at Willow Creek Open Space, but it wasn’t until February 19 that we were surprised to spot one nesting high in a cottonwood.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

A day later, a friend told me of one nesting near the Tamaya Resort that I got to see the following day.

Great Horned Owl – Tamaya

Having such good luck, I thought to stop in on the couple in Corrales near Dixon Road where the adults have usually been easy enough to spot year-round. Sure enough, they’ve again nested in their usual cavity although the female can easily duck down out of sight.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

The male was easy to spot in one of his usual perches across the ditch from the nest tree.

Male Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Early this week, I noticed a eBird report of an owl nesting across the river from the Botanic Garden (an area now shown as Pat Baca Open Space). Remembering where one nested last year, it seemed worth a look, and sure enough (although you had to look pretty closely quite high in the tree) I made out the female on the same nest as last year.

Great Horned Owl – Pat Baca OS

The eBird report only mentioned seeing the nesting female, but I also spotted the male where it perched last year to keep an eye on the nest.

Male Great Horned Owl – Pat Baca OS

Still looking for a few more active nests, but haven’t been working it quite as much as some previous years. One location that keeps attracting my attention is near Calabacillas Arroyo, where a pair has nested in several different spots since at least 2013. Back at the end of January, I’d spotted one of them (probably the male) in one of the hiding spots he’d used last year, and again just last week. Of the two tree cavities nearby that they’ve used in the past, however, there’s no indication that the female is nesting or that those cavities are even usable anymore. I’ll keep looking, since I have heard that others have recently seen both owls canoodling around in the evening and it’s only a matter of time before they settle down. Just to give you an idea of how well they can hide, here’s a couple photos of that male in his hidey hole…pretty much the only reason I spotted him was knowing I’d seen him there before. Here’s one photo taken from the ditch bank trail.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

See him just below the light brown leaves to the left of the closest tree in the center of the picture? Here’s another one from a little closer on the trail from about the left side of the first picture.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Yep, that’s our guy in the middle of those big light brown cottonwood leaves. Enough of this silliness; here’s the one shot I took from maybe 10 feet away where he was a little more in the open.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

I try to get shots like that pretty quickly and then head off to minimize any disturbance.

Anyway, here’s a couple of other photos from the last few weeks. First a Spotted Towhee from Embudito Canyon.

Spotted Towhee

Canyon Towhees are usually much more common there, and sometimes I’ll see Green-tailed Towhee, but Spotted Towhees not so much.

Got a good look at a porcupine quite low in a tree one day near Tingley Ponds,

Porcupine

and with the weather warming up for the first time in months, the Spiny Softshells and Red-eared Sliders have come out for some sun. This Red-eared Slider seemed to be in the middle of a yoga routine.

Red-eared Slider

Also fun to see a Belted Kingfisher hanging out with all the cormorants on the island with the blue trees. When I see kingfishers there, it’s usually on one one of the bosque ponds.

Belted Kingfisher – Male

But here’s the good news – the BUTTERFLIES ARE BACK! Just in the last week or so, I’ve noticed an occasional Mourning Cloak passing through which is not that unusual since they over-winter as adults and are sometimes seen when the weather gets warm enough. As the end of February approached, I started keeping an eye out for the first of our spring butterflies, the Sandia Hairstreak on the Texas Beargrass (Nolina texana). I had hopes of spotting one on March 1, a day of unusually warm temperatures, but nada. Rambled back on over the next day, which was even warmer, and yep, there one was right where I’d been expecting it.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Nice enough day that there were also several Mourning Cloaks, a Dainty Sulphur, and the first Hoary Comma I’ve seen in quite some time.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

It’s great to start seeing butterflies again, and with spring arriving in just a few more weeks, all the bird and butterfly activity should start really picking up.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs | 2 Comments

Some Birds of February

A little over two weeks since my last post, and while we caught a good snowstorm early in February, the weather’s been rather chilly but otherwise generally nice with clear skies. Starting to notice the days getting longer with a few days recently almost feeling warm, and while you know we’re due for at least a little more snow and a couple of cold snaps, Spring is surely on its way. Once again, I haven’t been getting out as often as usual and not coming across many birds or photo ops when I do, but every now and then there’s a surprise waiting for me out there.

Shortly after that big snowstorm, I made my way to Willow Creek Open Space where I’d seen a Great Horned Owl reported on eBird earlier in the year. We’ve had them nesting in that area for years so although it seems a bit early for nesting, it seemed worth a visit to look for them. The Audubon Thursday Birders were also headed there later that week and I figured they’d want to know, too. A little too cold and windy and starting to cloud up, so I only looked around the southern end where they’d nested in 2020…no luck there, but later closer to the parking lot I would spot one close to the trail.

Great Horned Owl

Of course, by the next day one was spotted further south, and missed entirely by the Thursday Birders, so the birds must still be deciding on a nest site. I also looked (unsuccessfully) for any in a few other places along the way home and the next day that may be worth another visit in the coming months.

The weather was much better the next day, where I got a nice look at a Western Bluebird at the North Corrales Bosque.

Western Bluebird

A week later, I’d get a decent shot of an Eastern Bluebird near Rio Grande Nature Center.

Eastern Bluebird

There’ve been a few Mountain Bluebirds around as well, but none that I’ve managed to photograph.

In Embudito one day, it was fun getting pretty good looks at a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (who’d nested there last year). That day, the male showed off for me for a bit before flying off in the distance, first with a fun headshot

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and then a more formal pose.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

About a week later in Embudito, a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers caught my attention messing around in a cholla when another bird nearby started calling. That one looked and sounded a little different, so I tracked it down and realized it was a Sage Thrasher, a species rare for me to see.

Sage Thrasher

Off to Pueblo Montano/Bosque School the next day turned up a good number of porcupines but few birds, one of which and always a treat to see was a Western Screech-Owl.

Western Screech-Owl

Only one other person around that day, but it’s always fun pointing out an owl to anybody walking by with no idea they’re just sitting there.

Back at the Nature Center the next day, I was mostly hoping to see the Wilson’s Snipe in the irrigation ditch where others have been seeing it and we’ve seen it in past years, and checking to see if the Bald Eagle(s) were still perched in the trees across the river. But certainly keeping an eye out for any Great Horned Owls who usually are found nesting somewhere in the area every year. No luck on the snipe or eagle, and had earlier intentionally ignored one old hawk nest along the way that I look at every year but never see anybody using. Pointed it out on the way back (and told that story) when I just happened to take a look and surprise surprise….look who was finally using it!

Great Horned Owl

First nesting owls of the year for me, and fun seeing I was the first to report it on eBird.

On Super Bowl Sunday, we drove down to Bosque del Apache for a most pleasant and productive morning of birding (41 species). Very few Sandhill Cranes or Snow Geese about (at least in the areas we visited), but a few goodies in the desert garden near the Visitor Center to start and others as we drove around the refuge. Some of my better photos from the garden included this Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

a House Sparrow,

House Sparrow

a White-throated Sparrow,

White-throated Sparrow

one of the many Red-winged Blackbirds,

Red-winged Blackbird

and a few of the (also numerous) Gambel’s Quail.

Gambel’s Quail

In the marsh by the Boardwalk Deck was a shy Great Blue Heron,

Great Blue Heron

and for most of the day, we’d see a pair of Bald Eagles perched on the big snag in the large pond from the Flight Deck.

Bald Eagle

Not the greatest photo from such a distance and under terrible lighting conditions, but the first time I’ve ever seen two eagles perched so close together.

On the way home, we decided to drive the loop at Bernardo Wildlife Area where there was a chance of perhaps seeing a Ring-necked Pheasant. I’d seen several reports of their being sighted there recently, and they’re rarely seen around town in recent years. After first spotting a male a good distance away, we eventually had great fun finding three more much closer and sometimes out in the open.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Looking forward to moving from winter to spring, and surely a few more good bird sightings in the weeks ahead.

Posted in Birding, Photographs | 6 Comments

And on to February

Almost the end of January and nearly a month since my last post. Seems I’ve been a bit distracted lately, and either not getting out much at all or at the wrong time of day. Weather’s been mostly good if a little chilly, but this time of year can also be rather slow for birding in the areas I’ve been visiting. Did have a few interesting sightings nonetheless over the last few weeks and thought I’d share them here.

Met up with some friends at Tingley Beach on January 6 for birding, and saw a few good birds and first porcupine for the year. Fun spotting a Great Blue Heron preening away high in the top of a cottonwood.

Great Blue Heron

Didn’t get a photo of the porcupine that day, but did see one awake in a tree a few days later at Calabacillas Arroyo.

Porcupine

The next day, a Canyon Towhee teased me from a cholla in Embudito.

Canyon Towhee

One of my better outings was the next day at Rio Grande Nature Center and the adjoining bosque along the Rio Grande. Pretty quiet (other than a few crows flying about) until I got to the river, where I first got a close look at a Great Blue Heron who stayed around long enough for a photo before flying off up river.

Great Blue Heron

Next, it was a treat to see a mature Bald Eagle on the far side of the river on a snag they’ve used in past years. Unfortunately, it didn’t feel like flying any closer while I was in the area.

Bald Eagle

Starting back toward the Nature Center I came across a couple of other photo ops, first a House Finch close to the trail in a Russian Olive,

House Finch

and then an Eastern Bluebird, in the shadows a bit higher up in a cottonwood.

Eastern Bluebird

New for me was finding a trail close to the river between my two usual access points. New for the birds, too, who’d been hanging out on the water not expecting any people to show up. This gave me a chance to get close to several Common Mergansers, who typically seem to head for the hills as soon as they detect nearby humans. Got an okay shot of the male,

Common Merganser (male)

but was quite happy with this one of a female.

Common Merganser (female)

A few days later, we decided to revisit the Northern Geologic Window that was part of our area for the Albuquerque Christmas Count back in December. Of the 117 species recorded on the count, we were the only team to get Sagebrush Sparrow and Crissal Thrasher, and wanted to find them again and try for better photos. Both species were still there, but my only good photo was of the Crissal Thrasher.

Crissal Thrasher

Embudito’s my ‘local patch’ and where I seem to go several times a week. It hasn’t been very birdy at all lately, but still worth going for a little outdoor exercise if nothing else. It was a treat coming across a couple of Black-throated Sparrows for the first time in quite awhile, and fun that they were so busy working under some bushes they ignored me entirely as I stood directly above them trying to back off the zoom enough to include the whole bird.

Black-throated Sparrow

Last Friday, we were off to the East Mountains for a Climate Watch survey, which we do twice a year counting all the birds we see in 5 minutes at each of 12 locations. Our focus is on bluebirds and nuthatches, which this time turned up a good number of Western Bluebirds, a few Mountain Bluebirds, and a single White-breasted Nuthatch. We also had several species of hawks this year that likely kept the numbers down for the smaller birds in the area. After completing the survey (and a good lunch at Rumor Brewing), we drove east to Moriarty and south to Clements Road, which at this time of year can be good for seeing several raptors. We would see a Rough-legged Hawk and a few Red-tailed and Ferruginous Hawks, but have had better luck in the past. I did catch one of the Ferruginous Hawks as it flew by.

Ferruginous Hawk

The most unusual sighting of the day and an absolute highlight was coming across a tree in someone’s yard that had 3 Great Horned Owls perched in it.

Great Horned Owl

In the photo above, two of them are quite obvious on either side of the main trunk; the third one is just above and to the left of the obvious one on the left. A friend mentioned seeing a nesting pair in the area early last year, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen an owl out there, let alone three of them! Even crazier was seeing a fourth owl perched in the next tree over.

Great Horned Owl

No nests in sight, and no idea how/if any of these were related.

Naturally, that had me out a few days later (January 26) checking in on one I’d seen a few months ago a friend had mentioned seeing as recently as January 10. Took me awhile to spot this guy, but yep, that shape finally jumped out at me, and of course, was looking right at me when I finally saw it.

Great Horned Owl

Walking the ditch in Corrales two days later, of course I had to look for the pair that seems present year-round near the nesting site they’ve used for years. It took two passes by those trees, but finally spotted one of them in a somewhat different location than usual.

Great Horned Owl

A quiet walk in the bosque near the Open Space Visitor Center the next day didn’t turn up many birds at all, but I did get a look at what I’m pretty sure was a female Western Bluebird hiding in the shade.

Western Bluebird

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On to 2022!

Since my last post, we’ve been on two Christmas Bird Counts, the Bosque del Apache CBC on 12/18/21 and the Albuquerque CBC the next day. We had to skip the Sandia CBC after it was rescheduled from 12/26/21 to 1/1/22 and conflicted with a trip to Arizona.

We had a reasonably successful count for the Bosque del Apache CBC with 37 species on a cool and windy day. Biggest surprise was coming across a flock of 155 Wild Turkeys, way more than one usually sees in the area.

Wild Turkey

Among the other birds seen was a Merlin

Merlin

and a male Pyrrhuloxia out in the open (for a change).

Pyrrhuloxia

Fortunately, the wind died down by the next day as we headed out to several areas out on the West Mesa for the Albuquerque CBC. Only 19 species (174 individuals), but we got most of our target species and a few surprises, including a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

We successfully tracked down Sagebrush Sparrow and Loggerhead Shrike, species typically only found in our area of the count circle, but missed a couple of species we’d seen last year.

Loggerhead Shrike

Toward the end of the day, I was checking in on a zoom call with my sisters when I noticed my phone battery level was way low. While sitting in my car charging the phone and zooming, a Greater Roadrunner showed up fooling around desperately begging for a snack. Managed to juggle the phone, car window, and my camera to take a few pictures.

Greater Roadrunner

Over the next few days leading up to Christmas, I got out a couple of times and while there weren’t many photo opps, I did manage a couple of photos including this Canyon Towhee peeking out from behind a cholla in Embudito Canyon,

Canyon Towhee

catching both Great Horned Owls in their usual spot in Corrales,

Great Horned Owl

and this one of a Say’s Phoebe on a sunflower stalk at Los Poblanos…a shot I took just because it let me get reasonably close, but that I thought came out quite well.

Say’s Phoebe

Then it was off to a B&B in Arizona to meet up with friends, celebrate a birthday, and ring in the New Year over a long weekend. Much too cold and blustery most of the time and even some rain (and snow on the mountains) but still fun times with good friends and plenty of good birds to photograph.

A few of them are also seen in New Mexico, such as Lesser Goldfinch,

Lesser Goldfinch

Ladder-backed Woodpecker,

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and occasionally Pyrrhuloxia.

Pyrrhuloxia

Others were much more unusual for us to see but rather common for Arizona, including the Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker

and a pair of Northern Cardinals usually seen hiding deep in the brush.

Northern Cardinal

It was a surprising treat to see a hummingbird over the New Year’s holiday, which we suspect is a female Anna’s Hummingbird.

Anna’s Hummingbird

Stopping in at Chiricahua National Monument Visitor Center on the drive home, we’d also be treated to a number of Mexican Jays busy checking on tourists arriving in the parking lot.

Mexican Jay

Happy New Year, everybody! There will surely be some fabulous times in the days ahead keeping an eye out for more amazing birds, butterflies, lizards, ….

Posted in Birding, Photographs, Travel | 4 Comments

Almost Winter

Finally got cold and even a dusting of snow on the mountain and just a week until the official start of winter. Almost a month since my last posting, this one’s going to be a little different than my usual. Not surprisingly, the butterflies have pretty much disappeared until next spring, and I haven’t gotten out too often or photographed many birds. But then again, Thanksgiving happened since then, I’ve been busy getting all my Christmas ducks lined up in a row, and unfortunately had to make an unexpected trip to Texas for a week for personal reasons.

So here’s what I’ve got this time:

After several visits to the Rio Grande Nature Center, on November 18, one of the male Hooded Mergansers came reasonably close and popped up his hood as he sailed by.

Hooded Merganser – Rio Grande Nature Center

The next day, we made the drive out to the Coyote del Malpais Golf Course in Grants NM to see a decent variety of ducks but usually a bit far in the distance. One of my better photos from the day is this one of a flock of Northern Shovelers taking off with a Green-winged Teal there in the middle.

Green-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler

Later, we’d drive to La Ventana Natural Arch for a picnic lunch. At one point, a large bird launched from high on a cliff that I’d figured for a Common Raven that started calling at the same time…took me awhile to catch on while it circled higher and higher, but eventually determined it to be a Golden Eagle…cool!

The following day had me wandering around Los Poblanos Open Space, where I didn’t see much at first and had only distant views of Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes. But there came a point where I merged with a good-sized flock of the cranes who were making their way across the path from one field to another. That let me get a few good photos of them, although I missed catching any of the dancing routines or parachute landings. Here’s a couple of the ones I saved, a stately trio marching by,

Sandhill Crane – Los Poblanos

and one flying off somewhere.

Sandhill Crane – Los Poblanos

Now this next part is where things start to get different from my usual postings. On November 23, we went to the Albuquerque Biopark Zoo, me for the first time in at least two years (surely you remember life B.C. {pre-Covid}).

One of the first critters one comes across is a small flock of Flamingos, who can take interesting poses for a photographer, such as this one

Flamingo – Albuquerque Biopark

or a somewhat more recognizable version.

Flamingo – Albuquerque Biopark

It was fun taking pictures of several other creatures, and I plan on returning soon, but I’ll only show a couple more here. Baby hippo was kinda cute –

Baby Hippo – Albuquerque Biopark

and I liked this one of the last of the cottonwood leaves.

Cottonwood Leaves

Coolest sighting of the day for me was the Mountain Lion, quite alert and active and close to the fence.

Puma (caged)

Very rarely do I use Photoshop to erase distracting elements in a photo, and in the past only for something like a power line against an otherwise empty sky, but I’d just happened to stumble on to a few YouTube videos showing how to easily make more extensive corrections, e.g., removing the chain link fence in a photo…drumroll, please.

Puma (uncaged)

Not perfect, but whoa, I’m definitely returning to the zoo again soon and playing around with the resulting pictures.

As long as I was fooling around with Photoshop, I found another website showing how you could, in two simple steps, convert a photo to look like a watercolor rendering, which seemed a fun idea to try for some of the greeting cards I sometimes print. Here’s the result for two of my images, one a Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey (Photoshopped as Watercolor)

and one of a Cottontail Rabbit.

Cottontail Rabbit (Photoshopped as Watercolor)

Pretty cool, huh? That technique is definitely getting some attention from me.

One final picture for this post, from an evening at the River of Lights, a fascinating display of millions of holiday lights in various arrangements throughout the Botanic Gardens of the Biopark.

River of Lights

We’d gone once a few years ago and it was also magical, but this time we’d lucked into a time that was uncrowded, not nearly as cold as the earlier visit, and I had my new camera with its novel setting for minimizing blur in hand-held night shots (usually a major problem for me in the past).

Should be a few good photo opportunities in the next couple of weeks – it’s Christmas Bird Count season, and we’re signed up to for three of them this year.

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Birds and Butterflies into mid-November

Since my last posting on October 24, the weather has continued to be quite nice and here it is November 15 and we still haven’t had our first freeze. It’s been somewhat surprising to still being seeing a good variety of butterflies out and about, and fun starting to see a few more of our migrating birds. The cottonwoods have just been glowing for the last few weeks, but are now starting to fade as we move closer to winter.

Cottonwoods – Rio Grande Bosque

Among those butterflies I’ve been seeing at Embudito recently have been a Hoary Comma,

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

usually several Lupine Blues,

Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)

and plenty of Western Pygmy-Blues.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidum exile)

There’s usually a few others about, such as Common Checkered-Skipper, Clouded Sulphur, Dainty Sulphur, and Checkered White, and until quite recently a few American Snout. Here’s the ventral view of an American Snout,

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

and here’s the dorsal view.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

On a visit to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, we again saw a Question Mark on October 30 in the same area it’d been seen on September 3.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

Back in Embudito have been some fun interactions with a few birds. One day, I saw a Cactus Wren flying with a bit of fluff to its winter roosting nest, disappearing inside for a few seconds before flying off to a nearby perch.

Cactus Wren

I got aligned with that nest entrance and waited for awhile hoping to catch it returning, but after a few minutes decided to move along as my presence might have bothered the bird. A little later, I got good looks at the male Ladder-backed Woodpecker that hasn’t let me get very close this year.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

A few days later, I spotted a Greater Roadrunner jumping around the boulders near the ridgetop and got my camera squared away in case it took flight.

Greater Roadrunner

That worked, but I’m still looking to get that shot with the wide-open wings you sometimes get to see.

Walking along the Corrales Ditch one day, I noticed a Great Horned Owl near its usual nesting spot and would hear that both adults were seen the next day.

Great Horned Owl

In my last post, I mentioned seeing one near Calabacillas Arroyo on October 23 while this one was seen November 2; it seems quite unusual to me to be seeing them before February.

A couple days later at Los Poblanos Open Space, I’d see another Greater Roadrunner up close. There are usually a couple of them around the community garden, rather friendly apparently as the resident owners of the garden.

Greater Roadrunner

The next day, a visit to Tingley ponds turned up a few ducks, a noisy Marsh Wren, and Belted Kingfisher, but I wasn’t able to get decent photos of any of those. On the front ponds, tho, a female Wood Duck posed nicely,

Female Wood Duck

as did what turned out to be a Green-winged Teal/Mallard Hybrid (as we saw when it woke up and paddled off with a big yellow bill).

Green-winged Teal/Mallard Hybrid

Last Tuesday, I made a run down to Bosque del Apache NWR (and would return on Saturday). It was fun to spot a few good birds, most new for the season, and interesting to note different birds in different locations just a few days apart. There still isn’t much water on the refuge, but the ponds are starting to fill just in time for the ducks, geese, and raptors to arrive. Surprising to me was to see an adult Bald Eagle this early, hanging out on its usual snag despite the limited water in the large pond.

Bald Eagle

Interestingly, we didn’t see the adult on Saturday, but instead there was a young (3rd year) Bald Eagle on that snag. Fun for me on Tuesday was seeing quite a few female Northern Harriers and having them cruise by at fairly close range.

Northern Harrier

At one spot, I noticed a coyote quietly making its way through a meadow when a pair of Northern Harrier buzzed it a couple of times; didn’t quite get that photo, but here’s one of the coyote with a Northern Harrier keeping an eye on it from a resting perch.

Coyote watched by a Northern Harrier

Not too busy at the Visitor Center, except for one quite noisy bird bustling about in some bushes right by the parking lot. After minutes of all that business it finally popped out into a bare tree…Pyrrhuloxia!

Pyrrhuloxia

On my way home, I thought to take a look at Ladd S. Gordon Wildlife Area. Early this year, I’d gotten some good photos of both male and female Northern Harriers and once had several White-throated Sparrows in one location. Several years ago, we’d had large numbers of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese there, which the wildlife folks told us they used as a staging area for encouraging them to continue on to Bosque del Apache NWR in time for the annual Festival of the Cranes (unfortunately held virtually the last two years due to Covid). There were a few Sandhill Cranes, but few other birds seen this time. Seems a little late for dragonflies, but I would see a few of them around including this mating pair.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Today, after several attempts I finally got a good look at the Hooded Mergansers at Rio Grande Nature Center. There seem to be a couple of mated pair, but only one of the males came close enough for a photo.

Hooded Merganser

Should be fun over the next few weeks tracking down a few more of our winter visitors, but surely we’re about done with butterflies for the year.

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

Butterfly to Bird Transition

It’s always tricky trying to come up with a title for my blog posts, and seems like I have to do that before adding any text or pictures. I had two ideas for this one. At first I was thinking to make it about realizing once again how I lead a ‘charmed life’, after noting the weather this past week has just been perfect and after having had some amazing and unexpected experiences on almost a daily basis recently. But then I got to thinking that the last couple of weeks has also had me notice that butterfly season is winding down and my attention is turning to seeing what birds might be around as the Fall migration gets underway.

Shared on Facebook recently were two short videos, one on birds and one on butterflies, pulled together from my photos so far in 2021. In less than a minute each, you might get a sense of the amazing variety possible to see just by getting out there and taking a look around.

Rarely do I post individual pictures on Facebook, since not everyone is on it (So far, I’ve avoided Twitter, Instagram, and such myself.). Here, though, is one taken with my phone that I posted to Facebook.

Dog tested, Dog approved.

These three dogs, seen outside the Highway 4 Cafe & Bakery in Jemez Springs, just seemed ready to roll and out for a good time. We’d seen them on our way to Valles Caldera National Preserve, where I hoped access into the preserve would be much easier than on previous visits. That turned out to be the case, and we were able to drive the well-maintained dirt roads deep into the back country and catch some of the aspen gold along with the incredible views.

Valles Caldera

The next few days saw me making almost daily visits to Embudito Canyon mostly looking for some of those late season butterflies on the chamisa that was in peak bloom. Another one of the rock sculptures there caught my eye one day; anybody else see that cartoon face?

Cartoon Character?

On the 19th, I added a new butterfly, Ceraunus Blue, to my list of Embudito Butterflies, bringing the total to 68 species seen there since 2011. A few of the other butterflies seen in the last couple of weeks include Painted Lady,

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Gray Hairstreak,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

There have also been regular sightings of American Snout, such as this dorsal view,

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

and more often, a ventral view.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

It’s been a little surprising, too, to come across one or two Lupine Blue butterflies there lately, including this one seen on last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder outing.

Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)

Last Monday had me beginning that transition from focusing on butterflies to keeping an eye out primarily for birds. Starting at the bosque ponds in the woods behind Tingley Beach turned up a good mix of ducks and Canada Geese, but not the Belted Kingfisher I’d hoped for and most of the ducks were pretty far away. There was one Pied-billed Grebe close to shore for this photo,

Pied-billed Grebe

and several Wood Ducks wandering around the concession stand when I headed back to my car along the normal fishing ponds.

Wood Duck (male)

Not many birds around that morning until as I was making my way along the far side of one of the ponds, I spotted a Black-crowned Night-Heron on the shore. Despite being on the shaded side of it, I took a couple of photos from a fair distance away and then slowly continued along the path hoping not to disturb it. Just past it, a guy was sitting there fishing who the bird also ignored. Strolled up and let him know what I was doing before taking a couple good shots of the unusually complacent Black-crowned Night-Heron, the first of those living a charmed life moments for the week.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Two days later found me wandering around the woods at Pueblo Montano. Not many birds about and no porcupines (who can easily be seen in good numbers once the leaves fall), but a delighful day to be out and about. Deciding to wrap it up and head over to Los Poblanos Open Space to see the newly-arrived Sandhill Cranes and possibly a few raptors, I thought to take a look at a tree cavity that I’ve long suspected might be used by a Western Screech-Owl, and once heard from a friend about having seen one there. Not sure why I bother, since it’s always been empty in all the numerous times I’ve looked over the last few years. So in the next installment of my ‘charmed life’, here’s what was there that day.

Western Screech-Owl

Not only was the owl there, but he was wide awake and looking right at me. Usually, they seem aware of your presence but pretend to be snoozing away the day. I should also mention that this photo was taken with quite a long zoom so as not to annoy the bird. Here’s another shot taken with a more reasonable zoom.

Western Screech-Owl

Thursday was my first time with the Audubon Thursday Birders since the pandemic shut everything down, and it was fun seeing so many old friend many for the first time since then, and we did see some good birds. Only photo from the day was right at the end of one of the White-crowned Sparrows recently returned for the winter.

White-crowned Sparrow

Yesterday morning, I decided to head out to Romero Road in Corrales and walked through the bosque and took a look at the Rio Grande. Surprised to see so little water in the ditch there, and most of the birds seemed to be hiding or perched high in the cottonwoods. It was so quiet that when four Sandhill Cranes flew over just above the trees you could hear their wings moving through the air.

The river was quite low, but made for a nice photo with the fall colors just coming into their own against the backdrop of the Sandias.

North Corrales

Still early enough in the morning, on the way home I decided to give Calabacillas Arroyo and the trail north to Alameda a look. Often a little quiet for birds, it can be good at times and turn up some interesting sightings near the dam overflow. First bird I saw just as I was leaving the parking lot was this Great Blue Heron hanging out high in a cottonwood. Usually, they’ll fly off as soon as they notice me, but this one seemed content to just sit there showing off.

Great Blue Heron

Pretty quiet walk from that point on, and after making it to the dam overflow (where there were two more herons waiting for fish but far on the other side of the river), I started heading back. Although I usually return on the same trail in the bosque close to the ditch, for some reason this time I took the parallel trail closer to the river. In one more ‘charmed life’ incident, although I had very little expectation of seeing one especially at this time of the year there in the golden cottonwood leaves a Great Horned Owl appeared. I’d last seen them there in early May shortly before they’d usually disappear until the next breeding season.

Great Horned Owl
Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Photographs | 4 Comments