Hints of Fall

Over the last few days, hints that Fall is on its way in just a couple of weeks have started to appear everywhere you look. Lots of warblers are being seen and starting their migration, formations of Canada Geese have been flying over, the chamisa and some of the trees are starting to take on their autumn colors, and it seems the days and certainly the nights are getting a little cooler. Always my favorite time of year here, by the end of the month the weather should be just about perfect, those autumn colors spectacular, and no doubt we’ll experience some amazing cloud formations and extraordinary sunsets.

The Audubon Thursday Birders spent a nice morning on August 23 cruising the back roads of the open fields east of the Manzano Mountains south of Moriarty near McIntosh and Estancia. Normally a spring trip for the group, this year our leader, Bonnie Long, also had us out in late summer and turned up a good variety of the raptors she monitors out there along with several other species. One of the few photos I managed that day was of a young Red-tailed Hawk keeping an eye on our caravan of vehicles.

Red-tailed Hawk

A bit of a surprise seeing a young one, since they typically spend their summers way up in Canada, and I didn’t think they nested here.

A couple of days later, Rebecca and I drove down to Sevilleta NWR to help with their annual butterfly count. My expectations for the day weren’t very high since butterfly numbers have seemed low this year around here and you’d think the situation might be even worse in that area’s drier desert environment. A fun group showed up for the count that split into two groups, one headed down toward the riparian habitat along the Rio Grande while our group poked around the trails near the Visitor Center. Expectations, however, dropped even lower after looking over the species list from earlier counts…a good number of species, but all pretty commonly seen around Albuquerque. However, the day turned out way better right from just about the first butterfly spotted – a Palmer’s Metalmark!

Palmer’s Metalmark (Apodemia palmeri)

One of only two species of metalmarks I’ve seen in New Mexico, usually it’s only a very few Mormon Metalmark every year and a Palmer’s Metalmark once every 2-3 years. And, of course, on this day we’d see two different individuals of that species. Parked right next to the second Palmer’s Metalmark was the first of several Rita Blues, another species seen about as rarely by me.

Rita Blue (Euphilotes rita)

Both of these were unusual enough that I submitted photos to butterfliesandmoths.org for verification by our resident NM expert. Rather uncommon most years, too, was the American Snout.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

All day, we kept seeing a couple of larger yellow butterflies flying by that wouldn’t land for us to identify. We were thinking they might be Southern Dogface from the size, color, and time of year, but when we finally did get a good look at one it turned out to be a Cloudless Sulphur – another crazy sighting of a species I’d only seen in New Mexico once before, way back in 2011! Never did get a decent photo of one that day, but plan to head back down there again soon and hope they’re still flying. Rebecca had even spotted their caterpillars on their senna host plant earlier that day, so they must be regular there, but so unexpected we hadn’t considered that’s what all those yellow adults might be.

A couple of other more common butterflies we’d see that day that posed nicely for photographs included Reakirt’s Blue,

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

and Western Pygmy-Blue.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

After such an amazing day at Sevilleta, on Monday we drove out to a spot east of Socorro on Hwy. 60 that had been productive in the past. Not too much flying at our first stop (other than some more American Snouts – go figure!), but stopping at a large patch of Apache Plume off the side of the highway near Water Canyon we surprised a number of Variegated Fritillary butterflies flitting about that rather damp area. With no better idea, we then decided to check out The Box Recreation Area for a picnic lunch and to see if there were any butterflies about. We did see more of those Variegated Fritillaries (one of which we got a quick look at during the Sevilleta butterfly count),

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and a good number of Sleepy Orange (maybe the most numerous of the butterflies at Sevilleta two days earlier).

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

More surprising was to spot a couple of Common Sootywing and then a couple of Hackberry Emperor, neither of which are seen all that often by me and certainly the first for this year.

After having such good luck on the last two outings, the next couple of days had me out poking around my ‘local patch’, Embudito, and several spots in the Sandias. Those days, however, were more typical of what I’ve been experiencing this year…. Embudito had a grand total of two butterflies, a Green Skipper parked in its usual spot in the dry wash, and a single Two-tailed Swallowtail on the Redwhisker clammyweed.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

I did note that the canyon was much greener following the summer monsoon rains and there was a bit of water around, so there might still be a chance for a few more butterflies this year. The Sandias were rather lacking in butterflies, too, and about the only species I saw was way at the Sandia Crest, Melissa Blue.

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

Rebecca led last week’s most successful Audubon Thursday Birder trip to La Ventana Natural Arch and The Narrows in the El Malpais National Conservation Area. Birds were the order of the day, and got off to a great start spotting two Peregrine Falcons high on a cliff across from La Ventana. The very next bird spotted was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a species that I’m starting to see more frequently but had rarely seen in previous years.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Birding was a little slow at La Ventana, maybe because it was a little cloudy and those two falcons were around, but we’d make up for that at the next stop, The Narrows, where we birded awhile before having lunch. We’d expected to see a couple of butterflies attracted to a small stand of bee plant, but all that showed up were a couple of female Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. I’d thought they were Rufous Hummingbirds, but seems the females of both species are quite similar.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

From the start, we were hearing Pinyon Jays calling from all about and soon had quite a few of them flying by, including this one that seems to have a couple of pinon nuts in its beak.

Pinyon Jay

We’d go on to see a nice mix of species, including a Red-tailed Hawk, several Lesser Goldfinches, various warblers, and even a Green-tailed Towhee, but the best was first seen during lunch and then seen quite well a little later just after most of the group headed for home, a Lazuli Bunting! Quite possibly the first I’ve seen in New Mexico and only the second I’ve ever seen anywhere, so very cool to get a nice photo.

Lazuli Bunting

Thinking butterflies have been better south of town this year, on Monday Rebecca and I took a drive along the East Mountains, checking out Oak Flat (lots of blooming buckwheat, but too cool/cloudy for butterflies), Manzano Pond, and Quarai. A couple of good ‘bugs’ at Quarai, including two Monarchs

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

and a few of those Southern Dogface butterflies we’d been expecting to see somewhere the last couple of weeks.

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

On the return trip, we stopped again at Oak Flat but were right on the edge of a nice afternoon deluge that kept the butterflies out of sight. Just a thought, we also stopped at Tijeras Ranger Station where once again we were surprised to spot a couple of skippers, probably Green Skipper, and a nice fresh Gray Hairstreak.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Very few birds or butterflies making their presence known today on a visit to Pueblo Montano (several Wilson’s Warblers and one of the few porcupines I’ve ever seen in summer) or Piedras Marcadas Dam (no Great Horned Owl, but the milkweed was looking pretty good and there were easily 5-6 Monarch butterflies cruising around), but still a treat seeing a couple of the Osprey hanging out at the first successful nest site in the county that we’ve all been watching since at least early April.

Osprey

These are most certainly a couple of this year’s young ones, since that one on the left was busy crying for the adults to bring it something to eat.

Looking forward to the arrival of Fall around here, gorgeous weather and scenery, lots of returning migratory birds, and some late season butterflies.

 

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Always Something

It often strikes me how all it takes is getting outside and looking around a little to observe something unusual, different or completely new. Nearly every walk, even on those slow days, turns up at least one new creature or behavior I’ve rarely or never seen at  some point along the way. While sometimes I’ll have a specific objective when heading to a particular location, more often than not something entirely unrelated will catch my eye as the highlight of the day. Usually being able to get a photograph is always rewarding, and being able to share these “natural moments” was the reason for my starting this blog in 2011.

One of my favorite moments recently was of young Burrowing Owls at “Owlville” in Los Lunas, where I stopped one morning on my way to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. They’ve had several nests in this location for at least the last two years, and noticeably absent from other places around town where I’ve seen them in the past. This year, I’ve seen at least one owl there since mid-February.  These two would look at me as I slowly drove by, swiveling their heads every few seconds to keep an eye on the neighborhood. Unless something (like my car) got their attention, they’d be looking in different directions to keep the whole area under surveillance.

Burrowing Owl

Another one some distance away didn’t seem to want to be noticed at all and hid behind a tall weed, moving around to keep the weed between us. It did that so well I didn’t spot it on my first two slow passes around the area. Sneaking by and then looking back I caught it looking up at the sky, something I’ve never seen one do before.

Burrowing Owl

Butterflies have been a little scarce this year, due to the drought conditions we’re thinking, so it was good to see a few of the regulars at Whitfield later that morning, including lots of Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

and mating Bordered Patch butterflies, neither of which seem very common in Albuquerque.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

This year, we have been seeing large numbers of Marine Blues (Leptotes marina) in various locations, but finally saw our first Reakirt’s Blue of the season at Whitfield and have started seeing them more regularly in other spots.

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

Early in the month, Rebecca and I headed out to Las Huertas Canyon upon hearing that the road had been re-opened after being closed for some time first for fire danger and then for road construction. We hadn’t been there since April, but it’s usually great for summer butterflies and we’d hoped to find that the road construction included grading over the rather rocky and rutted road. It was quite surprising how few butterflies we’re seeing there this year, since it’s got a flowing stream year-round and typically attracts large numbers and species to puddle on the muddy spots and good numbers of wildflowers. The road construction had both good news and bad news – the bad news is nothing was done to smooth the road from Placitas to the upper picnic ground, but the good news is they did a great job of grading and repairing spots from the upper picnic ground to Balsam Glade Picnic Ground on the other side of the Sandias where it meets the Crest Highway.

While looking around for butterflies at the upper picnic ground, Rebecca spotted a large number of caterpillars on a small New Mexico locust. These would turn out to be caterpillars of the Io Moth, a large and colorful moth we’ve seen elsewhere before but that I didn’t know could be seen in New Mexico.

Io Moth Caterpillar

A few of the caterpillars were still there two weeks later when the Audubon Thursday Birders visited, and I might try going again soon to see if we can spot their chrysalises in the leaf litter. Heading up the road toward Balsam Glade, in addition to discovering that the road is again passable we were thrilled to find several Square-spotted Blue butterflies on their host plant, James’ Buckwheat. (Most of my pictures from that day show the butterflies on the buckwheat; this one was nectaring on a different flower but is my best shot of the butterfly.)

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

Here’s a picture of one of the Field Crescents that were also there nectaring on the James’ Buckwheat.

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

Stopping in Cedar Crest for lunch on the way home, we’d see dozens of White-lined Sphinx Moths hitting large butterfly bushes, but only one Two-tailed Swallowtail and a small butterfly that turned out to be an Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper, a first for the year.

Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari)

I’d been putting off returning to look for the nesting Common Black-Hawk at Valle de Oro NWR for a few months mostly because it’s a bit of a walk down a hot dry dirt road, but finally got around to it after seeing excellent photos a few of my friends had been getting. Not very commonly seen around here at all, it’s a treat knowing they nest near the river. Once again, I’m not sure I definitely spotted the nest and didn’t see a young one, but the adults made sure they knew I was there, sitting out in the open, looking directly at me, and calling loudly.

Common Black-Hawk

Several Snowy Egrets were there that morning as well, standing tall on fenceposts near the open meadows.

Snowy Egret

Things had been really slow for both birds and butterflies on a couple of morning visits to various locations that week. One day, I went to Embudito to see if all the monsoon rain had gotten the little stream going again – yes! – but I would only see a single butterfly, a Green Skipper. Lucky to spot it, too, since I’d only noticed a slight movement out of the corner of my eye and thought to look closer having seen skippers in that wash before.

Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis)

Almost missed spotting this guy, too, despite its rather large size.

Gopher Snake

The gopher snake had draped itself over a bush at the side of the trail and blended into the background perfectly.

Another day, I thought I’d check out Piedras Marcadas Dam where one year we’d had large numbers of migrating Monarch butterflies nectaring on the poison milkweed growing there. This year hasn’t seen much milkweed at least so far, but there were a couple of Monarchs flying around. I also wandered around the area wondering if any of the Great Horned Owls would possibly still be around. They’ve nested there for the last several years and I’ve occasionally spotted one after they disappear after nesting. Not really expecting to be able to find one, I just happened to notice a few white spots on the ground near this year’s nest tree and sure enough, looked up to see an owl looking right back at me.

Great Horned Owl

I’ve heard of looking for owl pellets and droppings to help in finding them, but this was the first time I’d ever had that work for me.

Another day had me poking around Tingley Ponds, thinking I might spot the Green Heron that’s usually there in the summer, maybe a Snowy Egret or two, or surely some of the dragonflies that are typically present. No such luck, and only a couple of birds or even dragonflies seemed to be around that day. No butterflies either, but it’s always something and that day it was a Viceroy butterfly posing nicely for me and a species that I don’t see all that often around here.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Las Huertas Canyon for a good morning of birding, including several unexpected sightings. Some of us at the front of our caravan of cars heading into the canyon got long looks at a Black-throated Gray Warbler just as the pavement ended. Making our way up the canyon would add a few more species and then we’d add quite a few more as we walked around the three picnic areas. As we’d noticed on our trip earlier in the week, very few butterflies were seen that morning although some in the group reported a single Arizona Sister, of which we’d see several more on the drive out. Bird of the day was a quite special and totally unexpected sighting of what turned out to be a Carolina Wren.

Carolina Wren

Quite common back east, a couple of them have been seen regularly in recent years at Bosque del Apache NWR, but none of us had ever seen one in the area and this sighting may be a first for Sandoval County.

Arriving home from that trip, it was fun to spot a Gray Hairstreak right by my driveway that hung around long enough for me to get my camera for a photo.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

This past weekend, Rebecca and I traveled north planning to look for butterflies near Pecos and Las Vegas NM. As has been true pretty much everywhere this year, unfortunately butterfly numbers seemed unusually low even in this wetter and greener habitat and we wouldn’t have much luck with that and decided to also pay attention to the birds and other critters.

Colorado Chipmunk

The weather got interesting particularly on Friday with big clouds building up and bringing some good afternoon rains. Cruising around Las Vegas NWR between (and during) some of that rain turned up some good birds that would normally be hiding out of the usual hot sun. Friday we saw quite a few adult and juvenile Swainson’s Hawks on any available snag or power pole, but only a single one on the sunny Saturday.

Swainson’s Hawk (imm.)

There were lots of Yellow Warblers flitting about in the trees, and we had several Blue Grosbeaks coming down to puddles in the road for a drink, only to fly to a nearby fence as we approached.

Blue Grosbeak

Friday also gave us good looks at a couple of Black-billed Magpies, one of which gave me a nice photo opportunity.

Black-billed Magpie

Since we were reasonably close, we also spent some time the next day looking around Maxwell NWR, about an hour north of Las Vegas. Not quite as magical as the previous day’s experience in the rain at Las Vegas NWR, we did see a few more butterflies, more Yellow Warblers, an astonishing number of damselflies, and rather unexpectedly, a flock of American White Pelicans who are normally only seen here during migration.

American White Pelican

 

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July Sights

After spending the early part of July on that fabulous butterfly trip to the Swiss Alps, the rest of the month seems to have flown by for me. These last couple of weeks have brought us a few good rains of our summer monsoon season, and the mountains are open again with the somewhat lower fire risk. Birds and butterflies have been a little slow this year so far, probably due to such a drought, but hopefully activity will pick up again soon. The last couple of weeks have been good for seeing a number of bird youngsters and a few new for the season butterflies and other insects. Among the baby birds was this Cooper’s Hawk sharing a branch with its sibling and calling vigorously hoping the folks will bring something to eat soon.

Cooper’s Hawk (juvenile)

A bit more relaxed was this little Black-headed Grosbeak the Audubon Thursday Birders got to see on their trip to Hyde Park in Santa Fe.

Black-headed Grosbeak (juvenile)

Several of their weekly trips had to be re-scheduled this summer due to some mountain areas being closed due to fire danger. Hyde Park was our choice when Valles Caldera was closed on July 12, and another one originally planned for the Sandias on June 28 was changed to Tingley Ponds. Most recently, another trip to the Sandias was changed to Shady Lakes the day before the Sandias were surprisingly reopened. Always an interesting and different habitat to visit, Shady Lakes closed in late 2016 and is still on the market, so I was a bit surprised to find it is indeed still open and welcoming to visiting birders. Fun to see there was both an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

along with its new little one off the nest on a nearby branch.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile)

Shady Lakes has fishing ponds filled with waterlilies, attracting all kinds of damselflies and dragonflies as well as some birds.

Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)

Far off on one of the ponds was a Green Heron perched on a dead branch above a pair of Wood Ducks.

Green Heron (w/Wood Ducks)

My annual trip taking the group to see Mississippi Kites was this past week, and (for the seventh year in a row) once again we found a nest this time with one little one still there, another young one out in the open calling for food that an adult would swoop in and feed from wherever they go to find it, and another adult watching over things from high in a tree. Here’s one of the almost grown-up young ones (told by that banded tail that disappears in the adult) from a couple of weeks earlier.

Mississippi Kite (juvenile)

This year the Mississippi Kites seem to have been around and in better numbers than in recent years. I first saw a pair of them this year on June 18 near Tramway Wetlands (aka North Diversion Channel), and have since seen them regularly at several other locations in Corrales and heard they’re even being seen at the Rio Grande Nature Center. Cooper’s Hawks had apparently nested this year close to where the Kites have nested for years, prompting the Kites to be more assertive in protecting their nest by dive-bombing visitors. In the past, the adults would swoop by but considerably higher and not obviously targeting civilians. The day I took the above picture, one of the young Cooper’s Hawks was still in the area perched low in a tree and unconcerned by my presence.

Cooper’s Hawk (juvenile)

Also of note this year is it seems the Osprey finally are succeeding in raising three little ones at Tramway Wetlands after a disaster last year and a failed nest earlier this year that blew down in a spring wind. Seems the first time they’ve been known to successfully nest in Bernalillo County, kind of a big deal, eh?

Osprey

In other insect news, very commonly seen in the mountains this time of year are the Repetitive Tachinid Flies.

Repetitive Tachinid Fly

Quite a few other cool insects, such as Tarantula Hawk, Figeater Beetle, Thread-waisted Wasp, Giant Ichneumon Wasp, and several bee species have been showing up lately, but a couple of my favorites are the White-lined Sphinx Moth (being seen in ridiculous numbers this year),

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

and the Snowberry Clearwing.

Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)

There have been some pretty good butterflies flying around lately, too, although numbers seem low, there don’t seem to be quite as many species being seen this season so far, and nectar plants and mudbanks have been impacted by the long drought. On that July 12 trip to Hyde Park, at the Santa Fe Ski Basin the weather was somewhat wet and cloudy and several of our usual spots had few wildflowers and few butterflies about. But we still picked up a few good ones that we don’t usually see here in town, including a Green Comma,

Green Comma (Polygonia faunus)

Mormon Fritillary,

Mormon Fritillary (Speyeria mormonia)

and a Purplish Copper.

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

A few days later on a trip to several of our regular spots in the Sandias, Rebecca and I saw the tiny Western Tailed-Blue,

Western Tailed-Blue (Cupido amyntula)

quite a few Russet Skipperling,

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

and both Common Wood-Nymph and Small Wood-Nymph; the latter is what I think is in this next picture.

Small Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis oetus)

That weekend, Rebecca’s nephew and his family were in town for a visit and I joined them for a walk to the Kiwanis Cabin at the Sandia Crest where we were surprised to see a Black Swallowtail, a species we don’t see very often at all.  (It was almost as unusual a sighting as the bear we spotted crossing the road just as we were leaving Cienega Canyon!)

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

We were back looking around the Sandias about a week later to see our first Tailed Copper of the season,

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

a single Northwestern Fritillary (surprising as in the past we’d see dozens of them anywhere the coneflower was in bloom),

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

and a nicely posed Juniper Hairstreak.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

 

 

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Swiss Butterfly Trip

It’s been a little more than a week since returning from a fabulous almost two-week European butterfly trip, mostly in the Swiss Alps with a couple of days in England coming and going, and thought I’d post some of the stories and pictures here.

Lauterbrunnen Valley

Rebecca and I first flew to London-Heathrow by way of Denver. I’m usually bothered by jet lag flying east, but it turned out not to be at all a problem this time for either of us. The secret (as I’ve learned from other trips) is to grab some sleep on the plane and then stay up until evening at the destination. It just got too easy this trip when we decided to upgrade to those lie-flat business class seats for the 9-hour flight, took advantage of the fabulous shower facility at the arrival lounge at Heathrow included in that ticket, and were able to check in to our hotel hours before the normal check-in time. We’d gotten tickets on the Heathrow Express train online for the 15-minute ride to Paddington Station and got to the Best Western Delmere Hotel after a short, easy walk. Hyde Park was only about a 10-minute walk from the hotel, so we stayed awake that afternoon looking for butterflies and birds in the rather large park. Before the trip, the UK Butterfly Conservation website showed a butterfly field trip scheduled for the next day at Stanmore Country Park. The park was only  a short walk from the Stanmore Station at the end of the Jubilee line of the London Underground (Tube), which we took the next morning from Paddington. A delightful walk that morning led by John Hollingdale, voluntary park warden, with a small group of local nature lovers and getting to see a good mix of the birds and butterflies, most of which were new to us (and certainly helpful having them around to identify them). One of the butterflies that morning that posed nicely for me was the Marbled White (actually a brushfoot), which we would also see occasionally later in the trip.

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

The next morning, we checked out and took the quick trip back to Heathrow to meet our Naturetrek tour group for a flight to Zurich and then a series of three trains to our destination for the week, the Hotel Berghaus in Wengen.

View from Hotel Berghaus

In one of the few hiccups on the trip, as Americans Rebecca and I had to spend almost an hour in the long Swiss customs line in Zurich, while the Brits got to breeze right through the EU line. We finally got through and barely had time to apologize to the group before we all ran for our first train scheduled to leave minutes later. I hadn’t even thought of the customs bit when planning our trip, so we ended up going through British customs twice (on arrival from Denver and then again returning from Zurich) as well as our time with Swiss customs.

The small town of Wengen lies in the shadow of the some of the more dramatic Alps, the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, and is reached by a cogwheel train from Lauterbrunnen. With very few vehicles allowed in town, it is wonderfully quiet with mostly only the sounds of birds and twice a day the sound of cowbells as a small group of dairy cows are herded to and from their mountain pasture. Cowbells are a big deal there, as shown by this display on a barn in nearby Gimmelwald.

Cowbells

Hotel Berghaus was quite enjoyable, with most rooms (including ours) having balconies facing that majestic view of the mountains. The owners and staff were quite friendly and made us feel right at home from the moment we arrived. We’d start each day meeting for a breakfast of several alpine cheeses, freshly-made breads, homemade jams, soft or hard-boiled eggs, excellent coffee, and a few other things. Late in the day, we’d return for leisurely and tasty dinners usually served outside on the comfortable patio with views of the late afternoon light on those mountains. Cheese and chocolate seemed to play a large part in out diet that week and was all delicious.

After breakfast, several people would head to town with Jon Stokes, our leader, to pick up supplies for lunch, which we would then divvy up among the group for wherever we ended up going that day. Jon’s first job each day was to check the weather and decide where we’d go to look for butterflies, and next do an amazing job of working the logistics for the day – finding the best combination of train, funicular, cable car, bus, and walks to get us all there and back in a most efficient manner and always having a backup plan if the weather changed on us or we might miss a connection. We each had a 6-day Jungfrau Travel Pass that let us easily take any mode of transportation in the area. Public transportation in Europe, and especially in Switzerland, has always been impressively efficient and convenient in my opinion, but it certainly takes skill to coordinate moving a good-sized group of people (17 in our case) among multiple modes of transport. Jon is quite an expert not only on butterflies, but also quite knowledgeable on the plants, birds, and most other aspects of nature we’d see during the trip, and having grown up spending summers nearby was quite familiar with the area and options for getting around.

Prior to the trip, weather forecasts were predicting clouds and rain for most of our time there, leading me not to expect to see many butterflies at all and wondering a bit about what our backup plan might be. It came as somewhat of a surprise, therefore, finding quite good weather for most of each day, with Jon picking destinations in different valleys to maximize our chances for finding butterflies.  The one day when it did look overcast all day we hopped the train to Interlaken for a ferry across the Brienzersee and a nice hike along the shoreline.

Our first morning we took the cable car from close to the hotel in Wengen to Männlichen for incredible views of the Jungfrau and far below the valleys leading to Mürren and Grindelwald.

Jungfrau and Silberhorn

The alpine scenery was considerably more dramatic than I remembered. Gorgeous wildflowers covered the meadows at that elevation of about 7300′ (2225m), with glaciers and snow-covered peaks at higher elevations (Jungfrau tops out at 13642′ (4158m). Naturally, I ended up photographing quite a few of those flowers including one of my favorites, the Alpine Forget-me-not.

Alpine Forget-me-not

Another stunning wildflower we’d see in alpine habitats is the Common Spotted-orchid.

Common Spotted-orchid

Seen regularly on the trip (in both England and Switzerland) was the Small Tortoiseshell,

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

but we’d also see a nice number of species probably found only in alpine habitats, such as the Alpine Grayling.

Alpine Grayling (Oeneis glacialis)

After spending a couple of hours working the meadows near the cable car station, we started on the mostly downhill hike toward Kleine Scheidegg, breaking for lunch about halfway and adding lots of flowers, birds, and butterflies to our trip list.

Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg

A nice butterfly to see along the way was the Eros Blue at a damp spot that drew several similar species.

Eros Blue (Polyommatus eros)

A bit of late afternoon rain that day hurried us on to Kleine Scheidegg where we’d catch the cogwheel train back to Wengen.

On several days, we’d generally find our way by various means to Grindelwald in the next valley over and then to different locations above town including Grosse Scheidegg. A few of the butterflies seen there include the Sudetan Ringlet,

Sudetan Ringlet (Erebia sudetica)

good numbers of Titania’s Fritillary,

Titania’s Fritillary (Boloria titania)

and of False Heath Fritillary.

False Heath Fritillary (Melitaea diamina)

Here’s what they look like from the top in a photo taken the next day.

False Heath Fritillary (Melitaea diamina)

There were also quite a few Alpine Heath butterflies to be seen anywhere in those alpine wildflower meadows.

Alpine Heath (Coenonympha gardetta)

Another fritillary from that area is the Pearl-bordered Fritillary, easiest identified in my opinion by the underside pattern.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne)

My favorite day was taking a cable car up to the small village of Gimmelwald high on a cliff on the opposite side of Lauterbrunnen Valley from Wengen.

View from Gimmelwald

It’s a very quiet town with a few interesting shops and cafes and just a short distance away was a spot where we had our picnic lunch after seeing lots of different butterflies. One of the first we’d see, nectaring on flowers in the town, was the Apollo, one I’d been hoping to see and that we would later find in several other locations.

Apollo (Parnassius apollo)

Another butterfly I’d see for the first time that day is the actually rather common, but quite good looking, Large Wall Brown, both from the top view

Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera)

and side view.

Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera)

Another butterfly that seemed pretty special was the Arran Brown with its distinctive white streak on the underside.

Arran Brown (Erebia ligea)

Quite similar looking from the top and seen on a visit our last day to a meadow just above our hotel is the Scotch Argus.

Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops)

At our picnic spot that day were some nice, big fritillaries including the Silver-washed Fritillary

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)

and Dark Green Fritillary.

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja)

In the shadow of some trees nearby, Rebecca pointed out a few of the Martagon Lily that were in bloom.

Martagon Lily

One of the very last butterflies we’d see in Switzerland was a hairstreak we may also have seen back in England on our first full day butterflying at Stanmore Country Park, the White-letter Hairstreak.

White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album)

All in all, the group would tally nearly 100 species, an excellent total for the area of which I photographed about half. More of my photos from the trip are online at my website at http://sandianet.com/swiss/index.htm .  After a full, fabulous week in Switzerland, we headed back for home, reversing the order of the three trains it took to get there, having a minor flight delay out of Zurich, and arriving back at London-Heathrow in early evening. Rebecca and I stayed at the Heathrow Terminal 4 Hilton and left right on time the next morning for Houston and a connecting flight to Albuquerque. Unfortunately, we arrived in Houston to find our next flight cancelled for aircraft maintenance issues, but after scrambling around a bit United booked us home on a flight the next day after putting us up in a hotel and giving us vouchers for food. Not exactly fun, and it’s interesting the small items you miss from your checked luggage, but may actually have eased the jetlag transition once back home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs, Travel | 16 Comments

Last of June

Still way dry and lately way too hot, but there’s always something out there to catch my eye pretty much anytime I get out to look around. It’s now gotten so dry they’ve closed down access to pretty much all the local mountains and remain on high fire alert, especially as those illegal fireworks will start appearing as we get close to Independence Day. We did get a quick shot of rain a couple of weeks ago, but are starting to get desperate for the arrival of our summer monsoon rains to lessen the threat and hopefully allow the woods to re-open.

Knowing the mountains would close by the end of the week, I made a point a couple of days earlier of checking out most of my favorite butterfly spots all the way to the Sandia Crest. With so little moisture about, it wasn’t too surprising not seeing many butterflies other than lots of swallowtails patrolling along the highway. However, it was cool to find right at the top that the wildflowers were blooming and being attended to by a number of butterflies new for the season, including a Western Tiger-Swallowtail (quite similar to the Two-tailed Swallowtails seen in the foothills earlier in the season),

Western Tiger-Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

my first Taxiles Skipper for the year,

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

and the gorgeous Milbert’s Tortoiseshell that I’ll maybe see once or twice a season, and for the first time get a good shot of the underside.

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti)

A few days later wandering around the bosque close to the Rio Grande, a Black-headed Grosbeak posed nicely for me in the shade.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Since early in April, I’ve been stopping to check in on the Osprey nest at Tramway Wetlands (aka North Diversion Channel Outfall). They’ve had a tough time this year. Nests they built at their first spot blew down a couple of times in our spring winds, and they’ve been trying again for some time now in a new spot on the other side of the bridge. I’ve noticed Mom pretty well hunkered down on my last few visits, but have yet to spot any little ones. Word is, however, they’ve now hatched and a couple of folks have seen them – if successful, this will be a first for the County. What I have seen there the last few visits are the Mississippi Kites, at least three of which seem to be sailing around.

Mississippi Kite

Good thing, as the Rio Grande valley in New Mexico is almost the farthest west they are found and I’m on the hook for tracking down one of their nests for the Thursday Birders in about a month.

It has been pretty slow for birds and butterflies around town lately, but a nice variety of dragonflies have started to appear especially around the river, irrigation ditches, and ponds around town. Quite numerous lately at spots like Tingley Ponds has been the Widow Skimmer,

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

a location I also had fun watching a young Cooper’s Hawk hiding in the trees close to where we’d spotted an active nest earlier this year.

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk

Excellent day trip to Villanueva State Park with the Audubon Thursday Birder bunch last week. Fortunately, it was still open despite the drought conditions and the group got a good bird tally and had some rather unusual sightings, including a Common Black Hawk, Indigo Bunting, nesting Cassin’s Kingbird, and a few Western Wood-Pewee.

Western Wood-Pewee

On that trip, a friend told me about a nesting Summer Tanager at the Rio Grande Nature Center that I went to find a few days later. Not spotting it right off, surprisingly my friend showed up right then to point it out to me. Always fun to get to watch the little ones getting fed.

Summer Tanager

Elena Gallegos Open Space is still open and one of the few foothill spots one can still visit while the fire restrictions are in effect. It, too, was pretty quiet in the dry heat and it was a bit of a surprise that about the only bird I’d see was a Scott’s Oriole that popped in about as close as I’ve ever been able to get to them.

Scott’s Oriole

Hoping those summer afternoon rains show up soon.

 

 

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

Off to Massachusetts

Goodness, it’s been almost a month since my last blog update, with only about a third of that time off to Massachusetts looking for butterflies. That’ll be the main focus of this update, but wanted to share a few other pictures from local outings both before and after that trip. Shortly after my last update I got in a trip to Capulin Spring Picnic Area a few days after the Forest Service opened it after being closed since last October (and likely to be closed again soon because of hazardous fire conditions). A hollowed-out log captures a bit of water from the spring and draws in all sorts of birds for a drink or a quick splash. Some of the birds there that morning included a Western Tanager,

Western Tanager

Hermit Thrush,

Hermit Thrush

Yellow-rumped Warbler,

Yellow-rumped Warbler

and a Plumbeous Vireo.

Plumbeous Vireo

Dropping in on some of my other usual spots along the Rio Grande turned up a Bewick’s Wren, which I rarely get close enough to and have it stick around long enough for a picture.

Bewick’s Wren

All the Great Horned Owls have now grown up and disappeared, but I did stop by the nest at Piedras Marcadas Dam before we headed off for Massachusetts and saw that the owlets had left the nest and one was glaring at me from a nearby branch.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

Also dropped in on “Owlville” just before and after Massachusetts and saw several active Burrowing Owl nests. Interestingly, the owls were often hidden in their burrow on my first pass through the area and would then appear for a little while when I returned but in general did seem to hide when people showed up. I’ve only seen young ones at two of the nesting spots. One seemed to only have two young ones, but the other has at least four and maybe as many as six young ones.

Burrowing Owl

On my most recent trip there, I drove a little further south to Belen Marsh. With more water there than on earlier trips this year and a flooded field just across the road from the marsh, there were a large number of Black-necked Stilts and a few American Avocets and Killdeer around. Some were obviously young and I assume all had nested there this year. Fun for me was getting good pictures of a couple of them in flight. Usually they seem to take off and fly further away when a human appears, but this time and probably because they had those young ones around, they’d make repeated passes buzzing right over my head trying to scare me off I’m guessing. So I grabbed a couple of quick shots and then left them in peace.  Here’s the best one of the Black-necked Stilt,

Black-necked Stilt

and here’s the American Avocet.

American Avocet

Rebecca and I got out looking for butterflies on the east side of the Sandias after doing our part for Audubon’s Climate Watch bluebird survey on May 19. While we didn’t see too many butterflies that day, there were some good ones, including an Anise Swallowtail, Bronze Roadside-Skipper, and new for the season the big flashy Arizona Sister and Weidemeyer’s Admiral.

Weidermeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

About a day before we left for Massachusetts, right at the end of the successful Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Otero Canyon we spotted one of the few butterflies we’d see that day, a Python Skipper, on the only blooming thistle in the area.

Python Skipper (Atrytonopsis python)

So Rebecca and I were off on May 26 for a ten day visit to Massachusetts. Our friend and local butterfly expert, Steve Moore, had planned and scouted good spots for finding some of the special butterflies we were hoping for at many different locations all over the state, from Plymouth in the east to Mt. Greylock in the west. Our Houston friends (and butterfliers), Steve & Lucinda, and most days Steve Moore’s wife, Barbara, would join us on these day trips. At several spots we’d run into other local butterfliers and during a day at Mt. Greylock went on a Massachusetts Butterfly Club walk led by another local friend, Tom Gagnon.  All that preparation by Steve Moore and willingness to spend all week leading us to all these spots and knowing what to look for was just incredible and helped us add almost a dozen species to our life lists, including several we had targeted as really hoping to see. High on our list was Bog Elfin and Frosted Elfin, both of which we got to see although they were near the end of their short flight season and looking a bit tattered.

Frosted Elfin (Callophrys irus)

When we finally spotted the Bog Elfin we were surprised to also see what turned out to be a White-M Hairstreak, a rather unexpected lifer sighting!

White-M Hairstreak (Parrhasius m-album)

Fun seeing a few good birds on the trip, too, including Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, a close view of a Prairie Warbler on the first day,

Prairie Warbler

and a nesting Blue-headed Vireo on our Mt. Greylock walk.

Blue-headed Vireo

We also enjoyed seeing some amazing flowers that I’ve only seen before back east, including Pink Lady’s Slipper

Pink Lady’s Slipper

and Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Target butterfly for our group walk at Mt. Greylock was the Early Hairstreak, which eluded us on the long walk in, but we’d see several individuals on the return. Tough one to see since they are quite small and blend right into the gray gravel on the trail, but once spotted seem to stick around long enough to photograph.

Early Hairstreak (Erora laeta)

We’d see American Copper butterflies just about everywhere we went, a gorgeous butterfly even if it wasn’t new for us.

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

Four of those lifers were members of the skipper family, including Dusted Skipper,

Dusted Skipper (Atrytonopsis hianna)

but we’d also see one we rarely see around here, the Tawny-edged Skipper.

Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites themistocles)

On our last day, we’d finally get a good look at plenty of Little Wood-Satyrs that somehow we’d missed all along,

Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela)

and got pretty good looks at a few Silver-bordered Fritillaries;

Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene)

both I’d seen once before on trips to Illinois and Wyoming, but always cool to see. A good trip and fun seeing old friends again and lots of new butterflies. And we certainly appreciate Steve’s willingness to help find those butterflies for us; we’d never have seen most of those butterflies on our own or even have a clue of where to look.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Flowers, Photographs, Travel | 3 Comments

Birdathon Plus

Just after the first of the month, Rebecca and I headed out to scout birding locations for the Central New Mexico Audubon Birdathon for which she led our group of 20 birders from 10 a.m. on May 3 to 10 a.m. May 4.  The goal of a birdathon is for the group to see as many bird species as possible over 24 hours and serves as a fundraiser for our local Audubon chapter. This year our group started at Bitter Lake NWR near Roswell NM and then drove to Carlsbad NM to bird several hotspots in that area, including Rattlesnake Springs, Slaughter Canyon, and Camp Washington Ranch. We’d end up seeing a good total of 103 species under okay weather conditions other than some pretty high winds especially at Slaughter Canyon. My friend, Judy Liddell, posted a detailed description of the event on her blog at https://wingandsong.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/24-hour-birdathon-raising-funds-for-audubon/ , so I’ll just post a few more of my pictures from the trip without too many words. Entertaining us at both Rattlesnake Springs and Camp Washington Ranch were large flocks of Wild Turkey strutting around and displaying most of the time we were there on both days.

Wild Turkey

Non-bird highlight of the trip was this large Gopher Snake sunning on the road into Bitter Lake NWR during our scouting trip. We finally convinced it to move off the road so it wouldn’t get run over, but it did take quite some prodding before it finally got upset with me and moved off after giving me a good hissing.

Gopher Snake

On both our scouting trip the day before and the start of the Birdathon, we saw a good variety of shorebirds, ducks, and such. One of my favorites, American Avocet, were present in good numbers and reasonably close enough to photograph.

American Avocet

Lots of Wilson’s Phalaropes also were around and one of the few times I’ve seen them walking along the shore rather than spinning around in the water.

Wilson’s Phalarope

Unbelievable numbers of Long-billed Dowitchers were present during the scouting day, but a pretty good number of them were out on count day, too.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Next it was off to Rattlesnake Springs where we were greeted by Vermilion Flycatchers,

Vermilion Flycatcher

including one that we spotted actively nesting.

Vermilion Flycatcher

The most common warbler out and about seemed to be Wilson’s Warbler, but several others were seen during and just after the official Birdathon period.

Wilson’s Warbler

We got nice looks at a juvenile Gray Hawk late in our scouting day, and lucked out again the next day to add the species to our count list.

Juvenile Gray Hawk

A ranger at Rattlesnake Springs told me about some young Great Horned Owls nearby on the way to Slaughter Canyon where we’d head the next morning. After we ended our active birding that first day, a few of us went to look for them. Quite surprisingly, there were three owlets Barbara Hussey first spotted all lined up together on a nearly leafless tree.

Great Horned Owl

The next morning as the group headed out, we made a quick stop there and everyone got a look. Although they were in that same tree, they’d all taken up positions on different branches. Wind was blowing way too hard at Slaughter Canyon that morning so we didn’t add many birds to the list, but on calmer days can be a quite productive birding location with much different habitat than our other stops. We ended the Birdathon with a couple of hours spent at Camp Washington Ranch, adding a number of additional species feeding on mulberries in a big stand of trees, and others around the large pond, various trees and wetland areas, and surrounding desert habitat.

A couple of days later I made the rounds of a couple of my Great Horned Owl nests here in town, and was surprised to still see young owls around at several of them. This late in the season, the owls have mostly abandoned their nest sites and disappeared into the trees. At Pueblo Montano, the adults were off hiding somewhere but the little one was sitting out on a branch quite close to the nest high in a tall cottonwood.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

At the National Hispanic Cultural Center, at first it seemed the nest was deserted and I didn’t see any owls in the area. Turning around to head back to the car, however, it was a treat to spot first the adult female and then her little one looking at me from a much lower position in a nearby tree.

Great Horned Owl – NHCC

My final stop that day was at Piedras Marcadas, where those owls always seem to start nesting much later than all the others. That day, both adults were in the nest tree leaving room in the nest for the two owlets. A week later the situation was pretty much the same with the adult female a bit farther away from the nest.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

A couple of other birds from the last two weeks included this House Finch feeding its young,

House Finch

and a Black-throated Sparrow that posed nicely for me in Embudito.

Black-throated Sparrow

I’ve also been seeing a few new butterflies for the season just about every time I go out, but need to get back out there for better photos hopefully for my next blog post.

 

 

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New Spring Sightings

Since my last update, most of the Great Horned Owl little ones I’ve been checking on have really started to mature, and I’ve seen several new birds and butterflies for the year with lots more to come as spring migration gets underway. Our Audubon Thursday Birder trip on April 19 to my local patch of Embudito turned up a good variety of birds starting with a Greater Roadrunner on the roof of someone’s house by the parking lot, pretty good looks at a singing Canyon Wren, and most of the other regulars for this time of year. We’d hoped to spot the Scott’s Oriole expected about then, but didn’t see it that day although it has since been reported. Bird of the day for me was a Gray Flycatcher that we got a nice look at, but is so unusual around here (and a bit tricky to identify from other similar species) it was good to see the identity confirmed later on eBird. Interestingly, a few days later I got a good look at a Rock Wren where I’ve only ever seen it before in winter and got a really good shot of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher the group had seen.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

It was also good to see that the latest Osprey nest seems to be holding up against a few of those long windy periods we’ve been having. Their first nest blew away a couple of times before they tried again in another spot nearby. The female seems to be sitting on the nest these days with the male hanging out unless he’s off getting food.

Osprey

Fun that day following up on eBird reports to find another rookery, this time right in town close by the river. Unlike my visit a couple weeks ago to the one in Bosque Farms, this time the Snowy Egrets had arrived and were displaying their breeding plumage.

Snowy Egret

Another one was obviously having a bad hair day with the wind blowing.

Snowy Egret

This rookery is in a couple of big ponderosas and while much smaller than the one in Bosque Farms also had Cattle Egrets and Black-crowned Night-herons getting into nesting.

A highlight this week was getting to see a Common Black-Hawk down at Valle de Oro NWR after getting directions to a nest from my friend Reuben. While I’m still not sure I really saw the nest, it was in the same location I’d heard about last year and as I approached the adult squawked and flew to an open branch to keep an eye on me.

Common Black-Hawk

At the first Great Horned Owl nest I’d heard about this year between the Nature Center and Campbell Road, one of the little ones was looking pretty well along when I stopped by on April 20; earlier in the month I’d seen two little ones there but didn’t see the younger one that day.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

The next day, I checked in on the latest to nest at Piedras Marcadas Dam. Mom was sitting up higher making me suspect she’d hatched at least one, and Dad was still around keeping an eye on things.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

On a quick visit a week later, sure enough I could see one of those fuzzy white tennis balls popping its head up now and then so my suspicion was correct although it’ll be a couple more weeks before they’re easy to see.

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

At the National Hispanic Culture Center where a recent brushfire had nearly taken out the nest, the one remaining owlet was much further along in growing up.

Great Horned Owl – NHCC

The young ones at Albuquerque Academy, however, on a visit Saturday morning were the most mature of all, with both adults off hiding somewhere and all three little ones taking up different spots reasonably close to the nest. I’d think they probably still haven’t quite caught on to the flying thing and are walking along the branches now, but it won’t be long until they start practicing flying in the nest tree and to nearby trees until that day comes that they will just disappear.

Great Horned Owl – AA

The latest Audubon Thursday Birder trip headed down to the Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area on a pleasant morning and ending up with a good total of 51 species exceeding our success criterion of wanting to see more birds than we have people. At the Belen Marsh, we had a few good birds including plenty of Black-necked Stilts and Killdeer,

Killdeer

along with a close fly-by of the first of several Swainson’s Hawks we’d see.

Swainson’s Hawk

It was kind of fun at Whitfield to spot probably our best birds of the day right at the start, a Bullock’s Oriole,

Bullock’s Oriole

and then at the end as we were getting ready to head to lunch, seeing a Forster’s Tern hitting the pond to grab a few minnows.

Forster’s Tern

While we have gotten out for butterflies a few times and it’s been fun spotting several new species for the season, such as Two-tailed Swallowtail, Juniper Hairstreak, Silvery Blue, Western Tailed-Blue, Hoary Comma, Pacuvius Duskywing, and Bronze Roadside-Skipper, I’m hoping to get a few better pictures for future blog updates soon. Also looking forward to seeing lots of birds migrating through in the next few weeks.

 

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Catching Up

Uhoh, somehow another two weeks has zipped by without my getting around to updating this blog. Typical spring weather of late with some nice sunny and warm days followed by crazy all-day wind and yo-yo’ing temperatures and off and on clouds. Still no precipitation for quite awhile so there’s little water in most of my usual spots, already a few wildfires around, and only a few wildflowers coming into bloom. A few days after my last post, I headed just south of town to check in on the heron rookery in Bosque Farms to see if they’d started breeding yet. The Snowy Egrets haven’t yet shown up, but there were a number of Cattle Egrets showing off their breeding plumage,

Cattle Egret

and several Black-crowned Night-Herons looking to get started nesting.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

I’d also seen that a few more Burrowing Owls have shown up in “Owlville” in Los Lunas and decided to take a look since I’d only seen a single one on earlier visits this year. That day, I’d see three of the six that others have been reporting and imagine it’s still a little early for them to start seriously nesting. It’s interesting how different individuals behave when people are around, some not seeming to mind us at all while others will go into hiding or fly off when we appear. This is one of the former that didn’t seem to mind my taking his picture from a fairly close distance to the car.

Burrowing Owl

This next one was one of the latter, standing up above a burrow when I first spotted it but slowly dropping out of sight the closer the car got. Certainly reminded me of how I first learned to spot them – just look for the rock that’s looking back at you!

Burrowing Owl

On the few days over the last two weeks when conditions were right for butterflies – warm, sunny, and not too windy, there’s been a few good ones out there. One small area in Embudito Canyon has turned up several Acmon Blue butterflies hitting the few nectar sources around.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

As the canyon narrows, there’s a very small water seep just now that recently has a bunch of wasps and several moths working to get a little moisture, but on several recent visits has also brought in one or two interesting butterflies. One day it was a not unexpected Short-tailed Skipper,

Short-tailed Skipper (Zestusa dorus)

along with a Great Purple Hairstreak – the butterfly that got me into butterflies seven years ago and one I don’t think I saw at all last year.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

About a week later, this area turned up the first Marine Blue for the season,

Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

and in exactly the same spot as the Short-tailed Skipper and Great Purple Hairstreak, this time another rarely seen species here, Mormon Metalmark.

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

A bit further down the wash on that first visit, I also happened to spot a tiny flying thing that I got a better look at as it landed, a Dotted Roadside-Skipper.

Dotted Roadside Skipper (Amblyscirtes eos)

That was pretty special for me to see, as it brings my total list of species seen there at the base of Embudito Canyon to 63 species; my webpage with the list is at http://sandianet.com/embudito/index.htm .  I was looking closely in that area since spotting #62, the Yucca Giant-Skipper, there about this time last year. We’d first seen the Yucca Giant-Skipper a few years ago in Las Huertas Canyon, and Rebecca and I headed there about a week ago and once again succeeded in seeing two individuals of that species.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

Surprised a Bushtit hanging out in Embudito on one of my visits.

Bushtit

Porcupines are still out and about; this one from last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Tingley Ponds.

Porcupine

Returning there a few days later, I’d see the Osprey still hanging around,

Osprey

along with a group of both Cinnamon Teal and Blue-winged Teal.

Blue-winged Teal

I’d started that morning dropping in on Valle de Oro NWR where everybody else had been seeing White-faced Ibis and a few other good shorebirds; no luck on those for me, but lots of Western Meadowlarks singing about the fabulous morning.

Western Meadowlark

Our Osprey out at Tramway Wetlands are having quite a few issues this year. I’d posted a picture at the end of my last update of the nest they were constructing at the site where they’d lost one in a windstorm last year. So far this year, their attempts have also failed with the nest blown away by the wind at least twice now, and then a small brush fire this week quite close to the powerline structure they’ve been using. My latest visit finds them trying once again but in the next tower to the east, which hopefully will work out a little better for them. Definitely interesting watching the female for a few minuts guarding the early construction; when she started calling out I knew to keep an eye out for the male returning. Expected him to have a branch or two to add to the nest, but this time he was bringing what appears to be a fairly large orange koi he must have snagged from someone’s pond.

Osprey

Quick update on the Great Horned Owls – all but one (Piedras Marcadas is always later than the others) now seem to have little ones starting to appear. This year almost all of the nests I’m watching are way high in the trees and difficult to photograph well, but it’s still fun getting to watch all this. There is at least one little one at Pueblito in Corrales and one at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (eBird tells me one may not have survived the brush fire that came close enough last week to scorch the tree holding the nest); and certainly two at Rio Grande Nature Center.

Great Horned Owl – Rio Grande Nature Center

Definitely two at Pueblo Montano,

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

I first saw a little one at Albuquerque Academy on April 4; two days later I got a picture showing two of them,

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

and rumor has it there might actually be three. About a week later, I got a better picture of the older one

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

but am going to have to keep looking to figure out how many little birds are growing up in that little patch. Mom is certainly keeping a close eye out from right next to the nest.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs | 3 Comments

Early Spring Sightings

Early spring and the weather around here lately has been mostly nice and warm with a few windy and cloudy moments. Fruit trees are in full bloom and most of the other trees are starting to show a hint of new green leaves. While not getting out too often recently looking for butterflies, when I have there have usually been one or two new species for the year flying about. One I’d been expecting to see for a few weeks was finally spotted nectaring on the flowering willow trees, the Southwestern Orangetip.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

Several other species were also seen hitting the willow one day, including Sandia Hairstreak, Spring Azure, and Gray Hairstreak.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Another quite common one most of the year was a Checkered White that finally managed to land long enough to photograph.

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

A bit unusual to see this early in the season was what I’m pretty sure is a Sleepy Duskywing.

Sleepy Duskywing (Erynnis brizo)

A good part of my time outdoors over the last two weeks has been spent looking for more Great Horned Owl nests, and checking in on the eight I’ve been following expecting to start seeing little ones pretty much any day now. Their incubation period is apparently 33-37 days, so having a pretty good idea of when they first start nesting lets me know about when to expect those little ones. I’m pretty sure that’s happened in several of the nests now, but yesterday was the first time I managed to actually see one of those little white tennis ball babies, looking out from just in front of Mom in the photo below.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

Pop was in the very next tree winking proudly at me.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

Others have seen possibly two little ones in the nest near the Rio Grande Nature Center for more than a week now, but although the female is obviously sitting way higher in the nest, I’ve yet to spot more than a bit of white fluff in that nest. There are certainly little ones in the nest near the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), with the female sitting up quite high and actively moving around during several recent visits, but again I’ve yet to quite make out a young one.

Great Horned Owl – NHCC

Every visit there has set a nearby Cooper’s Hawk off squawking and flying around, and while it doesn’t seem to be objecting to the nesting owl as they sometimes do it might be trying to attract a mate since it’s time they started nesting and there seems to be quite a few old nests in that area.

Cooper’s Hawk

On last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder outing to Pueblo Montano Open Space, everybody got a good look at that nest which should also have little ones by now but is pretty high in a distant tree so might be tough to see them for a few more weeks. A treat that day was seeing the male right above us near the trail, first time I’ve seen him since they started nesting.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

In other owl sightings, it seems really surprising to me that the Western Screech-Owl first reported in mid-January in Columbus Park is still being seen. In my experience they typically hang out for only a week or so before disappearing somewhere else in the woods.  And since I’d been hearing reports of a few more Burrowing Owls showing up in “Owlville” down in Los Lunas, I stopped by there recently.  A little too windy and cloudy to expect to see them out, but one of them was sitting there waiting for me as I pulled up.

Burrowing Owl

After that, I stopped in at Valle de Oro NWR intending to track down a Great Horned Owl nest I’d heard about, maybe see the Common Black-Hawk that was reported as nesting in the area, and kept an eye out along with everybody else I ran into down there for the recently reported Varied Thrush. No luck on any of those and the weather was still a little unusually windy and cloudy so birds were mostly keeping hidden. I did get nice looks at a Swainson’s Hawk that was buzzing around me near the parking area much like a Northern Harrier had a few weeks ago.

Swainson’s Hawk

Highlight of the day, however, was coming across a slow-moving porcupine making its way along the irrigation ditch trail toward a tasty-looking small tree. Usually snooozing away high in a tree, rarely do I see these guys on the ground and never before noticed how big those claws really are.

Porcupine

Seems our Osprey pair are back trying to nest in the same place they tried last year before a big windstorm blew their nest down. Here’s the best shot I got on my visit on April 2. From pictures others have posted on Facebook since, it seems they’re making real progress and the nest has gotten considerably larger and probably just about ready for use.

Osprey

 

 

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