My Favorite Time of Year

Early autumn is always my most favorite time of year here in New Mexico with the weather just about perfect, warm and sunny days with little wind and pleasantly cool nights. The bright yellow sunflowers and purple asters slowly give way to the chamisa coming into bloom, and the trees start glowing golden until they lose their leaves. The aspens high in the mountains have already peaked, but the cottonwoods are still building to their crescendo. Things are about to change it seems with cooler temperatures and maybe even snow over the next few days.

Sandias from Wagner Farm

Shortly after my last post, Rebecca and I made a run down to Las Cruces on an unsuccessful search for two species of Giant-Skipper butterflies we’d hoped to find. Still interesting as I’d long heard of Aguirre Springs and Dripping Springs in the Organ Mountains east of town but had never visited. This rock formation at Dripping Springs kept attracting my attention with what looked to me like a guy wearing a cap while bringing up his right hand to salute…looks a lot like a few birders I know just about to get their binoculars on some high-flying bird.

Dripping Springs

We didn’t see many butterflies at all in either spot near Las Cruces, and rather than reversing our drive up I-25 we headed home by way of Alamogordo and Carrizozo. Another new (for me) place we stopped was the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site midway between Tularosa and Carrizozo. I’d heard about it for years, but was always on my way somewhere else and had never visited. The petroglyphs were interesting in that many of them seemed to use a different artistic style than seen in the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque. A little research suggests the Three Rivers petroglyphs are generally several hundred years older and made by different people. The area seemed to have gotten more rain than most of the state this year and there were quite a lot of blooming flowers. We didn’t see many butterflies, though, until Rebecca spotted some bushes (she later identified as Brickellia eupatorioides or False Boneset) by the Ranger’s home that had plenty. Two that certainly caught my attention was this Great Purple Hairstreak

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

and the first of two American Snouts we’d see.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

The trees near those bushes also turned up a Verdin, whose nest we’d later spot in a tree near the picnic tables.

Verdin

Headed for Socorro and home, we made a quick stop at Valley of Fires where we’ve sometimes seen good butterflies and almost always come across a large Eastern Collared Lizard sunning on the rocks. Didn’t see that one this time (and maybe since it’s later in the year) but Rebecca did immediately spot what is probably a young one.

Eastern Collared Lizard ? (Crotaphytus collaris)

Arrived home to find a couple of mule deer just in front of my garage. I usually only notice them a couple times every year, but these guys have now put in an appearance just about every day for the last two weeks.

Mule Deer

There have been a few good bird sightings on my typically daily walks, although it’s getting old trying to figure out where to go where I won’t run into too many others and then keeping an eye out for folks so I can put on my mask and keep my distance. The virus cases jumped way up over the last week and don’t seem yet to be tailing off; fortunately, most folks out there do seem to be complying with the mask rule.

First up in the birds was another Northern Waterthrush in the irrigation canals in Corrales, a bird I’ve only seen a few times in the past but am seeing there regularly for the last couple months.

Northern Waterthrush

One day in Embudito, a Scaled Quail was surverying the scene from the top of the rock close to the parking area that’s always a popular lookout for different birds. Years ago, Scaled Quail were quite common in the foothills, while Gambel’s Quail were only occasionally sighted. Over the last few years, that situation has been totally reversed.

Scaled Quail

Ruby-crowned Kinglets seem to be common just now, too, and I’d get a close photo of one busy finding things to eat in the chamisa also lining the Embudito parking area.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Last weekend, I’d see my first porcupine for the season and will undoubtedly start seeing them frequently as the leaves fall from the trees.

Porcupine

Last Saturday, I saw a Facebook post to the Critters of New Mexico group asking for an id on a moth seen at Bosque del Apache NWR. Recognized it immediately as a Nevada Buckmoth that the woman posting it thanked me for and said she’d seen thousands that day. (Amazing to see her post has had 84 likes – way more than anything I’ve ever posted.)  A very cool moth we’d seen there in the past, so Rebecca and I shot down there on Monday to take a look. They really were just everywhere, sometimes perched and often flying by so we got our fill of photos in short order.

Nevada Buckmoth (Hemileuca nevadensis)

Not much water yet at the Bosque del Apache so we didn’t see too many other birds that day, but did have to wait at one point for a large flock of turkeys to cross the road, and had a Great Blue Heron waiting for us when we got to the Boardwalk (which unfortunately was closed for repair).

Great Blue Heron

About a week later walking the Corrales ditch, I’d first scare one off when it took off from the ditch while I was still quite far away, and then later seemed to have surprised another one close to the Dixon Road bridge who chose to pretend I couldn’t possibly notice it hiding behind an overhanging branch.

Great Blue Heron

One day up at Cienega Canyon, an Abert’s Squirrel caught my attention high in a tree and I assumed taking a nap. Usually, these guys are dashing about so it seemed a little unusual to see one in that pose.

Abert’s Squirrel

It wasn’t very birdy or have any butterflies earlier this week in Embudito until I was almost back to the parking lot. I’d first get a nice close shot of a Cactus Wren,

Cactus Wren

then get a good look at a nearby Ladder-backed Woodpecker, when I was surprised to see a Canyon Wren close to the bike trail. They’re usually much deeper in the canyon hiding among the cliff-like rocks. As I tried to get closer, it flew from a tall rock into the yard of the new houses, so I stopped to wait for it to pop back into view. Took a few minutes, but eventually he flew to the top of the wall for a second before dropping back into the yard….best I could do for a photograph below.

Canyon Wren

 

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

Easing into Fall

A couple weeks into Fall, always my favorite time of year in New Mexico. The weather lately has been nice and sunny with daytime temperatures easing into the low 80s and cooling off nicely at night. Aspens are well into their Autumn colors high in the mountains while lower down the chamisa is kicking into high gear and the cottonwoods are just starting to change. For the first time in almost 50 years, like everything else the Balloon Fiesta was cancelled because of COVID-19, so the morning skies this week aren’t filled with balloons as usual (maybe 30 this morning instead of the usual 500-600). Lots of haze in the air due to all the wildfires this year, too. Bird activity has seemed to pick up recently and the annual migration is underway with lots of warblers showing up, everyone noticing the first Sandhill Cranes flying over, and a few crazy reports of most unusual bird sightings in New Mexico: Eared Quetzal, European Golden-Plover, Common Redpoll…

My sightings, of course, have been much less unusual, but still some interesting days out there. Back on September 24, Rebecca and I made our way down to Carlsbad hoping to spot two Giant-Skipper butterfly species we’d been wanting to see. We’d see the hostplants (Agave lechuguilla and Agave parryi), but had no luck with either species. On the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive in Carlsbad Caverns National Park that had large areas of lechugilla, it was fun to spot a young mule deer with its mother…first time I’ve ever seen a fawn with those white spots.

Mule Deer Fawn

Later we’d head down to McKittrick Canyon, which crosses the New Mexico border into Texas and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, looking for Parry’s Agave; we’d see a few agave but again no luck with our target butterfly. Instead, we got great looks at several Acorn Woodpeckers

Acorn Woodpecker

and a good look at a Townsend’s Warbler.

Townsend’s Warbler

Several trips to the Corrales Bosque recently have turned up a few good birds. It’s been one of my ‘go to’ places this year since it’s usually easy to avoid running into other people and birding along the irrigation ditches has been productive, although I usually don’t manage to get there until later in the morning when birds are less active. Some of those seen recently include one more of the Wilson’s Warbler that’s being seen this year in large numbers just about everywhere, but not usually this close,

Wilson’s Warbler

the ever present Black Phoebe,

Black Phoebe

and one that had me stumped until I got home and studied in the book, a young Yellow-breasted Chat, also at quite close range.

Yellow-breasted Chat

A nice sighting there the other day was of this coyote, who seemed in better shape than most.

Coyote

Wandering around Pueblo Montano one day turned up a bird I’ve only occasionally seen, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. It’s probably not all that unusual a sighting; I just haven’t paid much attention to sparrows.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Last weekend, I had a chance to drop by Capulin Spring fairly early in the morning. This year word has gotten out about how good it can be for birding and it’s either that or everybody hitting the woods because of COVID, but every time I’ve gone there have always been several other people (usually with big lens cameras) standing around waiting to see what will show up. So it was odd finding I was the only one there that morning. Pretty sure one or two Band-tailed Pigeons were around, but they’d disappear the instant they picked up on my presence. When I first arrived, there were just ridiculous numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos all around,

Dark-eyed Junco

and then a flock of Wild Turkeys I’d seen a bit earlier made their way through the brush to line up to get a drink before wandering back into the woods.

Wild Turkey

It had already seemed a bit odd seeing all those Dark-eyed Juncos and pretty much no other birds around when suddenly all of them flew off and disappeared; they must have noticed the hawk that sailed by high overhead just then. A few minutes later, they all came back and went about their business. A short time after that, tho, a dark shape that had to be that hawk came out of nowhere and just blasted past again causing the juncos to scatter. This happened a couple more times over the next ten minutes or so, and finally the attacker stopped and perched on a branch quite close by. Pretty sure it’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk based on the head and tail and recall thinking it seemed considerably smaller than the Cooper’s Hawks I usually see in town or down by the river.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

With it hanging out right above the spring, I doubted any other birds would show up anytime soon, so seemed like time to leave.

 

 

 

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Almost Fall

September is just flying by, and Fall arrives in just two more days. The signs have been appearing that we’re moving past summer with the sunflowers in full bloom, chamisa starting to turn yellow, bird migration well underway, and for a couple of days a ridiculous taste of winter. It’s been three weeks since my last update but there aren’t too many pictures to share this time, mostly because I haven’t been getting out there nearly as often as in the past and haven’t seen much to photograph on the days I do. Butterflies seemed to have wound down early this year likely due to little rain, and getting re-focused on birds seems to take a little adjustment. The virus is still about, so I’ve also been a little picky about deciding where to go to minimize running into others. Early in September, I did run down to Calabacillas Arroyo to look in on the Western Screech-Owl shown as the final picture of the last blog post; this time, I caught it out in the open with its claws gripping the edge of the cavity (rather than tucked deep inside).

Western Screech-Owl

Later that morning, Rebecca and I took a look around Piedras Marcadas Dam, where we did see a good number of Monarchs as expected but failed to spot any caterpillars or chrysalises on the milkweed.  Since it was nearby, we then checked out the native plant habitat at the Open Space Visitor Center. Most interesting sighting that morning was an unusually large flock of Barn Swallows lined up on the power lines.

Barn Swallow

The next day on a short visit to Embudito Canyon, I was fascinated by a good-sized gopher snake that I’d surprised resting next to the trail. As I came closer, it slowly moved under a bush and surprised me by rather quickly disappearing into its underground burrow through such a small opening.

Gopher Snake

Starting late in the afternoon a day or so later, we’d get hit by the most unusual Arctic cold front blasting down from Canada. The day before was in the 90’s and somewhat hazy from all the forest fires in the Southwest this year; overnight high winds developed and brought cold rain (snow in the nearby mountains) and temperatures down to the 40s; good reason to stay inside for the next few days.  This was soon followed by multiple reports of people coming across large number of dead birds that died for no obvious reason. Recently, a likely explanation has been published in this ABA Report , which is well worth reading.

By the following week, things had pretty much returned to normal with daily highs back in the 80s but with pleasantly cool temperatures overnight and in the mornings, definitely a sign that Fall is nearly here. There have been continuing reports this last month of quite a few warblers migrating through including a number of fairly uncommon species. Along with everybody else, I have been seeing Wilson’s Warbler just about every time and every place I’ve been.  This may be the best photograph of one I’ve gotten this year,

Wilson’s Warbler

and was taken on a very birdy morning with Rebecca along the ditches in Corrales. A few of the other keepers from that day include a Cassin’s Vireo (a first for me),

Cassin’s Vireo

a Yellow-breasted Chat, unusually down at the water instead of buried in a thicket,

Yellow-breasted Chat

and one of several Common Yellowthroat.

Common Yellowthroat

Two flowers that caught my eye included a Sunflower (one of zillions this year) in Corrales,

Sunflower

and Clammyweed from another visit to Embudito Canyon later that week.

Clammyweed

Not much else blooming or flying in Embudito that time, but close to the end of my walk I’d get a nice shot of a Gray Flycatcher.

Gray Flycatcher

A little bit later, I noticed a lizard hanging out on a large rock a pretty high and far away. As I was looking at it, a Rock Wren flew in to perch just next to the lizard. It seemed most unusual to me that neither one of them took any notice of the other; one would think the lizard would run off at anything close to it, and it wouldn’t surprise me for the wren to grab it as a snack (something seen regularly with our roadrunners).

Rock Wren and Lizard

Last Friday, Rebecca and I thought to take a look at the Coyote del Malpais Golf Course in Grants, NM. We’d been wanting to try a new location and hadn’t been there in quite some time. An eBird report listed 70 species seen there recently, so it seemed likely to be a good choice.  And we were not disappointed, seeing some 36 species in little more than an hour covering less than half the area of some earlier visits. Just like everywhere else these days, the warblers were out in good numbers, but we’d see a couple I’d yet to see this year, including a Townsend’s Warbler

Townsend’s Warbler

and a Black-throated Gray Warbler.

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Among the several duck species, Pied-billed Grebe, American Avocets, Black Phoebes, and such, there was a nice flock of White-faced Ibis at first hanging out in the water,

White-faced Ibis

and later flying off in the distance before circling back.

White-faced Ibis

I wonder about the guy on the right tweeting out instructions to the the others, but he seems to appear to be blabbing away in both shots, making me wonder if everything’s okay with his bill. A highlight of the day came right near the end when we spotted a sparrow-like bird whose identity was a mystery to both of us (not too surprising for me, but it’s rare for Rebecca not to nail it on sight). We’d later check with some friends and reference sources to decide it was a non-breeding/immature Chestnut-collared Longspur, a new species for the hotspot checklist.

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Two other goodies from this morning’s walk in the Corrales bosque near Romero Road included a Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

and (one of many) Lesser Goldfinch.

Lesser Goldfinch

I’d see another Northern Waterthrush there, too, but the photographs didn’t quite work out.

 

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

More Summer Sightings

It’s been a little over two weeks since my last posting and until this morning the days have been rather hot and dry. Haven’t gotten out much either with trying to keep my distance from others these days. Astonishing to me are those who totally ignore the threat and public health orders, from the president on down. Locally, it has been good seeing more awareness and compliance with social distancing and mask usage, although there will always be some who remain totally oblivious or uncaring. Of the times I have been out and about, up until the last few days I haven’t seen many birds and with few exceptions very few butterflies. I can’t say that’s particularly unusual, but it has been a bit disappointing.

One weekend, Rebecca and I did head up to Balsam Glade in the Sandias to take the dirt road down toward Las Huertas Canyon in search of a few butterflies. Not many butterflies that day, but it was good to see a large patch of James’ Buckwheat in bloom and attracting several Square-spotted Blue butterflies. I think these are both females, but included two photos to show a ventral view

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides centralis)

and a dorsal view.

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides centralis)

It was a major surprise earlier in the week to see a Facebook posting about an Ursine Giant-Skipper sighting – a butterfly that’s extremely rare to see in New Mexico (and maybe anywhere) and one we’d recently been hoping to find. Better yet, the photo was taken by a good friend who quickly got back to me saying he’d seen it in a fairly remote but easily accessible location in the Peloncillo Mountains in New Mexico’s “bootheel”. We immediately made plans to head there to try and find it, but eventually decided to wait until maybe next year after getting a report of someone else working unsuccessfully for it all day a week after it had been seen. Also, might be smarter to go with a group after hearing that flat tires are common on the drive and it’s miles from civilization. We’d made non-refundable hotel reservations in Deming for the trip, however, and headed down there to check on other butterfly locations in that area.  Not much flying anywhere around Deming that day unfortunately, and the next morning we took a leisurely route home stopping at City of Rocks State Park and a couple of spots near Silver City. The drive was fun for me as I’d never been to City of Rocks or driven NM 61 through Mimbres Valley before.

At our first stop just outside the park a Western Pygmy-Blue was just lit up in the early morning sun.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

After completely misreading the map and failing to note the obvious road sign at the first pullout for the park, we walked a 1.95 mile loop trail which we would later find out was the Cienega Trail, and was only about 1.5 miles from the actual park entrance and Visitor Center (oops!). Highlights of our short visit there included seeing a pair of Scott’s Orioles, a Greater Roadrunner dashing around,

Greater Roadrunner

and a Swainson’s Hawk that observed us for awhile from a perch on top of one of the massive rocks before flying off.

Swainson’s Hawk

Back on NM 61 toward Railroad Canyon was a fabulous drive on a good highway, zero traffic, and the lush green valley of the Mimbres River. Quite a bit of thistle and milkweed along the side of the road had us slowing down and occasionally stopping to look for butterflies. Once again, not many butterflies but I did manage to have a Cloudless Sulphur perch nicely for a photograph.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Railroad Canyon was also quite pleasant for mid-summer in southern New Mexico, but pretty quiet for butterflies unlike several past visits. We would get to see a Four-spotted Skipperling

Four-spotted Skipperling (Piruna polingii)

and our first Tailed-Blue for the year. I’ve labeled it as a Western Tailed-Blue based on range maps in my field guides, although it may well be the case that it is an Eastern Tailed-Blue based on information from our local expert.

Western Tailed-Blue (Cupido amyntula)

What was interesting there was the great variety of wildflowers, several of which I’d never seen before, including Cardinal Catchfly

Cardinal Catchfly (Silene lacinata)

and Sweet Four-O’Clock.

Sweet Four-O’Clock (Mirabilis longiflora)

Interesting drive home, too, and the first time I’d taken NM 152 heading east over Emory Pass. (Past trips have always been heading west toward Silver City.)

During the last two weekends, Rebecca and I met at Sevilleta NWR hoping to see a couple of the special butterflies we’ve had there in the past about this time of year. Our first visit did turn up one of them, a Rita Blue,

Rita Blue (Euphilotes rita)

but despite all the buckwheat in bloom, that would be the only one we’d see on either visit. We did see a few other common species, but none of the Palmer’s Metalmark or Cloudless Sulphur we’d hoped for. As usual, there were plenty of lizards running around and lots of Walking Sticks

Walking Stick

and Desert Spider Beetles.

Desert Spider Beetle (Cysteodemus wislizeni)

This past week has been surprising in the birds I’ve seen in a couple of spots. At Embudito on Tuesday morning, there were several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers chasing each other around, at least two Rock Wrens (a bird I usually don’t see there until late Fall),

Rock Wren

and a Green-tailed Towhee out in the open near the spring.

Green-tailed Towhee

On Thursday, walking the ditch in Corrales between East Ella and Dixon, there were quite a few Wilson’s Warblers,

Wilson’s Warbler

an entertaining flock of Bushtits drying off after what looks like had been a group bathing session,

Bushtit

and most surprising, a Northern Waterthrush along the shoreline. That’s a species I rarely ever get to see, but mentioning my sighting to another obvious birder was informed he’d just seen one further up the path.

Northern Waterthrush

Then today a friend told me about a Western Screech-Owl being seen in a cavity where I’d seen one a single time in early 2017. Naturally, I had to run down to take a look and as I approached it was sitting almost completely in the open. When it noticed me looking, it quickly ducked back inside and out of sight. In my experience, they usually just sit there keeping an eye on things, but not moving or even opening an eye, so that was a bit of a surprise. I wandered off and waited a few minutes before returning quietly to see if it was back out. Almost, but not quite.

Western Screech-Owl

Might just have to take another look soon.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Flowers, Photographs | 6 Comments

A Little This, A Little That

Three weeks have passed since my last posting, so it’s time for an update. For various reasons, I haven’t been getting out as much lately and not seeing many birds or butterflies that end up having their photographs taken. This may be a good thing, as recently I realized just how many photographs have ended up stored on the website I started 23 years ago. Seems there are nearly 6000 bird photos and 4000 butterfly photos from New Mexico, more than 3000 photos of neotropical butterflies, and plenty more from a number of trips and of assorted other creatures. I definitely need to wade through all those birds and butterflies and save only the better ones.  Anyway, over the last few weeks I seem to have ended up with a few bird and butterfly shots I thought I’d share along with a variety of other critters that caught my eye. Way back on July 27 I checked in on the Burrowing Owls in Owlville and did get a quick look at at three at one of the nesting locations.

Burrowing Owl

From there it was on to The Box Recreation Area to meet up with Rebecca to look for butterflies before heading on to Water Canyon in search of a few more. About the only butterfly we managed to see at The Box was this Orange Skipperling that at first I mistook for a flower or some such until looking closer.

Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiaca)

Much quieter on the road into and in Water Canyon than on a visit in mid-June, but we did see a surprisingly large number of Sonoran Metalmarks.

Sonoran Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus)

Near the picnic ground in Water Canyon, Rebecca noticed a tarantula wandering around.

Tarantula

The next day, I went to Rinconada Canyon in Petroglyph National Monument. There’d been a picture in the paper recently showing how lush and green it looked these days, so I was hoping a few butterflies might be out. It did indeed look greener than its more typical dry desert scrub, but not nearly as verdant as that picture implied and there were very few butterflies to be seen. What was a big surprise for me, however, was seeing large numbers of millipedes along the trail. I stopped counting at 150, but there were plenty more both on the trail and in the surrounding desert. In the past, I only recall noticing one or two and not that often at all. Recent monsoon rains likely caused them to come out, as there were quite a few lounging around in the few muddy wet patches.

Millipede

The next day up at Sandia Crest, again very few butterflies and somewhat surprisingly few flowers, but I’d see some of those “aggregations” of ladybugs that several friends have posted about on Facebook recently.

Ladybugs

The first of August had Rebecca and I taking another look at the lower part of Capilla Peak Road a month after our previous visit and then on to the Abo Ruins west of Mountainair. Few butterflies at the first stop, but we would see a Mexican Sootywing (a species seen often last year but rarely this year), have several Arizona Sisters visiting a garter snake that had been eviscerated by a passing vehicle (similar to behavior we’ve seen in the neotropics but very rarely in the US), and got our first American Snout for the year.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

At Abo Ruins, we saw a few good butterflies at a spot we’d found productive last year including several Monarch butterflies (always a crowd favorite).

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

As we were about to wrap it up and head for home, one of the Park Rangers came over to tell us about their nesting Barn Owls. Three little ones were hanging out in the shade in one of the ruin alcoves. Tough to photograph since it was so dark in the shade in the middle of a bright sunny day, but I did get a couple of okay shots.

Barn Owl

The ranger expected they would likely fledge and disappear soon, so as soon as I got home, I let a few friends know who’d recently been asking about Barn Owls. Most of them wisely returned much earlier in the day and got amazing photos of the little ones in full sun, and several more folks got the word and have been by since. I was a little surprised they hadn’t been posted on eBird much earlier, but figured maybe the park folks might have discouraged it and know that there are others that prefer to keep the location of nesting birds intentionally vague.

No butterflies in Embudito a few days later, but I would get an interesting shot of a Robber Fly with prey,

Robber Fly

and managed an okay photo of a young Gambel’s Quail. Usually I’ll get a quick look at a bunch of baby quail running by about once a year but am never quick enough to get a photograph; this time I had a feeling an adult on the other side of the path had warned the little ones to stay hidden until the coast was clear and was ready for them when the adult chirped and maybe five little ones darted across.

Gambel’s Quail (imm.)

Two days later, I’d see another Black Swallowtail at Los Poblanos Fields, but not the caterpillar or chrysalis I’d hoped to spot after seeing a friend’s photo of what I was pretty sure was the caterpillar. I would grab this shot of a New Mexico Whiptail showing off that turquoise tail.

New Mexico Whiptail

On August 6, Rebecca and I made a quick stop at the Belen Marsh on our way to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. Quite a few Black-necked Stilts and a good number of sandpipers (others would report large flocks of phalaropes later that day and egrets closer to sunset), but we were thrilled to spot three Virginia Rail popping in and out of the reeds. Difficult to see (let alone photograph) in that light, and it was only Rebecca’s always amazing ability to immediately recognize their call that had us looking for them.

Virginia Rail

At Whitfield, we’d see a few Monarchs, a couple of other common species, and our target butterfly for the day, Bordered Patch.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Also fun to see was a Verdin in the tree where they’ve nested at least the last couple of years.

Verdin

This past Monday, we’d arranged to meet with Steve Cary (the NM Butterfly Guy) to look for a couple special butterflies at Wild Rivers Recreation Area, part of the new Río Grande del Norte National Monument, near Questa. We’d asked him probably a year ago where we might try for a Mead’s Wood-Nymph, and not only did he tell us but agreed to help us try to find one. This would be a life butterfly for both of us and the last of the four US species of Wood-Nymph on the list. He also wanted to find Yuma Skipper for us. I’d thought I might have seen one in California years ago, but don’t have it checked on my life list, and their range seems mostly Utah and Nevada, so it would be another lifer both for my US and NM list. Even more special, and I hadn’t realized it until he told us and I read up on it at home, was that Steve had been the first to identify and name the sub-species seen in this area, Ochlodes yuma anasazi (Anasazi Skipper).

The area had been noticeably impacted by the ongoing drought of the last several years, and we were all a little concerned seeing very few butterflies in any of the places we looked. It was therefore quite satisfying to finally spot a total of three of the Anasazi Skipper (one that flew before any of us could photograph it, one that stayed just long enough for me to photograph, and finally one that perched on the ground for all of us to get nice long looks)-here’s that second one.

Anasazi Skipper (Ochlodes yuma anasazi)

Steve seemed to expect the Mead’s Wood-Nymph to be a slam dunk and took us to a couple of spots on the way out where the chamisa looked good for seeing one. It took a couple of stops and some pretty intense looking, but Steve was soon successful at spotting the first one and then we’d get to see several more.

Mead’s Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis meadii)

One day, two lifers…not bad, and brings my US list to 477.

Time to wrap up this posting…pretty much the only photograph I’ve gotten since Monday was this nicely-posed Arizona Sister from yesterday at Cienega Canyon.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

 

 

 

 

 

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More Birds and Butterflies

The last couple of weeks have been pretty entertaining as more and more butterfly species are flying as we move into summer. Monsoon rains are due any day now that should kick off more wildflowers along with more butterflies. While butterflies seem to be my main focus just now, there’s been fun sightings of a few good birds as well.  Right on time, the Rufous Hummingbirds have returned to terrorize all the others in our area, and I hear that folks are starting to see an occasional Calliope Hummingbird along with the usual Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.

Rufous Hummingbird (f)

Most fun was hearing about a Northern Goshawk nest a friend told me about, and when I went to try to find it ran into another friend that turned around and took me right to it. I’ve only seen a Northern Goshawk once before, so it was a treat to see two young ones about to fledge from a much closer range.

Northern Goshawk

Weather wasn’t great that day, however, and the unusual low clouds made photography challenging. Last Saturday, I woke up to a Facebook post showing a flash photo of 3 Barn Owls perched on a nesting box along with a map showing the location. Headed down there hoping to find one, and knew exactly where to go since that nest box had been used by Barn Owls years ago. Fun getting a picture of the one individual I saw inside the box.

Barn Owl

A few friends had asked recently about where to see that species, so I emailed them about it as soon as I got home. That’s the last time I’ve seen one despite checking several other mornings, and friends were also being disappointed at not finding them over the first few days. But Monday, one friend spooked a couple from where they must have a day roost in the cottonwoods. Several friends returned that night and got to see four of them, again having three lined up on top of that nest box.

That’s it for birds this time and now on to those butterflies. Toward the end of a walk in Corrales one morning, a Dotted Roadside-Skipper was hitting the bindweed just as that Orange-headed Roadside-Skipper had on our recent trip to Eagle Nest. A species Rebecca had seen on our drive to Rio Puerco a few days earlier, this one in Corrales was a good find as my first sighting of one for the year.

Dotted Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes eos)

The next day, Rebecca and I checked out a few of our dependable spots in the lower Sandias. On some white clover, I’d get an okay shot of a Thicket Hairstreak.

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

We’d see two Pine Whites at Sulfur Canyon that morning, but my photos weren’t great. It was good to see that the patch of dogbane was in full bloom at the 8000′ sign, which attracted some good butterflies, but none of the more unusual ones we’ve sometimes seen there in the past. We would get to see a Northwestern Fritillary, a species that some years are abundant and other years uncommon.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

Here’s what they look like from the top from a photo taken a week later in Cienega Canyon.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

We’d see plenty of Dun Skippers in different locations, which seems kind of a drab-looking butterfly but was attractive enough in a well-lit close-up.

Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris)

Starting around the first week of July, the Tailed Copper has been flying and seem unusually abundant this year in the Sandias.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

A friend who’d gone to Eagle Nest for some of the butterflies we’d seen there toward the end of June reported seeing a few more goodies and that got us motivated for a return visit on July 11. This time we just went for the day, and while that meant about a 3 hour drive each way it’s a quite scenic and enjoyable journey and left plenty of time to hit some good butterfly spots.

Our first stop was in Angel Fire at a field of several kinds of buckwheat and milkweed that turned up our main target for the trip, the Blue Copper. This was a first for me in New Mexico and had only seen it once before on a trip out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Blue Copper (Lycaena heteronea)

Oddly, we had never noticed the field that was directly across the road from where we’d stopped for lunch (and saw Spalding’s Blue) on the June trip. Heading onward, we’d see the Ruddy Copper again near Eagle Nest Lake,

Ruddy Copper (Lycaena rubidus)

and Purplish Copper at a different location along the lake.

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

With the addition of a Tailed Copper seen at Tolby Campground that gave us a total of four species of Copper butterfly in one day.

A few of the other interesting sightings that day include a pair of mating Greenish Blues,

Greenish Blue (Plebejus saepiolus)

our first West Coast Lady of the year,

West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella)

and, at the Eagle Nest Lake State Park Visitor Center several of what I now think are Sonoran Metalmarks. I’d long assumed that the metalmarks we usually see around here were Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo), but working on all of my photos of them upon our return was surprised to find that I’ve typically been seeing Sonoran and may have only seen a Mormon once.

Sonoran Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus)

A fun picture from the Tolby Campground (Cimarron Canyon State Park) was this one of a Northwestern Fritillary along with a Western Green Hairstreak.

Northwestern Fritillary & Western Green Hairstreak

Since that trip, we’ve made a couple of outings to the Sandias, once to several of our usual spots and the next day checking out couple of new spots. The first day led to a decent photo of one of those many Tailed Copper butterflies we’ve been seeing this year showing that bluish sheen when oriented just so to the sun.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

A few of the others we’d see that first trip include a Gray Hairstreak in nice lighting,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

another Juniper Hairstreak (I’ve posted way too many of them lately, but can’t help but photograph any that catch my eye.),

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

and some Square-Spotted Blues in patches of James’ Buckwheat we’d first seen them a few years ago.

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

Poking around in an area we haven’t visited in recent years turned up our first Common Wood-Nymph for the year, a species we’ve been looking for recently.

The next day, we took a look around a few other promising spots in the Sandias that we hadn’t visited before. One of those, the Cienega Canyon Trail, had been suggested in a comment on an earlier post by M.J. Zimmerman. It was a fun surprise running into her and a friend on the trail that morning. We all had our Covid-19 masks on, but M.J. guessed our identities as soon as we mentioned we were there for butterflies.

A very promising location with big stands of coneflower and bee balm with a good stream of water running through it from an upstream spring. We were a little late for the bee balm, but saw several fresh Funereal Duskywings,

Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis)

a couple of Taxiles Skippers,

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

and several other species. Definitely a spot deserving of future visits.

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Early Summer Sightings

Two weeks into summer and there have been quite a few interesting and different things to see out there. Mostly butterflies as usual this time of year, but some good ones that photographed well. With the coronavirus still a threat floating around, I’m still limiting my exposure to other people and trying to get out for birds and butterflies when I’m unlikely to run into others and certainly not anywhere close. The day after my last posting took me to Elena Gallegos Open Space quite close to my house. The parking lot can be rather full, and they’ve started charging an entrance fee again, but it’s rare to meet others on the trails and it can turn up some good sightings. Not much to see that morning, but I noticed several Fulvia Checkerspots (a butterfly I’ll see most years but usually only one or two individuals).

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

About the only other butterflies I’d see that morning were on a blooming milkweed…the only nectar source in the area which had three Juniper Hairstreaks working on the same flower head.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

A couple of days later while wandering around Calabacillas Arroyo, this Bewick’s Wren popped up to give me the once over.

Bewick’s Wren

Toward the end of the week Rebecca and I repeated a 2013 trip, based in Eagle Nest but with stops at Coyote Creek, Cimarron Canyon, and Angel Fire and this time adding a stop at Santa Fe Ski Basin on the way home.  Because of the virus threat, we again drove separately and brought our own food; it was comforting to note later that Eagle Nest is one of the few spots in New Mexico with no recorded cases of Covid-19 (at least as of today). Although we didn’t manage to spot a few species we’d seen there in 2013, we enjoyed finding several new places to look and had good luck spotting a few new ones and coming across large numbers of several species. One highlight was coming across lots of Ruddy Coppers in a new area for us at the south end of Eagle Nest Lake, and first of that species I’ve seen in New Mexico.

Ruddy Copper (Lycaena rubidus)

We first saw them in the afternoon, but returned early the next morning to find them hanging out in the same area. Along with large numbers of Ruddy Copper, we also spotted a couple of female Purplish Coppers.

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

At other spots near the lake and again at a spot we randomly stopped for lunch in Angel Fire, we saw good numbers of Spalding’s Blue, a species we’d been looking for recently but hadn’t seen in years.

Spalding’s Blue (Euphilotes spaldingi)

There were lots of prairie dogs running around near the lake that I couldn’t help but photograph when they’d pose for me.

Prairie Dog

In a couple other spots, we’d come across a few Square-Spotted Blue butterflies.

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

One morning, we’d driven into Cimarron Canyon looking for a patch of dogbane we’d seen in 2013 full of good butterflies. We indeed found the spot, but it seemed somehow smaller and with the weather clouding over wasn’t attracting very many butterflies. Heading back, we pulled into Colin Neblett Wildlife Management Area and with the clouds still keeping the butterflies hidden started looking for birds. Rebecca almost instantly spotted an American Dipper (a second one would appear) working the river and we soon had several other species popping in and out in the same area. Entertaining enough that we got out folding chairs and just sat there watching the show. Here’s one of the many shots I got of the American Dipper

American Dipper

and here’s one of one of several Song Sparrows that showed up.

Song Sparrow

Giving the area around the parking lot one last look before we headed back to Eagle Nest, Rebecca spotted an Orange-headed Roadside-Skipper, new for my New Mexico list and a species I’d only seen once before in Arizona.

Orange-headed Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes phylace)

That afternoon looking around near the Eagle Nest Lake State Park Visitor Center, we’d spot a couple of good butterflies but got excited near the end spotting one down near the water. I remember calling out “Weidemeyer’s Admiral?” when we first saw it, but was convinced it had to be something new since it seemed so much more colorful than the ones we see around here. It was a bit disappointing to conclude from looking at our field guides that it was indeed a Weidemeyer’s. Once I got home, sure enough, my other pictures of them have the same basic appearance but none as vividly as that one.

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limentiis weidemeyerii)

Our stop at Santa Fe Ski Basin on the way home proved productive as well, turning up such sightings as Draco Skipper

Draco Skipper (Polites draco)

and Common Alpine, the only location in New Mexico I recall seeing those species,

Common Alpine (Erebia epipsodea)

and several fabulous Northwestern Fritillaries showing both ventral

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

and dorsal views.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

One day last week, with nothing better to do I headed down to Los Poblanos Open Space on the off chance of seeing one of the Lazuli Bunting birds that folks had been talking about on Facebook for awhile. Those reports suggested looking in the big sunflower field next to the garden plots in the NW corner and to listen for their song. While I never got quite as close as I’d hoped, it was fun hearing one easily enough and soon spotting it singing just as predicted. It would sing a few bars, then sit quietly for a bit before winging off to another part of the field to put on another show.

Lazuli Bunting

While hanging around the garden waiting to hear the bunting again, I kept seeing a dark swallowtail butterfly that never landed and would disappear before I could identify it. Keeping an eye out for it, eventually two of them appeared, one landing on the coneflower for a few photos and identification as a Black Swallowtail, a species I don’t often see.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

A quick visit to the Common Edge field at the Open Space Visitor Center turned up another Band-winged Meadowhawk.

Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum)

Last Thursday, Rebecca and I headed to Capilla Peak in the Manzanos on the highly unlikely chance of seeing an Ursine Giant-Skipper. It had been seen once there years ago but we thought we might get lucky. She’d been there for birding in the past, but not for butterflies; I’d heard of it forever but had never been. A bit tricky driving the last stretch of the 9 mile dirt road to the peak, but not really all that bad. No luck on the target species, but at the top we’d get nice looks at Taxiles Skipper

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

and another highly photogenic Two-tailed Swallowtail.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

On the drive up we’d noticed several patches of bee balm, a plant that’s known to attract a variety of butterflies. Working our way slowly back down the mountain, we’d planned to check out a few of those spots and maybe take a look at the spring at New Canyon Campground a little more than halfway. At each of those spots, there might be a Northwestern Fritillary on the bee balm, but we would be astonished at all the butterflies we’d see on the horehound mint and white clover that were also blooming nearby. One of the first species Rebecca would spot was a Leda Ministreak, a species we’ve been seeing in quite a few locations this year.

Leda Ministreak (Ministrymon leda)

We were a little surprised to see a single American Snout, a Dark Buckeye, a couple of Funereal Duskwings, and even a Great Purple Hairstreak (another species we’ve seen more of this year than in the past).

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

There were also plenty of the more commonly seen small species, but the highlight of the day was seeing a total of six Nais Metalmarks, a species that should be around but that we’d only seen once before in Arizona and never in New Mexico.

Nais Metalmark (Apodemia nais)

Valencia County has only recorded a little more than half (73) the number of butterfly species as my home county of Bernalillo (131). Just south of Bernalillo County, Valencia County is more agricultural and desert-like, which may account for the difference in numbers or people just may not have been looking all that often. Thinking we might search for some new locations and maybe track down a County record or two, on the Fourth of July Rebecca and I drove down to Los Lunas thinking to take NM 6 toward the Rio Puerco looking for potential butterfly spots. It’d been years since I’d even driven that road, and it’s been closed for construction for the last several years. Unfortunately, without much in bloom at the moment we saw very few butterflies. At one spot, Rebecca did spot a Dotted Roadside-Skipper, which was cool to see but flew off just as she pointed it out to me. And at another spot closer to the Rio Puerco, she’d pick up on a Saltbush Sootywing that I did manage to photograph and which will give Rebecca another County record when confirmed.

Saltbush Sootywing (Hesperopsis alpheus)

Had to stop by Owlville to see how the Burrowing Owls are coming along, but most of them that day seemed to be holding a meeting in their burrows and we’d only spot single individuals at a few of the nesting areas. Just as we were headed out, however, a dark patch under a tumbleweed caught my eye which until I got my binoculars on assumed was just a piece of tarpaper or black plastic – nope, turned out to be a single Burrowing Owl quite close to the road.

Burrowing Owl

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

From Spring to Summer

Life goes on around us despite the coronavirus pandemic and all the unrelated social issues raised in recent days, and there have been quite a few interesting sightings over the last two weeks leading up to the first day of summer. My apologies in advance for such a long posting this time; there’s just been too many goodies popping up lately. A couple of days after my last post, I made the trek into Embudo Canyon to see if there was any water in Embudo Spring  and maybe a few butterflies. Very few other people around and easy to keep a good distance away from those that did appear. There was indeed water at the spring, and more than I’d seen on my last visit more than a month ago. A few good butterflies around including my first Dun Skipper for the year, a Two-tailed Swallowtail so busy licking salt that it wasn’t at all disturbed by my presence, and a colorful Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

While looking around for other butterflies, a Colorado Chipmunk popped up to see what was going on.

Colorado Chipmunk

Later that afternoon back home I noticed that all of the little strawberry cactus in my yard had chosen that day to pop out their flowers, an event that occurs on some random day in late spring or early summer and only lasts until sundown.

Strawberry Cactus

That Friday, Rebecca and I decided to meet up at Capulin Springs before attempting the drive down into Las Huertas Canyon. While our mission was primarily butterflies, we started out by taking a look for birds coming to the hollow log at the spring. It’s well-known as a great spot for seeing pretty much any of the birds in the area, with different species dropping in during the day for a quick splash or drink. For some reason, this year it’s been unusually popular with photographers and five or six were there during our short visit. It was unusual to see a Brown-headed Cowbird waiting its turn, since it’s normally seen in open grasslands.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Leaving the spring, we spent a little time working the flower-filled meadow around the parking area for the surprisingly few butterflies out that morning, and then headed down NM165 to Las Huertas. A rough and rocky dirt road, the State had done a good job of improving the upper section a few years ago and it’s still driveable although deteriorating, but the lower section is really getting difficult to navigate. It is always amazing to see someone go by in a small, low clearance vehicle; they never return so assumedly they made it all the way. The butterflies were pretty good at our favorite spots there, two muddy areas near the creek and an open meadow (with the only Butterfly Weed I know of in the area in full bloom). A highlight of the morning was this large number of Western Tiger Swallowtails.

Western Tiger Swallowtaill (Papilio rutulus)

The day before, I’d visited a new butterfly spot Peter Callen had recently suggested at the Open Space Visitor Center close to the Rio Grande. He and Cameron Weber have been working for the last two years to restore an old farm field into a more natural habitat filled with native wildflowers. Rebecca and I rarely look for butterflies anywhere along the river since we haven’t found any good spots or very many butterflies there. I’d been impressed on my first quick visit so the day after our Las Huertas trip, we met there and spent a good amount of time exploring the field. It was great to finally meet Peter in person, as I’d only known him from a few emails in recent years commenting on this blog or telling me about sightings he’s had in his neighborhood. Peter, Cameron, and what appear to be hard working volunteers have done a terrific job restoring and maintaining the site. During our visit, we’d finally get a good look at a Southern Dogface, a species I don’t recall seeing in town before and that refused to land during my first visit.

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

We’d also see a ridiculously large number of buckeye butterflies. Most timely, since we’d only recently heard that new genetic studies have determined that our buckeyes belong to different species than had previously been assumed. (For the full story, read Steve Cary’s blog posting at https://peecnature.org/a-tale-of-two-buckeyes/ .) Instead of the former Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), which is seen back east, ours is now called Gray Buckeye (Junonia grisea),

Gray Buckeye (Junonia grisea)

and we may also see Dark Buckeye (Junonia nigrosuffusa).

Dark Buckeye (Junonia nigrosuffusa)

[Note: This photo is actually from a 6/19/20 visit to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, but one from OSVC has been submitted for verification.]

Steve Cary’s discussion also mentions that these two species are able to mate and produce intermediate forms, of which we saw a few.

Junonia Intermediate

Despite the rather breezy day, I managed to get a decent photograph of one of the small dragonflies that were also busy buzzing the field.

Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum)

Pulling into my garage upon returning home, these two characters begged me to photograph their yin and yang moment.

Southwestern Fence Lizards

Since early April, I’ve been keeping an eye on a Cooper’s Hawk nest I pass on my regular visits to Embudito Canyon. A week after my last visit (see picture in my previous post), I got this shot of one of the little ones. Nearly ready to fly, its once all-white body is taking on the brown chest streaks of a juvenile and will soon have a brown head and different eye color.

Cooper’s Hawk

That may also be the last photo I get for a while. Right after taking it, I had Mom fly out of nowhere almost smacking me upside the head. She made 3 passes at me before I got back to the safety of my car. My owls have never done anything like that, but the Mississippi Kites have a few times and I’ve heard that Cooper’s Hawks are known for doing it. Interesting that quite a few people wander by the nest while out for a walk or walking their dogs without consequence, so she must pick up on my obvious interest in her nest. Learned my lesson, so she can trust I’ll leave them all alone now.

After hearing about lots of that Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) blooming at Water Canyon recently, Rebecca and I decided to check it out, stopping along the way at Sevilleta NWR and on the way home at The Box Recreation Area. Sevilleta would turn up an easily photographed Sleepy Orange,

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

a Western Pygmy-Blue,

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

and two Leda Ministreaks. In my blog posting from May 24, I’d mentioned seeing the Leda Ministreak for the first time since 2015 returning from our Arizona trip. Since then, we also had one that day in Las Huertas and in addition to these two Rebecca would see them in at least one other location that day.

Leda Ministreak (Ministrymon leda)

Sevilleta also turned up a pair of Walkingstick insects, which we usually see good numbers of later in the season in the Broom Dalea.

Walkingstick

Along the road into Water Canyon, the white clover was attracting large numbers of Variegated Fritillaries and plenty of other blues and hairstreaks. I’ve posted a few of these Juniper Hairstreaks already this year, but this one was quite fresh and posed nicely.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Onward into the canyon, we easily found quite a bit of that Butterfly Weed but not many butterflies maybe due to the weather getting a little cloudier. It did give me nice looks at several Queen butterflies, however.

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

Wrapping up the day at The Box didn’t turn up many butterflies at all (It has surprised us in the past with a few unusual species.), but what got my attention was a total of three Greater Earless Lizards, one of which posed for us quite unconcernedly showing off its crazy color scheme.

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)

Last Thursday, Rebecca and I headed down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, which is now mostly open again after having been closed due to the pandemic since March.  We thought to meet first at Owlville (fields behind the Los Lunas Walmart) where I’d heard young Burrowing Owls were being seen. I’d been surprised seeing four adults on a visit June 1 after hearing that the owls were being encouraged to move elsewhere due to pending construction. With fairly low expectations of even seeing one, it was a treat seeing at least four active nesting burrows and lots of owls, including one large family quite close to the road with perfect lighting. Didn’t stay long, but got some good photos (only 3 of which I’ll share here). First one of Mom and the six little ones (more than I’ve ever seen for one nest),

Burrowing Owl

just four of them looking at me while everybody else scurried underground,

Burrowing Owl

and one near another nesting site.

Burrowing Owl

And that brings me to yesterday. We started the morning at Oak Flat (checking the buckwheat that should turn up Spalding’s Blue one of these days); not many birds or butterflies around but we had fun seeing the largest and freshest Two-tailed Swallowtail we can remember ever seeing who easily posed for as many photos as we wanted,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

a Broad-tailed Hummingbird so intent on nectaring on the Indian Paintbrush that it totally ignored us and allowed me to get close enough and remember to ratchet up my shutter speed to freeze those wings,

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

and a tiny scared little bunny thinking it best to sit motionless in its almost a hole.

Desert Cottontail

From there over to Mars Court Trailhead, wondering if the meadow there would bring forth a few butterflies. Not many butterflies there that day, and once again we wouldn’t see the Acorn Woodpeckers, but did see a couple of Pygmy Nuthatches. Making our way uphill back to the parking lot, I just happened to look up to realize what I was seeing not all that far ahead.

Black Bear

First bear I’ve gotten a good look at in awhile and first one I’ve photographed since 2012. I’ve never seen one this light in color before, but don’t know if that’s just natural variation or for some other reason. It was nice of it to ramble away from the trail when it first noticed us and we got to watch it continue off into the woods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Flowers, Photographs | 13 Comments

It’s Always Something

Most times when I’m out wandering around I really don’t know what to expect to see. Other times I’ll have a specific target in mind and will either get lucky and find it or more often see something totally unexpected. There’s been a little bit of all of these happening over the last couple of weeks.

Awhile back, a friend had texted me to ask when the Mississippi Kites arrive near Corrales, and checking my notes replied I usually first see them in mid-June. But just happening to check eBird recently it seemed several were being reported at the North Diversion Channel Outfall (Tramway Wetlands) since May 20, so we made plans to meet there on May 26 to take a look. Luck was with us and we saw all four individuals that have been reported, with close fly-bys of two chasing each other. My best photo of the day was this one.

Mississippi Kite

Returning a week later with hopes for some better pictures, not a single one appeared for me. Standing around hoping they might fly in or be spotted hiding in the trees, it was astonishing to have a pair of Black-chinned Hummingbirds land on a fence just a few feet away to start mating. I’ve only caught birds in the act of mating a few times over the years and the whole thing only lasts a few seconds. Managed to snap off four quick shots – here’s one of them.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Later that afternoon and again the next day, I walked at Embudito Canyon mostly to check on the butterflies but also since it’s close and usually easy to avoid running into other people during the pandemic. I did get a decent picture of a Silver-spotted Skipper after not being able to get one on May 19 due to social distancing issues.

Silver-spotted Skipper(Epargyreus clarus)

It was interesting to see a Green Skipper perched close to a Canyonland Satyr…I’d always thought the satyr was a considerably larger butterfly.

Green Skipper and Canyonland Satyr

Nice look at an Acmon Blue there on another outing.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

About a week later it was a treat to see a Hackberry Emperor, a species I usually see only once or twice a season close to a stand of hackberry trees but this time much further down the canyon toward the parking lot.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

Seeing several different lizards lately including this one that popped up in Embudito to pose nicely for me.

Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis exsanguis)

Even the plants surprised me there. While the cholla have been starting to bloom and put out new growth, instead of the typical thumb-like buds this one seems to have taken a completely different approach.

Cholla

And, as usual, the Curve-billed Thrashers pose regally on the cholla…I’ve way too many pictures of these and try to avoid taking any more, but sometimes they just insist.

Curve-billed Thrasher

My last posting included a description of a quick trip Rebecca and I took to Arizona that was an unqualified success in picking up three new butterfly species. Acting on a tip from a friend (and New Mexico’s butterfly expert), less than a week later we drove to Galisteo Basin Preserve up near Santa Fe in search of another species for our life lists. At first, just about the only thing flying were a couple of Fulvia Checkerspots, a good butterfly but one we’ve seen a number of times.

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

Looking around awhile longer, Rebecca would spot our target species, the Simius Roadside-Skipper, on one of just about the only prickly pear blooms in sight.

Simius Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes simius)

This brings my US list to a respectable 475 species!

Also wandering around the area were Short-horned Lizards (Horny Toads to most folks).

Short-horned Lizard

Two days later, I’d spot another lizard I’d originally mistake for another short-horned lizard because it’s behavior was so similar.

Great Plains Earless Lizard (Holbrookia maculata maculata)

On May 31, I took another look at the Cooper’s Hawk nest I’ve been checking occasionally on my drive to Embudito. It was a treat to see three little ones in the nest with Mom.

Cooper’s Hawk

Checking in with them again this morning, I was only able to see two of the little ones and managed a pretty good shot of one posing with Mom.

Cooper’s Hawk

That earlier visit got me thinking to look in on two rookeries I know about, one in town, and one down in Bosque Farms. Events were proceeding nicely in Bosque Farms where I managed to see nesting Black-crowned Night-Herons,

Black-crowned Night-Heron

and baby Cattle Egrets being tended to by the parents.

Cattle Egret

Decided to leave when a neighbor drove up to explain his displeasure at the smell and his desire to break out his shotgun to handle the situation if he could. As long as I was in the neighborhood, I next went to Belen Marsh where I’d heard several other birds were busy nesting. As usual for me, the lighting wasn’t great, but I did get a fun shot of an American Avocet with little ones

American Avocet

and a Black-necked Stilt with what I assume is one of its little ones.

Black-necked Stilt

Driving home, I decided to stop by Owlville (behind the Walmart in Los Lunas). I’d heard the area where we’ve had quite a few Burrowing Owls in recent years was being sold for development, that prairie dog holes had been filled in to encourage the owls to move on, and that there’d been a bit of bulldozing going on. That may be, but things looked pretty normal to me and I’d easily spot four Burrowing Owls in different locations.

Burrowing Owl

No obvious nesting or even pairing up of adults, so they may well leave for greener pastures, but always nice to see them.

Wrapping up my morning at the rookery in town (close to the National Hispanic Cultural Center), there were a fair number of Cattle Egrets, a few Snowy Egrets, and possibly Black-crowned Night-Herons doing their spring thing in this quite small habitat of just two or three evergreen trees.

Cattle Egret

A few more butterflies from a day in the Sandias include a Mylitta Crescent,

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

Juniper Hairstreak (have seen a good number of these this year, but this was one of the more photogenic),

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

and, first of the season for me, Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)

and Russet Skipperling.

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

This past Friday, Rebecca and I drove up to the Jemez Mtns. looking for a Hoary Elfin, a butterfly we haven’t seen in a few years. We’d have no luck this time so poked around a couple of other spots to see what might be flying. While doing that, I snapped a picture of a new wildflower for me that I’m pretty sure is a Spotted Coralroot orchid.

Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)

Our butterfly hunt would eventually turn up a good sighting of what I’m almost certain is a Western Green Hairstreak, which we hadn’t seen in years but had recently heard are being seen in good numbers in the Jemez Mtns.

Western Green Hairstreak (Callophrys affinis)

 

 

 

 

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

Essential Escapes

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

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

Western Tanager

and also saw large flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwing

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

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

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

Black-headed Grosbeak

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

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

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

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

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

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

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

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

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

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

Yellow-breasted Chat

A few other sightings this week included this stunning cactus,

Cholla Cactus

my first short-horned lizard of the year,

Short-horned Lizard

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

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

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

Python Skipper (Atrytonopsis python)

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

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

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

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

a Two-tailed Swallowtail licking up some salt,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and an Arizona Sister catching some sun.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

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

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

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

A Mormon Metalmark on (I think) Apache plume,

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

and a Reakirt’s Blue on the horehound.

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

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

Ilavia Hairstreak (Satyrium ilavia)

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

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

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

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

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

Soapberry Hairstreak (Phaeostrymon alcestis)

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

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

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

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

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

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

Leda Ministreak (Ministrymon leda)

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

Rhesus Skipper (Polites rhesus)

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

Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas)

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

 

 

 

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