Viral Spring

Like everywhere else, the times have certainly been a little strange since my last posting on March 11. The next day, our Audubon Thursday Birders did their usual thing heading down to a new location, San Lorenzo Canyon, but already folks were starting to think about the oncoming pandemic. By the next day, we’d already decided to discourage carpooling for future trips and planned to start keeping that “social distance” apart from each other. By the end of the weekend, we had cancelled all trips, meetings, and events through at least the end of May. Since then, things have gotten even more isolating as a lot of us older folks are doing our best to minimize personal contacts and our state and local governments are actively addressing the threat by closing stores, malls, movie theaters, bars, restaurants, playgrounds and more. Most recent was a State Public Health Order on March 23 that is basically an order to stay at home except for essential activities that sounds a lot like what’s been going on in England and other places lately. It still seems acceptable to go outside for “essential exercise”, although some are interpreting that in a more limited sense such as not driving to a park or only allowed if you’re actively walking your dog or fitness walking. Having gotten quite well practiced at retirement in recent years, other than the lack of direct social interaction and learning how to buy food to last a week, so far I haven’t had to modify my behavior significantly and certainly haven’t suffered the economic impact on all those employed in those businesses that have been forced to close. Getting outdoors to look for birds, butterflies, and whatever else is going on seems to be my main thing and for the most part hasn’t been significantly affected.

Social distancing has surely become a key concept bandied about in all this, which I acknowledged by posting in my Facebook caption of this photo, “Social distancing…Corrales NM today”.

Great Horned Owl

The fact that we’ve been seeing her head peeking out since at least March 9 almost certainly means she’s hatched a few owlets that we should be seeing soon. A few days later, I noticed the male parked in his usual spot, but looking away from the nest and the trail I usually photograph him. Walking around to the other side of the eastern ditch, he was fairly easy to spot, but still did his best to camouflage himself with branches breaking up his profile.

Great Horned Owl

Two of the nests I’ve been following this year are now off-limits with the closing of the State Park and a school, but it was fun getting to locate a new nest near Tingley Ponds that a friend told me about but swore me not to reveal its location. I probably won’t visit it again until the little ones start appearing.

Great Horned Owl

That same day, Rebecca and I, strictly maintaining our social distance but at least getting a chance to talk to each other for the first time in a week, found a porcupine snoozing at eye level in the bushes near the trail. What I like about this shot is that it really shows off those defensive quills usually hidden by its fur.

Porcupine

Another pandemic-related sighting yesterday was of this nesting Curve-billed Thrasher, who seems to have cornered the market in toilet paper which has vanished from all my local stores recently.

Curve-billed Thrasher

That was going on in Embudito Canyon, close to where she’d nested in 2017 in a nest very close to the main trail and that eventually failed for unknown reasons. Embudito’s been my go-to place the last couple of weeks since it’s easy to get to and hasn’t been too crowded except on weekends. Yesterday, I noticed that everybody was following the new guidance of keeping group size to no more than 5 people, but nobody seemed particularly worried about keeping six feet apart. Ever since that social distance rule came out, I’ve gone out of my way (literally) to keep a good distance from others; just wish everyone else was paying as much attention. Interestingly, on most visits there since the beginning of March, good numbers of Sandia Hairstreaks have been flying about, often to the exclusion of any other butterfly species.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

This is a special butterfly that was first discovered in the Sandias (in La Cueva Canyon just north of Embudito) in 1958 and was named the state butterfly of New Mexico in 2004. Although it is now known to range from southeast Colorado down to northern Mexico, I typically get a few requests every year from folks about where and when to find them and enjoy getting to track one down with those who come to visit. It’s always fun to point one out to others out for a walk in Embudito, which I’ve done this year for anybody who asks or looks as if they might be interested. New this year is my asking them to keep their six foot distance, but almost every time people get so interested in seeing these tiny guys they end up standing quite close. So for the rest of this year’s season, either I won’t mention them at all or will try to point them out with a laser.

On several visits over the last two weeks, everything seems to have come together butterfly-wise that for the first time this year I’m seeing a few more species flying, most of which I’ve managed to photograph. First up is a much better shot of the Southwestern Orangetip that I’d first seen on March 11, this one from March 16.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

That day was also good for a Spring White

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

and a Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

People had been telling me about the Mourning Cloaks they’d been seeing recently, which like the Hoary Comma, is a butterfly that overwinters as an adult in leaf litter and can be seen early in the year on the occasional warm, sunny day. Before I got this picture of the Hoary Comma perched on that stick, I’d seen it and a Mourning Cloak chasing a Two-tailed Swallowtail, the latter a little earlier in the season than I’ve seen in the past.

You’ll notice that Southwestern Orangetip above nectaring on catkins of our local willow. There is a small stand of those willows just above the spring in Embudito that seems to attract a good variety of butterflies at this time of year. In addition to the orangetip, yesterday I had one of those Sandia Hairstreaks on it, my first Gray Hairstreak of the year,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and the first of what some years is the ubiquitous Painted Lady.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Highlight of the day (and of the year so far) was spotting a California Tortoiseshell close to the spring area. From a distance I somehow realized that it wasn’t just another of those more common Hoary Commas but had to try to get closer for a picture without running it off, a situation complicated by the arrival of a person walking their dog and wanting to keep them a social distance away. They of course kept coming and decided this would be a good place to stop and give the dog a drink. All turned out well in the end, however, with the butterfly coming much closer and posing for a few seconds while the lady and her dog stayed far enough away.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

Looks like it’s going to be a good Spring, especially once we “flatten that curve” and this virus becomes history.

 

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Almost Spring

Just a week away from the first day of Spring and the signs are starting to appear out there. A week after looking in on the Calabacillas Arroyo owls to find the two owlets and the adult female way out on a branch away from the nesting cavity, the little ones had learned to fly and I’d see all four of them, each in a different tree but reasonably close to the nest tree. Here’s one of the little ones.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

This was also the first time this season I managed to spot the male, not too surprisingly in the same tree he’d used several years ago. No doubt these guys will all just disappear sometime in the next few weeks.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Not much change at the other nests I’ve been watching, although I did get a much better shot of the nesting female

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

as well as one of the male in his usual spot at Rio Grande Nature Center (RGNC).

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

During the Audubon Thursday Birder walk there, somebody noticed near the owl nest was an old Bushtit nest that the Bushtits were busy refurbishing for their upcoming season.

Bushtit

Stopped in on the Western Screech-Owl in Columbus Park, but it’s just hanging out as usual with no indication if or when nesting might begin.

Western Screech-Owl

I managed to check out a few other possibilities on the west side of town a week ago, but failed to spot any nesting owls. One, however, had a Cooper’s Hawk busy working on her old nest since owls hadn’t taken it over.

Cooper’s Hawk

And at another spot, a Greater Roadrunner was acting out and cooing loudly trying to attract a female.

Greater Roadrunner

Very few birds the day I was in Rinconada Canyon, but did hear a couple of Canyon Wrens and saw several Rock Wrens, one of which posed nicely for me.

Rock Wren

A return visit to Willow Creek gave me a better look at the nesting female,

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

and for the first time since early February, the male was back in his usual spot.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

I hadn’t been back to Pueblo Montano in a few weeks, so stopped by there one day to get a little better view of her.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

The big development this week was with the pair in Corrales, where I’d only seen the male since mid-February. I’d suspected nesting was going on in the old cavity from a single white feather clinging to its edge, but earlier this week saw that the female was just peeking out of the cavity.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

That could well mean that she’s sitting up and has a couple of little ones in there with her that maybe we’ll get to see in a few weeks.

Fun picture of a Cooper’s Hawk that day, sitting in the irrigation ditch.

Cooper’s Hawk

I’d been hearing that folks had been seeing a Burrowing Owl out in Rio Rancho so motored out there yesterday to take a look. Sure enough, I saw the one that had been reported, but if you look a little closer you’ll see a second one parked back there in the shadows.

Burrowing Owl

The last couple of weeks had also kicked off the start of our spring butterflies, which are always to treat to see back in business. First up is our Sandia Hairstreak, which I started seeing on March 2.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

I’ve been seeing a good number of them in Embudito Canyon and a few other spots since, and have been returning to Embudito regularly hoping to see our first Southwestern Orangetip. Had my first Orangetip yesterday, and saw several more today. Early in the season, they seem to be constantly on the move and only settle down for a few seconds quick to fly off as I try to get closer. This is the best I could do so far, but hope for better photos over the next few weeks.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

 

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Owl Developments

For the last two weeks, it’s mostly been about looking around for more owl nests and checking on the latest status of those I’ve found. Before we get into that, here’s a couple of other pictures I’ve gotten since my last update. A week ago while at the Rio Grande Nature Center for their annual Friends meeting, we’d heard about Wilson’s Snipe being seen from the bridge over the irrigation ditch and decided to take a look. Sure enough, two of them were right there working along the bank and unusually oblivious to the presence of all the people going by or stopping to give them a look. They would duck behind the overhanging grass now and then, but soon reappear and go about their business.

Wilson’s Snipe

That week’s Thursday Birder trip to Tingley Ponds turned up a nice number of species, only one of which I managed to photograph, a Pied-billed Grebe.

Pied-billed Grebe

Naturally, my camera was nowhere ready when a young Bald Eagle came flying low right over the crowd. I did get organized pretty quickly the next day as a Cooper’s Hawk flew by during a visit to Embudito.

Cooper’s Hawk

Now, about them owls.

Last time, I’d reported that we were thrilled to find owls nesting near Calabacillas Arroyo where we’d last had them nest back in 2017. I’d gotten a photo of an adult at the nest site on two visits and had heard reports of at least one owlet being seen in the nest cavity already (which would be astonishingly early in the season, and normally I expect to start seeing active nesting around Valentine’s Day). Stopping by on February 18, I did indeed see an owlet peeking out.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Way beyond the “fuzzy tennis ball” stage when we usually first get a look at the little ones, it was even more astonishing to hear the owlets had started “branching” the next day, moving out along the branches of the nest tree before they learn to fly. Of course, I got back there a few times over the next several days to see and here’s what they looked like by February 29.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

In my last posting, I’d also mentioned finally seeing both adults at Willow Creek Open Space back in early February, but they hadn’t started nesting. On February 20, the Thursday Birders were at Willow Creek and fully expected to see the owls in that same spot, but were completely unsuccessful. We also looked pretty closely at the only old hawk nest nearby but saw nothing. That’s happened to me before…at Pueblo Montano last year we’d reliably see the adults near a previous nesting site for weeks until one day they vanished only to find them nesting almost a half mile away.

Dropped by Willow Creek yesterday, again didn’t see anybody where I’d first seen them, did the whole loop trail again looking at other possibilities without success, and just like my first time thought to give the original location another look. This time, yep, Mama Owl was sitting on that old nest (where she probably was on the Thursday Birder visit), but I just happened to take a look from a little different angle.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

In other news, I’d been to the aforementioned Pueblo Montano area a few times looking for owls particularly after seeing a recent eBird report. It was satisfying when I finally spotted the nest to note that of all the old hawk nests around, they’d settled on one that I’d thought looked like the best on my earlier visits.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

One more new nest to report – I’d seen a photo on Facebook yesterday of an owl looking out of a nesting cavity at the Rio Grande Nature Center, and was definitely headed down there today to try and find it. We usually have at least one nesting pair in the vicinity and have been looking regularly without success, so it would be a relief to finally find it. Turns out it’s right next to the entrance walk but only visible from the restricted area. Fortunately, the regular weekend walks there do get to visit that area and I was able to get a photo. Unfortunately, she was kinda tucked in there this morning and this is all one could see. At least we’ll be able to take a look every weekend and once the little ones are old enough might get to see them more easily. I did look pretty hard for the male this morning but without any luck.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

I’ve also checked in on the Corrales nest a few times, but all I ever see (other than the male keeping an eye from across the irrigation ditch) is a single telltale feather above that cavity. I did hear a report that the female was seen peering out of the cavity yesterday, so maybe we’ll be seeing little ones there soon.

A visit to the Albuquerque Academy today showed the female still sitting on them eggs,

Great Horned Owl – AA

but this time I also saw the male perfectly obvious in the next tree over.

Great Horned Owl – AA

So here we go. That’s a good half dozen nests going on so far this year; no doubt a few more will be discovered in the next few weeks.

 

 

 

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Owls and More

With the leaves off the trees and the days starting to get longer, ’tis the season to start looking for this year’s Great Horned Owl nests. Usually by late December, they’ll start pairing up and start looking for a nest site, and over time I’ve realized Valentine’s Day is about when I’ll first start finding occupied nests. Those leafless trees also make it easier to spot the old hawk nests that the owls seem to prefer. Any large lump in the trees is worth taking a closer look at and will probably be either an old nest or surprisingly often a snoozing porcupine.

Porcupine

Only last year did I realize owls regularly use the same nesting spot year after year so in addition to looking around for new nesting opportunities as I walk the trails, I definitely take a look at old nesting sites. Not too much luck so far this year, although I’m now up to four likely locations they’ll be nesting soon if not already. Along the way, there’s been a few other interesting sightings as well, such as this Spotted Towhee lit by the sun,

Spotted Towhee

a Hairy Woodpecker busy looking for bugs,

Hairy Woodpecker

and a pair of Common Mergansers; birds that are usually only seen way out in the river.

Common Merganser

In addition to the owls in Corrales and the Albuquerque Academy mentioned in my last posting, I’ve now found some in two more locations following up on suggestions from friends and eBird reports. First up was the exciting news that owls were again seen near the spot they’d nested in several years ago near Calabacillas Arroyo. Indeed, the first time I stopped by one was sitting right on the snag with the nesting cavity.

Great Horned Owl

A few days later it higher up the branch to the right of the broken off snag

Great Horned Owl

and trickier to spot – here’s more what it looks like without a zoom lens. Going up that right diagonal branch, the owl’s lined up with that vertical branch.

Great Horned Owl

Friends report that they’ve actually photographed an owlet at least two weeks old peeking out of that snag, which would be quite unusual in my experience having hatched at least a month earlier than any I’ve known before. Naturally, I’ll be returning again soon in hopes of spotting that little one.

My other sighting was of both owls at Willow Creek Open Space. I’d been unsuccessful in spotting them on a visit a week earlier, but found the first one very easily on my next visit sitting out in the open not very high above the ground.

Great Horned Owl

Having missed the other one at first, when I returned later that morning, the second one popped out at me very close to the trail but well-hidden in the branches.

Great Horned Owl

A couple of other fun pictures over the next few days included a Rock Wren at Piedras Marcadas,

Rock Wren

and from our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to El Oso Grande Park, the famous headless Greater Roadrunner.

Greater Roadrunner

Some friends I’ve kept in touch with over the years, but haven’t seen since meeting them on my first Peru trip in 2004, dropped into town this past weekend and we’ve been out to a few spots looking for some of our local residents. Missing the rosy-finches up at Sandia Crest on their first visit, we headed out to Clements Road near Estancia for some raptors. Several good sightings that afternoon including Scaled Quail, several Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrel, and Prairie Falcon, but it was a great treat to get good looks at one of what may have been a total of 3 Golden Eagles,

Golden Eagle

and a Ferruginous Hawk that let us approach rather closely.

Ferruginous Hawk

We figured it was less interested in us than in a large flock of Horned Larks working the field by the side of the road.

Horned Lark

The next day we met up at Bosque del Apache NWR, where we would see the last of the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese now migrating back north. Several Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks, but it seems the Bald Eagles may have already departed. It was fun getting good pictures of a Pyrrhuloxia despite shooting through the Visitor Center window,

Pyrrhuloxia

and one of my Lesser Goldfinch shots from out in the garden area came out well.

Lesser Goldfinch

One of our target birds, the Tundra Swan, wouldn’t appear until our very last stop for the day and was just off the Flight Deck.

Tundra Swan

Yesterday, I made my rounds of all of those Great Horned Owl nests (except Willow Creek) to see if nesting had yet commenced. No luck near Calabacillas, seeing only one owl even further away from that snag and other than possibly a single white feather caught in the bark, no evidence of the female or that little one. Fun, however, to see a Great Blue Heron first in a tall cottonwood and later along the irrigation ditch, and then to have a Belted Kingfisher drop by.

Belted Kingfisher

I hadn’t been to Corrales for awhile, and interestingly only saw a single owl there

Great Horned Owl

…the female could easily be nesting in their usual cavity, but I couldn’t see any evidence that she might be there. Wrapped up my morning by stopping by Albuquerque Academy where I’d last seen one of the owls tucked into its winter roost in a big Ponderosa Pine. Surprise of the day was to find nesting finally underway in their favorite spot!

Great Horned Owl

 

 

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January Wrap-Up

Here’s some of the photos from a few good outings over the last couple of weeks. Over the third weekend in January, Rebecca and I headed down to the area around Truth or Consequences, NM, to join Kim Score’s CNMAS trip to Percha Dam and to scout out a few locations Rebecca’s planning to include in this year’s Birdathon coming up in mid-May. In addition to Percha Dam, we’d spend time looking around Caballo Lake, Animas Creek, Paseo del Rio, Mim’s Lake, and several locations along the western shore of Elephant Butte Lake. At some of those spots at Elephant Butte Lake, we’d come across small groups of javelina (or collared peccary). I don’t see them very often and when I do, they’re usually pretty far away or on the run. One group we came across on a dirt road close to the lake was a little slower to take off, especially one young one that didn’t seem too bothered by us or in the mood to run.

Javelina

All weekend, we were surprised to see Verdin pop up in several places, a bird I usually don’t see very often at all…of those we’d see on this trip (Mim’s Lake, Paseo del Rio, and Percha), this is my best shot showing that yellow head and those red epaulets.

Verdin

A late afternoon trip to Animas Creek (a unique habitat for New Mexico of large sycamore trees along the creek) didn’t turn up the Bridled Titmouse we were hoping to see (and did early in 2019), but had plenty of our other target for the area, Acorn Woodpecker.

Acorn Woodpecker

After an interesting evening staying in the restored CCC cabins of the Dam Site Lodge (pelicans, herons, mergansers, and grebes appearing at dawn on the lake below), we met up with Kim and the group at Percha Dam State Park the next morning. Before we even got organized to start the walk we had lots of Phainopeplas flying around, a bird we’ve had a little trouble seeing lately in its usual spots closer to Albuquerque.

Phainopepla

More amazing was getting a great look at that Bridled Titmouse right out in the open also just as we were getting ready to get started.

Bridled Titmouse

As expected, the walk was quite good and we’d see a good variety of birds as the day went on. A highlight was having a mature Bald Eagle fly right over the group,

Bald Eagle

and later at Percha Flats on Caballo Lake, while not a highlight for the day flybys of some of the Ring-billed Gulls were a nice opportunity for some in flight photos.

Ring-billed Gull

Later that afternoon we stopped by Paseo del Rio Campground at the base of the Elephant Butte Dam, not only was it good to find a Verdin and the expected Pyrrhuloxia and cool to see a Great Blue Heron in its unusual, but regular, spot up on the cliff, but to also spot a Great Egret hunting in the water,

Great Egret

and have two Osprey fly by.

Osprey

In what was probably about an hour walking around the area around 4pm, we’d see 17 species which seems pretty good for this time of year.

Taking our time the next morning headed for home, we were unsuccessful in hoping to see the Golden Eagles, where a year ago we’d seen several perched on the power poles along the freeway south of Bosque del Apache NWR. A stop further north at the Bernardo Wildlife Area turned up a close view of a female Northern Harrier,

Northern Harrier

none of the Snow Geese we’d heard folks had been seeing recently, and not nearly as many Sandhill Crane as had been reported just days earlier.

Sandhill Crane

It was pretty good, however, seeing several White-throated Sparrows working the swampy ground covering.

White-throated Sparrow

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip returned to Bernardo where we finally managed to spot the White-throated Sparrows again,

White-throated Sparrow

along with a pretty good look at the Harlan’s race of the Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed (Harlan’s) Hawk

As usual, with all those eyes and a number of excellent birders on the trip, we’d end the day with a nice variety of species.

This past weekend, I got out to start looking for some of those owls that could start nesting in a few more weeks. In Corrales, where Great Horned Owls had nested last year and we got to see one for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count on December 15, this time I got to see both adults and even get a shot of them both looking right at me.

Great Horned Owl

Not yet nesting either, just on a hunch I checked in on the Albuquerque Academy where I’ve spotted them on a winter roost in past years, and sure enough managed to spot one of them.

Great Horned Owl

This ponderosa is close to where they’ve typically nested and when they do, is the easiest to watch of any in town.

I also had to stop by Columbus Park where the  Western Screech-Owl has reappeared after being off somewhere since last June.

Western Screech-Owl

Finally, after wandering around the Rio Grande Nature Center bosque without yet finding the owls that are undoubtedly somewhere around, it was a major thrill to get to see a Bald Eagle on the east side of the river where I’ve occasionally seen one in past years. For the first time there, this one didn’t immediately fly off and sat there posing nicely for me.

Bald Eagle

 

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First Post for 2020

Well, I’m just not keeping up with blogging of late and can’t come up with any particular reasons why that is. Since returning from that delightful Thailand trip described in my last posting, days were pretty busy first getting through all those trip pictures, followed by all the holiday activities and events and including three Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs). Already two weeks into the new year and it seems I haven’t been getting out all that often either and when I do things have been pretty quiet in most of my usual haunts. Nonetheless,  a few decent photographs have appeared during that time that I thought worth sharing here.

For the Bosque del Apache CBC, Rebecca and I were out from dawn to dusk covering the San Antonio area just north of the refuge. She’s done that area for quite a few years now and knows what to look for and where. I’ve joined her for the last eight years and always have fun getting some special birds and sometimes decent pictures. For this year’s count, the weather was just about perfect and here’s a few pictures from that day. Early on we got good looks at this Red-tailed Hawk,

Red-tailed Hawk

and later in the day a Pyrrhuloxia who came out in the open for a change.

Pyrrhuloxia

A highlight for me was seeing a Merlin, a bird it seems I only manage to find maybe once a year.

Merlin

Quite a few Western Meadowlarks around, this one showing off that bright yellow chest.

Western Meadowlark

The next day found us covering all of Corrales for the Albuquerque CBC where we ended up with a pretty good list. It was fun getting to add the Great Horned Owl for the list, found close to last year’s nest as a friend had reported on eBird a few days earlier.

Great Horned Owl

We only spotted the one, while more recent reports had both owls with one remarkably well-hidden close to the other.

The day after Christmas falling on a Thursday this year, the Audubon Thursday Birders added to the Sandia Mountain CBC by covering the area of Bear Canyon included in the count circle. As usual, we ended up seeing more species than on any of our scouting visits. Later that day, Rebecca and I headed out to our usual count area in the East Mountains and added a few more species. Somehow, I didn’t end up with any photographs from that day unfortunately.

To kick off 2020, I did get a nice close-up of a Spotted Towhee.

Spotted Towhee

A few days later, Rebecca and I wandered down to Shining River Open Space hoping to see the American Dipper that had been reported in the same spot it had been a couple years ago. No luck on our first attempt, but we went with some friends we met on our way back who quickly spotted it right where they’d expected to see it. I returned again the next day to find it still hanging around that same location.

American Dipper

Following that success, we decided to drop in on the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo, where Rebecca wanted to show me their new penguin exhibit she’d seen earlier. It was indeed pretty interesting, but a little tricky getting good photographs. I can’t help but take pictures of male Wood Ducks when I come across one,

Wood Duck

and while I rarely take photos of zoo animals, I liked this one of one of the gorillas catching some rays.

My local gorilla

Off to San Lorenzo Canyon and then Bosque del Apache last weekend turned up a few good birds, such as this Rock Wren,

Rock Wren

a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes,

Loggerhead Shrike

and close flybys of a Ferruginous Hawk,

Ferruginous Hawk

and a female Northern Harrier.

Northern Harrier

Two birds from today’s walk south of Alameda on the west side of the Rio Grande included a closer view of a young Bald Eagle that we’d seen a couple weeks ago from much further away,

Juvenile Bald Eagle

and one of several Hermit Thrushes that were working their way through the trees.

Hermit Thrush

We’ll see what the next few weeks turn up as hopefully I’ll be getting out more and see a few more birds. My owls should be appearing again about now as they start scouting out nesting locations for the upcoming season.

 

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Nature Tour to Thailand

Just over a month since my last post, I’m finally ready to share some of the photos from a recent 19-day nature trip to Thailand. We’d left early on a rainy morning a week before Thanksgiving (missing entirely the huge snowstorm at home over the holiday) on the more than 25 travel hours to Bangkok (22 hours in the air plus layovers in Los Angeles and Seoul). The flights home would be even more ridiculous, leaving about midnight and taking more than 33 hours with the 7-8 hour layovers involved. Time got sufficiently scrambled going both ways that I managed to avoid jet lag entirely, although Rebecca seems to have gotten a bit after the trip. Gotta love that International Date Line deal; even though we left Bangkok about midnight on 12/8, we still got home by 6pm the same day, almost 6 hours earlier than our departure.

Arriving about midnight, we checking into an airport hotel before flying another hour to Chiang Mai where we’d meet the rest of our tour group late the next day. Just outside the hotel the next morning we’d spot our first butterflies and see the most elaborate Buddhist spirit house of the many we’d see during our visit.

Spirit House at Amaranth Hotel

Our flight to Chiang Mai later that morning went smoothly and we soon checked into the marvelous Rachamankha Hotel located in a very quiet neighborhood within the old city walls just steps from the first of numerous Buddhist temples or wats we’d see and one of the most spectacular, Wat Phra Singh.

Wat Phra Singh

The next day after walking around the walled city neighborhood, we took a taxi to the Chiang Mai Zoo on the outskirts of town for an enjoyable afternoon of spotting a few more new butterflies and walking around the huge zoo that worked its way up forested foothills; passing by the lion exhibit on our way out, I happened to glance back at the exhibit and noticed this alpha male catching some sun.

Lion (Chiang Mai Zoo)

The tour, organized by Greentours UK, included the two of us, six folks from the UK, our incredibly knowledgeable guide, Paul Cardy, and our two drivers, Kampanat and Jo. For the next two weeks, we were off to look for butterflies, birds, and whatever else caught our eye as we drove in two comfortable vans to several national parks in northern Thailand, including Doi Suthep, and Doi Inthanon, a long driving day to Erawan and Sai Yok, further south to Kaeng Krachang for a couple of days and the last few days at Khao Sok.

Khao Sok Valley

Following are (probably too many) pictures of a few of the roughly 200 butterfly species we’d see along with some of the other amazing creatures from a most enjoyable trip.  One of the first butterflies to really get my attention was the Indian Purple Sapphire,

Indian Purple Sapphire (Heliophorus indicus)

soon to be followed by the Red Lacewing

Red Lacewing (Cethosia biblis)

and the White Dragontail.

White Dragontail (Lamproptera curius)

The hits would keep coming with such species as Common Earl,

Common Earl (Tanaecia julii odilina)

The Common Archduke,

Common Archduke (Lexias pardalis)

just a Common Evening Brown,

Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda)

The Knight,

The Knight (Lebadea martha martha)

and several of the Autumn Leaf, this one the freshest we’d see,

Autumn Leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide)

and the only one that gave us a peek at what was inside.

Autumn Leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide)

Much more to come, including the Fluffy Tit,

Fluffy Tit (Hypolycaena erylus)

one of which opened its wings to really show off,

Fluffy Tit (Hypolycaena erylus)

the Common Posy,

Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra)

and Club Silverline, well-spotted by Ian.

Club Silverline (Cigaritis syama)

A little later in the trip a few striking butterflies would appear and we’d find some locations with large numbers of butterflies swarming around puddles. A couple of these included the Common Bluebottle

Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon)

and the Red-spot Sawtooth (a mimic of the several species of Jezebel we’d see on the trip).

Red-spot Sawtooth (Prioneris philonome)

Butterflies were the main focus of our attention, but we spent a bit of time looking for birds as well, almost all of which were new for us (tho I’d seen many on a birding tour there in 2010), including several kinds of kingfisher,

Stork-billed Kingfisher

a Little Spiderhunter posing artistically on the heliconia,

Little Spiderhunter

the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater,

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

and Rebecca’s target bird for the last two years, Eurasian Hoopoe.

Eurasian Hoopoe

Everywhere we went, the local cats were incredibly friendly and would readily come over for a scratch. (They were also quite appreciative of the kitty treats Rebecca would bring along for the day.)

Friendly Kitty

In several places, we’d come across troops of monkeys working their way through the trees, crossing trails and roads on their way somewhere, or just sitting around grooming or digging for insects to eat. Overall, they seemed to realize we were there but paid little attention to us as they went about whatever they were doing. We’d come across some of the larger Stump-tailed Macaques, hear the singing (and almost catch a glimpse) of the White-handed Gibbons, but get our best photos of the Dusky Langur

Dusky Langur

and the Long-tailed (Crab-eating) Macaque.

Long-tailed Macaque

Lots of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) got our attention, which I suspect were one of our guide’s main interests, along with a variety of other insects and spiders. The tiniest spider I just happened to spot was this little one (no idea what species it might be),

Tiny Spider

and we were all amazed by this large colony of Cellar Spiders (Daddy Long-legs) covering the trunk of a tree.

Cellar Spider

Insects included several of the colorful Lantern Bug (almost 2″ long),

Lantern Bug

a cool Leafhopper,

Leafhopper

and a very cryptic Grasshopper.

Cryptic-looking Grasshopper

Most odd-looking was this moth spotted on an outdoor restroom wall.

Odd-looking Moth

A rather unusual toadstool got our attention one day.

Toadstool

We’d also come across a few frogs and toads,

Treefrog

all kinds of lizards including the large Tokay Gecko (way larger than the small House Geckos everywhere we stayed),

Tokay Gecko

and of course the rather huge Monitor Lizards.

Monitor Lizard

Only a couple of snakes. Didn’t get a picture of the cobra going after our guide one morning, but was amused by how quickly he was able to jump out of the way. More relaxing was this Painted Bronzeback that Rebecca happened to spot off to the side of the trail.

Painted Bronzeback Snake (Dendrelaphis pictus)

After four days at Khao Sok, we drove to Krabi for a quick flight to the Bangkok Airport where most of the group would fly home early the following day. Our flight wouldn’t depart until almost midnight that next day, so Rebecca and I had an interesting and fun day having a taxi drop us off near the Grand Palace in downtown Bangkok (about 30 minutes from the airport). An interesting boat tour of the canals followed by being rather unexpectedly dropped off in the middle of nowhere on the other side of the river. That turned out well, however, in our getting to visit the amazing Wat Arun – the Temple of Dawn, discovering we could ferry from there across the river for only 4 baht (12 cents), and walk by the Grand Palace where there was some kind of rehearsal (we think) going on of some royal event happening the next week. An excellent trip overall with a great group of people. If you’re interested in seeing more of the pictures from the trip, go check out my http://sandianet.com/thailand2019 webpage that’s still under development for a few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Quick Update

Once again it’s been a few weeks without much worth posting due to being busy with a few other projects around here, but the weather’s been pretty good and I’ve gotten out a few times so thought I’d share a couple photos from the last couple of weeks. Managed to get out awhile ago to scout out our planned route for the Sandia Mountain Christmas Bird Count that the Audubon Thursday Birders will participate in on December 26. Didn’t spot too many birds on only my second trip there, but did have a distant Cooper’s Hawk hiding in the burned over area and got another (one of way too many) picture of a Curve-billed Thrasher.

Curve-billed Thrasher

A few days later, a visit to the Rio Grande Nature Center did not turn up the Hooded Mergansers that everybody’s been talking about, but things were looking better at Tingley Ponds where I had this Northern Pintail,

Northern Pintail

a female Bufflehead,

Bufflehead (female)

and the (apparently) resident Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher

Two days later, good friend Leah led our Audubon Thursday Birders on a good trip at Rio Grande Nature Center (perfect weather and a surprising 37 species!), where I did finally get a quick look at those Hooded Mergansers.

Hooded Merganser

(that’s an out of focus female behind the three males and maybe a Lesser Scaup even further away?)

Definite on the Lesser Scaup motoring by while we did the checklist in the Visitor Center,

Lesser Scaup

but not sure if I ever got a good look at the much more uncommon Greater Scaup that people were seeing.

Quick trip to Bosque del Apache NWR a couple of days later and a little surprised at not seeing all that many birds, although the Snow Geese were in full form in the ponds just after you enter the refuge and Sandhill Cranes were showing up in good numbers all over.

Sandhill Crane

Most interesting as we were headed out of the refuge, was spotting this odd-looking hawk that we went back and forth trying to figure out. Looking at the pictures others had been posting on eBird recently, pretty sure we were looking at the rather rare for this area juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. Okay photo even if you can’t quite make out the rather distinctive banded tail that others made the call on.

Red-shouldered Hawk (juvenile)

Stay tuned. My next post in a few weeks should be interesting.

 

 

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Targets of Opportunity

Once again, a few weeks have flown by and we’ve now had our first taste of colder weather. The chamisa is in full bloom and the cottonwoods taking on their brilliant fall colors. Sandhill cranes, eagles, ducks, and other migrating birds have all started returning, while the butterflies have pretty much tailed off for the year. Busy around here lately with some major home improvements and getting caught by Apple’s latest IOS update, which is incompatible with much of the software I’ve been using for years. Pretty much over all that now, but realized I just haven’t been getting out all that often lately and haven’t taken many photographs while out and about. But there’s been a few I thought I’d share here, since most were rather unusual sightings and somewhat surprisingly showing up during a few trips targeting that particular species.

Chronologically, this first one wasn’t all that unusual to see, but the only picture I kept from Rebecca’s successful Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Bosque del Apache, a female Gambel’s Quail.

Gambel’s Quail

We’d seen some great birds on our scouting trip a week earlier (a couple of the photos in my previous blog posting), and were glad the group got to see the pair of Peregrine Falcons we’d seen then, along with a nice variety of other birds.

A week later on the Thursday Birder trip to the Corrales bosque, we’d also be successful in seeing plenty of good birds, including my first sighting of the season of Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

While scanning the trees lining the irrigation ditch, I’d noticed several kinglets making their way along the ditch, each stopping for a quick bath at the runoff from a beaver dam. Making my way down closer, I waited for a bit to try and catch one doing just that, but was only able to photograph one or two as they passed by in the trees close to the water. Later in the morning, we’d get a good look at a late season dragonfly, the fabulous Flame Skimmer.

Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)

About a week earlier, Rebecca and I were out checking out a potential location for a new Thursday Birder trip, the Mars Court Trailhead. We’d heard folks had been reporting Acorn Woodpecker around there recently and kept an eye out for it during that first visit. Rebecca met a couple of other friends there a few days later and they were got to see three of them on their walk. So, of course, Rebecca took me back to try to find them again a few days later. We got to the area where they’d seen them, but weren’t having any luck despite looking around patiently for some time. Crossed my mind to play their call on my iBird Plus phone app when I realized I had no idea what they might sound like, and playing it once was all it took to have first one and then another come zooming by to land on nearby snags. They’d sit there for a minute and then fly off to a more distant spot and eventually out of sight. Waiting around some more eventually we’d spot one or more flying off in the distance and then a single one that landed reasonably close. Don’t know for sure if this was a third one in addition to the pair we’d seen flying around, but it did seem to use different trees and we never saw a second one with it.

Acorn Woodpecker

Also cool to see that day were several Pygmy Nuthatches. I would never have thought to look except for Rebecca’s recognizing their call, and one let me get the best photograph I’ve ever gotten of one.

Pygmy Nuthatch

A few days later, I’d been out wandering all around Pueblo Montano Open Space without seeing many birds at all, although we’d done pretty well early in the month during the Thursday Birder trip. Heading back to my car without having taken any photos that day, I just happened to notice a Wilson’s Snipe sitting out in the open along the ditch behind the recently-installed steel fence. These guys are rarely so out in the open or let you get anywhere close before disappearing, but this one sat there patiently the entire time I stayed to watch.

Wilson’s Snipe

A target trip to Bosque del Apache NWR yesterday was also successful. We’d been down there a couple of times this month already but must have been too early for a cool-looking moth, the Nevada Buckmoth, we’d first seen there last year on October 20. On this latest trip, they were flying around everywhere we’d look but just like last year it took some effort to find one stationary…here’s the one we did manage to find sitting on the tall grass.

Nevada Buckmoth (Hemileuca nevadensis)

And being there just two weeks after our last visit, the ponds are starting to fill for the upcoming Festival of the Cranes, bringing in a good number of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese along with some of the other waterfowl, and we’d get good looks at a Golden Eagle flying over, and enjoyed watching several Northern Harriers cruising around including this one that was doing an excellent job of hovering in place close to the ground for awhile before dropping down quickly after spotting a potential snack, and then repeating the behavior.

Northern Harrier

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First Taste of Fall

Over the last few weeks, it’s become more clear every day that we’re well into my favorite season of the year. Autumn in New Mexico begins with new flashes of color starting with the golden chamisa and lavender asters, and then the trees start changing with first the aspen in the mountains and next the cottonwoods along the river. Migrating birds start appearing (while others start disappearing). The weather, of course, turns just about perfect typically sunny and clear with warm days and cooler nights.

Greater Roadrunner

Shortly after my last post, Rebecca and I made a return weekend trip to the area around Flagstaff and Sedona AZ, with hopes of finding a couple of late season butterflies. We had three species of Giant-Skipper in particular that we had targeted and spent a good amount of time looking around several spots we’d suspected they might be found. No luck at all on two of those butterflies, but we were thrilled and a bit surprised to get good looks at one, the Bauer’s Giant-Skipper, which we found in a travertine hollow at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

Bauer’s Giant-Skipper (Agathymus baueri)

Lifer for both of us (#472 for my US list), that alone made the trip a success! I’d also get my first photograph of a Tropical Least Skipper that Rebecca identified, and which I’d only see once before in 2012.

Tropical Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha arene)

Rebecca also realized that the Viceroy butterflies we were seeing in Cottonwood AZ were the southwestern version with quite a few more white spots than the one we normally see around town.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

While we really weren’t seeing many butterflies anywhere on that trip, we would stumble across some other interesting creatures, such as this male tarantula off on its annual migration,

Tarantula

the large caterpillar of a Carolina Sphinx Moth,

Carolina Sphinx Moth (Manduca sexta)

and up in the mountains above Jerome, this rather calm (and rather large) Black-tailed Rattlesnake.

Black-tailed Rattlesnake

Interesting sightings of several different odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), included a Serpent Ringtail,

Serpent Ringtail (Erpetogomphus lampropeltis natrix)

good numbers of American Rubyspot,

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)

mating Familiar Bluets,

Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile)

and one that we regularly see at home in late summer to fall, Variegated Meadowhawk.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Not too many pictures since returning from Arizona, partly due to my not getting out very often the last couple of weeks but also not seeing many birds or butterflies when I do and those I have seen usually haven’t presented good photo opportunities. That all changed last Friday when Rebecca and I drove down to Bosque del Apache NWR on a scouting trip for her Audubon Thursday Birder trip later this week where we got nice looks at some good birds, some of which we don’t see all that often and some that are passing through on migration. Fairly late in the year to be seeing them, we were able to drive up close to a Western Kingbird,

Western Kingbird

and later to a young Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk

A real surprise on the highway close to the refuge was seeing two Peregrine Falcons on the same power pole; it’s rather unusual to see one anywhere, let alone two. This is my best shot of one of them; photos of the pair didn’t turn out all that well.

Peregrine Falcon

Just past the entrance to the refuge, a Loggerhead Shrike posed for me,

Loggerhead Shrike

and later at the Boardwalk Pond, where we had a large flock of American White Pelicans, a Great Blue Heron was poking around the reeds.

Great Blue Heron

The next day, after helping with the Belen Marsh cleanup we stopped in at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area finding several large moths hanging out on the wall of the Visitor Center,

Rustic Sphinx Moth (Manduca rustica)

seeing a good number of buckeye butterflies working the flowers in the fields,

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

and getting to see a Verdin near its winter roosting nest after a friend of ours pointed it out to us.

Verdin

A couple of days later visiting Bear Canyon for a possible future Thursday Birder trip, we got nice looks at a Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and a fun Ruby-crowned Kinglet working a bush for insects and paying little attention to us or others going by.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

 

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