Fall Treats

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

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

Northern Harrier

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

Merlin

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

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

Geologic Unconformity – San Lorenzo Canyon

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

San Lorenzo Canyon Wash

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

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

Western Screech-Owl

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

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

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

Wild Turkey

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

Hairy Woodpecker

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

Greater Roadrunner

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

Great Horned Owl

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

Great Horned Owl

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

Loggerhead Shrike

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

Prairie Falcon

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

Red-tailed Hawk (Juvenile)

and a Ferruginous Hawk that has arrived for the winter.

Ferruginous Hawk

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

Horned Lark

 

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A Few Goodies

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

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

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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

Long-billed Dowitcher

and a Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

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

Nevada Buckmoth (Hemileuca nevadensis)

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

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

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

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

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

Eared Grebe

and a Western Grebe.

Western Grebe

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

Pied-billed Grebe

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

Western Screech-Owl

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

Belted Kingfisher (male)

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

Great Horned Owl

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

Great Horned Owl

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Beyond Balloons

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

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

Belted Kingfisher

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

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

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

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

and Sleepy Orange.

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

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

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

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

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

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

Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

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

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

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

Say’s Phoebe

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

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)

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

Vermilion Flycatcher

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

Pyrrhuloxia

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

Couch’s Kingbird

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

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

American Avocet

 

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September Surprises

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

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

Lewis’s Woodpecker

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

Clark’s Nutcracker

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

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

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

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

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

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

Spotted Towhee

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

Macgillivray’s Warbler

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

Red-naped Sapsucker

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

Mountain Bluebird

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

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

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

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

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

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

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

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

Unknown Caterpillar

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

Great Horned Owl

 

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Not So Creepy Crawlers

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

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

Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris)

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

Lizard

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

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texana)

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

New Mexico Whiptail (Aspidoscelis neomexicana)

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

Short-horned Lizard

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

Robber Fly

and a large number of spreadwing damselflies.

Spreadwing Damselfly

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

Walking Stick

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

Walking Stick

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

Devil’s Claw

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

Swainson’s Hawk (immature)

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

Wood Duck

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

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

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

Estancia Playa

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

Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas)

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

Clouded Crimson (Schinia gaurae)

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

Dotted Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes eoa)

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

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

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

Greater Roadrunner

 

 

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Hints of Fall

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

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

Red-tailed Hawk

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

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

Palmer’s Metalmark (Apodemia palmeri)

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

Rita Blue (Euphilotes rita)

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

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

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

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

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

and Western Pygmy-Blue.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

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

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

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

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

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

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

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

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

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

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

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

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

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

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

Pinyon Jay

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

Lazuli Bunting

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

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

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

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

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

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

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

Osprey

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

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

 

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Always Something

It often strikes me how all it takes is getting outside and looking around a little to observe something unusual, different or completely new. Nearly every walk, even on those slow days, turns up at least one new creature or behavior I’ve rarely or never seen at  some point along the way. While sometimes I’ll have a specific objective when heading to a particular location, more often than not something entirely unrelated will catch my eye as the highlight of the day. Usually being able to get a photograph is always rewarding, and being able to share these “natural moments” was the reason for my starting this blog in 2011.

One of my favorite moments recently was of young Burrowing Owls at “Owlville” in Los Lunas, where I stopped one morning on my way to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. They’ve had several nests in this location for at least the last two years, and noticeably absent from other places around town where I’ve seen them in the past. This year, I’ve seen at least one owl there since mid-February.  These two would look at me as I slowly drove by, swiveling their heads every few seconds to keep an eye on the neighborhood. Unless something (like my car) got their attention, they’d be looking in different directions to keep the whole area under surveillance.

Burrowing Owl

Another one some distance away didn’t seem to want to be noticed at all and hid behind a tall weed, moving around to keep the weed between us. It did that so well I didn’t spot it on my first two slow passes around the area. Sneaking by and then looking back I caught it looking up at the sky, something I’ve never seen one do before.

Burrowing Owl

Butterflies have been a little scarce this year, due to the drought conditions we’re thinking, so it was good to see a few of the regulars at Whitfield later that morning, including lots of Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

and mating Bordered Patch butterflies, neither of which seem very common in Albuquerque.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

This year, we have been seeing large numbers of Marine Blues (Leptotes marina) in various locations, but finally saw our first Reakirt’s Blue of the season at Whitfield and have started seeing them more regularly in other spots.

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

Early in the month, Rebecca and I headed out to Las Huertas Canyon upon hearing that the road had been re-opened after being closed for some time first for fire danger and then for road construction. We hadn’t been there since April, but it’s usually great for summer butterflies and we’d hoped to find that the road construction included grading over the rather rocky and rutted road. It was quite surprising how few butterflies we’re seeing there this year, since it’s got a flowing stream year-round and typically attracts large numbers and species to puddle on the muddy spots and good numbers of wildflowers. The road construction had both good news and bad news – the bad news is nothing was done to smooth the road from Placitas to the upper picnic ground, but the good news is they did a great job of grading and repairing spots from the upper picnic ground to Balsam Glade Picnic Ground on the other side of the Sandias where it meets the Crest Highway.

While looking around for butterflies at the upper picnic ground, Rebecca spotted a large number of caterpillars on a small New Mexico locust. These would turn out to be caterpillars of the Io Moth, a large and colorful moth we’ve seen elsewhere before but that I didn’t know could be seen in New Mexico.

Io Moth Caterpillar

A few of the caterpillars were still there two weeks later when the Audubon Thursday Birders visited, and I might try going again soon to see if we can spot their chrysalises in the leaf litter. Heading up the road toward Balsam Glade, in addition to discovering that the road is again passable we were thrilled to find several Square-spotted Blue butterflies on their host plant, James’ Buckwheat. (Most of my pictures from that day show the butterflies on the buckwheat; this one was nectaring on a different flower but is my best shot of the butterfly.)

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

Here’s a picture of one of the Field Crescents that were also there nectaring on the James’ Buckwheat.

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

Stopping in Cedar Crest for lunch on the way home, we’d see dozens of White-lined Sphinx Moths hitting large butterfly bushes, but only one Two-tailed Swallowtail and a small butterfly that turned out to be an Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper, a first for the year.

Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari)

I’d been putting off returning to look for the nesting Common Black-Hawk at Valle de Oro NWR for a few months mostly because it’s a bit of a walk down a hot dry dirt road, but finally got around to it after seeing excellent photos a few of my friends had been getting. Not very commonly seen around here at all, it’s a treat knowing they nest near the river. Once again, I’m not sure I definitely spotted the nest and didn’t see a young one, but the adults made sure they knew I was there, sitting out in the open, looking directly at me, and calling loudly.

Common Black-Hawk

Several Snowy Egrets were there that morning as well, standing tall on fenceposts near the open meadows.

Snowy Egret

Things had been really slow for both birds and butterflies on a couple of morning visits to various locations that week. One day, I went to Embudito to see if all the monsoon rain had gotten the little stream going again – yes! – but I would only see a single butterfly, a Green Skipper. Lucky to spot it, too, since I’d only noticed a slight movement out of the corner of my eye and thought to look closer having seen skippers in that wash before.

Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis)

Almost missed spotting this guy, too, despite its rather large size.

Gopher Snake

The gopher snake had draped itself over a bush at the side of the trail and blended into the background perfectly.

Another day, I thought I’d check out Piedras Marcadas Dam where one year we’d had large numbers of migrating Monarch butterflies nectaring on the poison milkweed growing there. This year hasn’t seen much milkweed at least so far, but there were a couple of Monarchs flying around. I also wandered around the area wondering if any of the Great Horned Owls would possibly still be around. They’ve nested there for the last several years and I’ve occasionally spotted one after they disappear after nesting. Not really expecting to be able to find one, I just happened to notice a few white spots on the ground near this year’s nest tree and sure enough, looked up to see an owl looking right back at me.

Great Horned Owl

I’ve heard of looking for owl pellets and droppings to help in finding them, but this was the first time I’d ever had that work for me.

Another day had me poking around Tingley Ponds, thinking I might spot the Green Heron that’s usually there in the summer, maybe a Snowy Egret or two, or surely some of the dragonflies that are typically present. No such luck, and only a couple of birds or even dragonflies seemed to be around that day. No butterflies either, but it’s always something and that day it was a Viceroy butterfly posing nicely for me and a species that I don’t see all that often around here.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Las Huertas Canyon for a good morning of birding, including several unexpected sightings. Some of us at the front of our caravan of cars heading into the canyon got long looks at a Black-throated Gray Warbler just as the pavement ended. Making our way up the canyon would add a few more species and then we’d add quite a few more as we walked around the three picnic areas. As we’d noticed on our trip earlier in the week, very few butterflies were seen that morning although some in the group reported a single Arizona Sister, of which we’d see several more on the drive out. Bird of the day was a quite special and totally unexpected sighting of what turned out to be a Carolina Wren.

Carolina Wren

Quite common back east, a couple of them have been seen regularly in recent years at Bosque del Apache NWR, but none of us had ever seen one in the area and this sighting may be a first for Sandoval County.

Arriving home from that trip, it was fun to spot a Gray Hairstreak right by my driveway that hung around long enough for me to get my camera for a photo.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

This past weekend, Rebecca and I traveled north planning to look for butterflies near Pecos and Las Vegas NM. As has been true pretty much everywhere this year, unfortunately butterfly numbers seemed unusually low even in this wetter and greener habitat and we wouldn’t have much luck with that and decided to also pay attention to the birds and other critters.

Colorado Chipmunk

The weather got interesting particularly on Friday with big clouds building up and bringing some good afternoon rains. Cruising around Las Vegas NWR between (and during) some of that rain turned up some good birds that would normally be hiding out of the usual hot sun. Friday we saw quite a few adult and juvenile Swainson’s Hawks on any available snag or power pole, but only a single one on the sunny Saturday.

Swainson’s Hawk (imm.)

There were lots of Yellow Warblers flitting about in the trees, and we had several Blue Grosbeaks coming down to puddles in the road for a drink, only to fly to a nearby fence as we approached.

Blue Grosbeak

Friday also gave us good looks at a couple of Black-billed Magpies, one of which gave me a nice photo opportunity.

Black-billed Magpie

Since we were reasonably close, we also spent some time the next day looking around Maxwell NWR, about an hour north of Las Vegas. Not quite as magical as the previous day’s experience in the rain at Las Vegas NWR, we did see a few more butterflies, more Yellow Warblers, an astonishing number of damselflies, and rather unexpectedly, a flock of American White Pelicans who are normally only seen here during migration.

American White Pelican

 

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

July Sights

After spending the early part of July on that fabulous butterfly trip to the Swiss Alps, the rest of the month seems to have flown by for me. These last couple of weeks have brought us a few good rains of our summer monsoon season, and the mountains are open again with the somewhat lower fire risk. Birds and butterflies have been a little slow this year so far, probably due to such a drought, but hopefully activity will pick up again soon. The last couple of weeks have been good for seeing a number of bird youngsters and a few new for the season butterflies and other insects. Among the baby birds was this Cooper’s Hawk sharing a branch with its sibling and calling vigorously hoping the folks will bring something to eat soon.

Cooper’s Hawk (juvenile)

A bit more relaxed was this little Black-headed Grosbeak the Audubon Thursday Birders got to see on their trip to Hyde Park in Santa Fe.

Black-headed Grosbeak (juvenile)

Several of their weekly trips had to be re-scheduled this summer due to some mountain areas being closed due to fire danger. Hyde Park was our choice when Valles Caldera was closed on July 12, and another one originally planned for the Sandias on June 28 was changed to Tingley Ponds. Most recently, another trip to the Sandias was changed to Shady Lakes the day before the Sandias were surprisingly reopened. Always an interesting and different habitat to visit, Shady Lakes closed in late 2016 and is still on the market, so I was a bit surprised to find it is indeed still open and welcoming to visiting birders. Fun to see there was both an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

along with its new little one off the nest on a nearby branch.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile)

Shady Lakes has fishing ponds filled with waterlilies, attracting all kinds of damselflies and dragonflies as well as some birds.

Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)

Far off on one of the ponds was a Green Heron perched on a dead branch above a pair of Wood Ducks.

Green Heron (w/Wood Ducks)

My annual trip taking the group to see Mississippi Kites was this past week, and (for the seventh year in a row) once again we found a nest this time with one little one still there, another young one out in the open calling for food that an adult would swoop in and feed from wherever they go to find it, and another adult watching over things from high in a tree. Here’s one of the almost grown-up young ones (told by that banded tail that disappears in the adult) from a couple of weeks earlier.

Mississippi Kite (juvenile)

This year the Mississippi Kites seem to have been around and in better numbers than in recent years. I first saw a pair of them this year on June 18 near Tramway Wetlands (aka North Diversion Channel), and have since seen them regularly at several other locations in Corrales and heard they’re even being seen at the Rio Grande Nature Center. Cooper’s Hawks had apparently nested this year close to where the Kites have nested for years, prompting the Kites to be more assertive in protecting their nest by dive-bombing visitors. In the past, the adults would swoop by but considerably higher and not obviously targeting civilians. The day I took the above picture, one of the young Cooper’s Hawks was still in the area perched low in a tree and unconcerned by my presence.

Cooper’s Hawk (juvenile)

Also of note this year is it seems the Osprey finally are succeeding in raising three little ones at Tramway Wetlands after a disaster last year and a failed nest earlier this year that blew down in a spring wind. Seems the first time they’ve been known to successfully nest in Bernalillo County, kind of a big deal, eh?

Osprey

In other insect news, very commonly seen in the mountains this time of year are the Repetitive Tachinid Flies.

Repetitive Tachinid Fly

Quite a few other cool insects, such as Tarantula Hawk, Figeater Beetle, Thread-waisted Wasp, Giant Ichneumon Wasp, and several bee species have been showing up lately, but a couple of my favorites are the White-lined Sphinx Moth (being seen in ridiculous numbers this year),

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

and the Snowberry Clearwing.

Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)

There have been some pretty good butterflies flying around lately, too, although numbers seem low, there don’t seem to be quite as many species being seen this season so far, and nectar plants and mudbanks have been impacted by the long drought. On that July 12 trip to Hyde Park, at the Santa Fe Ski Basin the weather was somewhat wet and cloudy and several of our usual spots had few wildflowers and few butterflies about. But we still picked up a few good ones that we don’t usually see here in town, including a Green Comma,

Green Comma (Polygonia faunus)

Mormon Fritillary,

Mormon Fritillary (Speyeria mormonia)

and a Purplish Copper.

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

A few days later on a trip to several of our regular spots in the Sandias, Rebecca and I saw the tiny Western Tailed-Blue,

Western Tailed-Blue (Cupido amyntula)

quite a few Russet Skipperling,

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

and both Common Wood-Nymph and Small Wood-Nymph; the latter is what I think is in this next picture.

Small Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis oetus)

That weekend, Rebecca’s nephew and his family were in town for a visit and I joined them for a walk to the Kiwanis Cabin at the Sandia Crest where we were surprised to see a Black Swallowtail, a species we don’t see very often at all.  (It was almost as unusual a sighting as the bear we spotted crossing the road just as we were leaving Cienega Canyon!)

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

We were back looking around the Sandias about a week later to see our first Tailed Copper of the season,

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

a single Northwestern Fritillary (surprising as in the past we’d see dozens of them anywhere the coneflower was in bloom),

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

and a nicely posed Juniper Hairstreak.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

 

 

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Swiss Butterfly Trip

It’s been a little more than a week since returning from a fabulous almost two-week European butterfly trip, mostly in the Swiss Alps with a couple of days in England coming and going, and thought I’d post some of the stories and pictures here.

Lauterbrunnen Valley

Rebecca and I first flew to London-Heathrow by way of Denver. I’m usually bothered by jet lag flying east, but it turned out not to be at all a problem this time for either of us. The secret (as I’ve learned from other trips) is to grab some sleep on the plane and then stay up until evening at the destination. It just got too easy this trip when we decided to upgrade to those lie-flat business class seats for the 9-hour flight, took advantage of the fabulous shower facility at the arrival lounge at Heathrow included in that ticket, and were able to check in to our hotel hours before the normal check-in time. We’d gotten tickets on the Heathrow Express train online for the 15-minute ride to Paddington Station and got to the Best Western Delmere Hotel after a short, easy walk. Hyde Park was only about a 10-minute walk from the hotel, so we stayed awake that afternoon looking for butterflies and birds in the rather large park. Before the trip, the UK Butterfly Conservation website showed a butterfly field trip scheduled for the next day at Stanmore Country Park. The park was only  a short walk from the Stanmore Station at the end of the Jubilee line of the London Underground (Tube), which we took the next morning from Paddington. A delightful walk that morning led by John Hollingdale, voluntary park warden, with a small group of local nature lovers and getting to see a good mix of the birds and butterflies, most of which were new to us (and certainly helpful having them around to identify them). One of the butterflies that morning that posed nicely for me was the Marbled White (actually a brushfoot), which we would also see occasionally later in the trip.

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

The next morning, we checked out and took the quick trip back to Heathrow to meet our Naturetrek tour group for a flight to Zurich and then a series of three trains to our destination for the week, the Hotel Berghaus in Wengen.

View from Hotel Berghaus

In one of the few hiccups on the trip, as Americans Rebecca and I had to spend almost an hour in the long Swiss customs line in Zurich, while the Brits got to breeze right through the EU line. We finally got through and barely had time to apologize to the group before we all ran for our first train scheduled to leave minutes later. I hadn’t even thought of the customs bit when planning our trip, so we ended up going through British customs twice (on arrival from Denver and then again returning from Zurich) as well as our time with Swiss customs.

The small town of Wengen lies in the shadow of the some of the more dramatic Alps, the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, and is reached by a cogwheel train from Lauterbrunnen. With very few vehicles allowed in town, it is wonderfully quiet with mostly only the sounds of birds and twice a day the sound of cowbells as a small group of dairy cows are herded to and from their mountain pasture. Cowbells are a big deal there, as shown by this display on a barn in nearby Gimmelwald.

Cowbells

Hotel Berghaus was quite enjoyable, with most rooms (including ours) having balconies facing that majestic view of the mountains. The owners and staff were quite friendly and made us feel right at home from the moment we arrived. We’d start each day meeting for a breakfast of several alpine cheeses, freshly-made breads, homemade jams, soft or hard-boiled eggs, excellent coffee, and a few other things. Late in the day, we’d return for leisurely and tasty dinners usually served outside on the comfortable patio with views of the late afternoon light on those mountains. Cheese and chocolate seemed to play a large part in out diet that week and was all delicious.

After breakfast, several people would head to town with Jon Stokes, our leader, to pick up supplies for lunch, which we would then divvy up among the group for wherever we ended up going that day. Jon’s first job each day was to check the weather and decide where we’d go to look for butterflies, and next do an amazing job of working the logistics for the day – finding the best combination of train, funicular, cable car, bus, and walks to get us all there and back in a most efficient manner and always having a backup plan if the weather changed on us or we might miss a connection. We each had a 6-day Jungfrau Travel Pass that let us easily take any mode of transportation in the area. Public transportation in Europe, and especially in Switzerland, has always been impressively efficient and convenient in my opinion, but it certainly takes skill to coordinate moving a good-sized group of people (17 in our case) among multiple modes of transport. Jon is quite an expert not only on butterflies, but also quite knowledgeable on the plants, birds, and most other aspects of nature we’d see during the trip, and having grown up spending summers nearby was quite familiar with the area and options for getting around.

Prior to the trip, weather forecasts were predicting clouds and rain for most of our time there, leading me not to expect to see many butterflies at all and wondering a bit about what our backup plan might be. It came as somewhat of a surprise, therefore, finding quite good weather for most of each day, with Jon picking destinations in different valleys to maximize our chances for finding butterflies.  The one day when it did look overcast all day we hopped the train to Interlaken for a ferry across the Brienzersee and a nice hike along the shoreline.

Our first morning we took the cable car from close to the hotel in Wengen to Männlichen for incredible views of the Jungfrau and far below the valleys leading to Mürren and Grindelwald.

Jungfrau and Silberhorn

The alpine scenery was considerably more dramatic than I remembered. Gorgeous wildflowers covered the meadows at that elevation of about 7300′ (2225m), with glaciers and snow-covered peaks at higher elevations (Jungfrau tops out at 13642′ (4158m). Naturally, I ended up photographing quite a few of those flowers including one of my favorites, the Alpine Forget-me-not.

Alpine Forget-me-not

Another stunning wildflower we’d see in alpine habitats is the Common Spotted-orchid.

Common Spotted-orchid

Seen regularly on the trip (in both England and Switzerland) was the Small Tortoiseshell,

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

but we’d also see a nice number of species probably found only in alpine habitats, such as the Alpine Grayling.

Alpine Grayling (Oeneis glacialis)

After spending a couple of hours working the meadows near the cable car station, we started on the mostly downhill hike toward Kleine Scheidegg, breaking for lunch about halfway and adding lots of flowers, birds, and butterflies to our trip list.

Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg

A nice butterfly to see along the way was the Eros Blue at a damp spot that drew several similar species.

Eros Blue (Polyommatus eros)

A bit of late afternoon rain that day hurried us on to Kleine Scheidegg where we’d catch the cogwheel train back to Wengen.

On several days, we’d generally find our way by various means to Grindelwald in the next valley over and then to different locations above town including Grosse Scheidegg. A few of the butterflies seen there include the Sudetan Ringlet,

Sudetan Ringlet (Erebia sudetica)

good numbers of Titania’s Fritillary,

Titania’s Fritillary (Boloria titania)

and of False Heath Fritillary.

False Heath Fritillary (Melitaea diamina)

Here’s what they look like from the top in a photo taken the next day.

False Heath Fritillary (Melitaea diamina)

There were also quite a few Alpine Heath butterflies to be seen anywhere in those alpine wildflower meadows.

Alpine Heath (Coenonympha gardetta)

Another fritillary from that area is the Pearl-bordered Fritillary, easiest identified in my opinion by the underside pattern.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne)

My favorite day was taking a cable car up to the small village of Gimmelwald high on a cliff on the opposite side of Lauterbrunnen Valley from Wengen.

View from Gimmelwald

It’s a very quiet town with a few interesting shops and cafes and just a short distance away was a spot where we had our picnic lunch after seeing lots of different butterflies. One of the first we’d see, nectaring on flowers in the town, was the Apollo, one I’d been hoping to see and that we would later find in several other locations.

Apollo (Parnassius apollo)

Another butterfly I’d see for the first time that day is the actually rather common, but quite good looking, Large Wall Brown, both from the top view

Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera)

and side view.

Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera)

Another butterfly that seemed pretty special was the Arran Brown with its distinctive white streak on the underside.

Arran Brown (Erebia ligea)

Quite similar looking from the top and seen on a visit our last day to a meadow just above our hotel is the Scotch Argus.

Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops)

At our picnic spot that day were some nice, big fritillaries including the Silver-washed Fritillary

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)

and Dark Green Fritillary.

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja)

In the shadow of some trees nearby, Rebecca pointed out a few of the Martagon Lily that were in bloom.

Martagon Lily

One of the very last butterflies we’d see in Switzerland was a hairstreak we may also have seen back in England on our first full day butterflying at Stanmore Country Park, the White-letter Hairstreak.

White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album)

All in all, the group would tally nearly 100 species, an excellent total for the area of which I photographed about half. More of my photos from the trip are online at my website at http://sandianet.com/swiss/index.htm .  After a full, fabulous week in Switzerland, we headed back for home, reversing the order of the three trains it took to get there, having a minor flight delay out of Zurich, and arriving back at London-Heathrow in early evening. Rebecca and I stayed at the Heathrow Terminal 4 Hilton and left right on time the next morning for Houston and a connecting flight to Albuquerque. Unfortunately, we arrived in Houston to find our next flight cancelled for aircraft maintenance issues, but after scrambling around a bit United booked us home on a flight the next day after putting us up in a hotel and giving us vouchers for food. Not exactly fun, and it’s interesting the small items you miss from your checked luggage, but may actually have eased the jetlag transition once back home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs, Travel | 16 Comments

Last of June

Still way dry and lately way too hot, but there’s always something out there to catch my eye pretty much anytime I get out to look around. It’s now gotten so dry they’ve closed down access to pretty much all the local mountains and remain on high fire alert, especially as those illegal fireworks will start appearing as we get close to Independence Day. We did get a quick shot of rain a couple of weeks ago, but are starting to get desperate for the arrival of our summer monsoon rains to lessen the threat and hopefully allow the woods to re-open.

Knowing the mountains would close by the end of the week, I made a point a couple of days earlier of checking out most of my favorite butterfly spots all the way to the Sandia Crest. With so little moisture about, it wasn’t too surprising not seeing many butterflies other than lots of swallowtails patrolling along the highway. However, it was cool to find right at the top that the wildflowers were blooming and being attended to by a number of butterflies new for the season, including a Western Tiger-Swallowtail (quite similar to the Two-tailed Swallowtails seen in the foothills earlier in the season),

Western Tiger-Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

my first Taxiles Skipper for the year,

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

and the gorgeous Milbert’s Tortoiseshell that I’ll maybe see once or twice a season, and for the first time get a good shot of the underside.

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti)

A few days later wandering around the bosque close to the Rio Grande, a Black-headed Grosbeak posed nicely for me in the shade.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Since early in April, I’ve been stopping to check in on the Osprey nest at Tramway Wetlands (aka North Diversion Channel Outfall). They’ve had a tough time this year. Nests they built at their first spot blew down a couple of times in our spring winds, and they’ve been trying again for some time now in a new spot on the other side of the bridge. I’ve noticed Mom pretty well hunkered down on my last few visits, but have yet to spot any little ones. Word is, however, they’ve now hatched and a couple of folks have seen them – if successful, this will be a first for the County. What I have seen there the last few visits are the Mississippi Kites, at least three of which seem to be sailing around.

Mississippi Kite

Good thing, as the Rio Grande valley in New Mexico is almost the farthest west they are found and I’m on the hook for tracking down one of their nests for the Thursday Birders in about a month.

It has been pretty slow for birds and butterflies around town lately, but a nice variety of dragonflies have started to appear especially around the river, irrigation ditches, and ponds around town. Quite numerous lately at spots like Tingley Ponds has been the Widow Skimmer,

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

a location I also had fun watching a young Cooper’s Hawk hiding in the trees close to where we’d spotted an active nest earlier this year.

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk

Excellent day trip to Villanueva State Park with the Audubon Thursday Birder bunch last week. Fortunately, it was still open despite the drought conditions and the group got a good bird tally and had some rather unusual sightings, including a Common Black Hawk, Indigo Bunting, nesting Cassin’s Kingbird, and a few Western Wood-Pewee.

Western Wood-Pewee

On that trip, a friend told me about a nesting Summer Tanager at the Rio Grande Nature Center that I went to find a few days later. Not spotting it right off, surprisingly my friend showed up right then to point it out to me. Always fun to get to watch the little ones getting fed.

Summer Tanager

Elena Gallegos Open Space is still open and one of the few foothill spots one can still visit while the fire restrictions are in effect. It, too, was pretty quiet in the dry heat and it was a bit of a surprise that about the only bird I’d see was a Scott’s Oriole that popped in about as close as I’ve ever been able to get to them.

Scott’s Oriole

Hoping those summer afternoon rains show up soon.

 

 

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