A Trip with New Nepali Friends

Starting out this post with a few photos from late July, mostly from a repeat visit to Seven Springs Fish Hatchery two weeks after our earlier visit. After that, I’ll talk about our two new friends from Nepal, Sajan and Anisha, and our four-day trip together to some butterfly spots around Ruidoso, Cloudcroft, and the Organ Mountains.

A visit to Seven Springs Fish Hatchery and nearby Calaveras Canyon in the Jemez Mountains on July 22 turned up some nice looks at both a mating pair of Southwestern Fritillary (the fritillary species commonly seen in the Sandias),

Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa)

and an occasional Great Spangled Fritillary.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele)

A number of Silvery Checkerspot butterflies were also seen that day.

Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)

We would see a few Pine White butterflies, of which we’ve only seen the male this year,

Pine White (Neophasia menapia)

and enjoyed seeing a Green Comma, brightly colored in this dorsal view,

Green Comma (Polygonia faunus)

and from the ventral view with its distinctive green submarginal spots on the hindwing.

Green Comma (Polygonia faunus)

A Silver-spotted Skipper, a species I usually see on bare ground, was resting on the yellow coneflower.

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

This next image is of a female Taxiles Skipper included for comparison with a male shown way at the end of this post.

Female Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

Dragonflies and damselflies were fairly common in the marshy habitat, and this is one that: 1) posed nicely, 2) I was able to identify, and 3) was the first of this species I’ve seen.

Pacific Spiketail (Cordulegaster dorsalis)

Over the next week there were a few other good butterflies in Embudito Canyon and other locations in the Sandias. These included a first of the season (and first for the location) Square-spotted Blue,

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

a gorgeous Tailed Copper,

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

and first of the season Green Skipper.

Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis)

Almost a week later, also at Embudito and first of the season, would be the quite similar Pahaska Skipper.

Pahaska Skipper (Hesperia pahaska)

That brings me to our butterflying trip with our new friends from Nepal and some photos from the trip. I’d first gotten several texts from Sajan K.C. last May after he’d found my blog and website. In those early texts, he’d mentioned he and his wife, Anisha Sapkota, were also crazy about butterflies and had a blog (https://butterflyworldnepal.blogspot.com/p/dual-checklist.html) about the nearly 700 species of butterflies in Nepal of which they are making good progress seeing, and adding nearly 20 new species to the list for Nepal. Soon after, he told me how he and Anisha recently moved to Portales, NM to obtain advanced degrees at ENMU in order to better pursue their butterfly passion. Unfortunately, without a vehicle they have been quite limited in being able to look for butterflies anywhere outside their immediate area. While trying to think of some way to help them out, Rebecca came up with the great idea of our picking them up in Portales to take a few days to look for butterflies in the mountains some three hours to the west. Sanjay and Anisha immediately agreed it was an excellent idea and it would turn out to be a quite fun adventure.

We left Albuquerque early Thursday morning arriving in Portales around 11 am, and soon headed out for Ruidoso where we’d spend a few hours at Cedar Creek Recreation Area. Some of the butterflies we’d see there included the Monarch,

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

both Edwards’s Skipperling

Edwards’s Skipperling (Oarisma edwardsii)

and Garita Skipperling,

Garita Skipperling (Oarisma garita)

a Tawny-edged Skipper (shown here along with an out of focus Garita Skipperling),

Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites themistocles)[L] & Garita Skipperling (Oarisma garita) [R]

and one of the many Field Crescents we’d see on the trip.

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

Then it was on to Alamogordo, where we’d spend the next three nights after spending the day butterflying various locations in the area.

Friday morning we drove the short (20 miles) distance to Cloudcroft first stopping at Bailey Canyon. Although the butterflying was a little slow that morning due to some patchy clouds, we would see a few good species and planned to return the next day for another look. We then looked around a few other spots along NM 244, but weren’t having much luck even with some large meadows of purple thistle and yellow coneflower as the clouds continued to build. At one of our last stops, I did get a photo of a Satyr Comma, a species I don’t often see.

Satyr Comma (Polygonia satyrus)

At the same spot a mother House Wren and her fledglings were busy fussing at us and I got a few nice photos of one of the little ones.

House Wren (Juvenile)

Deciding to try for another spot that would likely have sunny skies that afternoon, we then headed back to Alamogordo and nearby Oliver Lee State Park. Sunny, yes, but way hot and breezy with very few butterflies out and about.

Saturday morning we first returned to Bailey Canyon hoping for better conditions and a few more butterflies. We would see some of the same species again, but with the clouds again piling up decided to try for a sunnier spot. One of my favorites seen on both days was a Colorado Hairstreak, perched right out in the open on a big flat leaf. We’d all get good photos of both the ventral view

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

and the best dorsal view I’ve ever gotten of one.

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

Our plan was to return to Alamogordo and make the relatively easy 70 mile drive to Soledad Canyon near Las Cruces, where we’d had good butterflies on past visits. With our driver (me) not paying any attention, however, we ended up on a more roundabout (120) mile route on US 54 instead of US 70 and were about to cross into Texas just north of El Paso before realizing our mistake. Nonetheless, we eventually reached our destination and after a bit of a slow start soon started seeing a few good butterflies. Whenever Sajan or Anisha would spot a butterfly, they would immediately take off after it, running up hills or crashing through the brush hoping to get a better look, a technique that regularly proved rewarding. Here’s the one photo I got of them high up a steep hill where they’d found a rather special butterfly.

Sajan & Anisha

That butterfly was a Red Satyr, which I had first spotted lower down and assumed from its behavior was probably a Canyonland Satyr, a species commonly seen in the Albuquerque foothills but that I’d only seen once before in Arizona. Sajan and Anisha would track down quite a few of them and get great photos. I’d finally get a good look at least of the top of one, but no photo, so here’s one Sajan sent.

Red Satyr (Megisto rubricata) ┬ęSajan K.C.

Next we decided to drive the short distance to Dripping Springs Natural Area, another good area on past trips, and where we’d walk the Arroyo Trail. That turned out to be a pretty good idea, turning up the usual American Snout

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

and expected Hackberry Emperor (but not the Empress Leilia we’d hoped for).

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

More exciting was coming across both Red-spotted Purple (a species I’ve rarely seen)

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

and Western Giant Swallowtail (lifer!)

Western Giant Swallowtail (Heraclides rumiko)

The next morning it was time to head for home, returning through Ruidoso to Capitan and then Roswell and back to Portales. Once in Ruidoso, we decided to try for butterflies at Ski Apache but instead turned onto FR 117 to see what might appear. About 1.5 miles in, with Little Creek along the west side of the road, we’d spend a couple hours getting several new species for the trip and finally good photos of Arizona Sister. Here are the ones I ended up with of both the ventral

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

and dorsal sides of a most cooperative individual.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

My last photo at that location was of a male Taxiles Skipper (remember the female way back at the start of this post?).

Male Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

And, one more bird photo, this one a female Rufous Hummingbird nectaring on the purple thistle.

Female Rufous Hummingbird

It was great fun getting to meet and spend time with Sajan and Anisha, and a real treat to have such a good (and productive) trip with them. Hopefully, there will be opportunities in the future for more butterflying adventures with these new friends.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Flowers, Photographs, Travel | 10 Comments

June to July Butterflies

Some good butterflies to share this time from the end of June through mid-July, and hopefully some more goodies to come over the next few weeks. Thought I’d start this time with a couple of this year’s hummingbird nests. First is this one from the Biopark we’d first spotted May 19 and had wondered if all was well June 9; all seems to be moving along just fine as of June 26.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Then there’s this one first noticed on July 4, which hopefully will do well too.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

That same day I’d seen the young Cooper’s Hawk nesting at the Rio Grande Nature Center (in a roped off area near the parking lot).

Cooper’s Hawk (immature)

Two more fun pictures before moving on to those butterflies (and a couple moths), first a female Widow Skimmer from a walk along the Corrales ditch,

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

and then one of the cacti from my yard that flowers for a day once or twice every year.

Pincushion Cactus (Escobaria vivipara)

During one of my regular visits to Embudito Canyon in late June, it was fun to get my first look this year at a Hackberry Emperor in one of its usual spots.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

The next weekend had us taking a look along Capilla Peak Road for the first time since the fire restrictions were lifted, and it turned up a number of sightings, including a Gray Hairstreak,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Lupine Blue,

Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)

and a few of the larger ones, like Weidemeyer’s Admiral,

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

an American Lady (easily distinguished from the other ladies by the two large eyespots on the underside),

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

and the first Southwestern Fritillary of the year nectaring on the Bee Balm.

Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa)

Also interested in the Bee Balm was a moth, the Rocky Mountain Clearwing.

Rocky Mountain Clearwing (Hemaris thetis)

A couple of visits to Embudito Canyon the next week gave me a nice look at one of the Two-tailed Swallowtails regularly seen there,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

as well as a Ceraunus Blue, a species I just don’t see all that often.

Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus)

Most interesting, however, was seeing several Mexican Sootywings there for the first time in quite awhile.

Mexican Sootywing (Pholisora mejicanus)

Here is another photo of one next to a Russet Skipperling, a surprise to me realizing just how small the Mexican Sootywing actually is.

Mexican Sootywing & Russet Skipperling

Doing our survey for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network from Capulin Spring to Balsam Glade later in the week led to a few good photo ops, including both the male

Male Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

and female Taxiles Skipper,

Female Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

and a nicely-posed Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

It was off to the Jemez Mountains the next day, which had also recently opened after the fire restrictions. Several good butterflies along the road toward our target, the Seven Springs Fish Hatchery, included Sylvan Hairstreak

Sylvan Hairstreak (Satyrium silvinus)

and Pine White.

Pine White (Neophasia menapia)

Unfortunately, the clouds started rolling in as we approached the fish hatchery, so we wouldn’t see much there. It was cool spotting a tiny Garita Skipperling perched on a blade of grass.

Garita Skipperling (Oarisma garita)

Early the next week, I made another visit to Balsam Glade hoping to spot a couple of butterflies we knew were there but I had yet to see this year. The first butterfly I’d see was a Tailed Copper, usually fairly common in the Sandias this time of year, but my first for the year.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

The other butterfly I’d see, and really the whole point of my visit that day, was the Colorado Hairstreak. Not only would I track one down after working the area pretty hard (for about 45 minutes), but after first spotting it close to the ground next to the trail as I was headed back to the car, it would put on quite the show for me. Here’s the more typical view of one,

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

but as I watched it for a short while, it started to open up,

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

and eventually gave me a good look as it opened almost completely.

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

Definitely made my day as it’s a species not seen all that often and most unusual to get a good look at the top of any hairstreak.

This past weekend, we traveled up to Taos Ski Valley after seeing recent reports of Arctic Fritillary. We’d of course see a few other butterflies, but the Arctic was our target as possibly new for our life list and definitely new for our New Mexico lists. As usual, we’d see quite a few White-lined Sphinx Moths which are always fun to photograph,

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell,

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti)

and a California Tortoiseshell.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

There were also quite good numbers of Purplish Copper flying around.

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

The highlight of the trip, however, was seeing several of the Arctic Fritillary very occasionally stopping to nectar on the wildflowers. Here are two of my better photos, one on a Shasta Daisy

Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea)

and one on the Arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis).

Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea)
Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Flowers, Photographs | 13 Comments

Midwest Butterfly Trip

Recently returned from an excellent 9-day, 3000 mile road trip in search of butterflies in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas. Planned for more than a year, we had a number of locations and several target butterflies in mind and would explore a few other locations in the course of seeing nearly 70 butterfly species (8 lifers for me!). The weather was hot and humid with ticks and chiggers about, but always sunny and good for butterflies. And it was absolutely great to return home just as our summer monsoon season had begun and finally getting some rain, puffy clouds, and delightful temperatures. Of the 655 photos that came home with me, I ended up keeping 159, and thought I’d share a few of them in this post.

One of the (lifer) butterflies I’d hoped we might find, the Gorgone Checkerspot, surprisingly turned up at our very first stop and then showed up just about everywhere else.

Gorgone Checkerspot (Chlosyne gorgone)

An early morning stop at the J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve in Oklahoma was quite productive, giving us our first look at (lifer) Byssus Skipper and plenty of other butterflies.

Byssus Skipper & Tawny-edged Skipper

For example, we’d see a good dozen Banded Hairstreaks, each warming up on a leaf in the early morning sun,

Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)

had a Red-spotted Purple right at the entrance sign,

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

and two Northern Pearly-eyes right on the road.

Northern Pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon)

It was also a treat seeing a Diana Fritillary (a species we’d only seen before in Tennessee during the 2014 NABA meeting),

Diana Fritillary (Speyeria diana)

and the first of what would become several Zebra Swallowtails during the course of the trip.

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

Another swallowtail seen regularly during the trip was the Spicebush Swallowtail, this one busy collecting pollen from an orange day lily.

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

On the fourth day of the trip, we headed for Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Missouri in search of a major target species, the Baltimore Checkerspot. We’d seen several reports of them at the park including one just the previous week somewhere along the 6.5 mile Turkey Pen Hollow Trail. We easily found the trail and saw a few butterflies early on, but soon turned around when the habitat changed to dark forest with few nectar sources and without having seen the host plants. Not quite ready to give up, after a short break we started up the trail again to give it one more shot and hadn’t gotten very far at all when something caught my eye some distance off the trail – yep, (lifer) Baltimore Checkerspot!

Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton)

Not only that, but earlier that morning Eastern Comma made an appearance,

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)

as did one of the many Question Mark butterflies we’d see at most locations.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

The next day, it was off to Runge Conservation Nature Center near Jefferson City, Missouri in search of another of our primary target species, the Swamp Metalmark. (We’d looked unsuccessfully for this locally rare species on a field trip in Alabama also during the 2014 NABA meeting.) One of the friendly greeters in the Visitor Center pointed us to a couple of spots on the trails that might be good for butterflies and we slowly made our way over most of the 2.4 miles of trails, seeing some good butterflies but having no luck spotting the metalmark or even its host plant, swamp thistle. Another lifer appeared during our morning walk, Gray Comma.

Gray Comma (Polygonia progne)

After a nice picnic lunch, we returned to the Visitor Center (air-conditioned, don’t you know). When Rebecca mentioned the metalmark to the guy behind the desk, he instantly told us to hang on while he ran back to find Austin Lambert, one of their resident naturalists. Austin and his co-worker, Sara Easton, dropped everything to take us out to find one. They seem to have an active butterfly group conducting weekly surveys of the Nature Center and are constantly monitoring their Swamp Metalmark population. Once again, we found ourselves off trail and stumbling through the underbrush collecting ticks and chiggers when finally Sara called us all over to one she’d found –> ta-da, lifer Swamp Metalmark!

Swamp Metalmark (Calephelis mutica)

The next day had us checking out a few locations around Columbia, Missouri, including Overton Bottoms in Big Muddy NFWR someone we ran into mentioned as the best spot in the area for butterflies. We didn’t have much luck that day, but it was fun seeing a couple of Little Yellow butterflies.

Little Yellow (Eurema lisa)

Next, it was on to Konza Prairie Biological Station near Manhattan, Kansas, where we’d hoped to find Regal Fritillary after seeing reports of it at this time of year for the last five years. Got there a little late in the afternoon and it was just too hot and humid to walk very far in the open sun. We would see a few butterflies, but nothing very special in the limited time we spent there. A Great Spangled Fritillary, a species we’d see in many locations, posed nicely on a purple coneflower.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

The day before we’d head for home, we made a visit to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. In July 2019, we’d stopped here on our way back from Mothapalooza in Ohio where a friend had mentioned seeing Regal Fritillary and Arogos Skipper a few weeks earlier. We were unsuccessful in seeing them there that time (although we had gotten a single Regal Fritillary at a site in Missouri), but held out hope for success this time. Starting in a good-sized milkweed patch close to the parking lot, we’d see two more lifers, one a single Arogos Skipper, and a few of the Gray Copper.

Gray Copper (Lycaena dione)

There’d also be a number of Delaware Skippers on the milkweed, another species we’d see in various locations on the trip.

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

Checking in with the park rangers about where to see butterflies, they directed us a short distance up the road to the old Fox Creek School. After looking around a bit without seeing much nectar or many butterflies, we decided to cross a fence and start off on a trail heading deep into the large tallgrass prairie. Almost immediately, we’d see a couple Monarchs flying around and thought to head over to a patch of purple coneflower a short distance away. Right about then, Rebecca spotted a couple of butterflies out in the field she’d realized were almost certainly Regal Fritillaries.

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia)

We’d spend most of the next half hour watching up to eight individuals zipping around the meadow and doing our best to try to photograph them. Quite the highlight experience of the whole trip!

For the last night of our trip, we stayed in Oklahoma City for an early morning visit to Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge where we’d add our final lifer for the trip, Bell’s Roadside-Skipper. And then off on the 8-hour drive through Oklahoma and Texas home to Albuquerque.

In addition to all the butterflies that were the focus of the trip, it was always fun seeing and photographing other creatures a few of which I thought I’d share for the rest of this post. Among the odonates, we’d come across lots of Ebony Jewelwings,

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

several different dragonflies including Widow Skimmer,

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

Spangled Skimmer,

Spangled Skimmer (Libellula cyanea)

and an Eastern Ringtail.

Eastern Ringtail (Erpetogomphus designatus]

Snowberry Clearwing Moths were seen in quite a few places, too.

Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)

The only lizard I photographed was a Six-lined Racerunner, first I’d ever seen and quite colorful with its bright green skin.

Six-lined Racerunner

And of course, there were a few birds around not seen all that often (if at all) around here. Multiple sightings of Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Tufted Titmouse, but no decent photos. Commonly seen (and occasionally photographed) were Dickcissel,

Dickcissel

Indigo Bunting,

Indigo Bunting

and Northern Cardinal.

Northern Cardinal
Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Flowers, Photographs, Travel | 6 Comments

Waiting for Rain

It’s been way too long that we’ve been waiting for any rain around here, even with the clouds teasing us the last few afternoons. Some areas in the state have finally gotten a little, but most of us are still waiting for the start of our usual monsoon season to lower the risk of fire and bring back the wildflowers and butterflies. With most of my regular mountain locations totally closed due to fire restrictions, it’s not easy coming up with ideas of where to go lately. The cottonwood bosque along the Rio Grande is still open, as are the lower foothills to the east of Albuquerque, and these areas have led to some fun sightings although they also need a good rain or two. And we’ve found a couple of open areas near Socorro that (at the moment) aren’t completely closed to the public.

This post has some of my photos from the last few weeks from those spots I can still access. Toward the end of May was a trip down to the Belen Marsh after seeing a report of a good variety of shorebirds being seen there. Not much luck for me on an early morning visit, and a little depressing how little water was present, but I did spot a couple of American Avocet on the far side,

American Avocet

and had fun watching Black-necked Stilts (and their chicks) running around and showing off.

Black-necked Stilt

On my return drive, I thought to check out the Crick Avenue Greenbelt, a birding area new to me but almost a migrant trap with a large area of very well-watered grass and trees at the top of a very dry mesa environment. Definitely worth a repeat visit after seeing a Lark Sparrow,

Lark Sparrow

being teased by a Bullock’s Oriole,

Bullock’s Oriole

and getting a close-up portrait of one of the many Western Kingbirds in the area.

Western Kingbird

A few days later saw me doing the loop at Los Poblanos OS. A few birds were about but not many photo ops. It seemed a little unusual to spot a Cattle Egret perched way high in a cottonwood rather than working the fields as others were. That’s my guy at the top of the tall trunk on the left.

Cottonwood w/Cattle Egret

Zooming all the way in gave me the following look at him.

Cattle Egret

Off to The Box and then Water Canyon near Socorro two days later, and again at the end of the week. The Box was okay for a couple of butterflies, including a Hackberry Emperor,

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

but it was Water Canyon that turned out quite good for butterflies and even a few birds. Re the birds, there were a few Acorn Woodpeckers around that I didn’t get good photos of but also a Plumbeous Vireo dashing back and forth to its nest,

Plumbeous Vireo

and my best look at a male Western Tanager so far this year.

Western Tanager

The butterflies were drawn in large numbers to the blooming butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a bright orange milkweed, and (new to us) False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa). Unusual to see clouds of butterflies around here like that, so it was fun seeing all that going on, i.e.,

Puddle Party (Marine Blues, Reakirt’s Blue, Juniper Hairstreak)

Others on these flowers included Leda Ministreak

Leda Ministreak (Ministrymon leda)

an uncommonly seen (at least by me) Ceraunus Blue,

Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus)

and even a Viereck’s Skipper (this one shown on a different nectar source).

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

There were even a few Canyonland Satyrs flying around the area,

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

and now and then a dragonfly such as this Flame Skimmer.

Flame Skimmer

Other days recently had me down at Pueblo Montano Open Space and along the irrigation ditches in Corrales, the former turning up a nice Blue Grosbeak,

Blue Grosbeak

and the latter bringing to my attention a Black-crowned Night-Heron that flew up as four young coyotes were bashing along back and forth across the ditch and raising hell from all the birds in the area.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Definitely a treat to spot a Great Purple Hairstreak on the newly-blooming nectar source.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

Yesterday was a visit to the Botanic Garden to check on the Black-chinned Hummingbird nest mentioned in my last post and to visit the Butterfly Pavilion which is now open. We’d have the female hummingbird sit on the nest just as before, but then fly off in search of some bugs. I’d gotten a look inside the nest while she was gone and think it shows hatched little ones, but am somewhat concerned that they weren’t sitting up begging for food whenever the female returned.

Black-chinned Hummingbird Nest

The Butterfly Pavilion was fun as usual, but I only ended up with a few photos this time, including this fresh White Peacock

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) – Butterfly Pavilion

and a sunning Giant Swallowtail.

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) – Butterfly Pavilion

Noticed a Garden Snail in the greenery down below the walkway that led to a nice photo,

Garden Snail

and always have a hard time walking by water lilies without snapping a picture.

Water Lily
Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Flowers, Photographs | 6 Comments

All But Butterflies

Too many pictures to share so there won’t be any butterflies this time. We’ve seen a few around, particularly with the return of the Sandia Hairstreaks in Embudito on May 17, but the high fire danger has now closed off the national forests at least until mid-July and preventing access to most of our usual butterflying spots. Lots of bird migration going on, though, and I’ve gotten some fun photos of a number of birds along with a few other goodies.

One of these was of a Red-naped Sapsucker at Cienega Canyon (a couple weeks before the fire closures).

Red-naped Sapsucker

Two days later, four of us were off to Truth or Consequences on our 24-hour Birdathon for the Central New Mexico Audubon Society. Despite the warm and windy conditions, we’d end up with a respectable 77 species from six nearby locations (Las Animas Creek, Percha Dam SP, Caballo Lake SP Riverside Recreation Area, Mims Lake, Ralph Edwards Park, and Paseo del Rio). Photography was tricky under those weather conditions, but here are seven of the birds we saw:

Western Tanager
Vermilion Flycatcher
Bullock’s Oriole
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Phainopepla (f)
Bronzed Cowbird
Curve-billed Thrasher

Western Tanager, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Bullock’s Orioles are some of my all-time favorites. That Northern Rough-winged Swallow is the first I’d ever seen perched and not whizzing by. Don’t often see female Phainopepla especially close enough for a decent photo. Best photo I’ve ever gotten of a Bronzed Cowbird, and I don’t recall ever seeing a Curve-billed Thrasher (or any bird) carrying that long of a stick.

Our BOB (Bird of the Birdathon) took a bit of work. Stopping to look at the cliffs above the river at Caballo’s Riverside Recreation Area, one of us was convinced we were seeing an owl deep in a large cavity that others (me) had dismissed as surely a large rock or stick. Breaking out the spotting scope, Rebecca got on it soon enough, pointing out “that stick’s got legs,” and was indeed a Barn Owl. While we watched, it lifted one leg a couple of times and stretched out a wing making it a little easier to recognize.

Barn Owl

A few days later saw me out looking for birds at Pueblo Montano. I’d notice several flycatchers around, including the usual Black Phoebe and Ash-throated Flycatcher along with some of those pesky other ones I have trouble identifying. Merlin tells me this one is a Hammond’s Flycatcher so I’m going with that.

Hammond’s Flycatcher

And once again, I got a nice look at the normally loud, but well-hidden, Yellow-breasted Chat.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Working in my yard the next morning (bagging up tumbleweed, again!) I noticed a cholla had popped into bloom.

Cholla

Later on a walk at Ellena Gallegos OS, I’d get pretty good looks at a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers chasing each other around.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

On Monday, I headed to Corrales mostly hoping to spot a few migrant birds and maybe a hummingbird nest, but knowing I’d likely check in on the owls that have been unusually popular with folks this year. On the way, I’d first note that the Osprey had completed their new nest right next to the one they’d used the last few years, and have taken up residence.

Osprey

Not too many birds about along the Corrales ditch, but I would get a nice pose from a Western Bluebird on the New Mexico Olive.

Western Bluebird

As I was closing in on the owls, another photographer pointed out an adult and one of the little ones high in a cottonwood a fair distance from the nesting cavity that held most folks’ attention. She explained that just a few minutes earlier, she’d seen the adult grab a duckling from the ditch and carry it up to feed the little one. (She later posted photos to the Critters of New Mexico Facebook Group.) While trying to get a good angle on them, the adult started calling (rather unusual during the day) and might actually have been yelling at me even though I was quite a distance away. Got my shot and wandered off.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Doing our survey for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network at Embudito the next day, we’d only see 6 species but lots (14) of Sandia Hairstreaks, a species that has been hard to find since early April. Instead of butterflies, however, we would find a nesting Curve-billed Thrasher and also a Cactus Wren,

Cactus Wren

and see a Gopher Snake crossing the trail.

Gopher Snake

With the mountains closed down starting Thursday morning, a trip to the Biopark seemed a good idea since I hadn’t been in quite some time. One of the highlights for me was seeing my first hummingbird nest for the year.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

It was also cool to come across a Wood Duck family in the Japanese Garden.

Wood Duck

Some of the flowers were over the top, as well, including this Purple Rockrose

Purple Rockrose

and some large peonies.

Peony

Friday morning, I’d thought to go look for birds at Calabacillas Arroyo, knowing that the Audubon Thursday Birders had just gone the day before and thinking it might also be good for a few of those spring migrants. Just happened to look at eBird before leaving for an idea of what’s being seen and was surprised to see a friend had recently reported nesting Great Horned Owls there. You might remember several of us had seen adult owls around since February, but were unable to locate a nest after seeing they weren’t using older nesting spots. I’d given up on them and hadn’t been back since early April. Friday’s visit easily turned up an adult and one of the young ones, but I still had no idea of where the nest had been.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Emailed my eBird friend about it, and passed the word on to a few others. And then this morning, they texted me exactly where the nest was and that they’d also seen two owlets. With their input, it was easy to find the nest cavity (only once before have I noticed whitewash on the ground implying an owl’s likely right above you), and I’d see one of the adults and young ones off aways to the east (about where they’d been the day before).

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas
Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

This seems to be the other adult high in a tree north of the nest cavity.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Kept looking around the area for a second owlet without having any luck and had almost given up when I decided to look a little closer around the cavity tree. Hehe…

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas
Posted in Birding, Critters, Flowers, Photographs | 6 Comments

April to May

Quite a few pictures this time of the usual butterflies and birds, but also a few other interesting sightings during the last couple of weeks from mid-April into early May. On February 21, I’d noticed a Great Horned Owl taking up her usual nesting cavity in Corrales, but hadn’t had any indication of little ones until April 20 (and even then only by looking closely at the photos at home later and seeing that little puffball low in the cavity).

Great Horned Owl

Returning on May 4 (and waiting around a bit), two of the three little ones made it up out of the cavity to look around.

Great Horned Owl

On February 28, I’d seen nesting going on at another nest from last year across the river from the Biopark. Checking in on them on April 23 showed success there as well, with at least two little ones taking in the scene from quite high in a cottonwood.

Great Horned Owl

That same day, at the Rio Grande Nature Center, I’d come across a good-sized flock of Cedar Waxwings busy working the New Mexico Olive trees.

Cedar Waxwing

Of my other owl nests this year, the one near the Rio Grande Nature Center we’d first spotted on February 21 disappeared sometime in mid-April, possibly from being destroyed during excessively high winds. Haven’t made it back to any of the other nests, and it doesn’t seem likely the owls near Calabacillas Arroyo will be nesting this year.

On April 21, we were off in search of butterflies first at Three Gun and then Ojito de San Antonio. Highlight of the day at Three Gun was the first of two Yucca Giant-Skippers we’d spotted parked right on the trail.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

Although we were a little disappointed in how few butterflies were out that day, we’d spot a Sandia Hairstreak, whose numbers seem to have dropped off recently although I expect will pick up again soon.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

We’d also see two Scott’s Orioles calling to each other while staking out their territories. Not the best photo, but the best I’ve gotten so far this year.

Scott’s Oriole

Ojito de San Antonio turned up a few goodies, although not as amazing as that earlier visit on April 8. We would get another nice Thicket Hairstreak

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

and another Great Purple Hairstreak,

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

but it was surprising to see quite a few White-lined Sphinx Moths this early in the year,

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

and a Rocky Mountain Clearwing Moth.

Rocky Mountain Clearwing (Hemaris thetis)

April 24 had us out checking on Sulphur Canyon and Las Huertas where we’d add another Yucca Giant-Skipper and a few other butterflies. The next couple of days found me poking around in Embudito where I’d see a few new birds for the year. These include one of several Canyon Wrens who seem intent on nesting,

Canyon Wren

a Bushtit collecting nesting material,

Bushtit

a male Ladder-backed Woodpecker (one of a pair that nested here last year),

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

a Cactus Wren nesting in a yucca right on the trail,

Cactus Wren

a nesting Curve-billed Thrasher a little further away from the trail (and who seems to have since abandoned the nest),

Curve-billed Thrasher

one of several Black-chinned Sparrows (a species typically hard to get close enough to for a photo),

Black-chinned Sparrow

my first look this year at a Black-chinned Hummingbird,

Black-chinned Hummingbird

and the usual Gambel’s Quail (who’s little ones should soon put in an appearance).

Gambel’s Quail

Embudito on April 26 would turn up the first Lupine Blue of the year.

Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)

Earlier this year, Litocala Moths were getting out of hand making it difficult to locate any butterflies there, and now, the Eight-spotted Forester Moths are adding to the confusion – still a nice-looking bug, tho.

Eight-spotted Forester Moth (Alypia octomaculata)

No good story for this one, but while wandering around Pueblo Montano on April 27, this pair of Painted Turtles posed nicely for a portrait.

Painted Turtle

April 28 had us checking out The Box and Water Canyon near Socorro NM, where we’d successfully spot most of the butterflies we were expecting there about now. The Box provided good looks at the Orange Skipperling

Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantica)

and the Common Streaky-Skipper.

Common Streaky-Skipper (Celotes nessus)

Also seen there were several small, dark butterflies that turned out to be new for us at that location, the Saltbush Sootywing.

Saltbush Sootywing (Hesperopsis alpheus)

Before we got a close enough look at them, I’d noticed one hitting a wildflower that was new to me and I think is Yellow Desert Flax (Linum puberulum).

Yellow Desert Flax (Linum puberulum)

It was fun to see a Greater Earless Lizard there, too, not quite as colorful as it should get in the next few weeks.

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)

Pretty quiet a little later at Water Canyon, but we finally spotted a small plant next to the road that attracted a number of good species, including several Viereck’s Skipper (one had been seen earlier at The Box),

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

and a Morrison’s Skipper (first of the year).

Morrison’s Skipper (Stinga morrisoni)

New for the year, a Northern Cloudywing graced us with its presence during our butterfly survey in Embudito on May 2.

Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)

I had no idea what that grasshopper-like guy was facing off with the cloudywing, but of course the astonishing Seek app tells me is a Mexican Bush Katydid.

Coming full circle for this post, yesterday’s visit to Corrales to see the Great Horned Owlets turned up a couple of other good bird photos. One was a Spotted Towhee on the power line between me and the nest cavity.

Spotted Towhee

Another was one of several Ash-throated Flycatchers, the first I’ve seen this year.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

News to me, however, was how unusual this same bird looks from head-on.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

One last picture from the North Diversion Channel. On April 20, I’d seen an Osprey pair apparently thinking of starting a nest on the western tower. They’d used it in the past until the nest blew down, and for some reason chose not to use the big nest they’d built on the eastern tower. Yesterday, they were hanging out on the eastern tower, but still seemed to prefer building a new nest there rather than use the old one.

Osprey

Only time will tell if they ever get serious about nesting this year and if they’ll try with a new nest or end up in the old one.

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

April Butterfly Bonanza

This post, my first of the month, is going to focus entirely on some of the amazing butterflies we’ve been seeing around here lately. Some are from my Oso Spring survey route in Embudito for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network, and others from an early season visit to Capilla Peak Road near Manzano NM, a few sites in the east side of the Sandias (Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, Sulphur Canyon, Doc Long), and only my second visit ever to Canon Monte Largo near Belen NM.

Starting off with two visits to Embudito in early April were a few of our usual early season regulars, including the overwintering Hoary Comma, first a dorsal view,

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

and then a ventral view.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

We’d also see good numbers of Southwestern Orangetip, which some years seem to fly by without ever landing, but this year giving good opportunities for photographs of them nectaring on various plants.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

Occasionally, a Spring White shows up and it’s helpful for identification to get both the dorsal

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

and ventral views.

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

Starting to see a few duskywings again, too, some of which can be a little tricky to identify. This one is most likely a Dreamy Duskywing.

Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus)

On April 8, we thought to take a look at Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, where old apple and pear trees might be coming into bloom as well as a few other nectar sources, and later stopping at Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long to see if anything was flying this early.

Not too many butterflies (or flowering trees) at Ojito, but those that did appear were pretty special. There were a couple of Red Admirals around, a species not too commonly seen here,

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

and, surprisingly, in addition to a couple of the more commonly seen Hoary Comma was a California Tortoiseshell.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

Moving on to Sulphur Canyon, the willows were working to draw good numbers of Mourning Cloak and Hoary Comma, but quite a surprise to spot even before we’d parked was a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell.

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti)

On the trail to Bill Spring close to Doc Long Picnic Area, another surprise and first for the year, a Thicket Hairstreak.

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

Two days later, it was off to Capilla Peak Road, an area that’s turned up some good butterflies in recent years, but that we’d never been to quite this early in the year. It would also turn up a California Tortoiseshell, more Southwestern Orangetips,

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

and Mylitta Crescent (seen earlier in Embudito, but not as good a photo op).

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

The next NMBMN survey at Embudito picked up most of the usual suspects for this time of year, including this nicely-posed Mourning Cloak,

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

but also our first Sonoran Metalmark for the year.

Sonoran Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus)

Last Friday, it was off to Canon Monte Largo, located at the base of the Manzano Mountains east of Belen. It’s a bit of a rocky road getting there especially the last mile or so. From the trailhead, a decent trail heads about 1-1/2 mile into the canyon to a small spring and what I assume is an old mining operation. Anywhere along the trail, and especially near the spring, can turn up good butterflies.

One of our first sightings there was a mating pair of Rocky Mountain Duskywing.

Rocky Mountain Duskywing (Erynnis telemachus)

We’d also see several Sandia Hairstreaks and a first of the year Juniper Hairstreak.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Prize for the day, however, was getting to see Arizona Hairstreak, and we’d see a total of seven individuals!

Arizona Hairstreak (Erora quaderena)

We’d known this species was a possibility here, but had only seen them a very few times before in Arizona and southwest New Mexico.

The spring at the far end of the trail had large numbers of duskywings, a few other species seen earlier that day, and good numbers of Short-tailed Skipper, a species we’d been expecting in Embudito for a few weeks now.

Short-tailed Skipper (Zestusa dorus)

A final treat for the day was coming across the only blooming thistle anywhere along the walk (or that I’ve seen yet this year). When I first came up to it, there were two Sleepy Orange butterflies busy getting nectar. (For those who may be interested, one was already in summer form while the other still in the winter form.) This image is of the one still in the drab winter form.

Sleepy Orange (Abeis nicippe)

As the Sleepy Orange was about to leave, another yellow butterfly arrived that we weren’t sure of, but eventually correctly identified as a female Southern Dogface (a species I usually see later in the season and maybe the first female I’ve ever noticed).

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

On the way back from the spring, the Southern Dogface was still there, but now there was also a Two-tailed Swallowtail (which isn’t often seen early in the season except flying by).

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) & Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

It’s been a real treat seeing all these special butterflies in both my usual places as well as a few that don’t get nearly enough attention especially early in the season. Stay tuned as the plan for the next few weeks is checking in on a few more local spots that have been productive in the past.

Posted in Butterfly, Photographs | 6 Comments

Here Come the Butterflies

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything, but finally a couple of days recently turned up an amazing variety of butterflies for so early in the year. Photos of some of these butterflies will form the bulk of this post. Found myself hanging around the house a lot lately, busy painting and fixing up in anticipation of having porcelain tile replaced in my entrance hall and dining room. It’s been interesting noting how things can build up a bit of dust and grime over more than a quarter century if you’re careful to avoid ever disturbing them. Anyway, with the cool mornings lately and a couple of bursts of rain and snow, it hasn’t been very motivating to go looking for birds. Two birds that made the cut this time include this Cactus Wren at Embudito,

Cactus Wren

and the Western Screech-Owl back in its cavity at Columbus Park.

Western Screech-Owl

Instead of birds, it seems if the weather got just warm enough, I’d head over to Embudito hoping to spot a few butterflies just starting into their flight periods. Last time, I mentioned starting to see Sandia Hairstreaks on March 2, and they’ve been around pretty much every time since, including this mating pair.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

I would usually see one or two other species on a visit, but was expecting to start seeing Southwestern Orangetips any day. One would fly by on March 16 without stopping for a photograph, but I haven’t seen any at all since then.

Thinking we might see a few more butterflies about 200 miles south in the Organ Mountains just east of Las Cruces, and one butterfly in particular, we headed out early Thursday morning making our first stop at the La Cueva Picnic Area and the Fillmore Canyon Trail. Almost immediately, we’d start seeing good numbers of Southwestern Orangetips flying by, and unlike the ones in Albuquerque, these would readily land to nectar on various small flowers. Here are just two of the many we’d get to photograph, first a ventral view

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

and then a dorsal view.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa)

While busy chasing after a couple of these, I’d dismissed a small yellow one nearby as the usually quite common Dainty Sulphur. When it landed, however, it sure looked more like an orangetip than a sulphur. The reference books suggest some Southwestern Orangetips can be yellow, but this one also had a different ventral pattern. Upon returning home and reviewing things a bit more, I’d decided this was the related Desert Orangetip, which was quickly confirmed following submittal to BAMONA. Cool – a species I’d only seen once before in Anza Borrego, CA in 2015.

Desert Orangetip (Anthocharis cethura)

Continuing on further up the trail, we eventually noticed quite a bit of New Mexico buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa), the host plant for our target butterfly for the trip, Henry’s Elfin. We’d seen it once before in early April 2017 at Last Chance Canyon near Carlsbad, NM, but were aware of past reports of it being seen in Fillmore Canyon. We’d hoped to focus our search by spotting the bright pink flowers of the blooming buckeye, but it was just too early in the season for the buckeye to show any sign of spring. The large seedpods of the buckeye were easy to spot, but we assumed our search was likely in vain without any flowers or even buds out yet. We did, however, have fun seeing good numbers and varieties of other species on a few sumac bushes in the area…orangetips, Gray Hairstreaks, Marine Blues, Funereal Duskywings, and even a Painted Lady.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Just starting back down the trail, I happened to spot a small butterfly on a dry stalk. Hmm, dang if that don’t look like a Elfin; indeed, it was our target species, Henry’s Elfin!

Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici)

At home later, I’d read that they go into diapause as pupae (chrysalis) over summer and winter before emerging in early spring, so the lack of flowering buckeye wasn’t that critical.

Later that day, we’d head over to Soledad Canyon where we’d had some good luck on our last visit in early October 2021. We’d notice a few spots with sumac bushes attracting butterflies, but getting late in the day decided to return the next morning to explore a bit further. That turned out to be a pretty decent plan, as we’d end up seeing a nice mix of species most for the first time this year. One of them was the species that originally sucked me into this butterfly business, Great Purple Hairstreak.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

We’d also see good numbers of Gray Hairstreak, a species that seems rather common but can pop up just about anywhere,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and even an American Snout, which some years we never see and other years (like 2021) everywhere.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

The last species we’d see there was hiding in the underbrush and originally assumed as just another Southwestern Orangetip until we looked a little closer. Yup, something different and one of the three Euchloe species in NM. Got a couple of quick partial shots of it in the weeds before it took off, fortunately just a short distance away where we tracked it down again. Turned out to be a Desert Marble (Euchloe lotta), a species I’d only seen once before in Arizona.

Desert Marble (Euchloe lotta)

Most successful outing! Heading for home, we took a break at Paseo del Rio Campground outside of Elephant Butte where we’ve sometimes had good butterflies. Quite dry and still just a week or so away from leafing out for Spring, but we managed to spot a few butterflies, including the first Queen for the year,

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

and several of the overwintering Mourning Cloaks we’ve been seeing around town lately…this one with a nicely blurred background.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Next couple of months should be entertaining around here now that the butterflies are back, bird migration is getting underway, and undoubtedly a few baby owls and other birds will be putting in an appearance.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs, Travel | 4 Comments

Let the Nesting Begin

Since my last posting, it seems most of the owls have joined the party and started their nesting season. We’d stumbled across a first nest on February 10 near the Rio Grande Nature Center, and about a week later started coming across a few others. Owls were being seen in different locations at Willow Creek Open Space, but it wasn’t until February 19 that we were surprised to spot one nesting high in a cottonwood.

Great Horned Owl – Willow Creek

A day later, a friend told me of one nesting near the Tamaya Resort that I got to see the following day.

Great Horned Owl – Tamaya

Having such good luck, I thought to stop in on the couple in Corrales near Dixon Road where the adults have usually been easy enough to spot year-round. Sure enough, they’ve again nested in their usual cavity although the female can easily duck down out of sight.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

The male was easy to spot in one of his usual perches across the ditch from the nest tree.

Male Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Early this week, I noticed a eBird report of an owl nesting across the river from the Botanic Garden (an area now shown as Pat Baca Open Space). Remembering where one nested last year, it seemed worth a look, and sure enough (although you had to look pretty closely quite high in the tree) I made out the female on the same nest as last year.

Great Horned Owl – Pat Baca OS

The eBird report only mentioned seeing the nesting female, but I also spotted the male where it perched last year to keep an eye on the nest.

Male Great Horned Owl – Pat Baca OS

Still looking for a few more active nests, but haven’t been working it quite as much as some previous years. One location that keeps attracting my attention is near Calabacillas Arroyo, where a pair has nested in several different spots since at least 2013. Back at the end of January, I’d spotted one of them (probably the male) in one of the hiding spots he’d used last year, and again just last week. Of the two tree cavities nearby that they’ve used in the past, however, there’s no indication that the female is nesting or that those cavities are even usable anymore. I’ll keep looking, since I have heard that others have recently seen both owls canoodling around in the evening and it’s only a matter of time before they settle down. Just to give you an idea of how well they can hide, here’s a couple photos of that male in his hidey hole…pretty much the only reason I spotted him was knowing I’d seen him there before. Here’s one photo taken from the ditch bank trail.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

See him just below the light brown leaves to the left of the closest tree in the center of the picture? Here’s another one from a little closer on the trail from about the left side of the first picture.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Yep, that’s our guy in the middle of those big light brown cottonwood leaves. Enough of this silliness; here’s the one shot I took from maybe 10 feet away where he was a little more in the open.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

I try to get shots like that pretty quickly and then head off to minimize any disturbance.

Anyway, here’s a couple of other photos from the last few weeks. First a Spotted Towhee from Embudito Canyon.

Spotted Towhee

Canyon Towhees are usually much more common there, and sometimes I’ll see Green-tailed Towhee, but Spotted Towhees not so much.

Got a good look at a porcupine quite low in a tree one day near Tingley Ponds,

Porcupine

and with the weather warming up for the first time in months, the Spiny Softshells and Red-eared Sliders have come out for some sun. This Red-eared Slider seemed to be in the middle of a yoga routine.

Red-eared Slider

Also fun to see a Belted Kingfisher hanging out with all the cormorants on the island with the blue trees. When I see kingfishers there, it’s usually on one one of the bosque ponds.

Belted Kingfisher – Male

But here’s the good news – the BUTTERFLIES ARE BACK! Just in the last week or so, I’ve noticed an occasional Mourning Cloak passing through which is not that unusual since they over-winter as adults and are sometimes seen when the weather gets warm enough. As the end of February approached, I started keeping an eye out for the first of our spring butterflies, the Sandia Hairstreak on the Texas Beargrass (Nolina texana). I had hopes of spotting one on March 1, a day of unusually warm temperatures, but nada. Rambled back on over the next day, which was even warmer, and yep, there one was right where I’d been expecting it.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Nice enough day that there were also several Mourning Cloaks, a Dainty Sulphur, and the first Hoary Comma I’ve seen in quite some time.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

It’s great to start seeing butterflies again, and with spring arriving in just a few more weeks, all the bird and butterfly activity should start really picking up.

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

Some Birds of February

A little over two weeks since my last post, and while we caught a good snowstorm early in February, the weather’s been rather chilly but otherwise generally nice with clear skies. Starting to notice the days getting longer with a few days recently almost feeling warm, and while you know we’re due for at least a little more snow and a couple of cold snaps, Spring is surely on its way. Once again, I haven’t been getting out as often as usual and not coming across many birds or photo ops when I do, but every now and then there’s a surprise waiting for me out there.

Shortly after that big snowstorm, I made my way to Willow Creek Open Space where I’d seen a Great Horned Owl reported on eBird earlier in the year. We’ve had them nesting in that area for years so although it seems a bit early for nesting, it seemed worth a visit to look for them. The Audubon Thursday Birders were also headed there later that week and I figured they’d want to know, too. A little too cold and windy and starting to cloud up, so I only looked around the southern end where they’d nested in 2020…no luck there, but later closer to the parking lot I would spot one close to the trail.

Great Horned Owl

Of course, by the next day one was spotted further south, and missed entirely by the Thursday Birders, so the birds must still be deciding on a nest site. I also looked (unsuccessfully) for any in a few other places along the way home and the next day that may be worth another visit in the coming months.

The weather was much better the next day, where I got a nice look at a Western Bluebird at the North Corrales Bosque.

Western Bluebird

A week later, I’d get a decent shot of an Eastern Bluebird near Rio Grande Nature Center.

Eastern Bluebird

There’ve been a few Mountain Bluebirds around as well, but none that I’ve managed to photograph.

In Embudito one day, it was fun getting pretty good looks at a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (who’d nested there last year). That day, the male showed off for me for a bit before flying off in the distance, first with a fun headshot

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and then a more formal pose.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

About a week later in Embudito, a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers caught my attention messing around in a cholla when another bird nearby started calling. That one looked and sounded a little different, so I tracked it down and realized it was a Sage Thrasher, a species rare for me to see.

Sage Thrasher

Off to Pueblo Montano/Bosque School the next day turned up a good number of porcupines but few birds, one of which and always a treat to see was a Western Screech-Owl.

Western Screech-Owl

Only one other person around that day, but it’s always fun pointing out an owl to anybody walking by with no idea they’re just sitting there.

Back at the Nature Center the next day, I was mostly hoping to see the Wilson’s Snipe in the irrigation ditch where others have been seeing it and we’ve seen it in past years, and checking to see if the Bald Eagle(s) were still perched in the trees across the river. But certainly keeping an eye out for any Great Horned Owls who usually are found nesting somewhere in the area every year. No luck on the snipe or eagle, and had earlier intentionally ignored one old hawk nest along the way that I look at every year but never see anybody using. Pointed it out on the way back (and told that story) when I just happened to take a look and surprise surprise….look who was finally using it!

Great Horned Owl

First nesting owls of the year for me, and fun seeing I was the first to report it on eBird.

On Super Bowl Sunday, we drove down to Bosque del Apache for a most pleasant and productive morning of birding (41 species). Very few Sandhill Cranes or Snow Geese about (at least in the areas we visited), but a few goodies in the desert garden near the Visitor Center to start and others as we drove around the refuge. Some of my better photos from the garden included this Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

a House Sparrow,

House Sparrow

a White-throated Sparrow,

White-throated Sparrow

one of the many Red-winged Blackbirds,

Red-winged Blackbird

and a few of the (also numerous) Gambel’s Quail.

Gambel’s Quail

In the marsh by the Boardwalk Deck was a shy Great Blue Heron,

Great Blue Heron

and for most of the day, we’d see a pair of Bald Eagles perched on the big snag in the large pond from the Flight Deck.

Bald Eagle

Not the greatest photo from such a distance and under terrible lighting conditions, but the first time I’ve ever seen two eagles perched so close together.

On the way home, we decided to drive the loop at Bernardo Wildlife Area where there was a chance of perhaps seeing a Ring-necked Pheasant. I’d seen several reports of their being sighted there recently, and they’re rarely seen around town in recent years. After first spotting a male a good distance away, we eventually had great fun finding three more much closer and sometimes out in the open.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Looking forward to moving from winter to spring, and surely a few more good bird sightings in the weeks ahead.

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