The Daze of August

Somehow the month of August is just slipping by without my having gotten around to posting a blog update. After returning from that fabulous trip to Brazil at the end of July the subject of my August 10 post, the first two weeks of August were pretty much taken up going through the ridiculous number of pictures that came home with me. That at last has finally settled down, but other goings-on have kept me from getting out much very often in the days since, something I’ll have to rectify in the few days remaining.

A few days after getting back, I did take a break to go out with the Audubon Thursday Birder bunch on their trip to the Tingley Ponds. Typical for such a good birding location right downtown on a beautiful morning, we had quite a large number of people join us but still managed to exceed our success criterion of seeing more birds than we have people. The island in the middle of the northern pond had a Green Heron on a fishing expedition, a bit far for the lens I had but the picture came out reasonably well.

Green Heron

Green Heron

The camera did much better on a dragonfly perched on the reeds near the edge of the pond.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

On the southern pond, a Pied-billed Grebe in its breeding plumage paddled around the center of the pond.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

That Saturday, I joined Rebecca in leading a butterfly walk for the BioBlitz at the Rio Grande Nature Center. People on the walk seemed to enjoy all the information about butterflies she shared with the group, but unfortunately butterflies just aren’t that plentiful near the river and we weren’t able to point out more than one or two during the walk. We had a similar experience on the USFS BioBlitz in Cienega Canyon in mid-May, not seeing any butterflies on what turned out to be a cold and cloudy morning. If the objective is to see lots of different butterfly species, we really should pick locations known to be good at that time of year and hope for good weather conditions. Nonetheless, we did see a few cool things that morning mostly spotted by a couple of the kids in the group. One of my favorites is the Calligraphy Beetle.

Globemallow Leaf (Calligrapha serpentina) aka Calligraphy Beetle

Globemallow Leaf Beetle (Calligrapha serpentina) aka Calligraphy Beetle

This is the first time I’ve seen them in the process of mating, and it’s just amazing how swollen that female is as she’s laying those eggs on the leaf.

Later that week, I was signed up to lead our annual Thursday Birder trip to look for the nesting Mississippi Kites in Corrales, and figured I’d better go try and scout them out before the trip. More common in Oklahoma, Texas, and southern states, they also nest along a narrow strip by the Rio Grande and have nested in Corrales for at least the last several years. We intentionally scheduled this year’s walk a couple of weeks earlier than we did last year, but it seems they nested even earlier this year and the little ones were fully fledged by now and almost ready to head off on their own. A friend had told me where to look this year and I’d been fortunate to spot both adults and juveniles in the same area on my two scouting trips, so it was fun being able to take the group to see them.

Juvenile Mississippi Kite

Juvenile Mississippi Kite

While I’d been off to Brazil, Rebecca had figured out where and when to see the Colorado Hairstreak butterfly that we’d been looking for most of the summer. We’d gone to look the day before, but were unsuccessful in finding any on that somewhat cool and cloudy morning. But after spotting my Mississippi Kites and noting that the sky was perfectly clear over the mountains and it was nice and warm, I made a beeline for the spot she’d shown me, and (yay!) got one at what seems about the end of their flight period.

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

A couple of other species also came out for the sun including a Checkered White checking out the purple asters that have started to bloom in the mountains.

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

The day after the Mississippi Kite trip, Rebecca and I headed down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area near Belen to check in on their butterflies. There were a few new species for the year flying around including Pearl Crescent and Bordered Patch, but the biggest surprise was seeing a total of 17 Monarchs working the milkweed during their Fall migration. This is quite a few more than we’ve seen in the past and it’s looking like a good year for them after a couple of years when their numbers have been way down.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

It was also cool to see this moth, with what I presume are eggs, on the visitor center wall.

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx occidentalis)

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx occidentalis)

The next week’s Audubon Thursday Birder walk took us to the Ellis Trail high up in the Sandias where the birding was unusually good that day. Somehow I didn’t get any decent bird pictures, but we all had fun watching some mule deer that seemed unfazed by our presence,

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

and lots of tachinid flies that are pretty cool looking if you look close.

Repetitive Tachinid Fly

Repetitive Tachinid Fly

A couple of days later, Rebecca and I headed out for the Sandias again in search of butterflies. A little quiet for them that day and we’re thinking probably too late for those Colorado Hairstreaks, but there were a few species flying about. At one of our stops, I also saw what must be a family group of House Wrens busy flitting through the bushes in search of bugs.

House Wren

House Wren

And at Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, I had to laugh at the Pac-man cloud Rebecca spotted.

Clouds

Clouds

Some of what I’ve been doing this past week is fooling around with different camera and lens combinations, trying to decide which to bring on my next neotropic butterfly adventure.  For several years, I’d used a Nikon 70-300mm lens for most of my pictures until it started acting a little funny and I succumbed to upgrading to a ridiculously expensive but crazy good 80-400mm lens about a year ago. That lens does get good butterfly pictures (the only lens I had on the Brazil trip for close to 100 species), but requires you to focus from a good distance away and is pretty dang big and heavy. Giving the old 70-300 another shot this week, a visit to my local patch, Embudito, turned up a Canyonland Satyr. Just about the only butterfly I saw that day, they have been much less common this year than last, and yeah, that lens is just not doing it for me any more.

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

A few days later, my Tokina 100mm macro lens got its tryout with this bee on a flower in Corrales.

Bee

Bee

That worked out pretty well so might be the way to go on the next butterfly trip. Its main drawback is that it’s not internal focusing and the movement of the lens housing as one focuses close can sometimes cause the subject to fly off, but it is way more compact and lightweight.

Another option for me is that Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 I recently got specifically for travel. Small, lightweight, big zoom range, even a reticulating screen for photographing those metalmarks that hide under leaves, it actually does a pretty good job and I’ve used it as my only camera on recent trips to Florida and East Texas. It can be quite frustrating sometimes in getting it to focus on the subject at hand and doesn’t have near as many options as the Nikon DSLR for other things I might want to play with. Took it along on this week’s Audubon Thursday Birder outing to El Malpais National Monument since I hadn’t messed with it since before the Brazil trip. Despite those drawbacks, it does take some pretty nice photographs, such as this spiderwort flower.

Spiderwort

Spiderwort

Driving to the South Narrows Picnic Area turned up a crowd of Turkey Vultures waiting for the thermals to start building.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

One of the more scenic stops that day was the La Ventana Arch, a picture taken with the Lumix near its 25mm wide angle limit. In addition to it being an impressively dramatic landscape, we had some pretty good birds there that morning including a Peregrine Falcon perched high on the cliff way too far away for my camera, and a good mix of other bird species.

La Ventana Natural Arch

La Ventana Natural Arch

Four more days left in August – time to get back out there and see what there is to see.

 

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Flowers, Photographs | 2 Comments

Back from Brazil

A little more than a month since my last update, it’s certainly time for a new one. My apologies upfront – this is going to be a long one. Repeating a trip I’d made five years ago, most of that time was spent off on a another fabulous trip to the State of Mato Grosso, Brazil with Mark Pretti Nature Tours, and then all last week taken up going through the more than 2200 pictures that made it home with me this time. The total’s down to about 450 now that are now on my website at http://sandianet.com/matogrosso/index.htm, but thought I’d share some of them in this post. Along with Mark, our group included two friends from Albuquerque, Liz and Larry, my friend Terri from Illinois who’s gone on several other trips with me, and five others we met down there for the trip. Four of us met up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida a couple days early to catch our late night flight on Azul Airlines to Cuiaba via Sao Paolo’s Viracopos airport, and then had nearly two days in Cuiaba before meeting up with Mark and the rest of the group. Highlights of our time in Fort Lauderdale included watching a waterspout (thanks to Terri for the waterspout photo) develop out on the ocean for about half an hour before it finally dissapated,

Waterspout

Waterspout

doing a little birding around town the day of our flight when we met up with a Park Ranger and volunteer who took us to a turtle nesting site where they showed us a couple of baby leatherbacks on their way to the ocean,

Leatherback Turtle Nest

Leatherback Turtle Nest

and at an old cemetery that was overrun with huge iguanas, lots of White Ibis, and a Blue Jay nest with little ones about ready to fledge.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

 The first day in Cuiaba we made it over to the zoo at the Federal University of Mato Grosso; a fairly small zoo that specializes in Brazilian Pantanal species, some of which we’d be seeing in the wild over the course of the next two weeks. The following day we spent a few hours in the marvelous Parque Mae Bonifacia in the center of Cuiaba, where we saw several Silvery Marmosets in the trees and spotted a few good birds including both male and female Barred Antshrike.

Barred Antshrike

Barred Antshrike

 After meeting the rest of the group that night, early the next morning it was off to the Transpantaneira Road to our first lodge, the Fazenda Santa Tereza deep in the Pantanal. After a couple of days there, we’d head back up the road to Pousada Piuval with a bit different habitats for the next couple of days. Then nearly a week into the trip, it was back to Cuiaba for a flight to Alta Floresta in the Amazon region and five full days at the marvelous Cristalino Lodge. Flying back to Cuiaba, we boarded a bus to head to the completely different environment of Chapada dos Guimaraes, staying at Pousada do Parque for the last couple of days of the trip.

The focus of the trip was primarily birding and we’d see more than 360 species of birds, thanks mostly to Mark’s skill but aided by a couple of our local guides and the sharp eyes of several others on the tour. I had my eye on some of the butterflies, too, and ended up with close to 100 species. What made the trip really special, however, was ending up with a total of 24 mammal species, a number of which I’d never seen before and apparently a record for Mark’s many trips down there. Among them was a Maned Wolf, Crab-eating Fox, an Ocelot, two kinds of anteater (Southern Tamandua and Great Anteater), Giant Otter, Brazilian Tapir, four species of monkey, and five of bats.

Transpantaneira Road was swarming with caiman

Caiman

Caiman

and all kinds of waterfowl such as herons, egrets, ibis, limpkins, sunbittern, five species of kingfisher, most of them in ridiculous numbers,

Green-and-rufous Kingfisher

Green-and-rufous Kingfisher

Roseate Spoonbills,

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Jabiru, several hawks,

Savannah Hawk

Savannah Hawk

and plenty of other birds.

Bare-faced Currasows wandered the grounds of  Fazenda Santa Tereza like chickens

Bare-faced Currasow

Bare-faced Currasow

along with several family groups of the rather sizable Capybara.

Capybara

Capybara

This also was where we’d see a Crab-eating Fox

Crab-eating Fox

Crab-eating Fox

and Marsh Deer on the edges of the property. At the lodge itself we’d see lots of different birds,

Peach-fronted Parakeet

Peach-fronted Parakeet

including the first of four species of Aracari

Chestnut-eared Aracari

Chestnut-eared Aracari

and five species of Jacamar,

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

got to spy on the little ones in a Jabiru nest from a short tower close to the nest, 

Jabiru

Jabiru

and each day would head out on the Rio Pixaim to spot even more bird species, Caiman, Giant River Otters

Giant River Otter

Giant River Otter

and a few bats. On one outing, we hopped out of the boats to go look for the Great Potoo, posing nicely in its camouflage.

Great Potoo

Great Potoo

 The second evening there we made the short hike to a blind to wait for an Ocelot who has been habituated to sometimes drop by for a free chicken dinner. Luck was with us that night as it indeed showed up after a short wait; it hadn’t shown up for anybody the night before.

Ocelot

Ocelot

Our home for the next couple of nights was at Pousada Piuval back along the Transpantaneira, where we’d take several hikes through its different habitats and spend some time along a huge lagoon seeing a different variety of bird

Snail Kite

Snail Kite w/Snail

and other species. Heading back from an outing the first afternoon there, we were thrilled to spot a Southern Tamandua,

Southern Tamandua

Southern Tamandua

an anteater that doesn’t seem to mind people at close distance.  The next day brought several even more interesting experiences. Commotion in a large tree caught our attention as two Brown Capuchin Monkeys snuck up on a large Southern Caracara nest to successfully snatch one of their eggs. While we watched, one grabbed an egg and proceeded to eat it from a perch just below the nest while the second monkey tried again. That brought in the other adult Caracara wildly thrashing its wings to run the critter off.

Brown Capuchins Rob a Southern Caracara Nest

Brown Capuchins Rob a Southern Caracara Nest

Finally, the monkeys took the hint and leaped away. Trying to top that, it wasn’t but later that afternoon we’d spot our second anteater species, the Giant Anteater in the same area as the little guy the day before; this one was a lot quicker on its feet and a lot less comfortable around people, but most unusual to see. We’d see plenty of Brown Capuchin Monkeys and a couple of Silvery Marmosets during our stay there, and one day took a boat further up the lagoon to view a huge rookery for various herons and wood storks.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

I’d forgotten from my previous trip that this spot was also home to a family of Black Howler Monkeys.

Immature Black Howler Monkey

Immature Black Howler Monkey

It also had a Ringed Kingfisher posing proudly with its latest snack.

Ringed Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

 After that incredible experience, it was time to head back to Cuiaba for the flight to Alta Floresta for one night at the Floresta Amazonica Hotel before meeting the boat to Cristalino Lodge in the Amazonian rainforest. Despite the short time we had in Alta Floresta, we’d still have time for a few interesting sightings including a couple of Red-and-green Macaws fooling around, 

Red-and-green Macaw

Red-and-green Macaw

a group of four Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers lined up along a vertical tree with a Squirrel Cuckoo hanging out nearby,

Yellow-tufted Woodpecker (l) and Squirrel Cuckoo (r)

Yellow-tufted Woodpecker (l) and Squirrel Cuckoo (r)

and a comical number of Chestnut-eared Aracari’s entering a tree cavity one after another. We’d see our first Gray Cracker and Marysas Hairstreak butterflies here as well.

Marysas Hairstreak (Pseudolycaena marysas)

Marysas Hairstreak (Pseudolycaena marysas)

 Cristalino Lodge was our home for the next five days and an excellent time exploring the rainforest and rivers of this amazing place. Since my last visit in 2011, they’d built a large new structure with a restaurant, bar, and meeting rooms, but it was otherwise much the same with a high quality of service and a very eco-friendly operation. The food at the restaurant was terrific with huge amounts of organic produce from their gardens, but I did miss their no longer spending 15 minutes preparing the national drink, capirinha. Mammal-wise, we’d add Brazilian Tapir and more Giant River Otters to our list, along with more Brown Capuchin Monkeys (and two new monkey species),

Brown Capuchin Monkey

Brown Capuchin Monkey

and a couple of new bat species.

Chestnut Sac-winged Bat

Chestnut Sac-winged Bat

The habitats were of course completely different from the Pantanal, and we’d add plenty of new birds to the list such as the Capped Heron,

Capped Heron

Capped Heron

Santarem Parakeet,

Santarem Parakeet

Santarem Parakeet

Pied Lapwing,

Pied Lapwing

Pied Lapwing

and Red-headed Manakin.

Red-headed Manakin

Red-headed Manakin

On two afternoons just as it was turning dark in the woods we watched quietly as a variety of secretive birds came in for a last bath or drink at a bamboo structure maintained by the guides. Similar to the “Magic Pond” we visited on my earlier trip, this new structure is more dependable and less reliant on natural water levels of the pond. Really a little too dark for pictures (the birds would be spooked by a flash and of course none of us had a tripod), one of the highlights there was our second potoo species, Long-tailed Potoo, which showed up right at the end.

Long-tailed Potoo

Long-tailed Potoo

Cristalino was also quite good for butterflies, which we’d occasionally spot while out looking mostly for birds. I’m still trying to identify a number of them, but some of the more interesting ones included several Metalmarks, such as Caria castalia,

Caria castalia

Caria castalia

Amarynthis menaria,

Amarynthis menaria

Amarynthis menaria

and Semomesia croesus.

Mesosemia croesus

Croesus Eyemark (Semomesia croesus)

Most of the Brushfoots we’d see just about everywhere were Eunica Purplewing (Eunica pusilla), but among the others we’d see even perched on the walls of our rooms included Baeotus japetus,

Narrow-lined Beauty (Baeotus japetus)

Narrow-lined Beauty (Baeotus japetus)

Historis odius,

Orion Cecropian (Historis odius)

Orion Cecropian (Historis odius)

and Archeoprepona demophon.

One-spotted Prepona (Archaeoprepona demophon)

One-spotted Prepona (Archaeoprepona demophon)

Just as we were boarding the boat to head back to Alta Floresta at the end of our stay, a gorgeous hairstreak, Chalybs janias,

Janias Greenstreak (Chalybs janias)

Janias Greenstreak (Chalybs janias)

posed nicely for us occasionally showing off a brilliant blue when it flew.

After almost a week at Cristalino, we flew back to Cuiaba for the hour and a half drive to Posuada do Parque in the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park. Once again, the habitats were completely different from other places we visited on the trip in this area of a high cliff escarpment in the middle of the arid cerrado savanna. A most unusual sighting there one morning was the rarely seen Maned Wolf that wandered into the yard to steal a coconut and then returned to make its way across the field.

Maned Wolf

Maned Wolf

 A good place for owls, a short walk from the Pousada regularly turned up a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, a pair of Burrowing Owls hanging out just across the road, and a pair of Tropical Screech-Owls who spent their time either hiding in the eaves of the roof or in a nearby tree.

Tropical Screech-Owl

Tropical Screech-Owl

In other trees nearby we had several Red-shouldered Macaws,

Red-shouldered Macaw

Red-shouldered Macaw

a Rufous Hornero busy building its adobe nest,

Rufous Hornero

Rufous Hornero

and had great looks at a couple of Brown Jacamars.

Brown Jacamar

Brown Jacamar

A sunset visit to the edge of the escarpment turned up a pair of Channel-billed Toucans loudly calling in the distance.

Channel-billed Toucan

Channel-billed Toucan

An afternoon walk one day a short drive away turned up a Swallow Tanager who couldn’t have gotten much closer.

Swallow Tanager

Swallow Tanager

Along the way, sap was running from one tree that drew in a remarkable variety of butterflies. That one tree had at least three species of Hamadryas (Cracker) butterflies,

Cracker Party

Cracker Party

two species of Catonephele (Catone),

Stoplight Catone (Catonephele numilia)

Stoplight Catone (Catonephele numilia)

and several others.

Long trip home, but a fabulous trip to three uniquely different areas of the State of Mato Grosso with a great group of friends. Hope you enjoyed looking at some of the pictures.

 

 

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

Spectacular July

Heading into the Fourth of July weekend, the weather here has been a bit warm, but the sunny days have been bringing out a few new butterflies and dragonflies for the year and we’ve even gotten a little taste of rain as we near our summer “monsoon” season. Birds have been a little quiet, it seems, but a few of those caught my eye as well this week. Twice this past week, I stopped by the Open Space Visitor Center where it was good to see their wetland pond has water again. Trees and bushes have grown around the edges of the pond making it difficult to see much, but there were a few birds making their presence known and quite a few dragonflies flitting around. The most common seemed to be these golden ones that I have not been able to quite identify. (Update: 7/8/16 – we think this is probably Western Meadowhawk (Sympetrum occidentale).)

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

They were quite small, about half as long as most and I’d guess they are either juveniles or females, although there were so many around they are probably juveniles. A return visit in a week or so should resolve that mystery. A few Western Pondhawks and a small number of Twelve-spotted Skimmers were also flying around and I came across a mating pair of what are probably Red Saddlebags.

Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta)

Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta)

Among the other flowers blooming near the visitor center was a Painted Lady butterfly. Some years we are absolutely inundated with this species, but this year haven’t seen very many at all.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Wednesday morning had me driving around the east mountains checking on a couple of potential butterflying spots including Otero Canyon, Pine Flat, and Oak Flat. Maybe because it was a little early in the morning or still pretty dry out there, but I didn’t see many butterflies (or for that matter, birds). A Western Bluebird seemed to enjoy my dropping by Oak Flat, however, and posed nicely for me.

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder outing was a successful visit to Valle de Oro NWR in Albuquerque’s South Valley, with the group with an eventual total of 27 people seeing 40 bird species and spotting several nesting birds. I really didn’t get any good bird pictures that day, but got a great shot of this male American Rubyspot someone pointed out to me on the bank of the Rio Grande.

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)

A female, duller in color and more golden than red, perched nearby for almost as good a photo.

Having had such an amazing day of butterflying in the Sandias the previous week, the next day Rebecca and I returned to Capulin Spring and the 8000′ marker to see what was flying, and would return again on Monday to those areas and a couple of others lower on the mountain. The Rocky Mountain penstemon was still in bloom at Capulin and the dogbane much more in bloom than it had been just a week earlier, both of which were attracting lots of butterflies of quite a few species. Among those we’d see at Capulin were a couple of Hoary Comma,

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

our first Northwestern Fritillary for the year,

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

and, of course, large numbers of Two-tailed and a couple of Western Tiger Swallowtails. It’s getting to the point that I just have too many pictures of the former, but it’s hard not to take another one.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Also seen that morning was a very cool looking bug, a Giant Ichneumon Wasp – it’s good to know that that long needle-like appendage is just an ovipositor.

Giant Ichneumon Wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus)

Giant Ichneumon Wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus)

Things were hopping down at 8000′ and the large patch of dogbane, too. Highlight of the day was seeing a Behr’s Hairstreak, which we rarely get to see and some years haven’t seen at all.

Behr's Hairstreak (Satyrium behrii)

Behr’s Hairstreak (Satyrium behrii)

There were also a surprising number of American Lady butterflies hitting the dogbane,

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

a very fresh Variegated Fritillary,

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and I was surprised to have a Southern Dogface land right in front of me long enough to get a picture.

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

While we were poking around in the meadow across the road from the dogbane, we had a couple of Red-naped Sapsuckers fly through, and later would see them again at Bill Spring.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

One of those Northwestern Fritillaries, and we’d only see one at each location that day, was incredibly attracted to the bright (Toyota’s “habanero”) color of Rebecca’s car. It was quite entertaining watching it circle around, land repeatedly, and perch for minutes at a time.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

Returning on the 4th of July, the show was about over at Capulin Spring as the penstemon started to fade, but we still had a good variety of butterflies, including this Russet Skipperling, one of a large number we’d see on the spike verbena that day.

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

Holiday traffic was much heavier than most days and the Forest Service was enforcing their no parking rule, so we had to pass on the 8000′ location and instead headed down to Bill Spring and Sulphur and Cienega Canyons. Bill Spring was a little shady, but there were lots of Marine Blue, several Wiedemyer’s Admiral, and a few other species checking out the damp mud. While we were there, several Red-naped Sapsuckers passed through as did a pair of Pygmy Nuthatches (a bird I don’t see very often).

Pygmy Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch

Near the far parking lot at Cienega Canyon is a small wildflower patch that has had some good butterflies in the past, so we decided to head up there next. Wildflowers hadn’t quite gotten started there yet, but just a little further along was a large patch of sumac in full bloom and attracting large numbers of bees and butterflies. We hadn’t realized sumac was such a butterfly magnet, but will certainly be looking for it in the future. This patch had a ridiculous number of Juniper Hairstreaks nectaring on it, several American Lady butterflies, Marine Blue, Reakirt’s Blue, Hoary Comma, and a highlight for the day Tailed Copper. Unfortunately, it was pretty far away in the middle of the sumac patch and disappeared soon after rather than flying a little closer.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

We’ve been starting to see Wood-Nymphs flying this week and would see several that day at different locations. One posed nicely for me on the sumac, which I think is a Small Wood-Nymph.

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

Small Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis oetus)

We usually see both Common and Small Wood-Nymph at this time of year, but it can be a little tricky trying to identify them. The Common usually has two equally large and aligned eyespots on the forewing, while the lower eyespot on the Small is noticeably smaller and a little closer to the edge of the wing. There can be quite a lot of variation among individuals of either species, so there are times you really need a pretty good picture of one to make the call.

Last Sunday it was time for my weekly visit to my Cooper’s Hawk nest near Piedras Marcadas Dam and it was good to see that the two little ones are doing well. Just like my last couple of visits, the one little one was tucked in low in the nest while (I assume) the older one was sitting up and keeping an eye on the neighborhood. And once again, I was a little surprised not to see either of the adults that must be somewhere nearby.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

After that, I headed over to Pueblo Montano Open Space near the Bosque School since I hadn’t been there in a few months. A good morning for birding there, starting with a Bewick’s Wren singing as loudly as it possibly could,

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren

a couple of Yellow-breasted Chats finally close enough and out in the open for me to photograph,

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

and right at the end as I was heading back to the car, a proud Greater Roadrunner showing off its latest prize.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

While I watched this male, it started making its cooing call to mark its territory or attract a female when another nearby male responded with its bill rattling call before dashing off through the brush. The first guy then headed into the shade for lunch – it was fascinating watching and listening to this interaction.

 

 

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

First Week of Summer

The arrival of the summer solstice last Monday brought the first drops of rain in quite awhile, the huge fire in the east mountains almost to a close, and sightings of a few new butterflies, birds, and a couple of other interesting creatures. On Saturday before the official start of summer, Rebecca and I made the big butterfly loop of the Sandias, starting at Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, checking out Sulphur Canyon and Bill Spring, and around and down to Las Huertas Canyon. The Indian hemp (aka dogbane or formally Apocynum cannabinum) was blooming in Ojito and is always attractive to a wide variety of butterflies. Although we were there a little early in the morning, we spotted 15 Juniper Hairstreaks coming to it and almost a dozen species all told, including a Weidemeyer’s Admiral that posed next to the trail for me.

Weidemeyer's Admiral ()Limenitis weidemeyerii)

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

Near Sulphur Canyon, we came across large numbers of Two-tailed and Western Tiger Swallowtails, a scene that would be repeated in other locations that day. In Las Huertas, the few tropical milkweed plants in the only spot we know of for it in the Sandias were blooming – another butterfly favorite; on one flower we had three different butterfly species – Reakirt’s Blue, Juniper Hairstreak, and Marine Blue.  Rather drab, but a good species to add to our list for the day was the Dun Skipper.

Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris)

Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris)

Lots of the skippers are dull brown or yellowish and told apart by distinctive patterns on the underside. One of them, the highlight of the day, was the Python Skipper, which we have only seen a few times before.

Python Skipper (Atrytonopsis python)

Python Skipper (Atrytonopsis python)

On Monday, I spent a little time poking around the Corrales Bosque to look for Mississippi Kites, which should start nesting soon. Unfortunately it was a little quiet for almost everything that day, but on the way out I spotted this odd-looking bird that I’m pretty sure must be a juvenile Summer Tanager just starting to get its adult coloration.

Juvenile Summer Tanager

Juvenile Summer Tanager

Tuesday morning took me to Tingley Ponds, where I thought I might find a few baby ducks and maybe some dragonflies. The dragonflies were indeed out, but of the two species I noticed, almost all were Widow Skimmers. In a few more weeks, many more species should start flying.

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

Male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

The biggest surprise of the day was seeing a Gulf Fritillary flying near the river and landing on the Russian Olive, a butterfly I’ve never seen in New Mexico before.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

A Black-headed Grosbeak hiding in the shade also let me get close enough for a picture.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

A visit to Embudito on Wednesday produced very few butterflies, possibly due in part to the spring having dried up over the last week or so, but hopefully our summer monsoon rains will arrive shortly to replenish it. The birds that morning seemed to want to show off and posed nicely for me. First was a Cactus Wren calling for my attention from the top of a cholla,

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

and then a Gambel’s Quail trying to draw my attention away from its flock of little ones hiding under the same bush they’d run to the last time I visited. I’ve seen the family a couple of times now, but so far they’ve been too quick for me to get any kind of photograph of the little ones.

Gambel's Quail

Gambel’s Quail

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip returned to Ojito de San Antonio, where the group would get a respectable total number of species seen although most were pretty far in the distance. Birding highlight of the day was watching the acrobatics of a Cooper’s Hawk attacking a Red-tailed Hawk high in the sky. Everybody also got good looks at those Juniper Hairstreaks still working the Indian hemp.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Toward the end of the walk, a couple folks pointed out a large dark swallowtail nectaring on one of the blooming thistles. Another butterfly I don’t see very often at all, a Black Swallowtail!

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

As I was pulling into my driveway after the morning walk, it was amusing to see four Mule deer calmly munching away on my neighbor’s desert willow blossoms. Very rarely around sunset, I’ll notice deer moving through the more natural grassland habitat behind my house, but this is the first time I’ve seen them during the day or in a front yard.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

Friday was one of those amazing days when I headed out with no specific location or objective in mind, but would be astonished at what I’d find when I got there. Finally decided to head to Capulin Spring, which would give me a chance to check on the Indian hemp at 8000′ and knowing the spring is always a good spot for birds. The Indian hemp was just starting to come into bloom up there and a couple of weeks behind that at Ojito, but was already attracting a few butterfly species, including my first Gray Hairstreak for the year.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

What was really amazing that day, however, was the next stop at Capulin Spring where fields of blue flax and Rocky Mountain penstemon were drawing in all kinds of different butterflies. Both the Two-tailed Swallowtail

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and the Western Tiger Swallowtail were coming to it and pausing to nectar for several minutes at a time, allowing time to really observe the differences between these two species. (6/28/16 Correction: While both of these species were likely present, I usually identify them by the richer yellow color and the typically narrower black stripes on the Two-tailed Swallowtail, but got that confused on the original post. The two tails are obvious in the picture above, but I just learned that the female Two-tail also has thick black stripes and it’s only the male that has thinner stripes. The caption on the photo below has been corrected from Western Tiger Swallowtail to correctly identify it as a male Two-tailed Swallowtail. Note that it’s missing both of its longer of the two tails, the damage more obvious in a close-up.)

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Several of the few Painted Lady butterflies I’ve seen this year also dropped by for a visit.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

And an unexpected surprise was an American Snout. Although they fly most of the season, we only occasionally see this species and most often in the Fall.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

The birds did not disappoint either that day, with close to a dozen species coming to visit the water during my short time watching. This is a Northern Flicker just before he took a quick bath in the shallow water in the log.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

A Pine Siskin landed close to where I was sitting before heading down as well.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

And nearby a Green-tailed Towhee was keeping a sharp eye out from its hiding place in the shadows.

Green-tailed Towhee

Green-tailed Towhee

I may just have to head back there again in the next few days, first early in the morning when all the birds in the area seem to stop by for a splash or a drink and then later when it warms up for butterflies among all those flowers.

Last week, a friend had given me some information on where his Cooper’s Hawks were nesting in an area near the Rio Grande he monitors for Hawks Aloft, so despite the unusually cloudy morning I headed down for a look on Saturday. Since it was on the way, I also decided to take another look at the nest I’d found occupied back in early May near Piedras Marcadas Dam. On May 10, I’d spotted the adult female’s tail sticking out and when I next visited on June 10 saw that tail in exactly the same position. That got me worried since it looked like she hadn’t moved and would’ve surely hatched any eggs by now. It was a relief to see her sitting up looking out at me when I next visited two days later. It was worrisome again when I returned the next week to find only the nest – no adults, no little ones peeking out. It was certainly a thrill this morning to finally see that yes, we’ve got little ones and they’re well on their way to growing up!

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

If you zoom in on the picture, you can just see the beak of the smaller one to the left of the older one that sat up and watched me the whole time during my visit.

After that thrilling discovery, I went on to look for those two nests my friend had told me about. Never found the first nest, but did spot one of its little ones close to where the nest probably was – this guy is obviously much further along and nearly ready to start its life as an adult.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Those clouds finally got more serious and it even starting raining a little, so I passed on trying to locate the other nest. One last surprise for the day was spotting a porcupine resting in a tree. I can usually find these guys pretty easily in the winter and early spring before the trees leaf out, but rarely see one the rest of the year since they are mostly nocturnal and are (usually) good at finding hiding places in the summer.

Porcupine

Porcupine

 

 

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

Almost Summer

The summer solstice arrives on Monday and right on schedule we’re having some of our hotter days of the year and the wildfire season has started with a big one in the East Mountains. These last days of Spring have been delightful for seeing even more species of nesting birds, a lot more butterflies coming out, and a few other goodies. The Audubon Thursday Birders checked out the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center in Cedar Crest on June 9. A little quiet for birds, but we’d still meet our success criterion of seeing more bird species than we had people. Coolest sighting of the day was seeing a couple of short-horned lizards (aka horny toads) spotted by sharp-eyed members of the group.

Short-horned Lizard

Short-horned Lizard

Of the three species we can see here, this one is probably Hernandez’ Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi). After that morning’s birding, Rebecca and I went looking for butterflies all the way to the Sandia Crest (10,678′ or 3,255m). Up there at the top it was a bit breezy and we didn’t see the swallowtail we were hoping for, but I had just mentioned it seemed about time to be seeing the Melissa Blue when Rebecca spotted the first of several we’d see.

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

The next day, I dropped in on the Rio Grande Nature Center to check in on the American Kestrel nest and to see if any of the little Great Horned Owls were still about, but it appears everybody has moved on with their lives away from the nests. A Summer Tanager was making quite a fuss in the parking lot, begging for its picture to be taken but then playing coy hiding behind the leaves while still calling loudly. Finally got him to stop for a second.

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

It had been a month since I’d checked in on the nesting Cooper’s Hawk near Piedras Marcadas Dam, so it seemed worth a visit to see how things were going there. Oddly, once again all I could see was the adult female’s tail in exactly the same position as a month ago. She didn’t move at all while I was there making me wonder if everything was okay. Good news,  two days later she was up and looking around so I’d bet we’ve got some little ones in there that I’ll have to look for in the next week or so.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Monday morning, Rebecca and I headed off to Las Huertas Canyon. Always good for butterflies this time of year, the day would turn up several new species for the year. A little cool at the start, they weren’t many flying and we’d either spot them perched quietly or startle them by walking by. First new species for the year was the Bosiduval’s Blue.

Boisduval's Blue (Plebejus icarioides)

Boisduval’s Blue (Plebejus icarioides)

There are several muddy spots along the road and close to the creek that attract lots of butterflies when the sun is shining. Once things had warmed up a bit in the sun, butterflies would arrive in good numbers attracted by the salty mud, but all it took was a passing cloud for the butterflies to all but disappear. A few others we’d see that morning included some Margined Whites,

Margined White (Pieris marginalis)

Margined White (Pieris marginalis)

a Rusty Skipperling,

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

and a good number of Wiedemeyer’s Admiral – rather attractive butterflies both from the top

Weidemeyer's Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

and from the side.

Weidemeyer's Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

At a new muddy spot further up the road than where we usually find them, there were a large number of Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

Among all of the Western Tigers, we noticed one was a little smaller and had different markings – an Anise Swallowtail, a species we rarely see anywhere.

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)

Later in the week, I drove over to Ojito de San Antonio Open Space where a week earlier we’d seen the dogbane (Apocynum cannabium) coming into bloom. This plant is usually very attractive to a wide variety of butterflies, but on our earlier visit wasn’t quite in bloom and it was pretty late in the afternoon. It was much further along in the blooming stage that morning, but might still be a little early for some of the expected butterflies – stay tuned. There were a couple of Marine Blues and Juniper Hairstreaks that had discovered it, but it was still pretty quiet overall.

Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

As long as I was in the area, a visit to Sulphur and Cienega Canyons and Bill Spring seemed a good idea. Everywhere I went that morning there were unusually large groups of puddling Two-tailed Swallowtails (the other big yellow butterfly around here).

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

So many that I couldn’t think of the correct term – “flock”, “herd”, “swarm” – Reference.com tells me the official term for a large group of butterflies is a “kaleidoscope of butterflies” – I like it! Here’s just one of them posing by itself.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Along the trail to Bill Spring a Mylitta Crescent posed to show me its ventral view, nice since they usually land with their wings spread open.

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

Nearby, a pair of Juniper Hairstreak butterflies were busy nectaring on the yellow clover.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

At Bill Spring itself, there were a ridiculous number of Silver-spotted Skippers,

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

a few Taxiles Skippers,

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

another batch of Two-tailed Swallowtails, a couple of Weidemeyer’s Admirals, and several Arizona Sisters.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birders trip took us out to Villanueva State Park, an absolutely gorgeous spot on the Pecos River about 1 1/2 hours from Albuquerque. There were some good butterflies in the area, notably several Black Swallowtails, but most of my pictures from the day were of some of the 40+ species the group would see. Birding highlights were Cassin’s Sparrow (likely a lifer for me), Hepatic Tanager, and Eastern Phoebe, none of which I’d get a good picture of, unfortunately. An Ash-throated Flycatcher was nice enough to pose for me near the bridge in Villanueva just outside the park.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

It’s pretty unusual to see, let alone get close enough to photograph, a Plumbeous Vireo, but in the campground I’d get good looks at both an adult

Plumbeous Vireo

Plumbeous Vireo

and what I’d assume is its recently fledged young.

Plumbeous Vireo (juvenile)

Plumbeous Vireo (juvenile)

Next to one of the campsites, I’m thinking the residents had scattered birdseed about because of all the attention it was getting from several Black-headed Grosbeaks. I took way too many pictures of them and noticed that in a couple of them were pictures of both sexes hopping in the air – here’s the male,

Black-headed Grosbeak (male)

Black-headed Grosbeak (male)

and here’s the female.

Black-headed Grosbeak (female)

Black-headed Grosbeak (female)

Nesting was in full swing there that day, and the group would see nests of at least six different species. One that I found was one of an American Robin.

American Robin

American Robin

We had great fun at the end of the day watching the adult Northern Flicker feeding three young ones in their nesting cavity. Other friends on the trip would get amazing pictures (and videos!) of that activity, but I was late to the party and only managed to see one little one peeking out.

Northern Flicker (juvenile)

Northern Flicker (juvenile)

Summer’s almost here and is sure to lead to some amazing natural moments in the days ahead.

 

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

All Those Little Ones

Now that all my little owls have grown up and disappeared into the woods, I’ve been keeping an eye out for other birds nesting. New to me having only rarely come across them in the past, already this year more than a dozen species have caught my attention. Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip took us to a friend’s cabin on Thompson Ridge in the Jemez, which would turn up plenty of nesting birds in the aspen trees. In addition to the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, and Broad-tailed Hummingbird nests we’d found on the previous week’s trip to Doc Long Picnic Area in the Sandias, we’d see a couple of nests of the Northern Flicker,

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

quite a few for the Violet-green Swallow,

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

and even one for a House Wren (seen here on her way to the nest).

House Wren

House Wren

While we didn’t see their nests, during lunch a Pygmy Nuthatch kept flying into the feeders and then off to its little one in a nearby tree and a Western Tanager dropped by several times for a visit.

Western Tanager

Western Tanager

Our annual visit to this spot usually turns up a couple of good butterflies, too, with a Western Pine Elfin this year, but we were probably a week or so early for some of the other local specialties. On the way home, we’d take a slight detour to check out the kinnikinnick (aka bearberry, Arctostaphylus uva-ursi) spot nearby where we’ve seen two species of elfin butterflies in the past. On this visit, we’d spot several individual Hoary Elfin.

Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polios)

Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polios)

The next day, Rebecca and I headed off to Union County in the northeast corner of New Mexico in search of a couple of special butterflies in the area around Capulin National Monument and Sugarite State Park. We didn’t have much luck with our target butterflies on our first few stops along the way, but would get some good ones in Tollgate Canyon a little later in the morning. Two that we spotted aren’t ones we’ve seen very often at all, Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper

Oslar's Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari)

Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari)

and Viereck’s Skipper.

Viereck's Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

Most of the butterflies were busy nectaring there on a purple flower in the pea family, but the purple thistle was just about to come into bloom. This shot of a purple thistle was kind of fun, showing that pattern of the Fibonacci sequence rather commonly seen in nature.

Thistle

Thistle

Back to baby birds, at the guest house we stayed at in the small town of Branson, CO, we had American Robin, Western Kingbird, and probably Great-tailed Grackles all nesting in the same tree, and in a birdhouse next to the driveway, Mountain Bluebird.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

The next day we had a pretty good mix of butterflies at Sugarite State Park, including Common Sootywing, Mexican Sootywing, Silvery Checkerspot,

Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)

Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)

and a new one for me, the Hobomok Skipper, along with several others.

Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok)

Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok)

Our last day in the area was pretty good and would turn up a couple of those butterflies we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking for on past trips. On the first day, we spent a good part of the morning checking out the volcanic features just north of the Capulin Volcano for my nemesis butterfly, the Rhesus Skipper (so called because we’ve been looking for it unsuccessfully for several years although it should occur in most of New Mexico). On Sunday, we drove a little further west and saw a good number of Green and Pahaska Skippers on the blooming thistle. Then we headed back toward the volcano and looked around some larger patches of yucca at one spot. I’d wandered pretty far away when I heard Rebecca calling. Heading back quickly, she’d spotted a Strecker’s Giant-Skipper (one of those butterflies we’ve been hoping to spot for the last couple of years). Sure enough, it was still there basically circling a fairly small area and occasionally landing on a dried-up yucca stalk. It did require hopping a barbed wire fence and tracking it down, but the effort was well worth it and another new one for our life lists.

Strecker's Giant-Skipper (Megathymus streckeri)

Strecker’s Giant-Skipper (Megathymus streckeri)

As sometimes happens, it wasn’t until we got home to look at some of my other pictures from the trip in more detail that I realized in addition to all those Green and Pahaska Skppers, I’d managed to get a photo of this guy. Somehow it just didn’t register with me at the time, but there’s a good chance it could be the long-sought after Rhesus Skipper.

Rhesus Skipper (Polites rhesus)

Rhesus Skipper (Polites rhesus)

My expert who told us about this area isn’t completely sure about the identification and it might instead be an Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas), so I’m running it by another local expert for a second opinion – in any event, a cool butterfly to see!

The drive to and from Union County turned up some pretty good big mammals along the road, including a large herd of Mule Deer, a confused Bighorn Sheep standing in the middle of the road, a herd of elk off in the distance, and pronghorn just about everywhere. At one point, Rebecca braked hard and pulled over to see what really was a treat, a very young pronghorn with its mother. Usually, I’ll see one or two pronghorn and rarely much larger groups, but have never seen a little one before.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Realizing that the Rhesus Skipper likes volcanic soil and blue grama grass, it struck me on Monday morning to go check out Petroglyph National Monument on the west side of town to look for them. Although there’s plenty of blue grama in my yard, it was a little surprising to not find it close to the cliff edges of the volcanic escarpment but farther from the edge. While I never did spot one of those little guys, there were a few other creatures about in habitat I only rarely visit. A Reakirt’s Blue was nectaring on Purple Sage and posed nicely for a photo.

Reakirt's Blue (Echinargus isola)

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

Along the trails to our line of volcanoes were several pair of Common Checkered-Skippers engaged in fierce territorial disputes, but waiting until a battle ended found the victor of the most recent confrontation calmly surveying its territory.

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Several species of cactus were in bloom,

Cholla

Cholla

a snake of some kind quickly slid into its hole on my approach, and there were several Horned Larks in the area.

Horned Lark

Horned Lark

At one point, the lighting was just right to catch the purple gorget on this male Black-chinned Hummingbird, who only let me get so close before it zipped off.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

My neighborhood seems to have plenty of small Cottontail rabbits, which were also present out there in the desert, but also seen there is the much larger Black-tailed Jackrabbit.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Most interesting out there, however, was all the different types of lizards darting about before resting in the shade of low bushes. I’d see at least four different species including this one, which was the first of its kind for me.

Bleached Earless Lizard (Holbrookia maculata ruthveni)

Bleached Earless Lizard (Holbrookia maculata ruthveni)

The next morning, it was down to the Rio Grande Nature Center to check in on the Great Horned Owl nest that had been found late in the season, but they’d either grown up enough to vanish into the woods or were hiding really well. On the way in and out, I took several looks at the cavity where there’s an American Kestrel nest right by the entrance to the Visitor Center. I knew they were there, but for the longest time there was just nothing to be seen. Finally, however, one little one climbed up to perch on the edge of the cavity.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

Others with more patience to wait around with the mosquitoes than me have seen as many as four little ones peering out, and one friend caught an amazing shot of one of the adults arriving with a small lizard to feed the little ones. These guys are very close to fledging and leaving the nest for good.

Yesterday morning at Embudito was a good day for butterflies. With little water around, what damp areas there were drew a good variety of species. At one spot, three Two-tailed Swallowtails were working the mud together, the first time this year I’d seen them not just flying back and forth high in the sky.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Having heard that one was seen in the foothills a week ago, my target for the morning was a Canyonland Satyr, and it was satisfying to spot two individuals and to point them out to other hikers in the canyon.

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

Surprise of the day, however, was seeing a Hackberry Emperor, first on the shadowed granite wall by the creek and then again over by the stand of hackberry trees. I only see this species maybe once or twice a year and never this early in the year.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

On the way back to the car, my annual sighting of baby quail occurred. As always, about the time I spot them, they run away surprisingly quickly to hide in the underbrush and typically long before I can get my camera on them. These were Gambel’s Quail, and the adult female was trailed by probably ten of those little ones. While the adults are about 10″ tall, their young are precocial (new term for me, too) and only an inch or so when they hatch, but are able to run and keep up with the folks within hours of hatching. I stood there for a few minutes hoping they’d come out in the open again, but instead I could hear the adult clucking at them to stay there and keep quiet while she slipped off to a nearby bush and started clucking louder to get my attention. When I moved closer, she flushed and flew off while the little ones stayed still and hidden. Amazing behavior to observe, but figured I’d best move along and let them get on with their business.

 

 

 

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

Full on Spring

With only 3 weeks of Spring left to go, things are greening up nicely around here, more and more butterflies are starting to appear, and nesting birds are busy bringing in the next generation. While we were off in Texas running around looking for butterflies a couple of weeks ago, a friend reported finding a new Great Horned Owl nest near the Rio Grande Nature Center that had escaped everyone’s attention and had apparently gotten a late start. Nearly all the other nests in town have now been abandoned and the owls have all disappeared into the woods, so once we returned tracking down that nest was a pretty high priority for me. On the way to the location, it was a surprise seeing a Black-crowned Night-Heron that had taken up a perch along the irrigation ditch close to the bridge to the Nature Center. I’d never seen one in that area before and they’re usually a little more wary of people.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Following excellent directions, it was pretty easy to find the right tree for that new nest, but it was so well-hidden it took a little work to get a decent look at it. I never did spot either adult, but know they must’ve been quite close by.

Great Horned Owl - RGNC

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

Since I was in the area, it was off to the nest off of Montano that had also gotten off to a later start than most of the others to see if those guys were still around. Arriving to find the nest abandoned, it didn’t take long to spot the two little ones hanging out in the next tree over and clear they’d at least started to learn to fly to get over there.

Great Horned Owl - Montano

Great Horned Owl – Montano

Returning a week later, they seemed considerably more mature and are sure to take off on their own any day now.

Great Horned Owl - Montano

Great Horned Owl – Montano

At first, I only saw those two siblings perched close to each other but then spotted Mom just a couple of branches away – all 3 were giving me the eye in this picture (with the other little one hiding behind those leaves).

Great Horned Owl - Montano

Great Horned Owl – Montano

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to the Doc Long Picnic Area in the Sandias was a marvelous day for birding and the group would easily exceed its goal of having more bird species than people. With everyone looking carefully, we’d spot at least four species actively nesting, including this Cordilleran Flycatcher

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Cordilleran Flycatcher

and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

My friend, Michele, was first to notice that her photo showed little ones begging for food; it wasn’t until a few of us got home to go through them that several of us discovered we’d also gotten pictures of that behavior. Just minutes later, we spotted a similar cavity that was being used by Mountain Chickadees but my photos of that didn’t turn out so well. While walking along I mentioned that I hadn’t seen any hummingbird nests in nearly two years and was on the hunt for them; less than a minute later Pauline spotted one rather well-hidden high in a ponderosa and pointed it out to the group. Took some effort, but I finally got a decent shot of the female Broad-tailed Hummingbird when she returned to the nest.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Several other birds that morning that were a treat to see was a male Western Tanager (Liz got a crazy good picture of it flying toward her), Grace’s Warbler way the heck up at the top of a tall ponderosa, Red Crossbills, Black-headed Grosbeak,

Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

and this singing Virginia’s Warbler.

Virginia's Warbler

Virginia’s Warbler

After lunch following the birding, Rebecca and I headed back to Cienega Canyon and then up to Tree Spring to see if any butterflies were about. The weather was starting to get a bit cloudy, but we’d spot a few species still out. Highlight of the day for me was this very fresh Juniper Hairstreak flying around the lupines blooming in Cienega.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Just across the road from the Tree Spring parking area is a sort of catch basin that just now is in full bloom with wild iris, which can bring in a good variety of butterflies. Not too many flying that afternoon with the clouds and a little more water than usual in the muddy part that attracts butterflies, but the iris were stunning and we spotted one or two Snowberry Clearwing moths (aka hummingbird moth) nectaring on the flowers.

Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)

Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)

On Saturday, I made it over to my local patch, Embudito, unsuccessfully hoping to find sootywing butterflies or the Canyonland Satyr that should be flying now. We’d seen Common Sootywings there in the past and are wondering if we might also have the Mexican Sootywing, but I never saw either one that day. On Facebook, I’d seen that someone spotted one of those satyrs in another foothill area this week, but they also escaped me that day. I did, however, see two Green Skippers there,

Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis)

Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis)

and the first Bronze Roadside-Skipper, both species new for the year.

Bronze Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes aenus)

Bronze Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes aenus)

On both visits, I was a little surprised to still see a Sandia Hairstreak each time close to the water, and along with a few other species (such as Arizona Sister and Two-tailed Swallowtail), the tiny Acmon Blue.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

There have also been a few odonate species flying about, including this interesting violet damselfly that I haven’t quite identified.

Damselfly

Damselfly

Monday was interesting with a couple of walks in the Corrales bosque. Very few butterflies about that early in the morning, but fun to spot at least three individual Viceroy butterflies, a species we don’t see very often around here.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Another interesting sighting that morning, pointed out to me by some folks walking their dog along the irrigation ditch, turned out to be a hognose snake. The first time I’ve seen one, its head is rather unique making it easy to identify.

Hognose Snake

Hognose Snake

A few good birds were out that day as well, including a Spotted Towhee,

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

several Black Phoebes,

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

and a Summer Tanager.

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

The next day in Placitas on a quest with Rebecca for a Strecker’s Giant-Skipper, we’d miss finding the butterfly but were treated to large flocks of Pinyon Jays calling and flying about and even landing nearby. It’s unusual to get such close-up views of these guys, who are usually high in the sky heading off quickly to some unknown destination.

Pinyon Jay

Pinyon Jay

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Flowers, Photographs | 2 Comments

East Texas Butterfly Trip

Just back from a delightful butterfly trip with a few friends all last week to East Texas, and have gotten through all the pictures that made it home with me. Rebecca and I first flew to Houston where we met our friend, Linda, who joined us for the short flight to College Station. Jim Brock, lead author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America and a true expert in butterflies, picked us up and off we went. Flying through College Station was a great suggestion by Jim, avoiding all the Houston city traffic and with only two gates at that airport no problems at all with airport security lines. Based out of the Super 8 in Kountze, we’d be joined by our Houston friend, Steve Abbey, and Steve Moore from Massachusetts checking out a number of locations mostly around the Big Thicket National Preserve and spending a day near Sabine Pass close to the Louisiana border. We’d all been on trips with Jim in the past and were sure to have a great time and see some good ‘bugs’. In the course of the trip, we’d all pick up a few new ‘lifer’ butterflies (even Jim got one!) and with close to 50 species overall, I’d personally add 6 new species to my lifelist.

One of the first butterflies we’d see right where Jim expected it was the King’s Hairstreak, a new one for most of the group.

King's Hairstreak (Satyrium kingi)

King’s Hairstreak (Satyrium kingi)

A couple of other hairstreaks would also be seen that week, which I’d only seen before on other trips to the eastern U.S., including Red-banded Hairstreak

Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops)

Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops)

and the similar Dusky-blue Groundstreak.

Dusky-blue Groundstreak (Calycopis isobeon)

Dusky-blue Groundstreak (Calycopis isobeon)

On the last day of our trip, killing time before our return to the airport, we checked out Lick Creek Park in College Station, where eagle-eyed Linda would spot another lifer hairstreak for a few of us, me included, the Northern Oak Hairstreak.

Northern Oak Hairstreak (Satyrium favonius ontario)

Northern Oak Hairstreak (Satyrium favonius ontario)

It took two visits, but just outside the town we were based in Jim took us to see another lifer for several of us, the Little Metalmark.

Little Metalmark (Calephelis virginiensis)

Little Metalmark (Calephelis virginiensis)

On a trip to the Big Bend area of Florida last month, Zebra Swallowtails regularly flew by but refused to land anywhere long enough to photograph, so it was a treat on this trip to have a couple that were a bit more cooperative.

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

While the weather was never quite as bad as suggested by the forecast, when the clouds rolled in the butterflies would disappear but the dragonflies (and mosquitoes!) would still be flying and we’d be treated to some pretty spectacular ones, such as this Bar-winged Skimmer

Bar-winged Skimmer (Libellula axilena)

Bar-winged Skimmer (Libellula axilena)

and the Halloween Pennant.

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis emponina)

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis emponina)

Amazing for those of us living in the desert were fields of wildflowers and a huge variety of flora in all the spots we visited. In the Big Thicket National Preserve, two of the nearly two dozen species of orchids were blooming for us.

Orchid

Orchid

Along the Pitcher Plant trail there was a boardwalk over a large area filled with those carnivorous plants, which trap and digest insects who fall into them.

Pitcher Plant

Pitcher Plant

Even the small spiderwort caught my eye with its symmetry and color.

Spiderwort

Spiderwort

Another creature we’d spot in several locations was the Green Anole, a small lizard that blends in well while catching some rays in the sun.

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

On our second full day of butterflying, we headed down past Beaumont, TX, to the area of Sabine Pass where we were unsuccessful in seeing the Bay Skipper we’d all hoped for and that Jim had reports of from a few days earlier. Fun day, nonetheless, with a couple of different dragonflies and a few birds that we rarely if ever see here. Interesting to see were Common Nighthawks flying in the middle of the day, which I normally only see right after sunset. Several of them were also perched nearby between bug-catching flights.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

The most common butterfly that day was the Great Southern White, and we’d see large groups of 6-7 males swirling through the air around a lone female. It wasn’t too much of a surprise therefore to spot a mating couple in the grasses; he’s the bright white one and she’s the one with the darker markings – they both have those crazy-cool turquoise antennae.

Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)

Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)

We made a quick visit across the Texas-Louisiana border that day, but wouldn’t add any new butterflies. New for me, however, was this guy making its way across our path.

Speckled Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula)

Speckled Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula)

Several times at different locations we’d try hard to find a Creole Pearly-eye, one of the butterflies Jim was particularly interested in seeing. While we never did find one, we got excellent looks at several individuals of the closely-related Southern Pearly-eye.

Southern Pearly-eye (Enodia portlandia)

Southern Pearly-eye (Enodia portlandia)

It may have had something to do with the weather or the exact timing of our trip, but surprisingly we wouldn’t see any of the ‘Blues’ sub-family and only one of the half-dozen species of cloudywings and duskywings that might be expected there at the time. The one we did see, Horace’s Duskywing, was fairly common in several locations and is much more vividly marked than the ones we see here in New Mexico.

Horace's Duskywing (Erynnis horatius)

Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius)

Many of the target species for the trip were members of the Hesperiidae (Skipper) family, and though we missed seeing a couple of them, we were thrilled to snag several others aided by Jim’s extensive knowledge of their appearance and behavior, and his having researched locations for them. A lifer for pretty much everybody was the Dukes’ Skipper, which didn’t hang around long enough for me to photograph even when it came back for a few seconds to the exact same perch after vanishing somewhere for at least 15 minutes. One we did get that is pretty rare to see and a lifer for me was Meske’s Skipper,

Meske's Skipper (Hesperia meskei)

Meske’s Skipper (Hesperia meskei)

and another crowd favorite was the Yehl Skipper that I’d only seen once before in northern Alabama.

Yehl Skipper (Poanes yehl)

Yehl Skipper (Poanes yehl)

Good trip, good people, good ‘bugs’, and killer donuts (ref. Dee Dee Donuts in Zavalla TX), I’ll certainly look forward to hooking up with everybody again sometime soon.

 

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Flowers, Photographs, Texas, Travel | 9 Comments

May Daze

Two weeks into May and the weather has been up and down with a couple of cool and cloudy days broken up by a few sunny days with temperatures just getting into the 80’s – wind, as usual, has kicked up a number of times during the week but not to ridiculous levels. Had to start the week with visits to some of the Great Horned Owl nests. At the Albuquerque Academy on my visit Tuesday, the show seems to be over with no sign of the two adults and three little ones anywhere. At the nest near Calabacillas Arroyo, one of the first I’d seen this year, it was surprising they were still around, but right off I spotted this little one clearly starting to get its adult coloration. You’ll also note its sibling there to the left hiding a little better.

Great Horned Owl - Calabacillas

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Looking around for the adults and the other little one, it took a minute but eventually I spotted one of the adults and the other little one, a little higher in the same tree.

Great Horned Owl - Calabacillas

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

On to Piedras Marcadas, where I’d seen three little ones all peering about but still in the nest on my last visit. This time, I’d easily see the two adults in separate trees – this is the male, I think,

Great Horned Owl - Piedras Marcadas

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

but as hard as I looked, I only spotted a single little one in a tree about as far away from the nest as the adults.

Great Horned Owl - Piedras Marcadas

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

Never did spot the other two, but I bet they’re still around somewhere in the area for at least another week. Also cool to see on that visit was the start of nesting for the Cooper’s Hawks; much like my first spotting of the owls, Mama Cooper was tucked way down in the nest with only a bit of her tail showing.

Last nest on the tour was the one just off Montano Blvd., where on my last visit I finally spotted the male just below the nest where the female and two little ones were hanging out. This time, I didn’t see anybody but one little one pretty well hidden in the nest but looking like it’s still got a couple of weeks to grow before it starts moving out; no idea where the parents were that day.

Great Horned Owl - Montano

Great Horned Owl – Montano

Later that afternoon with the sun still shining and temperatures starting to rise, I stopped by Embudito Canyon to see if any butterflies were out (and unsuccessfully hoping to see that Scott’s Oriole again). There were indeed a few butterflies about, including a Sandia Hairstreak, which we’ve been seeing there since early March.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

There also was a Common Checkered-Skipper, which usually perches with its wings open making it a bit unusual to get a good look at the underside.

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

And, new for the year for me, a Common Sootywing.

Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus)

Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus)

There were several Checkered Whites flying around, one of which landed long enough for a photograph.

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

The next day, it was off to Hondo Canyon, a bit of a hike but good for butterflies when the chokecherries are in bloom as we’d expected since our earlier visit back in April. The chokecherries were indeed reaching their peak, but there weren’t quite as many butterflies as I’d expected. One that did show up was a first for the year, the Arizona Sister.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

There were a number of duskywings puddling around below the dripping waterfall, most of which were Rocky Mountain Duskywings, but there also were one or two Dreamy Duskywings.

Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus)

Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus)

It was fun that day to get close to a Black-headed Grosbeak, a young one I’m guessing since it’s colors aren’t fully developed.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

My next stop that day was at Cienega Canyon where I wanted to check on what might be flying in anticipation of the Forest Service’s BioBlitz scheduled for the weekend. My expectations weren’t very high since we usually don’t see much there until later in the season when there are more flowers blooming, so I was a little surprised coming up with about a dozen species that morning, including 3 Southwestern Orangetips (which I’d assumed would’ve been done flying by now), a female Clouded Sulphur which was so white when it was flying I’d assumed was a Checkered White or Spring White until it landed long enough for a closer look.

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

At a damp spot that had lots of duskywings flying around was a very territorial Silver-spotted Skipper. If another butterfly showed up to run it off or I disturbed it by getting too close, it’d fly off only to quickly return to this same perch.

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birders trip took us to Carlito Springs Open Space. Starting out unexpectedly cool and cloudy, eventually it warmed up and the group got a nice variety of birds including several warblers, vireos, and tanagers, but usually just too far for the camera I’d brought along that day. It was fun to see a nesting Violet-green Swallow, but that was about the only picture I’d get.

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

After the birding trip, Rebecca and I took a quick look at Sulphur Canyon and Bill Spring, locations close to Cienega Canyon’s BioBlitz for Saturday. We’d pick up a few good species on that jaunt, including this Two-tailed Swallowtail,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

the tiny Acmon Blue,

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

and (new for the season) a Margined White.

Margined White (Pieris marginalis)

Margined White (Pieris marginalis)

Unfortunately, Saturday dawned unusually cold and cloudy and wouldn’t clear up until the afternoon, so we wouldn’t see a single butterfly during the BioBlitz. A fun day, nonetheless, with a good variety of birds being spotted by everybody while we waited for the sun to come out.

The next day, we’d meet up with our friend, Susan, to check out Las Huertas Canyon. A bit warmer than the day before, we caught a little rain and had off and on clouds all morning which kept the butterflies down, and although we didn’t see anything new for the season or the numbers we were hoping for, we ended up with a good list for the day. Things are only going to get better as the days warm up and we move closer to summer.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 2 Comments

Birdathon and Beyond

The first week of May got off to a great start as all my owls are getting close to fledging or have already done so, and all sorts of migrating birds are passing through or returning for the summer. Pretty windy days for most of the past week, which is not unusual for spring in New Mexico, but made it a little difficult to look for butterflies and had me concentrating mostly on birds.

Our Audubon Thursday Birders spent a good morning at the Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area on April 28 and got to see a good number of those early spring migrants.  The hummingbirds have started to return, including this Black-chinned Hummingbird that posed for me at Whitfield.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

We were a little surprised not to see any Burrowing Owls in the large prairie dog village next to Belen Marsh, but on the trip home several cars detoured to “Owlville” in Los Lunas where we managed to spot three individuals despite the windy conditions.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

A couple of days later, I headed down to Tingley Ponds and later to check in on a couple of my Great Horned Owl nests. At Tingley, this pair of Wood Ducks showed off their breeding plumage with even the female displaying a little spring color.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

Checking in on the Montano nest, for the first time the female was perched a little off the nest as the two little ones clamored for her attention.

Great Horned Owl - Montano

Great Horned Owl – Montano

And also for the first time I spotted the male sitting in the same tree just a little below the nest. That nest is in a pretty isolated stand of trees and I’d been wondering where in the vicinity he’s been hanging out.

Great Horned Owl - Montano

Great Horned Owl – Montano

Over at Piedras Marcadas, both adults were off in nearby trees. Their three little ones are growing up but hadn’t yet ventured away from the nest.

Great Horned Owl - Piedras Marcadas

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

Reports had come in during the week since my last visit that the triplets at Albuquerque Academy had started moving out onto the branches from their nest, so a trip to that nest was in order. Sure enough, they’d managed to climb rather high in their nest tree, with two of them sticking close to each other while the youngest one was off in another part of the tree. From this picture, you can see one of the older ones really starting to take on its adult plumage and sharpening those talons.

Great Horned Owl - Albuquerque Academy

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

A quick visit to Embudito the next day was productive for a few butterflies including the first Short-tailed Skipper and Northern Cloudywing seen there this year and another Mormon Metalmark.  I did get to see the Scott’s Oriole there that I’d heard was back in town, but they’re a bit shy and usually fly when you try to get a little closer for a picture. A good surprise there was coming up on a rather large gopher snake sunning in the open.

Gopher Snake

Gopher Snake

When it realized I was looking at it, it slowly moved toward a bush where I thought it might curl up so I could fit the whole thing in the camera frame, but nope, it had a secret burrow under that bush and slid out of sight and down the hole.

Having seen Western Tanager and Summer Tanager in the bosque by the Rio Grande Nature Center (but not the Western Screech-Owl that’s been spotted off and on recently), it was off to the Alameda Open Space on Wednesday hoping to see a few of those colorful spring migrants. Didn’t have much luck with that, but did have a rather cooperative Spotted Towhee pose for me.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

As long as I was in the vicinity, a visit to the Calabacillas owl nest seemed the thing to do. On my visit more than a week earlier, those three little ones had already moved quite some distance from the nest and I figured they likely would’ve fully fledged by now and disappeared into the woods. It was quite a surprise therefore to see they were all still there and must have figured out that flying thing since they were in a couple of trees a good distance from the nest tree.  One had to look pretty carefully to spot these guys, but after seeing the first one it only took a couple of minutes to spot all three of them. The one on the left in the picture below was the one that first caught my eye, but I didn’t see the one pretending to be a lump there on the right until I moved around and scanned a little harder. (The third one looked to be the youngest and was still high up in the nest tree.)

Great Horned Owl - Calabacillas

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

After those pretty good local outings during the week, it was off to Bitter Lake NWR and Rattlesnake Springs down near Carlsbad for our annual 24-hour Birdathon fundraiser. Our group of eighteen people would have an excellent time totaling 122 species, many of which are rarely seen at home and got most of the folks a few “lifers”. Extremely well-organized and scouted in advance by our leaders, Bonnie Long and Judy Liddell, having all those eyes and a number of expert birders in the group to help with identification under good weather conditions led to our exceeding last year’s total by more than a dozen species. The total only includes those seen by at least two participants during the official 10am-10am 24-hour period; a number of other species were seen by individuals and outside the official time period.

The Birdathon started at 10am on Thursday at the Bitter Lake NWR Visitor Center where we spent about two hours checking out several of the ponds and nearby habitat getting a good list of mostly waterfowl and a few other desert dwellers. While there, we’d see lots of Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet, a couple of Eared Grebes and White-faced Ibis, all three species of teal, several duck species, herons and egrets, and even a distant family of Snowy Plover with their even tinier little ones.

American Avocet

American Avocet

After lunch, we traveled on toward Carlsbad with a very productive stop at Brantley Lake. Adding several species of shorebirds to the list (thanks in part to Bernie and Pauline’s superb spotting and identification skills) as we made our way along the shore, it was a treat to spot a flock of colorful Forster’s Terns floating near the shore along with a few Ring-billed Gulls. Looking more closely at that group, there was one darker bird in with them that was quickly identified as a Black Tern, quite a thrill to see.

Black Tern

Black Tern

Walking along the shoreline in the same area also were a couple of those cute Snowy Plovers that had kept their distance from us at Bitter Lake.

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

Another bird spotted toward the end of our stay hovered in place long enough for me to try to snap a photo. I’d assumed it was just another of the Forster’s Terns since it had that black cap, but as it flew off, Pauline had also seen it and realized from its yellow bill that it was a Least Tern, more typically seen on the ocean coasts and the Mississippi River valley although they do nest here.

Least Tern

Least Tern

Then it was on past Carlsbad to White’s City where we checked into the surprisingly nice Rodeway Inn and then made our way to Rattlesnake Springs for dinner and birding until dark. As usual, the place was busy with gorgeous Vermilion Flycatchers and enough other birds to bring our list for the day up to 90+ species. One of my favorites, of course, was the Great Horned Owl somebody managed to spot soon after we got there.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

And Rebecca and I got to add Brown Thrasher to the list after getting a quick look at one hanging out by the acequia.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

The next morning we headed out at 5:30am first to Slaughter Canyon a little further down the road from Rattlesnake Springs, but a completely different habitat of high cliffs and desert vegetation full of blooming ocotillo. Although it was probably a little early for seeing many birds, we’d add Scott’s Oriole, Phainopepla, and (major event for most of us!) a Varied Bunting.

Returning to Rattlesnake Springs to add as many new species as we could to the list before time ran out at 10am, a few of us stopped first at Washington Ranch right next door. A line of fruiting mulberry trees there drew in a good variety of birds, including both Bullock’s Oriole and Orchard Oriole.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

Vermilion Flycatchers were as numerous there as at Rattlesnake Springs, and it was a treat to get good shots of both the glowing male

Male Vermilion Flycatcher

Male Vermilion Flycatcher

and the stunning female.

Female Vermilion Flycatcher

Female Vermilion Flycatcher

The photographs just don’t do justice to the brilliant coloring of the male Vermilion. We’d also see Northern Cardinal and Summer Tanager there who are remarkably colorful, but those male Vermilion Flycatchers take it to a whole new level.

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

Very high in one of those trees was a White-winged Dove, which surprised me at how well the photograph turned out from such a distance.

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove

Heading back over to Rattlesnake Springs, we’d pick up a few more species before the clock ran out. Normally pretty common along the river in Albuquerque but almost impossible to get a good look at, is the Yellow-breasted Chat, a bird that was much easier to see this day.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

While we were unsuccessful in getting as many warbler species as we’d hoped, a couple posed pretty nicely for me. This Yellow Warbler is my favorite of the nearly 200 photographs I took during the trip.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

And it made my day when this Wilson’s Warbler finally stopped flitting around long enough for me to take its picture.

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Heading back to the picnic area to do a final tally at the end of the Birdathon, a pair of hawks spotted circling high over the trees turned out to be the rarely seen Gray Hawk, an excellent species to add to the list.

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk

 

 

Posted in Birding, Critters, Photographs | 4 Comments