Early Summer Sightings

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

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

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

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

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

Bewick’s Wren

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

Ruddy Copper (Lycaena rubidus)

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

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

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

Spalding’s Blue (Euphilotes spaldingi)

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

Prairie Dog

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

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

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

American Dipper

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

Song Sparrow

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

Orange-headed Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes phylace)

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

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limentiis weidemeyerii)

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

Draco Skipper (Polites draco)

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

Common Alpine (Erebia epipsodea)

and several fabulous Northwestern Fritillaries showing both ventral

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

and dorsal views.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

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

Lazuli Bunting

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

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

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

Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum)

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

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

and another highly photogenic Two-tailed Swallowtail.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

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

Leda Ministreak (Ministrymon leda)

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

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

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

Nais Metalmark (Apodemia nais)

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

Saltbush Sootywing (Hesperopsis alpheus)

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

Burrowing Owl

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Photographs | 6 Comments

From Spring to Summer

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

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

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

Colorado Chipmunk

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

Strawberry Cactus

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

Brown-headed Cowbird

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

Western Tiger Swallowtaill (Papilio rutulus)

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

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

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

Gray Buckeye (Junonia grisea)

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

Dark Buckeye (Junonia nigrosuffusa)

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

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

Junonia Intermediate

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

Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum)

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

Southwestern Fence Lizards

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

Cooper’s Hawk

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

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

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

a Western Pygmy-Blue,

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

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

Leda Ministreak (Ministrymon leda)

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

Walkingstick

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

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

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

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

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

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)

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

Burrowing Owl

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

Burrowing Owl

and one near another nesting site.

Burrowing Owl

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

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

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

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

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

Desert Cottontail

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

Black Bear

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

It’s Always Something

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

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

Mississippi Kite

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

Black-chinned Hummingbird

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

Silver-spotted Skipper(Epargyreus clarus)

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

Green Skipper and Canyonland Satyr

Nice look at an Acmon Blue there on another outing.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

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

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

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

Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis exsanguis)

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

Cholla

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

Curve-billed Thrasher

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

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

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

Simius Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes simius)

This brings my US list to a respectable 475 species!

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

Short-horned Lizard

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

Great Plains Earless Lizard (Holbrookia maculata maculata)

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

Cooper’s Hawk

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

Cooper’s Hawk

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

Black-crowned Night-Heron

and baby Cattle Egrets being tended to by the parents.

Cattle Egret

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

American Avocet

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

Black-necked Stilt

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

Burrowing Owl

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

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

Cattle Egret

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

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

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

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

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

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)

and Russet Skipperling.

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

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

Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)

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

Western Green Hairstreak (Callophrys affinis)

 

 

 

 

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

Essential Escapes

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

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

Western Tanager

and also saw large flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwing

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

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

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

Black-headed Grosbeak

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

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

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

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

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

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

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

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

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

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

Yellow-breasted Chat

A few other sightings this week included this stunning cactus,

Cholla Cactus

my first short-horned lizard of the year,

Short-horned Lizard

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

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

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

Python Skipper (Atrytonopsis python)

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

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

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

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

a Two-tailed Swallowtail licking up some salt,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and an Arizona Sister catching some sun.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

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

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

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

A Mormon Metalmark on (I think) Apache plume,

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

and a Reakirt’s Blue on the horehound.

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

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

Ilavia Hairstreak (Satyrium ilavia)

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

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

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

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

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

Soapberry Hairstreak (Phaeostrymon alcestis)

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

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

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

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

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

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

Leda Ministreak (Ministrymon leda)

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

Rhesus Skipper (Polites rhesus)

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

Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas)

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

 

 

 

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

Spring Lockdown

Not much changed pandemic-wise around here over the last two weeks, but there have been plenty of new butterfly species for the year, further developments among my nesting owls, and several other interesting sightings. I keep seeing reports of a good variety of warblers starting to pass through and a few other rarely-seen birds, but haven’t gotten around to finding any on my own. I’m still probably being a bit over-cautious, but am doing my best to minimize contact with others and to limit the frequency and distance traveled to destinations for observing nature.

Anyway, let’s start with the owls. In my last posting, I noted seeing an owlet and its mom at Willow Creek for the first time on 4/19. On my most recent trip on 4/27, I got to see that there were now two visible owlets with Mom perched on a branch a close distance away.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

It was the same story for Pueblo Montano…on 4/19 there was one owlet and its mom, but by 4/29 two owlets were seen but I wasn’t able to spot either adult.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Someone’s reported on eBird reports having seen three owlets and both adults there, but I’ve yet to see the third owlet or the male near that nest. On my most recent afternoon visit on 5/4 , I could just barely make out an owlet snoozing in the nest and was surprised to hear an adult calling attention to itself from not very far away. Looking pretty intently all around, finally I spotted it, naturally looking right at me.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Although I’d managed in mid-April to spot the owls at Calabacillas Arroyo, who fledged so early this year, they’d disappeared entirely during my most recent visits.

In Corrales, where I’d first seen two owlets on April 19, on May 30 I didn’t see anybody on a first visit but returned to see one of them looking back at me from that deep nesting cavity.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

By May 4, they had started to venture out from the nest off and on and I lucked onto a interesting interaction with one that climbed out of the nest to look around  a bit and check me out. Others have seen both owlets out and about but that will have to wait until my next visit.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

On April 23, Rebecca and I met to take a look for butterflies at Embudo Canyon. Not too many butterflies about, but it was good to see water flowing at the far end of the canyon and to spot a few of these poppy flowers already in bloom.

Poppy

Another day at Piedras Marcadas, several of these lizards were running around. No idea what species it is, but interesting pattern and coloration.

Lizard

Birdwise, plenty of Spotted Towhees are working the undergrowth anywhere in the bosque,

Spotted Towhee

and Black-headed Grosbeaks and Summer Tanagers have been calling out.

Summer Tanager

On May 1, Rebecca and I spent the morning butterflying at Three Gun Trailhead where she’d earlier seen good butterflies on all the blooming Fendlerbush close to the parking area. It was pretty amazing what we’d see there that day and satisfying how well the pictures turned out. One of the first I’d see was an American Snout,

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

followed by a good look at a fresh Checkered White.

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

Rather common that day, too, was the Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and more of the Common Buckeye, which seem unusually plentiful this year.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

In addition to the (also unusually plentiful) Sandia Hairstreak,

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

we started noticing that some of the hairstreaks on the Texas Beargrass, (host plant for the Sandia Hairstreak) blooms were Juniper Hairstreaks.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Several Gray Hairstreaks were also working the Fendlerbush,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and we even had a Great Purple Hairstreak on it.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

The blooms of the Texas Beargrass would turn up a Mormon Metalmark,

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

and once we thought to look for them, quite a few of what we are pretty sure were Sandia Hairstreak caterpillars.

Sandia Hairstreak Caterpillar

Another reasonably uncommon species seen that morning, of which we’d see several individuals was Viereck’s Skipper.

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

Also new for the year was a Pahaska Skipper, which I’d start seeing a few days later in Embudito nectaring on one of the few thistles that have opened.

Pahaska Skipper (Hesperia pahaska)

On her earlier visit, Rebecca had also seen a Thicket Hairstreak (I’d see one a few days later in Embudito but didn’t get a good photo) and what was likely an Uncas Skipper.

And, finally, also from my Embudito walk a few days later is the quite commonly seen Common Checkered-Skipper, unusual in being one of the few times I’ve seen one with its wings folded.

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

 

 

 

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

Owl Business

Like everybody else, over the last month I’ve mostly been hanging around the house and keeping my distance from people whenever I do get outside. The most stressful part for me has been my weekly trip to the grocery store. Timed for when it won’t be crowded and all set up with face mask, disposable gloves and sanitizer, most folks seem conscientious about social distancing but there’s always a few acting totally oblivious to the whole idea. Managed to get out a few times to check in on birds and butterflies, usually reasonably close to home but a couple times to good spots farther from home but decidedly few people about. The day after my last posting, Rebecca had the idea of meeting at Mars Court, where we successfully located two of those Acorn Woodpeckers she’d thought we might find…pretty distant, so the pictures of them aren’t that great. However, we’d also see a surprising number of other species including a Cassin’s Finch

Cassin’s Finch

and a ridiculous number of Pygmy Nuthatch, a bird I rarely see and had never gotten a decent photo. This time I did.

Pygmy Nuthatch

We’ve also taken a few other trips to Three Gun Spring trail and one to a new butterflying spot, Canon Monte Largo, in the foothills east of Belen. Three Gun’s been good since we run into very few other people and it’s had some good butterflies and birds lately. Canon Monte Largo is way out in the boonies, where we’d only see one other vehicle and I never did see any other people but was good for butterflies that day. In addition to our usual Sandia Hairstreak and Southwestern Orangetip, Painted Ladies (of course), and a few others, we’d see the first duskywings for the year, the first Acmon Blue

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

and Short-tailed Skipper.

Short-tailed Skipper (Zestusa doris)

Most interesting was seeing like 20+ Mormon Metalmarks, a species I might see one or two times every year but never more than one.

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

That weekend, I made an early morning run by the Great Horned Owl nests that are still accessible (the little ones at the Nature Center and Albuquerque Academy appeared a while ago but are off limits these days due to the pandemic). Big news of the day (4/11) was seeing a little one at Pueblo Montano who I got a better look at a week later (4/19). Interestingly, if you zoom in on that picture you’ll note (as I did on getting home) what appear to be a pair of paws from maybe a rabbit brought up for dinner? Also, a large feather just below the cut off branch on the left from maybe a Cooper’s Hawk?

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Fun surprise as I headed back to my car at Pueblo Montano was first hearing Killdeer and then spotting an entire family of the two adults and three of their tiny little ones. I’d only walked to the edge of the field they were in to try to get some quick pictures, but found it fascinating to watch their behavior for maybe a minute. The two adults ran off a little to the north and northwest with the female giving me quite the “broken wing” display to get my attention,

Killdeer

while those little ones somehow had already been trained to dart off in the opposite direction, stop for a second, and then run off a little further.

Killdeer

Next, I took a look at Calabacillas Arroyo, where those owls had been unusually early nesters this year and we’d seen two owlets already out of the nest in mid-February. I managed to spot two of the owls that day (4/11) close to where I’d seen three of them a week before.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Nothing had changed at Willow Creek or Corrales that day, although in Corrales the female was more visible sitting up even higher in the cavity than she had earlier.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

I’d return a week later (4/19) and didn’t see her anywhere around, although the male was in his usual spot, but in that cavity that at first looked vacant eventually got a brief look at two little ones!

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Shortly after that, a run by Willow Creek turned up at least one little one there, too.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

Several visits over the last two weeks to Embudito Canyon, where it’s usually pretty easy to avoid running into people early in the day. I haven’t seen any new butterflies there lately but the birds have been good. Like everybody else (and it’s always fun running into some of the other birders who are getting out for their “essential” exercise), it took a few trips to track down the Scott’s Oriole first reported last Thursday. I’d maybe heard it once or twice, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I got close enough for a pretty decent photo.

Scott’s Oriole

While looking for it last Friday, I did get good looks at several others including one of the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers,

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

a Black-throated Sparrow showing off from the top of a cholla,

Black-throated Sparrow

and a Cactus Wren from whose nest I’d inadvertently surprised it.

Cactus Wren

On the way to Embudito, I’d taken a look at the Cooper’s Hawk nest I’d first noticed a couple of weeks ago. I was a little surprised this time seeing the hawk standing up on the nest, and even more surprised to get home and look closer at my photo, where you can see the female’s tail as she sits on her eggs while this other one’s standing tall – most unusual.

Cooper’s Hawk

So that’s the latest from here. There should be even more new butterflies and birds appearing soon and I’ll hope to be able to get out there now and then despite all this pandemic business.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 8 Comments

Essential Spring

Despite all this social distancing, home lockdowns, travel restrictions and closing of all non-essential businesses, the Spring season seems to have declared itself an essential activity and is fully operational. Trees are bursting out with their new blooms, wildflowers are popping up, birds are returning, and more and more species of butterflies have been appearing. Weather’s getting warmer without the spring winds kicking up too often. I’m still getting out fairly regularly but making a significant effort to keep my distance from others, avoiding peak times and overly-crowded parking areas, and minimizing trip distances.

Among those butterflies seen the last two weeks was this Great Purple Hairstreak. It’s one of those that are usually only seen a few times every year and usually in unexpected locations. It’s also the butterfly that first got me into this butterflying thing – amazed that something so spectacular was around, but that you’d never notice it unless you were looking.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

Of the very few butterflies we’d see that day, there was also a Mourning Cloak, a species that several friends had mentioned recently. Mourning Cloaks over-winter as adults in leaf litter and start flying whenever the weather warms up sufficiently. Usually seen flying by or on the ground with wings spread to soak up the sun, this one gave me a good look at the underside of those wings.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

It’s been a little unusual this year seeing so many of our Sandia Hairstreaks around all their usual locations. Usually lucky to spot one or two and to hopefully have them perch long enough to photograph, this year there seem to be several on just about every stand of beargrass as well as by damp areas and other nectar sources. A bit variable in their coloring, now and then a fresh one really catches my eye with that brilliant emerald green.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

The Southwestern Orangetips have also been flying for the last few weeks, but are still pretty tricky to find perched anywhere long enough to photograph.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthcharis sara thoosa)

Rebecca’s recently turned me on to Three Gun Spring as a new spot for both butterflies and birds. I’d been there a few times in the past without finding it all that productive, but it’s going to be on my list of places requiring regular visits. Parking can get a bit crowded (at least these days), but we saw very few people there once we started up a side trail. It had plenty of those Sandia Hairstreaks, Southwestern Orangetips, the ubiquitous Painted Ladies that are showing up everywhere again, but what really got our attention was the Yucca Giant-Skipper. We’ve only seen this species in a few locations and were thrilled to see at least three individuals on a recent visit.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

A few other more common species were also seen there most for the first time this season, including a Variegated Fritillary, Spring White and Checkered White, Common Checkered-Skipper, and the tiny Dainty Sulphur.

Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)

Most of my outings lately have been to my ‘local patch’, Embudito Canyon, which is quite close to my house and usually not too crowded. Butterflies have been pretty good there recently, but it was fun seeing a few new birds showing up again, including Black-throated Sparrow,

Black-throated Sparrow

the somewhat more secretive Black-chinned Sparrow,

Black-chinned Sparrow

and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker that popped up right next to the trail.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

The other interesting sighting in Embudito last week was what struck me in these unusual times as a unicorn.

Unicorn

Turns out it’s (obviously) a young Mule Deer that’s shed one of its antlers. Still, tho, it’s the only unicorn I’ve ever seen out there.

On the way to Embudito, I’ve also noticed a Cooper’s Hawk has taken up residence that I’ll be keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.

Cooper’s Hawk

Made the rounds of most of my owl nests this past Sunday since it had been a few weeks and those little ones should start appearing any day now. A month since my last visit, things seemed about the same at Pueblo Montano although she might be sitting up a little higher.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Also seen at Pueblo Montano was my first Snowy Egret for the year, hanging out at the pond at Bosque School.

Snowy Egret

Also a month since my last visit, Willow Creek was pretty much unchanged (which was also the case for the Dixon Road nest).

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

Since I was in the neighborhood, I also thought to take a look at Calabacillas Arroyo. It had been a month since I’d seen any of those owls who had so surprisingly finished nesting way earlier than I’ve ever seen. I had been back a couple of times after the day they all disappeared and had pretty much given up seeing them until next year. Having read somewhere that owls tend to stay in the same area all year, however, it seemed worth another look. And, yep, this time it was fairly easy to spot one adult and one of the little ones not far from the nest cavity. It wasn’t until I got home to look at the pictures that I saw a third owl…the two adults on either side of that squawking youngster. Bet the other little one is somewhere nearby, and I’ll be taking another look soon.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Heading home finally gave me a look at the two Osprey nesting at the North Diversion Channel. I hadn’t seen anybody or maybe one adult there in recent visits, but this time had the male fly in with a rather large fish while I was focused on the female looking off in the direction from which he was approaching.

Osprey

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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.

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 4 Comments

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)

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 2 Comments

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.

 

 

 

Posted in Birding, Photographs | 1 Comment