Most of May

Since wrapping up our Birdathon trip in early May, somehow the rest of the month pretty much just zoomed by, but it seems I still managed at least one decent photo most days. Thought I’d share some of them here to ‘clear the decks’ for June, which we expect to be busier than usual out searching for butterflies. For fun mostly, but in addition to our two usually weekly survey routes for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network (NMBMN) we’re signed up to support Steve Cary’s effort on establishing the distribution map for Python vs. Margarita Skipper.

This year, we seem to be seeing more poppies than usual after getting better precipitation over the winter and into spring. An introduced species I think but fun to see pop up in the foothills.

Poppy

It had been almost a month since my last visit to Three Gun Spring, but still a surprise to find the Fendlerbush in full bloom by May 10. Okay for butterflies, but not nearly as good as in previous years. Still fun to get a good photo of a Marine Blue,

Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

and to see three Great Purple Hairstreaks.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

That same morning, after driving up to Capulin Spring to verify it was still too cool to even think of starting our survey route there, a quick stop at Three Gun Spring showed it was also early for a large patch of wild iris (maybe by next week?) but did turn up a perched Southwestern Orangetip for the first time around here this year.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

The next day was our second NMBMN survey at Embudito. Interestingly, it turned up considerably fewer and different butterflies than our first (April 27) survey. No Orangetips or Sandia Hairstreaks, but more Sootywings including a couple we determined to be Mexican Sootywing.

Mexican Sootywing (Pholisora mejicanus)

Most surprising, however, was finding a Margarita Skipper with its wings open while perched on the granite. It’s the color of those spots on top that distinguish Margarita Skipper from the Python Skipper, and quite unusual to find them open like that. Also cool is that ours was the first reported for Steve Cary’s study.

Margarita Skipper (Atrytonopsis margarita)

The next day had us out checking the road out of Tajique to Fourth of July Campground and later the lower part of road to Capilla Peak out of Manzano, where we’ll be looking for more of those Margarita Skippers soon. At one of our favorite spots out of Tajique, it was quite a treat to come across three species of Roadside-Skipper: Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper,

Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari)

Bronze Roadside-Skipper,

Bronze Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes aenus)

and Dotted Roadside-Skipper.

Dotted Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes eos)

Later, we’d see our first Melissa Blue for the year,

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

as well as the Lupine Blue (photo below is one seen at Three Gun Spring a few days later).

Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)

Over the weekend, a friend had asked me to look in on a Great Horned Owl nest she’d been monitoring while she was out of town. A new nest for me, she was anxiously waiting for the little ones to leave the nest and move to nearby branches, her metric for a successful nesting season. Took me a minute to find the nest with one owlet perched on top of it with a second owlet still peering out.

Great Horned Owl – Rio Grande Bosque

Good news is that later that week both owlets successfully ‘branched’ and will shortly be off on their own.

More visits to Three Gun Spring on May 15 and 16 with the Fendlerbush still looking good and thistle coming into bloom. A highlight was getting a nice photo of a Scott’s Oriole; nowhere near as good as those others have been getting in Embudito recently, but first of the year for me.

Scott’s Oriole

It was also fun seeing a few Sandia Hairstreak caterpillars on their Texas beargrass host plant.

Sandia Hairstreak Caterpillars

The thistle so far haven’t been attracting many butterflies, but two of them include a Viereck’s Skipper

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

and a Two-tailed Swallowtail.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Another visit nearly a week later had a Pahaska Skipper on the thistle,

Pahaska Skipper (Hesperia pahaska)

and a gorgeous Juniper Hairstreak on the Apache Plume.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Off checking in on other Great Horned Owl nests later that week. I’d last looked in on the nest near Calabacillas Arroyo on May 2, surprised to see a little one looking out from the nest cavity. Returning on May 17 the nest had been completely abandoned, but a relief to spot the owlet (and one of the adults) hanging out a short distance away.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

I’d first heard about a nest at Albuquerque Academy on May 13 but wasn’t able to see much that day; returning on May 20, I got an okay look at one owlet (rumor has it there are two) with Mom parked right next to the nest (you can just make her out on the right side of the photo)…definitely have to return soon to check on recent developments.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

One morning it was off to Belen Marsh for a couple of good shorebirds. In addition to several Black-necked Stilts

Black-necked Stilt

and Long-billed Dowitchers,

Long-billed Dowitcher

it was also possible to get reasonably close to a Stilt Sandpiper.

Stilt Sandpiper

Another day had me taking a look at the Crick Avenue Greenbelt; while I wouldn’t see many of the birds or butterflies I’d heard about there, I did get a nice close-up of a Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

and a photo of what I understand is a Dianthus.

Dianthus sp.

Quick trip to Embudito yesterday gave me a nice look at a Checkered White

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

and several first of the season Canyonland Satyrs.

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)
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Birdathon and More

Since my last posting on April 13, several outings have turned up some new butterflies for the year and I’ve seen a couple more Great Horned Owl nests with this year’s new little ones along with some newly arrived birds. After some of those bird and butterfly pictures, I’ll wrap things up with a summary of our excellent Birdathon held May 4-5 in the vicinity of Truth or Consequences.

First, the owls. As mentioned in my last posting, this year has been unusual for me in not finding many active nests. Probably partly from not looking hard enough, it’s been fun to finally find a few. At the end of another unsuccessful hunt, a visit to the nest near the Open Space Visitor Center resulted in my seeing my first new owlet for the year.

Great Horned Owl

A few days later had me back at Willow Creek Open Space where there had been reports of a nesting owl since mid-February, but I’d yet to find. After working the whole trail loop, however, this time one of the folks I asked gave me excellent directions and I easily spotted the nest in a different location than in past years. Interestingly, I seem to be one of the few to see two owlets in that nest and might submit the photo to eBird.

Great Horned Owl

One of my favorite spots has long been the owls nesting near Calabacillas Arroyo, but despite several visits this spring hadn’t found a nest. I’d seen one of the adults in early February, but not again until April 21, probably the male in one of his usual spots. Just happening to check eBird, it seems a friend had reported an owl nesting there on April 18, and he was quite helpful in giving me directions. And sure enough, the next day (April 22) the male was still in his spot while this is my first view of the nesting female.

Great Horned Owl

No wonder I didn’t spot her earlier, and it’s still unbelievable how she managed to nest in that position.

Returning two weeks later, she was a little easier to see but surprising to see her completely out of the nest.

Great Horned Owl

Even more surprising was spotting a little one peeking out when I turned around and looked back on my return to the car!

Great Horned Owl

A couple of other bird photos from the last few weeks include an Osprey carrying a stick to last year’s nest site. The photo is from April 22, but I haven’t seen anybody there since so they may not nest there this year.

Osprey

Another day in Embudito, while I’d miss the Scott’s Orioles folks had been reporting, gave me a nice look at a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

and a few days later, a Bushtit.

Bushtit

Butterflies have been pretty good lately, too, with warmer weather, good winter moisture, and nectar sources coming into bloom. A few recent ones from Embudito include Spring White,

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

the rather common Gray Hairstreak, one of whom posed nicely for me,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and a first of the season Common Sootywing (I think…the very similar Mexican Sootywing is also seen here but hard to identify unless one has a good ventral view).

Common Sootywing (Philosora catullus)

We’re just getting started on our surveys for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network, and it was fun meeting other volunteers at Bosque del Apache NWR on April 29. Not many butterflies on our walk that day, but fun to see a few species including a Viceroy.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Also cool to see that day was a Roundtail Horned Lizard.

Roundtail Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)

After lunch with the group, we headed to The Box outside of Socorro NM, where we’d see a couple other lizards (Greater Earless and Crevice Spiny) and a few butterfly species including Saltbush Sootywing (one of which we’d seen at Bosque del Apache earlier that day).

Saltbush Sootywing (Hesperopsis alpheus)

The next day was considerably more productive for butterflies on our first visit to Capilla Peak Road this year. Among the species we’d see were two different duskywings that are proving difficult to identify, the first of the year Juniper Hairstreak, Short-tailed Skipper, and Echo Azure, and Northern Cloudywing

Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)

and Satyr Comma.

Satyr Comma (Polygonia satyrus)

Meeting up with our friends Leah and Joe at the Sierra Grande Lodge in Truth or Consequences the night before, we kicked off our 24-hour Birdathon at 8:05 am on May 4. The Birdathon is sponsored by the Central New Mexico Audubon Society as their major fundraising activity for the year. For the last three years (Leah and Joe joining us for the last two), we count the bird species observed at a number of locations in the area over that time period, and which forms the basis for fundraising contributions.

This year, we worked five locations the first day and two more locations starting early the next day to reach a respectable total of 81 species (four more than in 2022). If you’re interested, the eBird trip report of our effort is available at https://ebird.org/tripreport/124956. As usual, we had several new species but also missed a few expected species. A major highlight was the Red-headed Woodpecker seen at our first location, Animas Creek Road.

Red-headed Woodpecker

The only eBird reports for this species in the vicinity are from 1996 and 2008, and ours is the first to include a photograph. Animas Creek would turn out to be our most productive location, getting us off to a good start with 43 species. Three other photos from that location include Acorn Woodpecker (one of six seen),

Acorn Woodpecker

a somewhat unexpected Pyrrhuloxia,

Pyrrhuloxia

and a species I have way too many photos of, but couldn’t pass up since it was so close perched on a fencepost, Curve-billed Thrasher.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Our next two locations, Percha Dam State Park and the Riverside Recreation Area of Caballo Lake State Park, added a few more species including Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

and Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

Next it was off to Mims Lake and then Marina del Sur. While we’d add even more species to our list at both locations, at the latter we were treated to an extremely close view of Clark’s Grebe,

Clark’s Grebe

and a more distant view of Western Grebe. (The following photo was taken at the Dam Marina during a scouting visit the day before the Birdathon.)

Western Grebe

Early (6:15 am) the next morning, we took a short look at Ralph Edwards Park (and a Rio Grande overlook) before heading to our final location, Paseo del Rio. With a little over an hour remaining for our Birdathon, Paseo del Rio added five new species to our list. We’d had one or two Phainopepla at two other locations, but an incredible fifteen at this location. Here are two photos from that morning, first a Summer Tanager,

Summer Tanager

and then one of a Western Kingbird perched right above me in the early morning sun.

Western Kingbird
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Finally Spring

Although Spring officially started the day of my last post, with very few exceptions it wasn’t until this week that it seems to have finally arrived. For most of that time, it’s been rather cold and often cloudy, windy, rainy, or a mix of all three. Not surprisingly, that’s had me hanging around the house a lot rather than being out and about looking for birds and butterflies, and there won’t be many photographs in this post.

That all changed over the weekend with it finally warming up under mostly sunny skies. We’ll still likely have some windy days, typical of Spring in New Mexico, but it should be interesting getting outside more often. It’s also looking quite good for butterflies this year with water flowing in the mountains and nectar sources coming into bloom.

Most unusual for me is not having much luck finding nesting Great Horned Owls this year. I’ve seen a couple of owls out there, but so far only one active nest, while some years there have been almost a dozen. Probably because I haven’t been looking too often, but I haven’t seen any in some usual spots or seen reports of any others. I’ve heard about one at Willow Creek Open Space that eluded me on a recent visit. Here’s the one I did find near the Open Space Visitor Center.

Great Horned Owl

That same day, I had an up close and personal look at a male Hairy Woodpecker who didn’t seem to mind my photographing him from an unusually close distance.

Hairy Woodpecker

My only other bird picture this time is of a Cactus Wren, equally comfortable in my presence. I’d been hoping to get it in flight, but it just ignored me as I slowly moved closer. Eventually, I gave up and walked away.

Cactus Wren

Butterflies have been getting off to a good start on those occasional days when conditions are suitable. We’ve been seeing good numbers of Sandia Hairstreaks, with a few already showing up away from their typical Texas Beargrass. Too many pictures of them by now, but here’s one of my better ones taken yesterday at Three Gun.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Three Gun’s been good for Southwestern Orangetip recently, too. I’ve been seeing a few at Embudito as well, but they rarely land long enough to photograph; this one’s from Three Gun on April 8.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

That day would also turn up a Spring White; not the best photo but cool to see this early in the season.

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

Another terrible photo taken there yesterday was of one we’d been hoping to see about now, a Yucca Giant-Skipper. Unfortunately, this one wouldn’t let me get anywhere close and flew off as I started toward it; definitely worth a repeat visit soon.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

It was therefore satisfying shortly later to spot and photograph this Sleepy Duskwing, a first of the season for me.

Sleepy Duskywing (Erynnis brizo)

In my usual ‘local patch’, Embudito, in addition to seeing Sandia Hairstreaks and having Southwestern Orangetips fly by, there have been good numbers of Common Checkered-Skippers and quite a few Painted Ladies, and now and then I’ll see a single individual of several other species such as a Dainty or Clouded Sulphur or one that gets away before I can identify it. One that surprised me so early in the season was this Mylitta Crescent.

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

Another day, there were even a couple of early Two-tailed Swallowtails flying by. Quite common when it’s warm enough is the overwintering Mourning Cloaks, some looking quite fresh,

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

and occasionally another overwintering species, the Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

The photo above is of one at Embudito on April 1; here’s another one from yesterday at Cienega Canyon (which was surprisingly open more than a month earlier than usual).

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

With the weather turning better, the next few weeks should be good for getting out and about looking for some more fun and new birds and butterflies.

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Another Nepali Adventure

For years now, I’ve tried to spot the earliest emergence of Sandia Hairstreaks on the Texas Beargrass (Nolina texana) in my ‘local patch’, Embudito Canyon. Once I had one at the end of February, for several years they appeared by March 3, and I’ve long suggested to visiting friends an almost guaranteed sighting by St. Patrick’s Day. This year, our Nepali friends, Sajan and Anisha, came to visit during their Spring Break from ENMU with hopes of seeing one (something they’d been planning since we first met them last August). So that had me out taking a look pretty much every day since late February whenever the weather cooperated (warm enough and sunny enough). Becoming a bit discouraged by the generally uncooperative weather and our friend’s anticipated arrival the next day, it was quite a relief to finally spot one on March 9.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Alan, a friend we’d met at the National Butterfly Center in January was also interested in seeing a Sandia Hairstreak. He just happened to be in Las Cruces and had emailed me on March 8 about his chances if he were to visit in the next few days. After telling him it seemed unlikely, I let him know I’d now seen one. While I couldn’t promise one on March 10, he decided to make the 8 hour round-trip drive from Las Cruces anyway. We met at Embudito that morning and easily got him several individuals – yay!

Meanwhile, Sajan & Anisha decided to leave Portales earlier that same day hoping to also see their first Sandia Hairstreak. They’d made it to Rebecca’s house a little later than expected, but then met me at Embudito about 2 pm. They, too, were successful, with Anisha finding the first one and then the rest of us getting good looks at several more. Somehow, Sajan even talked one into climbing onto his finger!

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Super glad everybody got theirs that day…weather’s been a bit questionable ever since with it even snowing on my ‘guarantee’ St. Patrick’s Day.

With little hope of seeing any other butterfly species around here this early in the season, we’d planned a four-day trip to several other locations further south in New Mexico and southeast Arizona to hopefully find at least a few early season butterflies. The first day it was off to Las Cruces to Fillmore Canyon and Soledad Canyon where we’ve had good butterflies in the past. Not too many butterflies at the first spot under fairly breezy and partly cloudy conditions, but several good sightings including a Desert Marble,

Desert Marble (Echloe lotta)

a most cooperative Desert Orangetip,

Desert Orangetip (Anthocharis cethura)

and a Southwestern Orangetip (which should emerge here any day now).

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

Our next stop at Soledad Canyon was a bust with overcast skies and quite windy conditions, so we made our way east to Deming for the night. Our original plan was to take a look around Rockhound State Park and/or Spring Canyon early the next morning before driving into Arizona basically to get close to Patagonia where we’d spend the third day of the trip in search of butterflies. Instead, having seen recent reports from the Tucson area, we drove there directly and spent time at one spot in Sabino Canyon, Molino Canyon Vista, and Gordon Hirabayashi Campground. We’d get good looks at a fair number of butterflies that day, missed a few that we’d been hoping to see, but had a fun day in quite different habitats than we have here. One photo from the Sabino spot is this Empress Leilia.

Empress Leilia (Asterocampa leilia)

We started the next morning at Sentinel Peak, where Sajan had heard from a friend about butterflies seen there just the day before including our hoped-for Arizona Powdered-Skipper. Very different habitat from what we’re used to, the hillside was covered with saguaro cactus and lots of wildflowers including large amounts of a mustard, Gordon’s Bladderpod,

Gordon’s Bladderpod

and a delightful wild hyacinth, Blue Dicks.

Blue Dicks – Wild Hyacinth

We’d spot an occasional butterfly, but were not seeing much until later in the morning when things did pick up a little. Although quiet for butterflies, several Verdin were flitting about the area for some good photo opps of a bird that’s usually a little difficult to see near home.

Verdin

It was fun being the first to spot our Arizona Powdered-Skipper, which we were able to re-find after it flew a short distance away from where it was first seen.

Arizona Powdered-Skipper (Systasea zampa)

The photo above, however, was taken at a spot we stumbled upon later that day. When we decided to leave Sentinel Peak, we were headed for Sonoita AZ, where we had reservations for the night at the excellent Sonoita Inn, before heading home to Albuquerque the next day. For some reason, Google Maps sent us down I-19 instead of the expected I-10, and we realized we could check a few other spots along the way that we had considered earlier. After a quick stop in Madera Canyon, we backtracked a short distance to unpaved Hwy 62 heading for Hwy 83 south to Sonoita. Stopping at a bridge over a stream Rebecca had read about, almost immediately we started seeing a surprising variety of butterflies, including that Arizona Powdered-Skipper, Desert Checkered-Skipper, Fatal Metalmark, Gray Buckeye, and even a Golden-headed Scallopwing.

Golden-headed Scallopwing (Staphylus ceos)

Onward to Sonoita to check in at the Sonoita Inn, and then rather late in the afternoon drove to nearby Patagonia, AZ and on to the ‘Patagonia Picnic Table/Rest Stop’ famous to birders. To our considerable surprise and earlier than expected for Arizona, we would come across two Zela Metalmarks there.

Zela Metalmark (Apodemia zela)

The next day was mostly about the 6.5 hour drive back to Albuquerque, but we decided to break it up about halfway home by taking a look at Rockhound State Park , and the place we’d talked about earlier in the trip. It was fun to see we’d timed the trip to catch good numbers of the blooming Mexican poppies (that had astonished us once before at Spring Canyon in late March 2012).

Poppy at Rockhound State Park

We’d see a few butterflies there, but nothing too exciting. One I thought a little surprising since we usually don’t see them until later in the season at home was a Juniper Hairstreak.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Smooth trip home but no chance for any more butterflies around here for the rest of Sajan & Anisha’s visit.

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Milestone

Not too many pictures to post this time, but wanted to highlight that today marks 12 years since I first started this blog way back on March 5, 2011. Here we are 363 posts later, and it’s still fun getting out taking some photographs and sharing them with anyone who’s interested in taking a look.

A bit chilly around here lately and I’m more than ready for some warmer weather and seeing butterflies again. On top of the cold, there’s been a few bursts of snow (like this one on February 8),

Early February Snow

but as usual, it tends to mostly evaporate away later in the day.

It’s also been an odd month since I haven’t found any nesting owls yet. They’ve usually paired up by now with the female reliably sitting on her nest whenever I stop by. Probably haven’t been working on it as much as most years, but still surprised not to have had any luck at all. I probably shouldn’t be too surprised, but also find it a little odd not seeing any Sandia Hairstreaks yet. I’d gotten to start expecting them by very early March (and one year at the end of February), but have long held that they’ll be seen for sure by St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). Stay tuned.

Two days after that snowfall, the American Dipper that I’d first seen at the end of December was still working the irrigation ditch near MontaƱo and posed for some better photos.

American Dipper

A week after that, we took another trip to Bosque del Apache NWR for more winter birds and take a few photos. At the feeding station by the Visitor Center, despite two Red-tailed Hawks sitting in the large cottonwood tree,

Red-tailed Hawk

lots of Gambel’s Quail showed up for lunch.

Gambel’s Quail

It was quite a day for the Gambel’s Quail and we’d see an unusually large number of them in that area.

Later in the morning, a few Northern Shovelers who’d been napping on the edge of a pond decided to paddle off in formation.

Northern Shoveler

The Long-billed Dowitchers were still present at the Boardwalk Pond and let us approach even closer than on our earlier visits. I particularly liked this picture from a little farther away, but showing those concentric water ripples.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Another one was almost accidental, but I’d been wanting to try my latest camera on a ‘birds in flight’ shot for awhile now, and managed this one just as a few flew in to join the others.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Toward the end of our drive around the refuge, a most cooperative Northern Harrier gave me a few other chances for some similar flight photos.

Northern Harrier

One day last week, I’d been out wandering the bosque near the Rio Grande Nature Center, mostly looking for nesting owls but instead seeing a ridiculous number (almost a dozen) of porcupines. On my return walk along the bike path by the irrigation ditch, I’d occasionally scan the edges for Wilson’s Snipe which can sometimes be found somewhere along the ditch around this time of year. Took awhile, but I finally spotted one on the far side of the ditch.

Wilson’s Snipe

Noting a tumbleweed stuck in the ditch nearby, it crossed my mind to walk the 50 yards or so to the bridge to cross over the ditch and then back to the tumbleweed to try for a closer photo from just above the bird. It was rather amazing to see how well it could hide tucked in close to the dry grass, and it took me several attempts to finally pick him out from the background.

Wilson’s Snipe

One last photo for this post, this time from Willow Creek Open Space (another unsuccessful search for a nesting owl reported on eBird recently). This young Cooper’s Hawk was calling loudly, flying around (at one point almost right at me) before taking up this perch to keep sounding off.

Cooper’s Hawk
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A Few Good Birds

Wanted to share some of the photos of birds taken in New Mexico since the first of the year in this blog post. I haven’t gotten out much, first being off to Texas for a week, sometimes due to weather and not seeing much, but also busy trying to manage digital image files that have accumulated over more than a decade. Like most folks, I end up discarding lots of images soon after returning home, but especially for birds and butterflies, have been slow to narrow things down to a small number of the better images of individual species. From foreign trips, it seems I often saved a large number of images although I’d only use a fraction for my website’s travel page. And since most were saved as both RAW and JPG files, storage takes up quite a bit of space (close to 1 Tb of unused files, I’m thinking). This is becoming quite time-consuming, but seems a worthwhile task.

On January 22, however, I joined Rebecca for a trip down to Bosque del Apache NWR, where we took her new birding friend, Sean, and his grandmother to hopefully find him some new birds. Sean’s 11 years old and got quite interested in birding last year. He’s totally into reading all he can, asking questions, learning bird calls, and busy working on his lifelist despite being a bit limited in being able to do much birding. On the day of our trip, his lifelist was at 109 species….with more than 40 species that day, he’d get to add 11 more lifers, most of which we got better looks at than I’ve ever had. We’d get a Ferruginous Hawk on the way into the Bosque, and next at theVisitor Center get great looks at both a male and female Pyrrhuloxia. Here’s the female,

Female Pyrrhuloxia

and a little later, the male.

Male Pyrrhuloxia

Another nice sighting was a number of Green-winged Teal.

Green-winged Teal

Later, at the Boardwalk pond, Sean would instantly spot and identify a Marsh Wren (a bird I’ve rarely seen out in the open).

Marsh Wren

On the pond itself, we’d add both a Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

and Long-billed Dowitcher.

Long-billed Dowitcher

The picture of the Long-billed Dowitcher above was actually taken a week later when Rebecca and I returned on another visit (see below). On the later trip, we got astonishing views of a Virginia Rail from the boardwalk.

Virginia Rail

Almost certainly a lifer for me, and not a species one ever sees close and out in the open. (Sorry, Sean, maybe someday you’ll see one.)

Sean would also get to add Verdin to his lifelist after we were surprised to see one while eating lunch at the Eagle Scout deck. American Kestrel, Song Sparrow, Phainopepla, and Tundra Swan were others he’d add.

Verdin

Early Saturday morning, Rebecca and I met at Isleta Lakes hoping to see some of the Bald Eagle show that takes place there every year. We’d see a couple of eagles and some other good waterfowl, but thought we might have better luck earlier in the morning the next day before heading on to Bosque del Apache. My best photo the first day is of this guy.

Bald Eagle

Later, I stopped by Tingley Ponds and the Rio Grande Nature Center before catching up with Rebecca for lunch at her house. At Tingley, I’d have fun photographing some of the Wood Ducks, the male in the front couple here putting on quite a display trying to get the female’s attention.

Wood Duck

Next at the Rio Grande Nature Center, the Brown Thrasher that had teased me back on Christmas Eve was busy popping out of the brush to get a quick snack from the feeder before again disappearing. This time I managed at least one good shot of it.

Brown Thrasher

Sunday morning, it was off to Isleta Lakes and then the Bosque. We had better luck at Isleta getting there before the sun came over the mountains, but still not as good as we’d hoped. Here’s my best shot of one of the immature Bald Eagles that morning.

Bald Eagle

Also really like the lighting on this shot of a female Common Merganser.

Common Merganser (f)

Toward the end of last week, I managed to get out a couple of times to look around for a few birds. Having heard owls were again being seen near Calabacillas Arroyo had me taking a look. (This is the time of year Great Horned Owls will be choosing nesting sites and start nesting, so I’ll be paying attention.) Got lucky and easily spotted one there, but quickly left to hopefully minimize any disturbance by my presence.

Great Horned Owl

Next, I wandered along the ditch at Alameda Open Space hoping to spot the Wilson’s Snipe I’d seen there in mid-December. No luck on the snipe, but I was totally surprised by how well my photo of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet turned out.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Finally, on a walk at Pueblo Montano it was fun to watch this Northern Flicker repeatedly dipping its beak in the ditch for a sip of water,

Northern Flicker

and soon after finding some American Wigeon paddling along.

American Wigeon

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Quick Trip to Texas

Haven’t had the opportunity for many photos since my last post (until last Sunday…will save those for my next post). But wanted to share a few of those from a quick trip to the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) in Texas early this month. A few months ago, realizing our Nepali friends wouldn’t be seeing any butterflies for awhile in Portales NM and that ENMU (where they’re in grad school) would be on winter break, we’d suggested taking them to the LRGV for a few days in early January where they’d definitely get to see a few new butterflies. They’d picked up on our idea and decided to vacate their apartment, fly to McAllen TX, find an affordable AirBnB, and spend the entire month of December mostly at the National Butterfly Center. We’d then meet them on January 6 for a few more days before giving them a ride back to Portales and a new apartment in time for the next semester.

Their trip worked out incredibly well for them, getting to be quite popular with everyone at the National Butterfly Center, making connections with many other butterfliers, some of whom would take them to some of the other butterfly sites in the area, and having great fun looking for butterflies. While there, they’d see (and photograph) an excellent number of butterfly species, including 84 ‘lifers’, and getting the first record of a live Mexican M hairstreak seen in the U.S.

After we caught up with them at the National Butterfly Center, we spent the rest of the afternoon there seeing a few butterflies for ourselves, before heading over to the Alamo Inn B&B where we’ve stayed on all of our previous LRGV trips, and spend the next four days checking out a few other spots in the area. Those included Santa Ana NWR, Hidalgo Pumphouse, Oleander Acres RV Park, Frontera Audubon, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Resaca de la Palma State Park, Loma Alta, Boca Chica, and South Padre Island, along with several more visits to the National Butterfly Center. We’d get to see two of our own lifers on the trip, the Blue-eyed Sailor that Rebecca spotted at Santa Ana NWR,

Blue-eyed Sailor

and the Mexican Silverspot. Anisha & Sajan had seen it earlier, and my first one was at Oleander Acres that Rebecca also saw. We’d all later see it at the National Butterfly Center.

Mexican Silverspot

A couple of the other butterflies we’d see were large numbers of the Queen butterfly, including this mating pair,

Mating Queen Butterflies

and a Great Purple Hairstreak (the butterfly that got me hooked when Rebecca pointed one out to me in Hondo Canyon in 2011).

Great Purple Hairstreak

We occasionally see the next few butterflies in New Mexico, but they’re always fun to photograph, including the Gulf Fritillary,

Gulf Fritillary

Black Swallowtail,

Black Swallowtail

Elada Checkerspot,

Elada Checkerspot

and Vesta Crescent.

Vesta Crescent

Some other good ones we see in the LRGV, but not in New Mexico include the Brown Longtail,

Brown Longtail

Mexican Bluewing (several were seen but I wasn’t able to get a great photo),

Mexican Bluewing

Curve-winged Metalmark (one of three metalmark species we’d see that week),

Curve-winged Metalmark

Giant Swallowtail,

Giant Swallowtail

and Dusky-blue Groundstreak.

Dusky-blue Groundstreak

In addition to the butterflies we were always looking for, were some pretty good birds that we rarely (or never) see at home. At the Alamo Inn B&B, we’d have some very cooperative Inca Doves (a species we have seen in New Mexico).

Inca Dove

Some others, all of which we saw at the National Butterfly Center, include the Chachalaca,

Chachalaca

Green Jay,

Green Jay

Golden-fronted Woodpecker,

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Long-billed Thrasher,

Long-billed Thrasher

and Great Kiskadee.

Great Kiskadee

We’d also get nice looks at two different Eastern Screech-owls, one in a nest box and the other in a tree cavity.

Eastern Screech-Owl

(After looking at the latest New Mexico Bird Checklist issued by the New Mexico Ornithological Society, all of the birds above other than the Chachalaca have been recorded in New Mexico at least once, but can’t say as I’ve ever seen any of them in New Mexico.)

Long drive home, broken up by a delightful overnight stay with Rebecca’s niece and brother-in-law, dropping off Sajan and Anisha at their new apartment in Portales the next day, and back to Albuquerque by late afternoon. Definitely a fun trip for us and I think a wonderful experience for our friends.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs, Travel | 6 Comments

Year-end Post

Less than a week to go to 2023, and things are looking good for the new year. To wrap up 2022, here are some of my photos taken since about Thanksgiving, and while it’s possible I might get a few more before 2023 arrives it seems like a good time for a new posting.

The day before Thanksgiving, I finally got a couple photos of the American Bittern that was seem at Rio Grande Nature Center from 11/19 to 11/26. Unfortunately, due to the lighting and such the photos aren’t that great although it was fun to see it. Also on the pond that morning were some baby Canada Geese getting their first experience walking on the ice; seemed most unusual to have little ones so late in the year.

Canada Goose

Not many birds seen on my next few outings, but one that made a regular appearance was the Great Blue Heron including this one from the boat ramp at the Alameda Bridge,

Great Blue Heron

and another one high in a cottonwood a few days later in the Tingley bosque.

Great Blue Heron

The ponds in the Tingley bosque also turned up my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet for the season,

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

and gave me a nice look at a female Hooded Merganser.

Female Hooded Merganser

While scouting the Piedras Marcadas unit of the Petroglyph National Monument, part of our route for the upcoming Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count, a coyote was keeping a close eye on our activity.

Coyote

I’ve made several trips to Alameda Open Space this month after hearing of a variety of interesting bird sightings there recently. Totally missed out on the Northern Parula and Magnolia Warbler, but did get a look at the Rusty Blackbird and on one occasion saw a Wilson’s Snipe out in the open but pretending to be invisible by tucking that long bill away.

Wilson’s Snipe

Got a nice shot that same morning of a nearby Eastern Bluebird.

Eastern Bluebird

Rather chilly out on our first Christmas Bird Count this year for the Bosque del Apache NWR on December 17, but we’d end up with a decent list despite having to deal with tire pressure issues all day (fortunately we’d make it back to Albuquerque okay before needing to have the tire replaced a few days later).

A few of the goodies we’d see were a Phainopepla,

Phainopepla

a Red-naped Sapsucker we’d originally decided was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, [NOTE: Since the original posting, it has now been determined that this was indeed a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and the caption updated.]

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

several Ladder-backed Woodpeckers,

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and Mountain Bluebird, some of which were kiting (hovering in place) over a field.

Mountain Bluebird

The next day was the Albuquerque CBC, where we explore a number of locations on the West Mesa. Chilly again and mostly cloudy that day, so we wouldn’t see too many birds, but were happy to get a Rock Wren, Crissal Thrasher, and a couple of Sagebrush Sparrows for our list.

Almost a week later on Christmas Eve morning, we decided to try for the American Dipper that had been seen on the east side of the Rio Grande just south of Montano. I’d tried earlier in the week without success but figured it was worth a shot. After almost giving up for the second time, there it was hiding behind a Russian olive tree along the ditch.

American Dipper

We’d see it for a short time before it would disappear behind the branches only to reappear nearby after a minute or so. Not nearly as good a photo as other folks have been getting, but it made my day. We then thought we’d hit the Nature Center again, where I’d seen the Tundra Swan earlier that week (parked on the ice and tucked into a ball – not the best pose for a photo), and wondering if we’d see the unusual White-throated Sparrow or the Brown Thrasher others had been reporting. White-throated Sparrow was too easy, regularly popping in and out to hit the feeder.

White-throated Sparrow

No Tundra Swan that day, but while we were looking around for other birds our friend, Lefty, called that they were seeing the Brown Thrasher from the observation room inside the Nature Center. We joined the crowd there but only got the most fleeting views of the thrasher every now and then. Finally managed to get a shot of it although it’s still pretty well hidden.

Brown Thrasher

Our final CBC for the year was yesterday’s Sandia Mountains CBC, where this year we were assigned Embudito Canyon. Despite spending quite a bit of time on the count and good weather conditions after a chilly start, there were a few expected species that we wouldn’t see such as Cactus Wren or Rock Wren. But it was a treat to see and photograph a single Rufous-crowned Sparrow (my only photo that day).

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Can’t wait to see what 2023 will bring. Happy New Year, y’all!

Posted in Birding, Critters, Photographs | 2 Comments

A Few Recent Photos

Not too much to talk about in this post, but wanted to get some of my latest photos out there taken since early November. It’s been pretty chilly around here lately, and while I have been getting out fairly regularly there haven’t been all that many worthwhile photo opportunities. So here goes with what I’ve come up with over the last few weeks.

After mentioning in my last post we seemed about done with butterflies for the year, I had a surprising number of species on a warmer day in Embudito on November 6. Some of the chamisa had come into bloom a bit late and attracted considerably more butterflies than expected, including a Checkered White,

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

a close look at an Orange Sulphur,

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

and a mating pair of Reakirt’s Blue.

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

My most exciting find of the month came the next day at Los Poblanos Open Space. After about a dozen attempts, once again I came to visit in search of the elusive Ring-necked Pheasants that had been reported on eBird since mid-September. As usual, I looked carefully around the community garden area before walking a bigger loop around the open fields without having any luck seeing the bird. On the way toward my car, I decided just for the heck of it to take another look around the garden. In the trees quite close to the tool shed, I’d almost dismissed a bird seen in the shadows as one of the Greater Roadrunners (here’s one all fluffed up in the cold from two days ago)

Greater Roadrunner

that are always hanging out around there. But the color of this bird, while about the same size as a roadrunner, was oddly more brown….indeed, a female Ring-necked Pheasant and only a few feet away. Hidden too well in the brush, there was no way to get a photo and just as I thought to move along, even closer was the male looking right at me.

Ring-necked Pheasant

How I hadn’t noticed him at all earlier was incredible, almost as much as their not instantly flying off and disappearing. We stayed that way for maybe two minutes with my moving slowly to get a little better view and a few photos before backing away to let them get back to their business.

A little over a week ago, Rebecca and I were down at Bosque del Apache NWR to see some of the new arrivals. Still zooming down I-25 almost to the refuge, Rebecca hit the brakes, pulled off the highway, and backed up to get a better look at a bird that caught her attention by the side of the road. Turned out to be a Golden Eagle, not often seen let alone on the ground, with two more circling around above it.

Golden Eagle

We’d see a nice variety of birds that day, although often at quite a distance and perhaps fewer than I’d hoped for. It was a treat while eating lunch on the Eagle Scout Deck to have an Osprey on a nearby snag, occasionally visited by a Black Phoebe.

Osprey (w/Black Phoebe)

At several locations, families of Javelina were seen including this little one following its mother across the road right in front of us.

Javelina

Close to the Flight Deck toward the end of our tour we came across several White-faced Ibis, at much closer range than I’d ever seen them before.

White-faced Ibis

A final surprise just a few minutes later was Rebecca spotting a Wilson’s Snipe right by the side of the road. We’d been looking for them that day after reading reports of recent sightings, but still amazing she was able to pick it out in the dried grass. Took me forever to spot it and every time I’d look away, I’d have to search again even though it was only a few feet away and hadn’t moved a bit.

Wilson’s Snipe

Since that productive trip, I’ve had very few bird sightings and even fewer chances for photographs. They’re surely out there, but maybe they’re tucked away somewhere out of the unusually cold days of the past week. On Wednesday, I did get a reasonably close look at a Ladder-backed Woodpecker in Embudito,

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and it was a treat yesterday to finally see Sagebrush Sparrow after a group of six of us had worked two locations (one just east of the Northern Geologic Window and one just west) pretty diligently over most of the morning.

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

October Wrapup

Since my last posting just after the Balloon Fiesta, things have been a little slow around here photo-wise. Butterflies have definitely been few and far between lately as the season winds down and the weather has cooled off. That’s had me looking around more for birds and realizing again how different that is from looking down and around for those much smaller butterflies. Apparently, it will take a bit more practice since lately I haven’t had much luck seeing many birds anywhere and not many decent photo opportunities. I managed to get a look at the American Bittern seen recently at the Rio Grande Nature Center, but haven’t seen it again after multiple visits. Quite a few visits to Los Poblanos Open Space looking for the Ring-necked Pheasant pair that everyone else has been seeing, and not too surprised on missing the Osprey, Bald Eagle (!), and Belted Kingfisher others had at Tingley. So there’s not too many photos this time, but here’s a few I thought might be interesting.

Made it up to the Sandias one day to catch a little of the aspens turning, but nothing like I’ve seen from Santa Fe from October for what must have been an excellent showing. Best I got is a closeup of some aspen leaves.

Aspen Leaves

Closing in on the end of October, the cottonwoods along the Rio Grande have been going off showing some good Fall color. Here’s one from the North Diversion Channel looking toward the Sandias,

Cottonwoods and Sandias

and another from Willow Creek Open Space.

Willow Creek Cottonwoods

A morning walk along the Corrales Drain turned up a number of grasshoppers in the grasses,

Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis)

and a Black-capped Chickadee munching on sunflower seeds.

Black-capped Chickadee

On some of those visits to Los Poblanos in search of the elusive pheasants, I would manage to see a few other birds including quite a few Greater Roadrunner,

Greater Roadrunner

Lesser Goldfinch going for those sunflower seeds,

Lesser Goldfinch

and several of the newly-arrived Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Crane

A morning at Embudito Canyon on October 21 yielded the one butterfly photo for October (although I have seen very small numbers of a few species occasionally since),

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

and likely my last hummingbird photo for the year.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

The last few days I’ve managed to get at least one good photo on a generally daily outing somewhere, although there have also been more than a few days recently when nothing catches my eye worth photographing. Examples include this Black Phoebe from last Friday,

Black Phoebe

and then this morning, a Great Blue Heron high in a cottonwood.

Great Blue Heron

Not the greatest photo, but several times in the last week it’s been fun to see a group of Mule Deer stopping by the yard to snack on the New Mexico Privet just outside my front door…here’s a picture of a few of them from my ‘office’ window.

Mule Deer

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Flowers, Photographs | 4 Comments