Early July Birds and Butterflies

This post has mostly photos of butterflies from the past two weeks, but also a few other moths, birds, and even flowers. Weather-wise, things have been pretty good with the summer monsoon kicking in regularly and temperatures not too extreme (unlike some other parts of the country). Still not much going on with butterflies in the foothills or down by the Rio Grande, but much better up in the mountains.

On the first of July, Rebecca and I took a look at Ojito de San Antonio for some butterflies. Mostly quiet while we were there, but we did turn up a Common Wood-Nymph (first of the year for us after looking for them the last few weeks),

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

and a fresh Sleepy Orange.

Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe)

Later that day, I checked Embudito where we’ve been putting off our regular butterfly survey until conditions improve. Unfortunately, it’s still awfully dry there and not much was flying. Seeing a Weidemeyer’s Admiral resting on an elm tree near the spring got me taking a closer look, which turned up first an underwing moth and, as I looked closer, a Hackberry Emperor (seen most years, but typically only once or twice) that opened its wings for me.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis) and Underwing Moth

On my way to Embudito, I remembered to stop to look in on the Cooper’s Hawk nest I’d first noticed in mid-June. I managed to get a couple of shots of three little ones, but kept getting dive-bombed by the mom so didn’t hang around long. This is one of the better shots of two of those little ones.

Cooper’s Hawk

Two days later, we did do our butterfly survey from Capulin Spring to Balsam Glade and picked up a few butterflies, but were expecting more that were probably hiding as clouds came and went. Two of those we did see were Russet Skipperling

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

and several Taxiles Skipper; this male on the purple penstemon that covered a meadow.

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

I returned earlier the next day to look again around most of the survey route, and then to visit the Ellis Trail for the first time this year, and later to look around part of the Cienega Spring survey route our friends have been seeing good butterflies recently. Good idea – that worked out way better than I expected.

Right around the spot we cross NM 165 coming from Capulin Spring to Balsam Glade were several fun sightings; the usual Dun Skipper,

Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris)

but also the first Small Wood-Nymph for the year,

Small Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis oetus)

a very fresh Hoary Comma,

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

and even a Rocky Mountain Clearwing moth.

Rocky Mountain Clearwing (Hemaris thetis)

Walking part of the way down the gravel road from the Ellis Trail parking lot produced a few butterflies drawn to different nectar flowers than I see lower on the mountain. One of my favorites has always been the Red Columbine, which was bloooming rather profusely that day.

Red Columbine

Of the butterflies I’d photograph there was the Red Admiral (much more common everywhere this year than in the past),

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

and Mourning Cloak (common, but not usually quite as fresh).

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Wrapping up my morning in Cienega, I’d luck into seeing a number of good butterflies, the highlight of which was California Tortoiseshell (our surveying friends had seen 3 of them there a few days earlier!).

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

Looking closer at my pictures at home later turned up another one from the Ellis Trail. I’d also see a couple of Tailed Copper (new for the year) and got a nice photo of a (ridiculously common this year) Marine Blue, which was fresh enough to show off that ‘bling.’

Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

Over the next few days, I’d gone to look for birds first at Pueblo Montano Open Space and then Willow Creek Open Space. Not too many birds seen at either spot, but it was a bit of a surprise seeing a single Cedar Waxwing close to the river at Pueblo Montano,

Cedar Waxwing

and then several Mississippi Kites at Willow Creek. The Kites hadn’t nested in their usual spot for several years now after construction had removed most of the trees they’d used before, but they had been seen at Willow Creek on July 1 by the newly restarted Audubon Thursday Birders.

Mississippi Kite

Those days also included another run by Ellis Trail and Cienega Spring for a better photo of that Tailed Copper,

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

and of a Southwestern Fritillary, which I’d only seen briefly flying away on an earlier visit.

Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa)

On Monday of this week, Rebecca and I drove into the Jemez Mtns. to look for butterflies in a new location for us, the Seven Springs Fish Hatchery near Fenton Lake. We’d also stop by the side of the highway at a few places that had large patches of promising nectar sources. At one of those places, I’d first see a White-lined Sphinx Moth a common daytime species around here, but always tricky trying to photograph.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

Moments later, Rebecca spotted a first-of-the-year Pine White. Usually seen flying high around Ponderosa Pines, this one had flown down close to the ground to nectar and even ended up settling on Rebecca’s shirt for several minutes even as she continued to chase after another Pine White.

Pine White (Neophasia menapia)

On a return visit to these spots after our time at Seven Springs, we’d add (for the first time in New Mexico) a Sylvan Hairstreak nectaring on the just-bloomed horsetail milkweed,

Sylvan Hairstreak (Satyrium sylvinus)

and (first of the year) Banded Hairstreak on indian hemp.

Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)

Our main location for the day, Seven Springs Fish Hatchery, turned out to be pretty good for butterflies with large marshy areas and a good variety of nectar sources. While (not too surprisingly) we wouldn’t see our target Silver-bordered Fritillary, there would be a couple of Silvery Checkerspots,

Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)

several Southwestern Fritillaries, and one that was later identified as a Great Spangled Fritillary (my first for New Mexico),

Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele)

a fabulous Milbert’s Tortoiseshell,

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti)

and another Taxiles Skipper that posed for a pretty good photograph.

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

Finally, here’s a shot of a baby Black-chinned Hummingbird sitting in its nest on July 14. Rebecca had first told me about the nest at the end of June, and I’d been by a few times, first seeing the mother sitting on her egg(s), then watching her feed the young one whose bill would peek out of the nest while she was off gathering food, and now the little one sitting on the nest just as the mother had done just a few weeks earlier. It wasn’t until I could look at the picture on my computer that it was clear it was a young one, and Rebecca had told me that the mother did show up to feed it several times later that day. No doubt it will fledge and disappear in the next few days.

Black-chinned Hummingbird
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Better Butterflies

Soon after my last blog post, most days continued hot and dry making it difficult finding many butterflies or birds on my regular outings. The situation improved in a few locations as summer got started, and should only get better now that we’ve started to get some early monsoon season rain.

In Pueblo Montano Open Space, it was surprising (and a little scary) to see the ground covered with fluffy cottonwood seeds, which must surely be a fire hazard during these dry days.

“Cottonwood Snow”

No butterflies that day, but I did get a good look at a Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

and along the irrigation ditch came across a mother Wood Duck with her six little ones.

Wood Duck

The next day in Embudito Canyon, an obviously young Red-tailed Hawk was having a heck of a time trying to balance at the top of a juniper tree; once it got squared away it then flew off up the side of the canyon.

Red-tailed Hawk

About a week later, I’d also see that the Curve-billed Thrasher had returned to its nest in the cholla, which I’d last seen absolutely empty maybe a week earlier.

Curve-billed Thrasher

On June 17, Rebecca and I did our butterfly survey from Capulin Springs to Balsam Glade and were surprised to see 24 species and a total of more than 100 butterflies, way more than on any of our earlier surveys. A few of those included a Northern Cloudywing,

Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)

a Field Crescent (it helps to get the underside of this species to distinguish it from the similar Mylitta Crescent),

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

and (first for the year) a Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Story Time – Back in February, Jeff Glassberg emailed me about when and where in New Mexico he might see Mexican Sootywings. Jeff, of course, is the president of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), has written a number of excellent butterfly guidebooks, runs butterfly tours nationally and internationally, and is a recognized expert in the field. By the end of April, he said he was planning to arrive here on June 20 and spend a day or so looking for the Mexican Sootywing before driving north to butterfly around Raton for the rest of the week, and then back to Albuquerque for his last day or so.

That got me checking Embudito regularly for the next several weeks hoping to see one. Back in 2019, we’d regularly found them there and at several other nearby locations. Not so much in 2020, and with it being so dry this year have not been seeing sootywings or a number of other usual species. A week before Jeff’s visit, I spent a day checking all the places we’d seen them in the past around Albuquerque and as far south as the Abo Mission outside of Mountainair. I ended the day with a run to The Box outside of Socorro where we’d seen (most likely Common) Sootywing on April 24. Things were not looking good – way too dry everywhere, very little nectar, almost no butterflies, and zero sootywings. I suggested to Jeff at best he might take a look around Embudito his first day here, but he might just as well head on up to Raton.

The day before Jeff was due to arrive, Rebecca and I decided to give Capilla Peak Road a look since we’d had some good butterflies there about this time a year ago. Spotting some butterflies working a bit of alfalfa right where Capilla Peak Road leaves the main highway by the old church, we stopped to take a look. Seconds later, Rebecca called out that she’d seen a sootywing in the dry grass and I’d see another just moments later. Even better, I was able to get a photograph of the underside showing the diagnostic black veining of a Mexican Sootywing.

Mexican Sootywing (Pholisora mejicana)

Of course, that meant letting Jeff know of a possible change of plans for his visit!

We then continued on up the dirt road and were even more surprised to find crazy numbers of butterflies nectaring at big patches of Bergamot, Spike Verbena, and abundant Orange Milkweed. (We’d also see another sootywing further up the road.) Here’s just one picture to convey what it was like that day, 3 Variegated Fritillary, 15 Marine Blue, 1 Gray Hairstreak, and 1 Orange Sulphur, all on the Orange Milkweed.

Orange Milkweed Party

A few of the other species we’d see along the first five miles of the drive include Juniper Hairstreak,

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Melissa Blue,

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

and Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper.

Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari)

Jeff arrived late the next day and on Monday, June 21 joined us as we made a beeline for that area sure to re-find one of those Mexican Sootywings for him. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t being very cooperative and was much too overcast most of the time, particularly at the first spot close to the church. Deciding to continue on in the off chance the weather would improve, we would get a few sunny moments and again had good numbers of quite a few species, including several rather unusual sightings such as Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

and Texan Crescent.

Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana)

Some others from that day included Acmon/Lupine Blue,

Acmon/Lupine Blue (Plebejus acmon/lupini)

Canyonland Satyr,

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

and Pahaska Skipper.

Pahaska Skipper (Hesperia pahaska)

Jeff did get a look at a sootywing about 5.1 miles up the road (where we’d seen one on our first visit). Although I’d imagine it was probably a Mexican, we couldn’t get a definitive look/photo of it.

Returning at the start of the next week, we returned to Manzano with Jeff to try again for the Mexican Sootywing, but the weather was even worse with heavy monsoon rainclouds blocking the sun for most of the day. We then tried a couple other past locations, but with no luck on sootywings. It was fun at Quarai to spot their two little Great Horned Owls from the visitor center (the gray spots toward the upper left in the picture below),

Quarai Ruins (w/Great Horned Owls)

and from a bit closer.

Great Horned Owl

After Quarai, we headed to Abo, where we did have a little sun, some blooming thistle and bindweed, and got a few butterflies including a Queen

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

and a Monarch.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Between Jeff’s visits, Rebecca and I took a trip we’d planned months ago to Eagle Nest and Angel Fire hoping to see some of the butterflies we’d seen there in recent years. Turned out to be a pretty successful trip overall, seeing a few unexpected species while missing out on a couple of possibles. We timed the trip well for the Ruddy Copper

Ruddy Copper (Lycaena rubidus)

and the Purplish Copper,

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

but were a little early for the Blue Copper, which we’d seen for the first time last year. We also did quite well seeing plenty of Spalding’s Blue

Spalding’s Blue (Euphilotes spaldingi)

including this pair on the same Redroot Buckwheat (their host plant).

Spalding’s Blue (Euphilotes spaldingi)

Unexpected at least for me was Rebecca’s sighting first of a Riding’s Satyr

Riding’s Satyr (Neominois ridingsii)

and later a Common Ringlet.

Common Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia)

Another one she’d spot while we were having lunch next to the Cimarron River at the Tolby Day Use Area would turn out to be a Nevada Skipper, a species we don’t often see.

Nevada Skipper (Hesperia nevada)

Other species we’d see and get reasonably good photos of included Square-spotted Blue

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

and the tiny Western Tailed-Blue.

Western Tailed-Blue (Cupido amyntula)

Around Eagle Nest, we’d regularly spot American White Pelicans flying about,

American White Pelican

but were surprised as we headed for home to see first an adult Bald Eagle followed minutes later by a Golden Eagle on the opposite side of the highway, both posed on telephone poles until I stopped to try to photograph them. Naturally, the both flew off long before I could get my act together.

Can’t wait for the rain to bring out a few more butterflies over the coming weeks and maybe even some birds.

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End of the Tunnel

Just a few of my better photos from the past month this time, taken on various outings. More importantly, with two weeks having passed from my second COVID shot and New Mexico opening up more and more, we seem able to see that light at the end of the tunnel as life gets closer to normal around here.

Most of those outings have been in search of butterflies, often not very successful as the ongoing drought has kept numbers down and some species either not appearing or appearing later in the year. A few times birds have been my focus and sometimes they’ll just pop up while looking for butterflies. Here’s one of a Green-tailed Towhee from an early morning visit to Cienega Spring.

Green-tailed Towhee

About a week after first finding the Great Horned Owl nest at Pueblo Montano Open Space, I returned to see two fairly mature young ones (the one on the left is a bit hidden by the leaves).

Great Horned Owl

Quite a few of my recent outings have taken me to Embudito Canyon, one of the sites we are doing surveys this year for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network. A couple of the birds from one visit included this Cactus Wren carrying some nesting material,

Cactus Wren

and one of the Ladder-backed Woodpeckers peering out of the cavity they’ve been seen using for some time now.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Another more recent sighting there is of a Curve-billed Thrasher nesting quite close to the well-trafficked trail.

Curve-billed Thrasher

During one of those butterfly surveys, a rather patient male Black-chinned Hummingbird showed up in just the right light to catch that purple gorget.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

On our other butterfly survey route from Capulin Spring to Balsam Glade, we’ve been seeing Silver-spotted Skippers

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

and Weidemeyer’s Admiral recently.

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

Our most recent survey also turned up a number of Arctic Blue butterflies.

Arctic Blue (Agriades glandon)

Surveys and other trips to Embudito have started turning up Viereck’s Skipper,

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

and finally (weeks later than last year), a Green Skipper.

Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis)

Somewhat of a surprise after seeing Sandia Hairstreak there from early March through early April, they started showing up again toward the end of May and have been easily seen since. This is a picture of one from June 6.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

The day before, Rebecca and I headed out in search of a couple of butterflies we’ve been hoping to find for friends from back east, driving north to Las Vegas, NM and then east to Mosquero, north to Mills Canyon and Abbott, and then back to Springer for the drive home. Long day through interesting country, but not turning up many butterflies despite some areas having received enough rain this year to have greened up nicely. It was quite satisfying in one of those spots (Mills Canyon) to find two individuals of our main target species, the Dotted Checkerspot.

Dotted Checkerspot (Poladryas minuta)

Yesterday, I made another scouting trip for one of our Eastern friends searching nearly all of our possible locations for Mexican Sootywing. No luck at any of those spots, but it did seem conditions looked most promising at the Abó Unit of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. No sootywings, but I got reasonable shots of a Checkered White

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

and of a Clouded Sulphur.

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)
Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 7 Comments

Birdathon Plus

A major highlight of the last couple of weeks for me was the 3-day trip (May 6-8) Rebecca and I took for this year’s Birdathon in Sierra County (Elephant Butte, Truth or Consequences, Animas Creek, Percha, and Caballo) taking a new way home by way of Silver City to look in on a few butterfly spots. Having been vaccinated, for the first time in over a year we felt safe to drive in her car rather than driving separately. More on that below, but first a few pictures from the week before the trip.

One day, a visit to the Belen Marsh showed that there was a bit of water there and that the Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets had returned, but aren’t yet nesting. This is one of the few pictures I kept of an American Avocet.

American Avocet

Over the weekend, we drove through Las Huertas Canyon from Placitas seeing a few butterflies, but nowhere near as many as in past years; probably due to the continuing drought over most of the State. The road is in as bad a shape as ever, but it still passable taking one’s time. Best butterfly of the day was a Yucca Giant-Skipper, seen in our most dependable spot for that species.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

Various wildflowers have started blooming recently making for some good photo ops. In Embudito the next day, a place I’ve been visiting almost daily hoping to see some first of the season butterfly species, one of the thistles finally opened and is sure to attract some of those butterflies.

Thistle

There also were a few Flanders poppies peeking out in a few spots,

Flanders Poppy

and every now and then a Claret Cup Cactus was showing off.

Claret Cup Cactus

The day before the trip had me out around Corrales checking in on my owl babies. I’ve heard there are 3 little ones in the nest near Dixon Road, but have only seen two of them.

Great Horned Owl (Dixon)

Over near Calabacillas Arroyo, the two little ones are getting older and a bit more adventurous.

Great Horned Owl (Calabacillas)

Early the next morning we took off on our Birdathon, the annual fundraising activity for our local Central New Mexico Audubon Society. Over a period of 24 hours, the idea is to see as many species as possible with folks pledging contributions based on the total and in competition with other teams. Team Verdin (me and Rebecca) started at 8:30 at Animas Creek where we easily got our two target species along with an unexpectedly large number of 31 other species. Those two targets were the Acorn Woodpecker and Bridled Titmouse,

Bridled Titmouse

and one of those others was the Brown-crested Flycatcher which Rebecca was able to identify, but not often seen around here.

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Our next stop was at Percha Dam State Park where we’d add another 25 species to our list before heading on to several locations near the southern end of Caballo Lake and 5 more species. Below the dam at Caballo Lake, we’d hear a frantic Killdeer mom trying to distract us from her new babies that were busy running about; eventually I’d get a picture of Mom with one of the little ones while the others were coming over to join her.

Killdeer

Things were slowing down bird-wise by then so we drove to a couple of spots around Elephant Butte Lake, adding another 3 species. Most surprising was Rebecca’s spotting a shorebird from quite a distance away that was still there when we arrived and would turn out to be the rarely seen Sanderling.

Sanderling

Thinking we were pretty much done for the day, we headed for Truth or Consequences stopping to take a look at Mims Lake. Not expecting to see much there at first, it would turn out to add quite a few species to our list (13), enough that we’d visit again the next morning. Adding a Rock Pigeon spotted in town that afternoon and another 13 species at Paseo del Rio that next morning gave a grand total of 93 species. One of those last species seen was a Black-crowned Night-Heron that first flew low right over us and we’d later spot perching in a tree.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Having completed our Birdathon, it was off toward Silver City in search of a few butterflies. One of our favorite spots in that area, Railroad Canyon, almost immediately turned up one of our target species, the Sagebrush Checkerspot, of which we’d see at least 18 individuals.

Sagebrush Checkerspot (Chlosyne acastus)

A few other species appeared, but it seemed the drought was likely impacting that area as well. One of the others, fairly common around here but first for the season, was a Mylitta Crescent.

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

We next headed to San Lorenzo, up to Lake Roberts, and back toward Silver City checking promising spots for more butterflies. One of the first was on a thistle just north of San Lorenzo, another first of the season, Viereck’s Skipper.

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

We’d end up spending quite a bit of time at McMillan Campground, where we ran into a fellow butterfly enthusiast from Texas, and get to see a few more butterflies, including an Arizona Hairstreak (a bit too worn to include a photo here) and a Clouded Sulphur (quite common here, but first of the season for me and made for a nice photo).

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

After spending the night in Silver City, the next morning we headed for home along a new route along the western border of New Mexico stopping now and then to look around a few areas that might be worth another look soon.

As mentioned above, I’ve been hitting Embudito almost every day recently keeping an eye on the butterfly nectar plants and hoping to spot a few of those butterflies that should make an appearance any day now. I’ve also been trying to get a good shot of the Scott’s Oriole that’s returned and I’ve been hearing and seeing for most of the last week. This is the best I’ve managed so far.

Scott’s Oriole

Another bird that fooled me by twittering away while hiding in a cholla right next to me eventually popped up for his portrait, a Black-throated Sparrow.

Black-throated Sparrow

On Thursday, our survey between Capulin Spring and Balsam Glade for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network turned up several first of the season species and a good number of species and individuals, including Field Crescent

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

and Silvery Blue.

Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus)

A quick trip this morning to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area wasn’t very productive, but did turn up a bird I’ve been trying to get a decent photo of for some time (and served as our Birdathon team name) – a Verdin.

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

Owl Babies!

Bit of a gray and occasionally wet (always welcome around here!) day today , and seems a good time for another blog update. It’s that time of year again and the baby Great Horned Owls are starting to appear all over town. Things are blooming and greening up everywhere and slowly warming up, bringing out a few new butterflies for the year just about every time I look.

There are at least two owl nests near the river reported on eBird that I haven’t yet found despite looking pretty carefully, and one that I’d been looking for and finally spotted near Bosque School pretty much the same day it appeared on eBird.

Great Horned Owl

While searching the east side of the Rio Grande near Central Avenue for those other two nests, I did get a nice shot of an Eastern Bluebird.

Eastern Bluebird

I’ve yet to see any little ones at the nest near Dixon Road in Corrales, although friends have occasionally seen two peeking out of their cavity and the female seems to have moved to another tree. And I keep expecting to spot little ones near the Rio Grande Nature Center, but have only spotted the female still sitting on that nest. Friends have also seen at least one little one at the Atrisco Bosque nest, but I haven’t been back recently and the nest itself is rather high in a tree.

There was a report of a Great Horned Owl from City Place more than a month ago, where they’ve nested regularly over the last several years, but I hadn’t spotted them during one or two cursory visits. So it was a surprise on April 14 to see a fairly mature little one ogling me next to its mother quite low in an evergreen, with another little one higher up in the tree.

Great Horned Owl

Even more surprising was not seeing any of them in that tree on a return visit four days later. Looking around the neighborhood I spotted a woman pointing her camera up a tree further down the block and figured that’s where the owls must have gone. Indeed, she readily pointed out two of them hanging out together,

Great Horned Owl

and a third little one a little further away in the same tree and the mother a few trees away. The woman had quite a (sad) story to tell as she seems to have been following their progress for quite some time. It seems the female owl lost an eye awhile ago, and just the week before she’d come across the male, lying dead in the grass. The young ones seem to be getting fed okay, however, and should be able to go off on their own soon.

Later that same day, I got a text from friends about a Long-eared Owl apparently spending the afternoon in the Community Garden at Los Poblanos Open Space. That’s a species I’ve never seen in the wild and have been wanting to see for years. Dropped everything and headed right over; sure enough several other birders were there who pointed it out sitting quietly at about eye level.

Long-eared Owl

We kept a good distance away to avoid spooking the bird, and I didn’t stay long since other birders were on their way for a look. At some point, apparently someone decided they just had to get closer causing the bird to fly just a short distance away and a little higher in a tree rather than vanishing into the distance. Those who showed up later in the afternoon were rewarded with excellent photos.

On the way home from that event, I detoured by the nest near Calabacillas Arroyo. I’d suspected on April 10 with Mom sitting high up in the cavity there might be one or more little ones soon. A friend confirmed seeing one there later that evening, but I still hadn’t seen it. Getting there a little later in the day must’ve been the secret, and here’s who I saw that afternoon (4/18).

Great Horned Owl

I didn’t make it back to that nest until yesterday (4/27), and after at first being disappointed at not seeing anyone in the cavity was somewhat surprised to note that one of the little ones had climbed to the top of the snag and, like always, was busy keeping an eye on me.

Great Horned Owl

Even more entertaining was backing up a little and from a different perspective realizing that there were two of those little guys.

Great Horned Owl

So that’s the owl story for this posting. A couple of other birds since my last update include this Black-crowned Night-Heron from the rookery just south of Bridge Blvd near the river,

Black-crowned Night-Heron

and a Snowy Egret fooling around in the Bosque School pond.

Snowy Egret

Last weekend while out looking for butterflies with Rebecca at The Box and Water Canyon a Red-naped Sapsucker showed up at quite close range. (Acorn Woodpeckers were also around, but stayed farther away.)

Red-naped Sapsucker

Fairly common to see by now in Embudito Canyon are two butterflies that we got to add during our surveys for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network, the Two-tailed Swallowtail

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and the Short-tailed Skipper.

Short-tailed Skipper (Zestusa dorus)

Our trip to The Box was quite productive in turning up a few Common Sootywings, two Golden-headed Scallopwings (which turned out to be a Socorro County record for Rebecca!), and a Common Streaky-Skipper.

Common Streaky-Skipper (Celotes nessus)

Onward to Water Canyon where we’d see a large number of Sonoran Metalmarks

Sonoran Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus)

and a single Thicket Hairstreak.

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

We’d add a few more species once we got into the canyon proper, including the first Great Purple Hairstreak for the year, all in all a pretty good butterfly day.

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

Better and Better

New birds and butterflies for the year on just about every outing recently, weather’s warming up, and things are greening up for Spring. Finally got my first Pfizer shot, too, so this year just gets better and better every day. Note that it seems WordPress has modified their editor which is new to me. Since starting this blog I’ve always used their “Classic” editor and was able to modify the underlying HTML if needed and this post will be my first test of the new editor.

Embudito Canyon is probably my most visited spot since it’s close to home and good for both birds and butterflies. Several rock formations in the canyon regularly catch my eye, but this is the only one I’ve photographed (still practicing with my new Sony RX-10iv camera). It’s rather large, but doubtful it was carved by anything but the forces of Nature.

Embudito Formation

Later that afternoon, an email from a friend described a Western Screech-Owl seen in a cavity in the Corrales bosque. Most unusual was his photo of not one, but two, owls in the same cavity, so I headed down there a short while later to take a look. I soon found the cavity following his excellent directions, but as you’ll note from the following picture such specific directions were quite helpful.

Western Screech-Owl Cavity

Here’s a closer view of the owl.

Western Screech-Owl

The next day, Rebecca and I did the Atrisco Bosque trail to show her the Great Horned Owls I mentioned in my last post and to explore the area a bit more. The female was still in the nest high in the trees, and the male was close to where he was first seen but not as out in the open as the first time.

Great Horned Owl

A couple of days later was my first visit in years on the opposite (east) side of the Rio Grande from the Atrisco Bosque trail. Since my last visit a very nice trail has been constructed along the river that was a delight to walk and I’m sure to return more frequently. Just at the start, a bird was regularly repeating a song that I wasn’t familiar with. Turned out to be a Northern Flicker of all things.

Northern Flicker

Later, I’d see several Snowy Egrets flying together downriver, the first of that species I’d seen this year. And then moments later, I came upon three of them on a small sand bank close to the trail. This photo shows two of them with a female Mallard there on the left.

Snowy Egret

Off to the Tingley bosque ponds next, in an old nest that a few years ago was used by a Great Horned Owl I noticed was again occupied. Given the time of year, I assumed it was most likely an owl again, but the tail (and a nearby male drawing my attention) confirmed it to be a Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk

A little later high in a cottonwood by the northern pond was this Osprey.

Osprey

Another visit to Embudito the next day gave me a good look at the Ladder-backed Woodpecker seen working on a nest cavity for the last couple of weeks.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

While I watched from a fair distance away, he came out of the hole and worked his way to the top of the (dead) tree to take a look around.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

A few days later, I went back to the Corrales bosque to first find that the Western Screech-Owl was still present, and then to check on the progress of the nesting Great Horned Owl in generally the same area. It had been more than a month since they’d started nesting and I hadn’t been there very often since the female was usually hidden deep in the cavity. This time, however, you could just see the top of her head as she peeked out at me.

Great Horned Owl

The male was also visible, but had moved to a different tree than I’d usually seen him in earlier this year.

Great Horned Owl

Early this week, at Three Gun Spring I met up with some folks from Colorado who’d asked if I’d help them find a Sandia Hairstreak. Never a sure thing, it was a relief to spot one at almost the first Texas Beargrass we found, and then to see at least a dozen more as we made our way up the trail.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

We’d later see a few Southwestern Orangetips and five Spring Whites, my first of the year for the latter.

Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii)

Another surprise came a few days later, when Rebecca and I were checking out the trail to Bill Spring. This time it was the first Thicket Hairstreak for the year, a species that didn’t seem too common the last several years and one that I’ve been wanting a better photo. Seems pretty early in the year to be seeing one, too, but I was quite satisfied with the photo.

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

We’d also been checking out the area between Balsam Glade and Capulin Springs for butterfly surveys later in the year, when Rebecca spotted a pair of Band-tailed Pigeons pretty far away. A bird that (at least for me) usually flies off the instant it notices people, it was good to get a reasonable look at them.

Band-tailed Pigeon

This morning, a quick stop to check in on the Great Horned Owl nesting near Calabacillas Arroyo for the first time in a month found the female sitting up and more visible than a month ago, a possible sign that her little ones have hatched and are starting to grow.

Great Horned Owl

Then without any real expectations of finding one, I walked around Boca Negra Canyon where owls had nested a couple years ago on a ledge on the basaltic cliffs. Didn’t find any owls, but had fun watching a couple of Greater Roadrunners thinking about starting a family and caught one of them in flight off the top of the cliff with a stick to add to the nest site.

Greater Roadrunner
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Crossing into Spring

Spring seemed to arrive just on time this year, with pear trees coming into bloom along with the daffodils and a few wildflowers. That is, up until Tuesday night, when we got blasted by high winds, cold temperatures, and a pretty good dose of snow. Apparently no big deal down close to the river, but those of us near the foothills woke up to windows covered in ice/snow, an inch or so of snow on the roads and landscape, and as sometimes happens, nice deep snowdrifts piled up at our doors. By this morning, of course, most roads are completely cleared and much of the snow has vaporized away. Still rather cool out and no telling what that’s done to those blooming trees or the few butterflies that started flying over the last several weeks.

Still figuring out my new Sony RX-10 iv camera, which was used for all the following pictures. As typical this time of year, it’s fairly easy to spot plenty of porcupines anywhere in the bosque along the river. They sort of jump out at me wandering around down there looking for old raptor nests often used as nests by Great Horned Owl…just look for the lumps in the bare trees; it’s either an old nest or a porcupine. At Pueblo Montano, one can usually spot about a dozen porcupines and often two or three in the same tree. This is one of the better photos of one there on March 11.

Porcupine

This next picture is a bit different than those I usually post. Late last year, one of my sisters sent me (and the rest of the family) an amaryllis bulb for Christmas. We were supposed to follow the enclosed directions and wait for them to bloom over the next couple of months. Soon enough, everybody else’s came into bloom and on our weekly Covid Zoom call we shared the variety of colors, # of blooms, etc. with everybody. Mine, however, had never gotten started due to my having over-watered it. Taking another shot at it resulted in the following:

Amaryllis

Four huge, gorgeous flowers with a fifth in the center that would eventually open as one of the others faded. Great fun!

The next day or so, following the detailed directions of a friend, I tracked down a Great Horned Owl pair nesting in the area of Calabacillas Arroyo. It took a couple of tries, but eventually I found the right spot and could just make out the female’s back as she was sitting in a most unusual cavity.

Great Horned Owl

My friend also gave me ideas of where to find the male. Again, it took me quite a bit of searching to spot him, but you might notice him (as I did) standing out on the left side of that tree just about in the center of this photo.

Great Horned Owl Habitat

Without wanting to disturb him, I circled around at a pretty good distance to finally get a better view of him.

Great Horned Owl

A few days later after seeing eBird reports of a nest on the opposite side of the river and closer to town, I took the Atrisco Bosque trail to see if I could locate it. Delightful trail just across the river from the Biopark, I’d never before visited that area in almost 40 years here. Surprisingly easy to spot the nest as the only old raptor nest I came across there, the male was also fairly easy to see. Here’s a wide view with both of them; the male on the left at mid-height on an almost horizontal branch and the nesting female that lump high on the right.

Great Horned Owl Habitat

Here’s a better look at the male (taken from a considerable distance with my new 600mm lens).

Great Horned Owl

I’d see a few other good birds that morning including this Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk

Pleased with my success, I next headed over to the Rio Grande Nature Center. I’d been twice before to see the tail of the nesting female, but had yet to see her face or to spot the male who had to be somewhere close. Good luck was in store for me as a group of birders there pointed out the male,

Great Horned Owl

and taking another look at the nest I caught Mom yawning when she sat up a little.

Great Horned Owl

Two other shots from that morning included this Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

and first of the year for me, Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher

A few days later, I walked a couple of areas of the Corrales bosque that I hadn’t visited in quite some time (if ever) on the off chance there might be another owl about or other photo opportunities. No owls, but it was fun seeing a male Wood Duck rather high in a tree

Wood Duck

and later, getting a shot of an American Robin. Robins are being seen in good numbers most everywhere these days, but are so common I rarely feel the need to photograph one; this one came out rather well.

American Robin

I’d made several passes by the North Diversion Channel after hearing that the Osprey were back and likely to nest again where they have for the last few years. They haven’t quite taken up residence yet, though, but I did finally spot one of the pair on March 21.

Osprey

I’d also made a few trips to Embudito Canyon whenever the weather seemed suitable for bringing out a few butterflies, in expectation of starting to see the Southwestern Orangetip. In my last post, I mentioned having our first Sandia Hairstreak on March 6. I’ve seen a few more since and usually on their host plant, Texas Beargrass. On March 21, however, I was a little surprised to find one on the willow catkins just above the spring.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

The catkins had just come into bloom, and in addition to the large numbers of Litocala moths present, is one of the spots I check for those orangetips. I would finally spot one (a male) closer to the stand of hackberry trees and working some of the new wildflowers.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

If that burst of snow didn’t put all the butterflies out of commission, the butterflies should really start emerging as spring takes hold and warmer weather appears.

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So Close to Spring

Spring is getting so close what with daylight saving time kicking in Sunday and the official spring equinox early the following Saturday. With the pandemic still out there (and vaccines not quite available here yet for most of us), it’ll still be good to get outside for all the new flowers, leaves on the trees, returning birds and emerging butterflies – can’t wait! Haven’t updated the blog since February 16, but there’ve been a few good photo opportunities over the last 3 weeks I thought I’d share. A bit quiet the next day in Embudito, but I did get a nice shot of a Cactus Wren.

Cactus Wren

A couple of days after that, Rebecca and I made another trip down to Bosque del Apache, where we’d see the Northern Shrike again and good numbers of Sandhill Crane and other wintering residents who will soon start heading north. Several times that day we’d spot a young Bald Eagle, once just flying by

Bald Eagle (immature)

and later acting highly interested as an adult grabbed a duck and wrangled it to the shore to eat. We saw javelinas in a couple of spots, but none of the bobcats others have been seeing recently. It was fun coming across a few Wild Turkey.

Wild Turkey

While eating lunch on the Eagle Scout Deck, a couple of Northern Harriers were flying around in the distance, one of which flew right over us but turned out to be a Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk

At a pond near the Flight Deck where we watched the Bald Eagle show, there were also good numbers of Cinnamon Teal close enough to get a decent photo.

Cinnamon Teal

A week later, Rebecca and I met at the Rio Grande Nature Center to walk the bosque and along the Rio Grande just past Campbell Road. Not quite as busy with birds as on some of my earlier visits, but it was fun watching three Killdeer apparently holding a meeting to discuss their latest dance moves. They’d line up three abreast and take a few steps forward and back, or step around each other in different formations, but pretty much were just hanging out together.

Killdeer

While we were watching that an adult Bald Eagle passed by heading up river just above the trees.

Bald Eagle

A few days later, a new camera arrived that I’d been thinking about for several years now. A Sony RX10iv – everyone I know that has one raves about it and I’d read good things about it online. There’s a bit of a learning curve to using it, so the jury’s still out while I work through that. So far, I’m pretty happy with it if not as overwhelmingly impressed as I’d expected. Haven’t had too many good opportunities yet to try out different things, but the rest of the photos in this post were taken with my new toy.

Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area has finally opened up Thursday-Saturday for walking around, so we met there last Friday. Didn’t end up with too many pictures and a little quiet for birds, but there was a Great Egret on their small pond along with a Great Blue Heron. The heron would fly whenever I’d think of trying for a picture of the egret, and once a Northern Harrier even flew by to land just feet from the egret. Here’s my best shot of the Great Egret from the opposite side of the pond.

Great Egret

The next day back at the Rio Grande Nature Center, I spotted this year’s nest for the Great Horned Owl.  Rather high up in a tree, it’s not much to see now, but hopefully we should get decent looks at Mom and the little ones once they arrive.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC Bosque

Later that morning, I looked around a bit at Los Poblanos Open Space thinking I might get photos of raptors or cranes in flight. Didn’t see any of those, but did see a Western Screech-Owl in one of the nest boxes, and one of the resident Greater Roadrunners that are almost always somewhere around the garden plots.

Greater Roadrunner

Now that March is here and we’ve had a couple of days with temperatures reaching into the upper 60s, I’ve been checking Embudito Canyon pretty much every day hoping to see my first Sandia Hairstreak….typically the first species to announce the arrival of the year’s butterfly season. And, yay!, this year it happened on March 6 (also pretty good practice shooting macro with the new Sony).

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Despite the gray clouds yesterday, I was off to check in on the Western Screech-Owl in Columbus Park…much cooler background than the nest boxes of Los Poblanos,

Western Screech-Owl

then over to Tingley Ponds where I had a cooperative pair of Northern Shoveler.

Northern Shoveler

Up at the north end of the north pond, a lump in the trees caught my eye and not too surprisingly turned out to be a Porcupine, although a bit unusual in being fairly low in a tree and moving around rather than dozing away as one usually finds them.

Porcupine

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Time Flies

I recently realized it’s been ten years since I retired from my long-time job. Somewhat surprising to me was discovering that going out to photograph birds (and soon after, butterflies) would take up so much of my time. It was certainly not on the list of things I’d find myself working up in the days between making the decision to retire and the actual event. Although I’d had a website (sandianet.com) since 1997, it has grown considerably over the last decade as more and more photos of birds, butterflies, and anything else that’s caught my eye were added. That realization triggered a major task to modify the website structure and content and to delete a considerable number of images, many of which were redundant or for which others were just better photos. There remain an absurd number of images on the website particularly of birds and butterflies from more than 20 trips to other states during the past decade and 30 international trips going back almost two decades, but I’ve managed to clean up those sections of the website dealing with nature images from New Mexico.  Of an original total of 11,786 photos, 7,200 were deleted resulting in the current total of 4,586.  That’s still a crazy number, but represents a reduction of 61% of the original total. These had been stored on both a hard drive and a web server. A first step was to go through all of the photos in a category (birds, butterflies, critters, bugs, dragonflies, and flowers) deciding which to retained or delete. Next was deleting many of the files on the two systems and double-checking to ensure they matched. Finally, a new set of webpages were made to present the remaining images.  So that’s what’s been taking up a fair amount of my time over the last two weeks and partly explains why there aren’t many photos for this post.

Just a couple of weeks following my last day of work, on March 5, 2011 I started this blog. It seemed a fun way to document and share what was turning into a major part of my post-retirement life, and it’s been interesting going back and looking over some of those more than 300 posts over the last ten years.

During the first week of February, I did get out to a couple of local spots that while mostly quiet for birds turned up some good sightings. One morning was at Pueblo Montano Open Space. Not many birds, but plenty of porcupines dozing in the trees. There was, however, a Pied-billed Grebe working its way down the irrigation ditch,

Pied-billed Grebe

and, on the way back to my car a patient Red-tailed Hawk catching a little morning sun.

Red-tailed Hawk

Another morning took me out to Willow Creek Open Space near Bernalillo, where I didn’t expect to run into many other people and there were reports mentioning a pair of Great Horned Owls being seen regularly. Although they seem to use a different nesting location within the Open Space every year, their nests have been spotted reliably in recent years and this year’s breeding season should start any day. So I walked the big loop and looked around carefully up at the northern end near the houses where they’d been reported. Not seeing anybody as I made my way around the corner to head back south, it was quite a treat to hear their territorial hooting that helped me spot them. Rarely do I hear them and usually it’s late at night. Not the greatest photo, but you can see both of them close together on the same branch.

Great Horned Owls – Willow Creek

At the end of the week, Rebecca and I met down at Bernardo Waterfowl Area. We ended up with a pretty good list of more than 20 species seen, including (as expected) quite large numbers of Sandhill Crane, but the absolute highlights of the day for me was finally getting some decent shots of Northern Harriers. Just as we arrived, Rebecca had seen a male near the side of the road and when we wandered back toward that area to take a look, it flushed out of a somewhat different spot and I managed a couple of quick shots.

Male Northern Harrier

Over lunch, we had fly-bys of a couple of females, one of which had something odd going on with its right wing.

Female Northern Harrier

Later, on the way back toward the exit, we’d have one sitting on a dirt mound as we drove up that first flew off and a short distance up the irrigation ditch before heading back to perch on some dry brush in the ditch.

Female Northern Harrier

Once she landed there, she seemed to pay no mind to my slowly getting closer. I kept taking pictures the closer I got. Not wanting to disturb her further, I got some great shots and then slowly backed away. Here’s a nice one of her with an eye on me.

Female Northern Harrier

This one is quite similar, but if you zoom in you’ll see her translucent nictating membrane, a sort of inner eyelid birds, reptiles, and even some mammals have.

Female Northern Harrier

Of course, it’s been pretty cold out the last couple of days and we’re catching a bit more snow this morning than we did with the first pass. Now that I’m done with that website cleanup, I’m looking forward to getting back out there again soon.

 

 

 

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Easing into 2021

Haven’t gotten around to updating my blog since early January so it’s certainly time to post a few pictures. Interestingly, in recent days I find myself feeling as if we’re in some kind of holding pattern not having to check the news multiple times a day now that Trump’s been retired and just holed up at home waiting to be called in for the Covid vaccine. But I’ve also been busy going through the absurd number of photographs posted on my website over the last decade, a task that has taken a considerable amount of time. Still, I somehow managed to get outside a few times for a few decent photos.

One day, poking along the irrigation ditch at Alameda Open Space unsuccessfully looking for kinglets and creepers turned up a Killdeer in a somewhat atypical habitat.

Killdeer

A few days later, I got a look at the Hooded Merganser pair at the Rio Grande Nature Center (but haven’t made it back for a better shot),

Hooded Merganser

and of a Red-tailed Hawk that flew into one of the nearby cottonwood trees.

Red-tailed Hawk

The next day, Rebecca and I headed down to Bosque del Apache NWR since we hadn’t been in quite some time and there are usually good birds around during the winter. Not nearly as much water as normal for this season that kept the bird numbers down some, but we still had a fun day. Among the first birds I’d see was a pair of Bufflehead quite close to my car paddling around, diving, and coming back up with the light perfect for catching that iridescence on the male.

Bufflehead

Driving around the loop we noticed they’d burned the brush and drained one of the smaller ponds, something they probably have to do now and then to keep the cattails from taking over, but still spotted a pretty cool bird, Greater Yellowlegs, in a classic yoga pose.

Greater Yellowlegs

Most of the action that day was on the big pond just as you enter the refuge with a good sized flock of snow geese, smaller numbers of various ducks, and a few others, such as this Western Meadowlark.

Western Meadowlark

At one point, the geese took to the air all around us in an amazing display of action and sound, providing me with this shot of a couple of them going right by.

Snow Goose

Taking a lunch break on the Eagle Scout deck, I was regularly interrupted by Northern Harriers zooming by but never quite got the photo I’d  hoped for. At one point it got rather exciting when the snow geese all launched off the pond again, which we’ve learned typically happens when a Bald Eagle passes by. Sure enough, we’d spot one making a low pass trying to grab a snack

Bald Eagle

before heading back to its usual perch to wait for another opportunity.

Bald Eagle

Finishing up our lunch, our good friend, Lefty, stopped by to tell us about his having spotted the Northern Shrike earlier. Hoping to see that bird, which is quite unusual to find around here, was his main reason for making the drive from Albuquerque and wonderful that he was successful. Following his directions, we headed to his spot and were thrilled to also find it rather quickly.

Northern Shrike

I’d seen that species only once before, and it too had been at Bosque del Apache back in February 2015. This bird seems easy to confuse with the much more commonly seen Loggerhead Shrike, but they really are noticeably different if you get a close enough view. For comparison, this next photo is of the Loggerhead Shrike we’d seen earlier that morning.

Loggerhead Shrike

Just a couple more pictures from the few times I’ve been out of the house since. This one is a Northern Shoveler seen cruising up and down the irrigation ditch in Corrales.

Northern Shoveler

Another day at the Tingley Ponds gave me nice looks at a Canvasback

Canvasback

and a Northern Pintail.

Northern Pintail

Finally, here’s one of a young Black-crowned Night-Heron hanging out by the Tingley fishing ponds.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

 

 

 

 

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