Last Days of Summer

This Friday is the Fall equinox, the first day of autumn, and summer seems to have gone by pretty quickly this year. The weather has been quite nice lately with warm sunny days and pleasantly cool nights, kicking into bloom all the sunflowers and asters with the chamisa and changing leaves of the aspens and cottonwoods only a few short weeks away. The birds have been awfully quiet out there lately; certainly still around but making few noises and often hiding in the foliage. Butterflies have been a little hard to spot, too, with little or no water in the streams and not all that much nectar around. But, like always, all it takes is getting out there everyday to spot something worthy of a photograph.

Way back on the last day of August, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed west out to La Ventana Natural Arch and The Narrows in El Malpais National Monument, a trip I led since Rebecca was still under house arrest with her broken leg. For not having gotten out in advance to scout the area and with the birds being so secretive at this time of year, it was a pleasant surprise to tally 37 species among the 20 people on the trip. Fun for me was also seeing a mating pair of Dainty Sulphurs, a common enough butterfly but not one I’d seen mating before.

Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)

Bird of the day for most of us, and one we’d see at both locations was the Hepatic Tanager, a slightly different red and darker bill in comparison to the Summer Tanager we regularly see in the Rio Grande bosque all summer.

Hepatic Tanager

A few days later on one of several trips to Embudito Canyon this month, there were very few butterflies to be seen other than the Arizona Sister, of which three individuals had all found the one damp spot I noticed along the streambed.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

On another day there, I’d see the first Western Pygmy-Blue of the season, a very small butterfly but quite well-marked.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

Up in the Sandias a couple of days after that, there were some wildflowers about but still pretty quiet for both birds and butterflies. I did get an okay shot of what I assume is a young or female Wilson’s Warbler that morning.

Wilson’s Warbler

That Sunday was a nice morning to wander around Pueblo Montano Open Space near the Bosque School, where it seems the Painted Lady butterflies that have been around all year in good numbers were still flying.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

There was also an immature Black-chinned Hummingbird willing to pose nicely for me.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

My biggest surprise, however, was near the end of my walk when I spotted a pair of Green Herons on a nearly dry ditch. One had stretched its neck and looked so much larger than the other I wondered if it might’ve been something different like maybe a most unusual American Bittern? Managed to get a picture of it that later the experts easily identified as just another Green Heron. Here’s a picture of the one sitting in more like their usual posture.

Green Heron

I’d missed the Audubon Thursday Birder trip on September 7 to Manzano Pond and Quarai National Monument, but heard they’d seen the rather uncommon Northern Waterthrush. The next week’s trip was to Poblanos Fields Open Space on the east side of the Rio Grande from Pueblo Montano Open Space. My expectations were not high that morning for seeing many birds since it had been so quiet everywhere else recently, but sure enough while we didn’t see large numbers of birds (no goldfinches with all those sunflowers around?), the group would not only end up with a respectable total of close to 20 species but have 3 that were quite unusual to see in that area. The first was a Peregrine Falcon perched high in a distant cottonwood but distinctly identifiable especially through good friend Lefty’s scope. Soon after he’d be the first to see a Barn Owl fly near the garden area, where it would disappear until dashing off to another hidden spot. While that area is my “go to” spot for Western Screech-Owl during breeding season, none of us had ever seen a Barn Owl there before. The third species, bird-of-the-day for most of us, had everybody scratching their heads for a minute until a visitor from Austin with our group quickly called it out as an Eastern Kingbird. New for me in New Mexico, it hung around long enough for everybody to get great looks at it.

Eastern Kingbird

I returned the next day hoping to maybe see any of those birds again, and while I didn’t see any of them there was a pretty good look at a Swainson’s Hawk,

Swainson’s Hawk

the coyote we’d seen hiding in the fields the day before crossed right in front of me,

Coyote

and I got a couple of pictures of the Globemallow Leaf Beetles we’d seen the day before.

Globemallow Leaf Beetle (Calligrapha serpentina)

A few days later, I checked out a few places south of town for birds and butterflies. First stop was “Owlville” near Los Lunas a friend had asked about earlier that week. He’d seen a couple of Burrowing Owls on his visit, but others hadn’t been seeing them lately. Now that breeding season’s over and they tend to migrate further south later in the year, I didn’t expect to see many, but it seemed worth a visit on my way to Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. Arriving there reasonable early (8:30 am), three of the owls were up and looking around, but staying pretty close to their burrows where it wouldn’t be too surprising they’d cool off in the heat of the day.

Burrowing Owl

My other two stops weren’t particularly productive, with the Belen Marsh much smaller and drier than on other visits this year and also unusually quiet at Whitfield. At Whitfield, there was an Osprey sitting in a distant tree, a bird I hadn’t seen there before and it might have been a little too early or cloudy for many butterflies to be out. One of my reasons for going there was to look for Monarch butterflies and maybe the Bordered Patch that we’ve seen there before at about this time of year. Didn’t see either of those butterflies, but there were a number of Queens flying about attracted to the seep willow just coming into bloom.

Queen (Danaus gillipus)

Oddly enough, on an afternoon visit today to Piedras Marcadas Dam (where I’ve checked for Monarchs at least 3 times this week), I’d see a Bordered Patch for the first time in town, and a good dozen Monarchs whose migration must finally be underway.

Monarch (Danaus gilippus)

It was fun later that evening sitting out on my porch to have two Mule Deer wander through the neighborhood; here’s one of them who’s either looking at me or that Scaled Quail up on the cholla in the foreground.

Mule Deer

Back to Embudito yesterday morning, where it was a treat to spot a Canyonland Satyr, quite common last year but rarely seen this year,

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

and a very fresh-looking Mylitta Crescent.

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

Rufous Hummingbirds and Black-chinned Hummingbirds also were still quite numerous in the canyon, despite reports I’d seen recently saying the hummingbirds have disappeared on their migration. I’d also been hearing that Green-tailed Towhees were just being seen everywhere this year, but still hadn’t seen any for sure after targeting them on several of my recent outings. Running into friend Karen that morning, she mentioned seeing all those hummingbirds and the Arizona Sister butterflies I’d also see there, but when I said I’d gotten a quick look at a Green-tailed Towhee over there by the hackberry trees she said she’d already seen six of them that morning!  Paying a bit more attention on the way out finally paid off with a nice look at one of them perched up in a bush rather than skulking along the ground where I’ll usually see them.

Green-tailed Towhee

 

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Panama Butterfly Trip

Whoops, the entire month of August zipped by without my getting around to updating my blog. The first half of the month was busy down in Panama looking at butterflies, and most of my time since then has been spent going through the 1700+ photos that made it home with me, deleting the really bad and duplicate ones, processing about 300 that survived the cut, and then working on most of those to identify the butterfly species in them.  The trip was with the Canopy Family’s “Panama’s Brilliant Butterflies” tour based out of the Canopy Lodge, Canopy Tower, and its extension to the Canopy Camp in the remote Darien Province.

This was my fourth (and Rebecca’s third) trip to the Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower, and we’d hoped to have our Houston butterflying friend, Steve, along for his first visit. The three of us had first heard about this butterfly-focused tour last Fall during the NABA Meeting in the Lower Rio Grande Valley where we met their resident wildlife biologist, Jenn Sinasac. Jenn expected to co-lead the trip with Tino Sanchez, their butterfly expert who’d guided Rebecca and I around the Canopy Lodge area on an excellent trip in 2013, and told us about this trip also going to the new Canopy Camp that I’d been wanting to visit since it opened in 2014. Unfortunately, Steve had to drop out the day before his flight when he realized his passport was about to expire. And when we got there, we first heard that Jenn would not be joining us for the tour since she’s just a few months away from having a baby and staying close to home near Panama City these days. Luckily, Linda Harrison, a volunteer consultant to the Canopy Family and butterfly expert in her own right, joined us to co-lead the trip with Tino.

Everything went smoothly on our flight to Panama City and after a night at the Airport Hotel Riande, we met new friend Lisa from DC, who’d be with us for the whole trip, and headed out the next morning for the Canopy Lodge. One of the very first butterflies we’d see and one of the most spectacular, the Lampeto Metalmark, was in a bush near the Canopy Lodge dining room for us to see as we first arrived.

Lampeto Metalmark (Caria mantinea lampeto)

Later that day, we’d be joined by six birder/butterflier friends from Indiana who’d just come from birding at Canopy Camp and would be with us at Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower. A little surprising to me, as we left them at the Canopy Tower, we picked up nine new friends in Panama City to join us  for the 5-day Canopy Camp extension; three from the Austin, Texas area, a couple from Georgia, and two couples from Florida. I recognized one of the Florida couples, but couldn’t quite remember where I’d seen them before – turns out we’d run into them a couple of times on our South Florida trip this past May.  Usually on organized trips you’re with the same group the whole time, so it was a little work for me learning a new set of names – how tour guides manage to memorize everybody’s names on Day 1 has always amazed me.

In four days at the Canopy Lodge, we’d head out to various habitats and start picking up a good number of butterflies for our list. On Las Minas Road just up the hill from the Lodge, a Malachite posed calmly for me for several minutes.

Malachite (Siproete stelenes)

Most of the butterflies we’d see aren’t seen at home, although we can see the Malachite fairly regularly in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and sometimes will see Blomfild’s Beauty there, although I don’t recall ever seeing one as fresh as this.

Blomfild’s Beauty (Smyrna blomfildia)

Near the Canopy Lodge is where we’d see one of the few daggerwing butterflies for the trip, a Glossy Daggerwing.

Glossy Daggerwing (Marpesia furcula)

In addition to butterflies, we couldn’t help but start to notice a variety of other interesting insects, animals, birds, and other sights. For example, this is a pretty crazy-looking grasshopper we saw at Altos del Maria in the highland cloudforest above El Valle de Anton where the Canopy Lodge is located.

Piezops ensicornis

Off to the Canopy Tower for the next three nights. At the Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower, but fortunately not so much at Canopy Camp, we got a good idea of why this time of year is called the “Green Season.” My four visits to Panama have all been in July and August – a little bit of rain is to be expected sometime during the day, but that has never really impacted my plans. This trip, however, we did have a couple of days where we had to cancel our planned activity and it tended to be a bit cloudy and a bit dark for photography. One of my better butterfly pictures during our stay at the Canopy Tower was this Great Eurybia.

Great Eurybia (Eurybia patrona patrona)

At the Canopy Tower and later at the Canopy Camp, each night the staff would set up a blacklight and white sheet to see what manner of moths and other insects it would attract. One of the more dramatic ones showed up the very first night we did that, a moth that looks similar to an Io Moth (Automeris io) we’d seen in Ohio in July.

Moth

One of the attractions of staying at the Canopy Tower is getting to look out over the forest canopy, where a number of butterflies spend their time and are rarely if ever seen close to the ground. Among these were the Imperial Arcas (Arcas imperialis), Mexican Arcas (Arcas cypria), and the similar Regal Hairstreak (Evenus regalis). My camera just didn’t have the reach to get good shots of those guys, but we got nice looks at them through spotting scopes and others got some excellent photographs with their long lenses or by digiscoping. I did get an okay picture (despite the gray clouds) of a Mantled Howler resting in a Cecropia tree just outside the dining room window on the upper floor (and that night would get a fairly close look at a Three-toed Sloth busy feeding in another Cecropia tree).

Mantled Howler

Of the six butterfly families, here in New Mexico we rarely see only a very few species of metalmark (Riodinidae), but in the neotropics one can see dozens of species and they seem fairly common. One that we’d see in the area near the Canopy Tower that was new for me was the Northern Mimic-Metalmark, typically resting as many metalmarks do under a leaf.

Northern Mimic-Metalmark (Ithomeis eulema imiatrix)

Other goodies from that part of the trip included seeing a Striated Heron family of two adults and their three little ones during a day trip along Pipeline Road,

Juvenile Striated Heron

and later that day further into the forest along Pipeline Road a Streak-chested Antpitta, normally quite well hidden in the forest but this one stayed close to the road while our crowd of photographers clicked away.

Streak-chested Antpitta

The places we visited around the Canopy Tower also turned up our first Passion Flower

Passion Flower (Passiflora menispermifolia)

and Poison-dart Frog,

Poison-dart Frog

both of which would turn up again when we got to Canopy Camp, and another way-cool grasshopper.

Red-eyed Grasshopper (Coscineuta coxalis)

After three days at Canopy Tower, we departed quite early in the morning stopping first at Airport Hotel Riande to pick up everybody for the long drive to the Canopy Camp for the five night extension. Along the way, we made a stop just past the bridge across Lake Bayano and found an incredible concentration of owl-butterflies,

Pale Owl-Butterfly (Caligo telamonius)

crackers,

Gray Cracker (Hamadryas februa)

beauties, and several other butterfly species. Among these was a new one for me, the small but incredibly colorful Glorious Blue-Skipper.

Glorious Blue-Skipper (Paches loxus)

Later that week, we’d see another Blue-Skipper, this time the Striped Blue-Skipper.

Striped Blue-Skipper (Quadrus contubernalis)

After about an hour there, we next stopped in Torti at the delightful Hotel and Restaurant Avicar for lunch, seeing a few butterflies and some huge beetles while wandering around the property.

Giant Metallic Ceiba Borer (Euchroma gigantea)

It was raining as we pulled into Canopy Camp that afternoon, but it soon stopped and we settled into our fancy safari tents before setting out to look around the grounds. Spotted on a passionflower vine in the clearing was one of the more bizarre-looking bugs I’ve ever seen,

Crazy Cool Bug – Flag-footed Bug (Anisocelis flavolineata)

and the next day we’d see several pretty amazing caterpillars including this huge one I’m told is some kind of sphinx moth.

Sphinxmoth Caterpillar

Here is another fascinating caterpillar seen maybe a day later on one of our outings, but I’ve no idea what species it might be.

Caterpillar

During our stay at the Canopy Camp, we’d hear and sometimes see more Mantled Howler Monkeys, but also had a couple of White-faced Capuchins and a few Geoffroy’s Tamarins hanging out in the trees.

Geoffroy’s Tamarin

Several times while out looking for butterflies, someone would point out a walking stick insect, some of which were quite large and all of which blended remarkably well into the surrounding foliage.

Walking Stick

Our new friend Lisa had quite a thing for dragonflies and damselflies, so everybody kept an eye out for them calling her over to see whenever one was spotted. She’d gotten to see several of her target Helicopter Dragonfly, but also had plenty of other species. This one I think is some kind of darner, but I have no idea of the specific species over the course of the trip.

Dragonfly

And of course, there were lots of spiders anywhere we went, many different species of various colors and sizes. This picture was kind of fun since close up you can see it spinning out silk for its web.

Spider

A couple of the other butterflies we’d see on our daily outings near the Canopy Camp included the Dusky-blue Groundstreak,

Dusky-blue Groundstreak (Calycopis isobeon)

Moon Satyr,

Moon Satyr (Pierella luna)

and Violet-washed Eyed-Metalmark.

Blue-patched Eyed-Metalmark (Mesosemia carissima)

Two days before we were due to head back to Panama City for the trip home, we drove to Rio Tuquesa to take a boat ride down the river to Nuevo Vigia, a village of the indigenous Embera tribe. The riverside was quite busy with a large number of large hand-carved dugout canoes (piragua), most full of plantains brought in for the market. Next to some of the boats a few of the local people were bathing in the river, shampooing their hair, and even brushing their teeth while all this activity was going on around them. Us tourists, of course, were provided fluorescent orange life vests for the perilous journey ahead and then were to wade out into the river to climb into our piragua. Not having any boots and wanting to keep my feet dry, I managed to hop into one without too much trouble. Unfortunately, when Rebecca tried next, she lost her footing and somehow smacked her leg hard against the side of the boat.  Not a good thing as it became clear she’d hurt herself pretty bad and wouldn’t be able to put any weight on that leg let alone walk, and ended up spending the rest of the day sitting in the boat while the rest of us wandered around the woods and the village. Here’s a sweet picture of a little girl in the village who just had to show us her pet Blue-headed Parrot.

Local Girl with her Pet Parrot

Rebecca took this development amazing well, never once complaining about what was surely a rather difficult situation for the next few days. There was no medical help available anywhere in the area, and somehow she managed to get by on an old pair of crutches somebody turned up when we made it back to Canopy Camp, and Linda’s husband, Jerry, picked up a walker for her when we finally got back to Panama City. Folks at the airports we went through on the way home had a wheelchair for her and whisked us through check-in, and after hopping down the aisle to her seat, the flights home went reasonably well. On Sunday, after finally getting back home late on Saturday, we got to an urgent care facility for an x-ray, and two days later she had surgery for what turned out to be a broken tibia. She’ll be sitting around at home recuperating for the next couple of months, but seems to be hanging in there okay.

We’re still compiling the list of the more than 350 species of butterflies seen on the trip, and close to 60 of the 160 species I photographed were new for me, including the poorly-named Pale-clubbed Hairstreak.

Pale-clubbed Hairstreak (Theritas hemon)

Aside from Rebecca’s unfortunate accident late in the trip, our friend Steve having to miss it altogether, and the weather being a little “greener” than expected, overall it was another excellent trip and fun getting to share it with all those new friends we hope to see out there again sometime in the future. If anybody’s interested, more pictures from the trip are now online at http://sandianet.com/panama2017/index.htm.

 

 

 

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Summer Sightings

Almost into August and lots of good sightings over the last couple of weeks. A trip to the Sandia Crest and a few other butterfly spots in the Sandias a week ago Friday turned up a couple of new butterflies for the year and ones we don’t see very often, including the Milbert’s Tortoiseshell right at the Crest,

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti)

and a Pine White along the road from Balsam Glade toward Las Huertas Canyon and Placitas.

Pine White (Neophasia menapia)

We usually see the Pine White flying quite high near the top of tall ponderosa pines, but now and then they do drop down close to the ground. This one’s a male and the female has stronger black markings and thin red around the edge of the wings. At that same spot, a Tailed Copper, which seem present in unusually large numbers this year, was also checking out the coneflower.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

I’ve seen plenty of tussock moth caterpillars this year, too, usually on oak leaves where several recent visits have been unsuccessful in spotting another Colorado Hairstreak – crazy looking caterpillar I keep trying to photograph to capture everything its got going on.

Tussock Moth Caterpillar

A couple days later, a quick trip to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area turned up a few worn Bordered Patch butterflies, one we usually see down there in the summer but rarely anywhere else. Among a few other butterflies there was a Viceroy, which I see less often than the similar-looking Queen or even the Monarch.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

On the way to Whitfield, of course I had to take a look at “Owlville” in Los Lunas, where there are still a number of Burrowing Owls although the young ones are growing up fast,

Burrowing Owl

and there were a number of young Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet at the Belen (or “Taco Bell”) Marsh.

American Avocet Juveniles

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was the annual visit to the Simms Ranch and potluck at the home of Bonnie Long and Don Giles. The Simms always put on an interesting presentation on their study of bluebird nesting on their property, and Bonnie on her nest boxes. After visiting at the Simms, the group heads over to Bonnie and Don’s house for a wonderful potluck lunch. Bonnie and Don have hosted this event for at least the last fifteen years, which the group surely appreciates. Both homes also make it a point to keep a large number of hummingbird feeders filled, attracting an incredible number of four different species of hummingbirds. A real treat for me was the one that’s much less commonly seen than the others, a Calliope Hummingbird with its fabulous neck feathers.

Calliope Hummingbird

The Broad-tailed Hummingbird is no slouch in the category of showy feathers either.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Oddly enough, I didn’t get pictures of any of the Black-chinned Hummingbirds, which are usually the most common species in town, but did get a few of the Rufous Hummingbird that always seems to show up right on the Fourth of July.

Rufous Hummingbird

The weather that morning was most unusually cloudy with even a few drizzles, and interesting to push the limits of my camera trying to get some of those pictures. I’d set the shutter speed to 1/2000 second to try and freeze those wings, didn’t think to try using a flash, and to expose the pictures adequately, the camera cranked up the ISO from my usual default of 320 sometimes as high as my maximum setting of 6400. Pictures came out pretty well and not nearly as grainy as I would’ve expected.

The sun did break out about halfway through lunch, and most of us had a little time to wander around looking for a few more birds and other wildlife. Rebecca spotted our first Western Pygmy-Blue for the season, a way tiny butterfly with lots of bling.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

A treat awaited me at home that afternoon. There are maybe a dozen small Strawberry Cactus in my yard that once every summer all come into bloom for a single day. It seems there is some event that triggers blooming, which usually happens a few days after our first good rain.

Strawberry Cactus

The next aftenoon, Rebecca and I checked out Otero Canyon and Cedro Creek for butterflies. There had apparently been some pretty good rain there on the east side of the mountains recently and evidence of some fairly significant flash flooding particularly along Cedro Creek, so it seems a lot of the wildflowers might have been taken out. All that rain left some good amounts of standing water, bringing out some of the dragonflies in the area.

Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)

Still we saw a few good butterflies, such as the Orange Sulphur,

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

Sleepy Orange,

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

and Dainty Sulphur.

Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)

Stopping at the Tijeras Ranger Station on the way home turned up a couple of the more usual suspects who also posed nicely for their portraits, including a Juniper Hairstreak

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

and Two-tailed Swallowtail.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

This morning it was off on a final scouting trip to Corrales for this week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip. Every year, we tweak the date a little hoping to find the Mississippi Kites nesting during our visit. The good news for this year is the birds are still around in the area they’ve been for more than five years now,

Mississippi Kite

and while I still haven’t found a nest this year, there was a young one crying loudly until Mom showed up with a little snack.

Mississippi Kite

The young Cooper’s Hawks I first saw nesting there awhile ago are also still around and looking more grown up on every visit.

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk

 

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Colors of Summer

It really feels like summer around here lately. Massive thunderheads have been building up every day for the last week or so and most days there will be a little splash of those monsoon rains at least around the mountains every afternoon. New butterflies for the season are appearing along with lots of different dragonflies and more of those baby birds that have recently fledged.

Last weekend and then again early this week, I’ve made the rounds of some of the good spots for butterflies up in the Sandias. At a spot Rebecca found last year to be pretty dependable for Colorado Hairstreak, there also have been large numbers of Tailed Copper this year.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

Rather striking from the side, they’re even more incredible from the top. We’d mostly see males on our first visit that are kind of a uniform goldish brown sometimes with a purplish sheen, but I also had a female (below) with that vivid dark patterning.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

We did look pretty hard for those Colorado Hairstreaks, too. I still haven’t spotted one yet, but Rebecca saw one in each of the two places we looked; the first open in the sun showing off a brilliant purple that I didn’t get on quickly enough before it flew off. I did manage to get a quick side shot of the second one and will surely head back up there to try for another one.

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

Couple of other interesting sightings while we were waiting for the Colorado Hairstreaks to come out. First we noted quite a few tussock moth caterpillars on the oaks (and many caterpillars and cocoons in the restrooms and picnic shelters) – pretty cool when you get a close look at them, but I’ve heard they sting so it’s best to keep your distance.

Tussock Moth Caterpillar

The tachinid flies are out again for the summer, too, and there were plenty of these really wacky looking flies working the oaks as well.

Repetitive Tachinid Fly

We also had a female Warbling Vireo holding a caterpillar hopping all around the oak we were searching for butterflies, and finally spotted her nest with at least one little one in there. Moments later, quite close by we saw that one of them must have just fledged and seemed a bit annoyed at our visit.

Warbling Vireo

It had been a couple of years, but I drove part of the way down from Balsam Glade toward Placitas, where there’s a patch of James’ Buckwheat we’ve seen Square-spotted Blue in the past. Lots of Tailed Copper there, too, but an unexpected treat to see the buckwheat in bloom and drawing in a few of those butterflies to nectar.

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

Coneflower has started blooming all up the mountain, and always draws a few good butterflies. One that I’d been waiting to see return for the summer, but so far in much lower numbers than I remember, is the Northwestern Fritillary.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

It’s another one of those butterflies that looks at least as colorful from the side as it does from the top.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

This year has seen an incredible number of Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies flying around, but all of a sudden we’re also starting to see its cousin, the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis).

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

This one is told from others in the genus by those two large eyespots and that little spot of white surrounded by pink in the forewing.

Coneflower seems to attract most butterflies, but this is the first time I’ve seen Hoary Comma come to it, and two of them to the same flower!

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Down by the Rio Grande, a good variety of damselflies and dragonflies are flying again. It’s always fun trying to identify them, and they often seem to pose nicely for rather nice photographs. In particular, the Audubon Thursday Birders last week spent the morning at Pueblo Montano Open Space, where we had a good number of birds but also had lots of dragonflies, including those shown below. One of the more common ones is the Widow Skimmer (the male has those white patches on the wings).

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

I always see plenty of Blue Dasher out there, too, whose white face nails down its identity from several otherwise similar dragonflies.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Not quite as common to see and even more uncommon to see perched rather than flying back and forth is the Twelve-spotted Skimmer, who posed rather dramatically for me.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)

Very special as I have so rarely seen it, is the Eastern Amberwing.

Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera)

Walking along the irrigation ditch with the Thursday Birders, Rebecca spotted a cool sphinx moth, a nice sighting as this was our first outing with the group since that moth-focused trip to Ohio for Mothapalooza 2017 the week before I talked about in my last blog post.

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx occidentalis)

Pueblo Montano was so good for birds and other things that day, I went back again the next day to get a few more pictures. Yellow-breasted Chats were much more visible than normal on both days; this is the best picture of one that perched pretty close.

Yellow-breasted Chat

It was also fun being serenaded by this female Summer Tanager on the walk back to the car.

Female Summer Tanager

In one of those moments when you just had to be there to see it, a Black-chinned Hummingbird paused to investigate this sunflower-like flower.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Both days, we’d see several Wood Duck families practicing paddling along the ditch.

Wood Duck

Roadrunners seem to be enjoying summer this year, too, with quite a few of them being spotted this month, often showing off the latest lizard they’ve managed to snag. This guy had just missed one at the Albuquerque Academy on the Fourth of July, but made for a fun picture showing off that mohawk haircut and flashing its good ol’ red, white, and blue eyeliner.

Greater Roadrunner

For the last six years, I get to lead the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to look for nesting Mississippi Kites in Corrales, and so once again I’ve made a couple of scouting trips recently looking for them. These guys migrate to South America for the winter and then head back in late spring to nest, usually more like Texas north to Kansas or the southeastern states, but some head up the Rio Grande just about this far north. So far this year, I haven’t found any nesting but was surprised to see five first-year individuals in a single tree on my first visit, and three just last week in the same area they’ve used every year. Here’s a shot of two of them way at the top of a very tall tree.

Mississippi Kite

Hopefully, they’ll still be around in a couple of weeks for this year’s Thursday Birder trip, and maybe I’ll even luck into spotting a nest by then. While looking for nests, I did see a Cooper’s Hawk tending her little ones in the same area on my first visit, but by the second visit they’d fledged and it was fun watching two of the young ones fighting over some kind of snack they’d found on the road. One finally took the prize and spent several minutes loudly announcing its success between bites.

Cooper’s Hawk

 

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Photographs | 5 Comments

Midnight Mothers

Just back from almost a week in Ohio attending Mothapalooza 2017. Our butterflying friend, Linda, has attended all five of these annual events and has regularly recommended we check it out, so this year Rebecca and I signed up and flew out there for it. Quite an interesting and informative experience that was very well-organized and held at the Shawnee Lodge and Conference Center near Portsmouth, Ohio. The primary focus of the event was on the incredible variety of moths that would be attracted at night by black lights set up in a number of locations near the lodge and out in the forest. Running from 10pm to 2am, expert “moth-ers” would set up their lights and identify many of the creatures attracted to them, including moths, some crazy cool beetles and other night-flying insects. Several vans were provided to drive among the various sites and these enthusiasts would keep at it well into early morning. Being new to all this, we’d manage to visit a couple of different sites but only lasted until about midnight. During the days leading up to the midnight mothing, we’d join field trips led by a number of experts in different subject areas, slowly making our way stopping to examine any number of different insects, butterflies, birds, and plants that crossed our path. Later in the evening, the conference featured several excellent talks focused on different aspects of moths and their caterpillars.

During those day trips, we’d end up adding new species of butterflies to our life lists; for me these included the Harvester (the only carnivorous butterfly in North America and one I’d been wanting to see for quite some time), Southern Cloudywing, and Eastern Comma. I spotted one we’d seen before that got everyone excited and must be unusual for Ohio, the Golden Banded-Skipper.  It posed nicely for several minutes on a nearby tulip poplar leaf for everybody on the field trip to get a good look.

Golden Banded-Skipper (Autochton cellus)

On our last field trip, one person in our group spotted that Harvester in a very good butterfly location (Pond Lick Road) we visited several times and where it had been seen by others the day before. Unlike most butterflies in my experience, this guy just sat there the whole time we were there and let me get quite a few photographs from a fairly close distance.

Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius)

I’m guessing Harvesters aren’t quite as rare as I thought, since the locals seemed much more excited spotting an American Snout, a butterfly often seen in good numbers in Texas and New Mexico.

American Snout (Libytheans carinenta)

All told, we’d see nearly 40 butterfly species many of which we rarely if ever see in New Mexico. Some of my favorites included the Common Wood-Nymph (which isn’t nearly as colorful out west),

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

American Copper, flying around a large field of very short grass that I wouldn’t have expected to have any butterflies,

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

Spicebush Swallowtail,

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

and Zebra Swallowtail, neither of which ranges as far west as New Mexico.

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

Other goodies on the butterfly list included Great Spangled Fritillary,

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

Little Yellow,

Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa)

large numbers of Red-spotted Purple,

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

Northern Pearly-eye,

Northern Pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon)

the tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue,

Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas)

Common Roadside-Skipper, whose identity eluded us for a few minutes,

Common Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes vialis)

and at the Chilo Locks on the drive back to the Cincinnati airport, Peck’s Skipper.

Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius)

Of course, the main point of this event was seeing what showed up at night drawn to those black lights. Of all the different moths that appeared, one of my favorites was the colorful Io Moth, which is apparently seen regularly but was completely new to me.

Io Moth (Automeris io)

Some of the other crowd pleasers were some of the larger moths in the Saturniidae family, including the very cool Luna Moth,

Luna Moth (Actias luna)

the Polyphemus Moth,

Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

and the Promethea Moth.

Promethea Moth (Callosamia promethea)

There is an amazing variety of size, shapes, and colors among moths and an astonishingly large number of species. It seems not at all unusual to have new, undescribed species turn up, which I suspect may draw people to this hobby.

A couple of the other ones we’d see turn up at the different locations we visited included the Rosy Maple Moth with its crazy pink color,

Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda)

and the Giant Leopard Moth.

Giant Leopard Moth (Epcantheria scribonia)

Others that caught my eye and I was able to identify included the Tuliptree Beauty,

Tuliptree Beauty (Epimecis hortaria)

and these two guys.

Virginia Creeper Sphinx & Banded Tussock Moth (Darapsa myron & Halysidota tesselaris)

Now and then, in addition to all those moths, a few other interesting insects would be attracted by the lights, including a huge Eastern Hercules Beetle and this rather large Stag Beetle.

Stag Beetle (Lucanus capreolus)

Really quite an interesting trip, not only adding a few more new butterflies to my list, but also fun getting a good introduction to this new dimension of moths and their caterpillars along with a few other new insects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bugs, Butterfly, Photographs, Travel | 7 Comments

Time Flies

Amazing how time flies by sometimes and two weeks have now passed since my last update. Although I have been getting out pretty regularly as usual, it’s been rather hot and dry lately and I haven’t been seeing all that many birds and butterflies in most of my usual places. Birds have been busy nesting and keeping fairly quiet and out of sight it seems. Most of the wildflowers that butterflies nectar on have faded away and the damp areas they use to collect salt have dried up. The good news is all those new baby birds have started fledging and flying around, and our summer monsoon rains should kick in over the next couple of weeks and new butterflies start appearing along with the summer wildflowers.

A highlight for me during the last two weeks was a float trip down the Corrales stretch of the Rio Grande organized by Kim Score for Central New Mexico Audubon Society. About a dozen of us gathered at the Alameda Bridge at 5am on June 18 to first drive to Bernalillo to pick up kayaks and canoes, and then drive to the put in spot in North Corrales. On the river by 6:30am, we spent the next four hours floating easily down the river hearing and seeing a good 50 bird species over 8.5 miles, including a ridiculous number of Yellow-breasted Chats and Common Yellowthroats and at least 4 Gray Catbirds (a bird I’ve rarely seen in this area). Excellent day and something I’d been wanting to do for a really long time-next time I might even take a few photos.

Several times in recent weeks has seen me heading around to the east side of the Sandias checking out bird and butterfly spots from Ojito de San Antonio Open Space (~6600 ft, 2012m) all the way up to Sandia Crest (10678 ft, 3255m). One of those spots, Capulin Spring, is full of blooming purple penstemon just now attracting large numbers of swallowtail butterflies, including both the Two-tailed

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and the Western Tiger Swallowtail.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

While there on one visit, I ran into birding friend Gale Owings who pointed out a Plumbeous Vireo nest near the parking lot, where the mother would fly off and soon return with something for the three little ones to eat.

Plumbeous Vireo

On the path to the spring, a Hermit Thrush posed for me while I could hear the marvelous song of several more of them calling to each other from the nearby trees.

Hermit Thrush

Several good birds flew in for a drink or a splash there at the hollowed out log on all my visits, but there were always other birders watching so I didn’t stay long or try for many photographs. Up at the Crest, it was good to see a nice display of wildflowers near the Crest House with a lots of butterflies stopping by to nectar. New for the season and never seen that often around here was a Black Swallowtail, of which I’d see at least one at several spots along the route on different days. Most seemed a bit beat up and this is the best one of them I saw.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Among the other butterflies at the Crest one morning was an Acmon Blue. I’ve occasionally seen them around since April this year, but had hoped to see the similar Melissa Blue which should also be flying now.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

Several other tiny butterflies are also seen regularly these days, including this fresh Reakirt’s Blue showing off its ‘bling’ in those hindwing spots along with that distinctive row of black spots surrounded by white in the forewing.

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

Juniper Hairstreaks also have been quite common in most locations this year.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Near Bill Spring, we’re starting to see Taxiles Skipper again, this one a male on a wild geranium flower.

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

On one visit there, several Hoary Comma butterflies were investigating something tasty along the trail, one of which let me approach close enough to photograph.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Early this week, I made the rounds at Rio Grande Nature Center and Los Poblanos Open Space. At the Nature Center, an Ash-throated Flycatcher posed for me from its perch high up in a Russian olive,

Ash-throated Flycatcher

and later at Los Poblanos Open Space, a Painted Lady seemed to be enjoying a Coneflower in the community garden.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

I’d forgotten until a friend asked about one today that the dragonflies and damselflies start appearing in large numbers and a variety of species about this time every year, and sure enough, saw a rather unusual one in Embudito Canyon this morning, a White-belted Ringtail.

White-belted Ringtail (Erpetogomphus compositus)

I’ll certainly need to start looking around closer for more of them, and imagine I’ll start seeing more of those birds and butterflies if I just keep looking.

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 4 Comments

The Hits Keep Coming

The weather’s been just about perfect lately, bringing a number of fun sightings and new butterflies for the year. It has been getting a little warm in the afternoons as we’re closing in on summer and hopefully our summer “monsoon” rains will kick in soon. The day before I had to leave town for a couple of days last week, my friend Kelly sent me an email telling me about a Ferruginous Hawk nest she’d found near Stanley NM, way out in the plains east of Albuquerque. Figuring they’d likely fledge and maybe even disappear before I’d get another chance to get out there, I headed out there that morning. Kelly’d given me pretty explicit directions, but even knowing the large nest was in one of the few trees there, it was almost impossible to see anything from the side of the road. Sneaking around behind the tree, however, the nest was easily visible and I got a good look at the female and one of the two little ones at almost eye level before she flew off to distract me.

Ferruginous Hawk

Almost immediately, Mom flew off to a nearby telephone pole for a couple of minutes before taking off and circling high above me for a bit before pretending to fly away.

Ferruginous Hawk

Figuring I’d caused enough consternation there for one day, it was back in the car to head for home. There were any number of other hawks, Western Meadowlarks, Western Kingbirds, and Horned Larks along the way on any available perch,

Horned Lark

and it was cool getting a nice look at a Swainson’s Hawk on another telephone pole not far from the nest location.

Swainson’s Hawk

Flying to Dallas the next morning and back the next evening, I made it home in time for last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to a friend’s cabin up in the Jemez Mountains. Our hosts volunteer for our group to come visit every year for what is always an enjoyable day and lots of good birds, some of which we rarely if ever see at home; this year’s visit included a couple of Evening Grosbeaks, several nesting Violet-green Swallows and Northern Flicker, and a good variety of other birds including a Hairy Woodpecker coming right to their suet feeder.

Hairy Woodpecker

Rebecca and I also like this trip for two rather special butterflies that we only see in that higher altitude habitat. The first of these specialties I spotted was a Western Pine Elfin, which was the only one I’d see while Rebecca would see a couple of other individuals a little later.

Western Pine Elfin (Callophrys eryphon)

Moments after seeing that one, a Purplish Copper popped up, and that afternoon we’d find several more of them in a field of wild iris and asters.

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

That weekend had us heading out to Las Huertas Canyon just east of Placitas, one of our better butterflying areas and unique in having a good year-round stream and more deciduous trees than we usually see in the mountains. Turned out to be a pretty good day, especially at a few of the muddy spots near the water in several locations. We usually first stop at a big meadow near the Sandia Man Cave, the only spot I know of with some tropical milkweed. The milkweed was just on the verge of blooming, but draws such a variety of butterflies when it does that I may need to visit again soon. Like everywhere else this year for some reason, there were plenty of Painted Lady butterflies, although their numbers seem to be have decreased in the last few days.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Not seeing too much at our first muddy spot by the creek, our hopes were rewarded at the next one with a large number of Swallowtails, a Red Admiral (I didn’t realize it was there until looking at my pictures later), Weidemeyer’s Admiral, Arizona Sister, Margined White, Russet Skipperling, and a few other species.

Mostly Western Tiger Swallowtails,

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

but also the deeper yellow of a single Two-tailed Swallowtail were there busy lapping up salt from the mud.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

A Weidemeyer’s Admiral posed nicely for me, showing both that distinctive upper side

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyeri)

and surprisingly detailed and colorful underside.

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyeri)

A few days later, I’d get a picture of one backlit against the sun where you get a little of both.

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyeri)

The Arizona Sister looks a bit similar, but is in a different genus close to that of the Admirals.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

Rebecca spotted a little tiny guy on the mudflat that we couldn’t identify at first, but turned out to be a first of the season Russet Skipperling.

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

That one was a good reminder for me to look over our past data before heading out on these trips, as it does help to have an idea of what to expect in a known location at that time of year. A surprise that day, and not one we’d seen there before and rarely seen anywhere else was a California Tortoiseshell.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

Looking a great deal like one of the closely-related “Commas”, they’re pretty distinctive on top with just a touch of white and fewer dark markings.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

The above picture is actually of a second one seen at Bill Spring four days later, along with even more of those swallowtails.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

A Hoary Comma also showed up at Bill Spring, shown below for comparison (and because I thought the photo turned out pretty well).

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Another nice surprise nearby in Cienega was an Arctic Blue, a species I only see maybe once every other year in the Sandias.

Arctic Blue (Plebejus glandon)

Pretty common all year anywhere there’s leaf litter to hide in is the Mourning Cloak, one of which gave me a nice look at its markings.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

With summer arriving in just a few short days, we should start seeing a few more butterflies start flying, maybe some of those damselflies and dragonflies that I just haven’t gotten around to looking for yet, and always some fun new bird sightings.

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 6 Comments

Getting Caught Up

I usually manage to get a blog update out about once a week, but sometimes things get in the way and I just don’t get to it. With my last update, I focused on that fun trip to South Florida and all the butterflies and other critters seen down there. Meanwhile, pictures have been starting to pile up around here, and it seemed a good idea to get caught up by posting some of the better and more interesting ones I’ve gotten since early May.  On Memorial Day, it was fun to head down reasonably early in the morning to check on some of the nesting Burrowing Owls down in “Owlville” in Los Lunas. It had been awhile and since my last visit all the new little ones have hatched and are out looking around.

Burrowing Owl

I’d see at least thirteen owls there that morning, of which 4-5 were adults and the rest immatures. The one shown above was just a hoot (pun intended). It started off squawking loudly at one of the adults, who appears to be bowing in this next picture, but was really probably just trying to get it to be quiet.

Burrowing Owl

It was then that it noticed me sitting there in my car and it turned to first stare at me head on and then slowly twist its head sideways until its head almost popped off.

Burrowing Owl

At one of the other burrows, the owls were a bit more reticent to interact with humans ; whenever I’d slowly drive by, this one would drop into the burrow and pretend I couldn’t see it.

Burrowing Owl

I wonder if maybe there are little ones in there, too, that are still a little too small to be seen in public.

In other owl news, back on May 23 a visit to the Great Horned Owl nest at Piedras Marcadas showed the two little ones doing good with the older one already out of the nest and flapping around, while the younger one was still lounging around – interestingly I didn’t spot either adult anywhere around during that visit.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

Sadly, the winds that took down the osprey nest around that time also wiped out the nest in Taylor Ranch, as I discovered on a visit that same day. I’d been following that nest since the end of February, and am pretty sure the two little ones weren’t quite old enough to be on their own. No telling what may have happened to them.

In better news, my friend Linda told me about some young ones I hadn’t known about right in the middle of town and a block from a large shopping center. The lighting was terrible, but it was easy to spot one adult and these two nearly full-grown owlets. Not sure where the nest was, but someone who stopped by while I was there told me they’d nested in one of the trees a bit further away.

Great Horned Owl – City Place

Way back in early May, a quick trip to Bear Canyon in the High Desert community turned up a Spotted Sandpiper in the small pond there and a bunch of juvenile Curve-billed Thrashers goofing around on a cholla.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Later that week on a bit of a windy day, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed out to Manzano Pond and Quarai National Monument. Water level in the pond was quite high, so there weren’t any of the usual shorebirds about and the wind kept the number of other sightings down, but we still had a good day. Highlight for me at the pond was a pair of mating Northern Flickers.

Northern Flicker

At Quarai, we were treated to our first Fulvia Checkerspot for the year, a pretty butterfly most of the folks on the trip got good looks at.

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

Another nice butterfly there was a Green Skipper nectaring on the thistle.

Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis)

This year has seen an incredible number of Painted Lady butterflies just about everywhere. Interestingly, we’ve noticed they can vary in size quite a bit and some (the freshest ones, I assume) are quite vividly colored.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

We see two other species, the American Lady (V. virginiensis) and West Coast Lady (V. annabella), but it’s only the Painted Lady that we’ve seen so far this year in such large numbers.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

The pictures above of the Painted Lady are from a nice field full of wild iris across the road from Tree Spring trailhead that Rebecca and I checked out this past weekend. In addition to all the Painted Ladies, there were several other butterflies, including Silvery Blue, Dreamy Duskywing, Northern Cloudywing, Silver-spotted Skipper, and this female Taxiles Skipper.

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles) – female

Also cool to see was a pretty good number of Snowberry Clearwings working their way through all the iris.

Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)

On May 25, a few days after returning from our Florida trip, the Audubon Thursday Birders visited Carlito Springs Open Space. A little quiet for birds that day maybe because it was a bit breezy, but we would see a nice variety of butterflies – lots of Painted Ladies, of course, but also a fresh Thicket Hairstreak

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

and our first Weidemeyer’s Admiral for the season.

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

The next day had me checking out the butterflies in my local patch of Embudito Canyon, where the number and variety was rather amazing. At least 50 of those Painted Ladies and fourteen other species in the short distance from the parking area to the bit of water. After not having seen them in awhile, there were three Sandia Hairstreaks, a new for the season Canyonland Satyr,

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

and also new for the season, Viereck’s Skipper.

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

For some reason this year, I’ve been lucky to see a Mormon Metalmark on most visits and usually just long enough for one or two pictures before it flies off; this time it was perched on the feathery Apache Plume.

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

Acting on a tip from our friend and butterfly expert, Jim Brock, that weekend Rebecca and I drove out to the Manzanos to look for Strecker’s Giant-Skipper, a butterfly we’d been on the lookout for over the last few years and had only seen once before up near the Colorado border. Reaching the location Jim had told us about, it was clear we were in the right habitat of blooming yucca, and after a short search managed to spot several individuals.

Strecker’s Giant-Skipper (Megathymus streckeri)

A successful day right from the start, we’d visit several other spots during the day and end up seeing a good number of species, such as this Juniper Hairstreak

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

and a rather territorial Silver-spotted Skipper.

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

Two more butterflies from this past week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Doc Long Picnic Area and the Bill Spring Trail, a Field Crescent nectaring on a sunny dandelion,

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

and a close-up of an Arizona Sister apparently warming up on the trail.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

So now that I’m caught up a little, I’m looking forward to getting back on track visiting all my regular spots and maybe a few new ones to see what there is to see.

 

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Photographs | 5 Comments

South Florida Butterflying

Another fun trip looking for butterflies, this time in South Florida from Miami to Key West May 12-20. Organized through Sunstreak Tours, our quite knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Alana Edwards, showed our group of seven butterfliers around a number of good locations just outside of Miami, into the Everglades, and down through the Florida Keys all the way to Key West. The nine-day trip would turn up more than 60 butterfly species, including 21 that were new for me and several that were quite special and not often seen. Our very first stop of the trip gave us excellent close-up views of one of the species I’d hoped to see, the Atala. They are always a highlight of a visit to Albuquerque’s PNM Butterfly Pavilion, but the first naturally wild one for me.

Atala (Eumaeus atala)

Later in the day, a passion vine flower caught my eye and is always good for finding nectaring butterflies.

Passion Vine

It seemed like just about everywhere we went there were huge spider webs, usually with a large Golden Orb-Weaver waiting for prey.

Golden Orb-Weaver

The next day, Sunday, we headed into Everglades National Park where several stops would turn up a good list of species and several new ones for me. On Long Pine Key after a pretty good hike surrounded by an incredible number of mosquitoes, we would finally spot one of our target butterflies, the Florida Leafwing. Oddly enough, I survived that day with basically no bites despite having them all over me and dispatching large numbers of them along the way. Later, we’d invest in and use more bug spray and head nets, but the mosquitoes were never anywhere near as numerous the rest of the trip.

In addition to butterflies, we’d also see some good birds and other critters on these outings, including one of several Osprey that made for good photos.

Osprey

A marvelously diverse meadow turned up some Eastern Pygmy-Blue butterflies, one of those 21 “lifers” I’d add during the trip,

Eastern Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium isophthalma)

and pretty much anywhere we’d see the common, but gorgeous, Gulf Fritillary.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Fun to see toward the end of our day in the Everglades was a manatee, drawn to a leaking freshwater supply that it seemed to enjoy.

Manatee

Monday morning at a spot in Key Largo, we were treated to a rare and endangered Schaus’ Swallowtail that posed nicely for us for more than 40 minutes. An absolutely amazing experience, this species is just not seen very often, and apparently is usually seen flying around without ever landing.

Schaus’ Swallowtail (Papilio aristodemus)

Our next stop a short distance away gave us nice looks at another “lifer”, the Florida Purplewing.

Florida Purplewing (Eunica tatila)

At any number of locations we’d notice large colorful snails clinging to the trees; this guy was slowly making its way across an asphalt trail.

Snail

Tuesday morning, we checked out of the Quality Inn in Florida City and headed down the Florida Keys, where we’d spend the next two nights at the Holiday Inn Express on Marathon Key and checking out various locations all along the Keys down to Key West and back during the day. More good butterflies along the way, but also some good birds, such as this White Ibis,

White Ibis

a Reddish Egret,

Reddish Egret

and a Green Heron showing off its wacky hairdo.

Green Heron

At Bahia Honda State Park, we’d get good looks at the Martial Scrub-Hairstreak, one of three scrub-hairstreaks we’d see on the trip.

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon martialis)

That first day also took us to the butterfly gardens of a couple of Alana’s friends, the first having good numbers of Fulvous Hairstreak, new for me and a quite attractive butterfly,

Fulvous Hairstreak (Electrostrymon angelia)

along with several other goodies. There and at several other spots during the trip, we’d see Brown Anoles posing in the trees occasionally popping out their colorful dewlaps.

Brown Anole

Our second stop that afternoon had us scoping out the tree tops for quite some time waiting for sunset and a chance to see the quite rare Amethyst Hairstreak. High fives all around when one was finally spotted high in a pine tree and everybody got good enough looks to identify it, even if it was too small and far away for a decent photo.

On Wednesday, we drove to Key West checking out a few spots for butterflies along the way, and then back to Florida City for the last 3 nights of the trip. At Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park we were greeted by a couple of huge green iguanas, including this one waiting in a tree.

Green Iguana

Thursday had us working Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in the Everglades, where some diligent searching of the grasses finally turned up both the Little Metalmark and Georgia Satyr that we were hoping to see there.

Little Metalmark (Calephelis virginiensis)

Amazing to me, however, were the huge grasshoppers everywhere in the park known as Eastern Lubber grasshoppers.

Eastern Lubber

Along one trail we came across a blooming buttonwood, which attracted several different butterflies. This one of a Three-spotted Skipper on the buttonwood is one of my favorite pictures from the trip.

Three-spotted Skipper (Cymaenes tripunctus)

On our last full day of butterflying before heading back to the Miami airport on Saturday morning took us to several locations to add a number of butterfly species to the trip list. At the Deering Estate, we’d add species like Statira Sulphur, Dina Yellow, Hammock Skipper, and Mangrove Buckeye.

Mangrove Buckeye (Junonia evarete)

Later in the day, we’d see Pink-spot Sulphur flying in a small park and returned at the end of the day to spot one sitting in a tree long enough to get a good look. On what Alana referred to as our “clean up day”, we made a return visit to Navy Wells Pineland Preserve hoping to see that third species of scrub-hairstreak for the trip, the endangered Bartram’s Scrub-Hairstreak. We’d looked for it unsuccessfully there and at several other locations during the trip, so it was a real highlight to spot several of them on the last day.

Bartram’s Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon acis)

A wonderful trip with a good group of folks, there’s more pictures from the trip on my website.

 

 

 

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs, Travel | 9 Comments

Moving into May

Other than a quick weekend blast of rain turning to snow, the weather has been fantastic around here recently with plenty of migrating birds starting to arrive. A few more nesting species and young birds are being seen, and all that moisture is bringing out more butterflies attracted to the newly blooming flowers. Only a couple of Great Horned Owl pictures this week, first the one in Taylor Ranch where there are now two little ones to be seen, though the younger one is still pretty small and tends to hide  under the adult,

Great Horned Owl – Taylor Ranch

and my late bloomers at Piedras Marcadas, where the first one finally popped up to look around.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

I haven’t been back to several of the other nests lately, but really need to go check on them since all those little ones are getting quite mature and are about to disappear into the woods. Certainly everybody’s favorite at Albuquerque Academy is about there and I didn’t see anybody on my last visit Thursday, but saw that my friend, Michele, spotted the nearly full-grown owlet in a nearby tree later that day.

In other nesting news, we seem to be having Osprey getting ready to nest at Tramway Wetlands, an exciting development since it will be a first for Bernalillo County. They have nested regularly in Sandoval County to the north, but apparently not this far south before. This picture is from last Friday morning, the start of a cold and rainy weekend.

Osprey

It was exciting to see a Western Grebe there in the water,

Western Grebe

and I’d see another one later in the week on the river near Pueblo Montano. I missed seeing the Eared Grebe and several other good shorebirds being reported at Tramway Wetlands, but hadn’t really spent enough time looking around to spot any of them. By Monday, all that bad weather had passed and a return visit had both of the adult Osprey and maybe another young one flying around gathering additional material to build up that nest.

Osprey

Several times this week had me down at Pueblo Montano Open Space for some great birding. My first trip on Monday followed a report by my friend, Susan, of an amazing variety of shorebirds she’d seen there the day before apparently brought in by all that weather. While most were gone by the time I got there, during the week I’d still see a number of them over several visits. A favorite, of course, were the baby Killdeer who’d recently hatched and were busy running about on the mud banks under the close eye of the adults.

Killdeer

Summer Tanagers were present in large numbers on every visit there. This is the first bird seen on my trip Monday, and the first of quite a few species that day that were new for the season for me.

Summer Tanager

On the most successful Audubon Thursday Birder trip there this week, our large group of 37 people would tally at least 57 species, including Lazuli Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Marsh Wren, and quite a few other new species for the year. Summer Tanagers were just about everywhere that day, too.

Summer Tanager

On my Monday visit, I scared up a Green Heron from one of the flooded areas inside the woods,

Green Heron

who we’d also see headed down the Rio Grande on Thursday. A Spotted Towhee singing loudly from a Russian Olive allowed me to approach quite closely for a photograph on Monday,

Spotted Towhee

and on Thursday, so did a Black-headed Grosbeak.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Along the irrigation ditch, several Black Phoebes were seen on every visit. On Monday, what I assume is a male posed nicely for its portrait;

Black Phoebe

on Thursday, we spotted a nesting female;

Black Phoebe Nest

and on Friday (I’d returned once again unsuccessfully looking for the Great Horned Owl nest I’d heard about the day before), while the female was away, I got a look at the eggs in that nest from above.

Black Phoebe Nest

Don’t ask how I got that picture-it required getting all involved with a Russian olive tree and some rather creative contortions to get everything lined up and in focus.

The visit on Friday also turned up American Avocet, which Susan had seen on Sunday but the group missed on Thursday. New for me was realizing that the white one (3rd from the left) is in the winter plumage; I’d only seen them in their usual summer plumage, which my field guide calls  “cinnamon” (one of a surprising number of variations for the color brown among bird names).

American Avocet

I also managed to get a little closer to a Yellow-breasted Chat, a rather noisy bird that tends to hide in marshy areas.

Yellow-breasted Chat

All the turtles are out sunning themselves again as the weather turns warmer.

Painted Turtle

My other objective this past week has been to get a decent picture of the Scott’s Oriole that was the highlight of the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Embudito Canyon the week before. The Thursday Birder bunch will usually spot one in that area at this time of year, but usually only after Rebecca recognizes their song and then someone in the group spots one high in a juniper way across the canyon. This bird really doesn’t seem to like anyone getting very close. On my first two visits after the Thursday trip, the birds were hiding and never showed themselves or called out, but they finally appeared for me on a visit last Wednesday. Singing from high in a juniper, I took my time approaching the stand of hackberry trees that provided a bit of cover and got a couple of shots of the male still pretty far away. Noticing some rustling in the hackberry trees themselves turned up the female quite nearby and (bonus!) carrying some nesting material.

Female Scott’s Oriole

The male then played with me for probably half an hour, letting me almost get close enough before flying right by me over to the far side of the canyon. I’d head over there only to have him zoom back across to the hackberry trees, and we’d play this game several more times. This is as close as he would let me get, so after he posed long enough for this shot, he won the game and I headed on out.

Male Scott’s Oriole

There were a good number of butterflies in Embudito this week as well that made for a couple of good photos. One was a very fresh Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and, a bit worn but colorful, Mylitta Crescent.

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

First of the year for me was a Northern Cloudywing that we might have had in Las Huertas Canyon a couple of weeks ago but I didn’t get a picture.

Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)

A bit surprisingly, no hairstreaks seen there this week, but I did see another Acmon Blue right about where one was seen a few weeks ago.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

Anywhere I went anytime this week, there were always a few White-lined Sphinx Moths flying about in unusually large numbers. Always fun to photograph and I keep trying different camera settings hoping to freeze those wings with varying degrees of success. This one was fun spotting two of them competing for the thistle that has just started coming into bloom.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

 

 

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