Butterflies of Southern Ecuador

Finally about done wading through the nearly 3000 photos from my butterfly trip to Southern Ecuador from October 10-24 and thought I’d share a few of them and a bit of the story of the trip in this blog post. A rather time-consuming process, it can take weeks to go through all the pictures, first deleting the really bad ones and duplicates, separating the butterfly pictures from all the others, then attempting to organize the butterflies by family and genus, trying to identify them from my trip notes and various online resources, cropping and cleaning the RAW files up a bit with Adobe Lightroom, and setting them up for a website. Of the 2790 at the beginning, 2260 have now been deleted, 440 showed up on the website, and there’s still 90 left to figure out.

After flying to Houston and then a redeye to Quito, I checked into the Wyndham right there at the airport just after midnight, long enough to catch a couple of hours of sleep before the 3:45 am wake up call to meet the group downstairs to head for our 6 am flight to Loja in southern Ecuador. There we met our driver, Luis, and headed for Copalinga Lodge on the outskirts of Zamora and within walking distance of Podocarpus National Park (where we’d spend a number of days hunting butterflies). A very comfortable eco-lodge run by the delightful Catherine and her husband, we’d spend our first 3 nights there returning for 3 more nights after spending a few days at the more rustic Yangana Lodge in the Nangaritza Valley. Copalinga has an open dining room (with excellent food) looking out on the forest and Green Hermit and several other hummingbirds dropping in at the bar for a drink. One night we had this character show up on one of the support beams – might be the biggest beetle I’ve ever seen out in the open.

Harlequin Bug

Harlequin Bug

Another fun bug we’d see on the trip, and we’d see at least five different species, is a Walking Stick.

Walking Stick

Walking Stick

Lots of colorful birds and a variety of hummingbirds appeared as we’d gather every day for breakfast and happy hour. One morning we were treated to excellent views of an Andean Cock of the Rock, in my experience usually well-hidden in the trees but sitting out in the open in a cecropia tree that day.

Andean Cock of the Rock

Andean Cock of the Rock

There were even a few good butterflies on the grounds including this quite common Scarlet Peacock.

Scarlet Peacock (Anartia amathea)

Scarlet Peacock (Anartia amathea)

The trip was organized by Sunstreak Tours and led by Andrew Neild, a true neotropical butterfly expert and great guy, who I’d been with on another trip near Tena Ecuador back in 2012. Every day, we’d head out to spend most of the day exploring good butterfly habitat, taking ridiculous numbers of photographs, and attempting to identify most of the butterflies we’d see. Andrew would often go ahead and spray some of his special bait on trailside plants, which would draw in the most amazing variety of species. Unlike other neotropical trips I’ve been on, we’d regularly get a bit of rain usually in the afternoon which unfortunately would tend to wash away the bait. Once or twice we did get caught in pretty good rainstorms, but more typically they were pretty brief and not too heavy and provided a welcome break. Evenings we’d go through photos and nail down more of the species.

So after our first few days at Copalinga, it was off on the fairly long drive to the Nangaritza Valley and the Yankuam Lodge.  Close enough to the Peruvian border that we saw areas that were barricaded off because of landmines from past conflict, this location was rather remote but is renowned for its good butterfly habitat. Passing through the small village of Orquideas on the way to the lodge gave a few indications of just how remote. First, after inquiring on main street we found the local equivalent of a gas station, a fenced-in stack of barrels the operator would stick a hose into and suck on to get the gas flowing and fill your tank. Then since it was about noon, things started picking up in town as all the schools let out. These kids were acting just like they do at home, fooling around, checking their cellphones, and ambling down the street – the only unusual part was most of them seemed to be carrying these huge machetes.

Machete Kits

Machete Kids

I don’t think the revolution was starting, just guessing they were all heading off to cut sugar cane somewhere, but we decided it a good time to climb back on the bus and head for the lodge. The lodge was comfortable enough and a good base for the next few days of great butterflying. On our first full day of butterflying there, Andrew’s bait pulled in one of the most fascinating species one can imagine, the Anteros renaldus, what I call “the butterfly with the fuzzy pink slippers”.

Anteros renaldus

Anteros renaldus

This tiny furry-footed wonder hung around for quite a long time and let me get a short video of it working its way along the leaf.

Late on the afternoon of the next day, clouds were keeping most of the butterflies hidden as we ambled down the road. About to give it up for the day, one of our group  just happened to look down and spotted what for me was another major trip highlight – three fantastic butterflies, the incredible Agrias claudina, an Opsiphanes cassina, and in the background one of those leaf mimic Memphis butterflies.

Agrias claudina

Agrias claudina

Here’s a closer view of a Memphis from the next afternoon,

Memphis sp.

Memphis sp.

and another more commonly seen leafwing, Consul fabius.

Consul fabius

Consul fabius

The next day, the lodge owner pointed us to a trail he’d recently cut through the woods which would turn up the next major trip highlight. In the canopy darkness, all manner of very cool-looking satyrs would be seen flying close to the trail. A ripe banana smashed at one point along the trail drew in this large party of at least three different species.

Satyrs

Satyrs

One of these, the Cithaerias aurorina, is one of my all-time favorites.

Cithaerias aurorina

Cithaerias aurorina

Another one of these clearwings, Pseudohaetaera hypaesia, was a new one for me and obligingly posed for a photograph on a couple of trips around the loop trail.

Pseudohaetera hypaesia

Pseudohaetera hypaesia

Back up that long road for another three days at Copalinga where we’d spend most of our time working our way up and down the trails in the park and calling up incredibly large and diverse puddle parties along the riverside wherever Andrew left some bait. These included a good variety of a bunch of very similar appearing firetip butterflies such as this Jemadia I haven’t quite been able to identify to species level yet.

Jemadia sp.

Jemadia sp.

A couple other denizens of the beach included four species of Siseme,

Siseme pallas xanthogramma

Siseme pallas xanthogramma

at least six species of Marpesia,

Marpesia corinna

Marpesia corinna

and the gorgeous Necyria bellona.

Necyria bellona

Necyria bellona

The trailside bait drew in some other pretty cool metalmarks as well, such as Chorinea octauius (one of two species of Chorinea we’d see),

Chorinea octauius

Chorinea octauius

and four species of Ancyluris, including new for me A. formosissima.

Ancyluris formosissima

Ancyluris formosissima

A waterfall along the road on the way from the lodge to the park had lots of other good butterflies including all those Marpesia, several species of zebra swallowtails (Protesilaus), a crowd favorite Malachite,

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

and at several spots along the road the large (for its kind) Callicore excelsior.

Callicore excelsior

Callicore excelsior

Over the course of the trip we’d tick off plenty of similar colorful small species of Callicore, Diaethria (88’s), Perisama, Mesotainea, and Orophila.

Orophila diotima

Orophila diotima

With all the butterflies cruising around it wasn’t too much of a surprise to spot a few caterpillars about. No idea what species this might be, but it was one of the larger and more interesting ones I’d see.

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

By this time, you can probably imagine things were getting a little overwhelming in terms of the number and variety of species (not to mention loads of photos). It also might come as a surprise how exhausting it can be just wandering around all day stooping every now and then to get a close-up. So it was kind of nice taking a break after a few days to sit on the bus heading on to the lodge in Yangana.

Yangana Lodge

Yangana Lodge

For some reason since it looked a little more remote on the map and therefore expecting more (ahem) rustic accommodations, Hacienda Yangana (or Yangana Lodge) turned out to be a fabulous place to stay until the end of the trip. The newly-built duplex cabins were very well-furnished, and the dining room/lounge (shown above) in the restored sugar mill had the most delightful ambience for catching up at the end of the day. More of a country lodge and spa than your typical eco-lodge, the owners were incredibly generous and accommodating hosts. In addition to their lodging, the estate grows its own delicious coffee and the owner has established orchids and a variety of other interesting plants everywhere you look.

Orchid

Orchid

The woods right on the property hosted some pretty good butterflies, too, including (once more) new to me, the Elzunia pavonii, one of the only two species in this genus.

Elzunia pavonii

Elzunia pavonii

On several occasions while we were at Yangana, we’d head high into the nearby mountains for a number of cloudforest specialties, such as multiple species of Lasiophila, Lymanopoda, and at least five of Corades.

Corades iduna peruviana

Corades iduna peruviana

On one of these trips while off a short ways from the rest of the group, I spotted one of the cooler hairstreaks of the trip, Johnsonita auda. These have ridiculously longer and thicker tails than most hairstreaks and was a fun new addition to my list.

Johnsonita auda

Johnsonita auda

BOT (Butterfly of the Trip), however, also showed up that day and, astonishingly, we had another one the next day, Junea dorinda.

Junea dorinda

Junea dorinda

One of two species of a genus I’d never heard of before, these guys are apparently pretty unusual to see found only in high elevation cloudforest in the neotropics and having that exceptional camouflage. Pretty extraordinary to see it on the last full day of butterflying and really made the trip for me.

The next and last day of the trip was a long one, picking up a few more good butterflies on the way back to the airport in Loja, catching the flight back to Quito and around midnight the flight back to Houston and then home – super that all those connections worked right on schedule. A pretty wonderful trip all in all and I can’t help but start thinking about when and where to go on the next one.

 

 

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

Travelin’ Times

Whoa, it’s been more than a month now since my last blog update and time to start catching up on things around here. Right after my last update, it was off on a two-week butterfly trip to southeast Ecuador, a part of that country I hadn’t visited before. A great trip with lots of cool butterflies. Almost 2800 photographs came home with me that I’ve been busy going through so that’s going to have to be the subject of an upcoming post. Home for two days, then a day with the Thursday Birders at Bosque del Apache NWR before getting up at 2:30 am the next morning to head for the Lower Rio Grande in south Texas for the next 11 days and another 965 photographs that have had me busy since we got back home just in time for that bizarre election day. Rebecca and I have gone down there four times in the last six years where we’re usually joined by our Houston friend, Steve, for some pretty hard-core butterflying. Our visit coincided with the biennial meeting of the North American Butterfly Association and the Texas Butterfly Festival, so we’d run into many of our butterflying friends on field trips and other events. As usual, we’d end the latest trip with close to 100 species including several new ones. And of course there were always a few other things that caught my eye when it wasn’t trying to focus on one of those butterflies. This water lily was in the small pond just outside the Visitor Center at the National Butterfly Center – one of the spots we’d spend quite a bit of time at during the trip.

Water Lily

Water Lily

One of the local characters there was a Marine Toad who discovered if it sat right on a stump covered with butterfly bait that a free lunch was in order. He’d sit there patiently as butterflies would come to the bait and snap one right up about every 30 seconds or so.

Marine Toad

Marine Toad

One of his most common treats was the Tawny Emperor present in large numbers anywhere the bait was used, so I had to look around a bit to find  a single one nectaring on the crucita (mistflower) that was popular with most butterflies. (I’ll only post some of the trip pictures here – there’s lots more on my website.)

Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton)

Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton)

The weather this summer had been pretty dry for the area, so the flowers weren’t quite as plentiful as on previous trips and it was interesting to note how the species and numbers of butterflies varied from other trips. Not quite as many birds were about, either, but we’d run across flocks of Plain Chachalaca pretty much anywhere we went.

Plain Chachalaca

Plain Chachalaca

A cool bird sighting on two different visits to Estero Llano Grande State Park was the Common Pauraque, a tropical nightjar. Almost invisible in the leaf litter where they rest during daylight, they flush quickly when you happen onto them.

Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque

Although they are pretty small, hairstreak butterflies are always a treat to see with their fascinating colors and patterns. One of the local specialties seen at Estero Llano Grande is the Silver-banded Hairstreak.

Silver-banded Hairstreak (Chlorostrymon simaethis)

Silver-banded Hairstreak (Chlorostrymon simaethis)

At Hugh Ramsey Park in Harlingen, we spotted a Red-crescent Scrub-Hairstreak, a lifer for me. It had been on my target list for the trip and was the only one we’d see the whole time.

Red-crescent Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon rufofusca)

Red-crescent Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon rufofusca)

Another South Texas specialty is the Clytie Ministreak.

Clytie Ministreak (Ministrymon clytie)

Clytie Ministreak (Ministrymon clytie)

Metalmarks are another family of small butterflies that can be strikingly attractive. Although there seem to be quite a few members of this family in the neotropics, here at home we just don’t see them very often and only a few species possible. South Texas, tho, does seem to get a good variety of gorgeous ones. Pretty commonly seen there is the Red-bordered Metalmark,

Red-bordered Metalmark (Caria ino)

Red-bordered Metalmark (Caria ino)

less common is the crazy cool Blue Metalmark,

Blue Metalmark (Lasaia sula)

Blue Metalmark (Lasaia sula)

and then there’s everybody’s favorite, the Red-bordered Pixie.

Red-bordered Pixis (Melanis pixe)

Red-bordered Pixis (Melanis pixe)

We always stay at the Alamo Inn B&B when we’re down there, a favorite of birders and butterfliers visiting the area. Last year, we had several Pixies in the garden there along with a number of Soldier butterflies, neither of which put in an appearance this time. Another lifer butterfly I’d get on this trip was the Polydamas Swallowtail, so it was just too cool when another guest pointed out one of its caterpillars right there in the garden.

Polydamas Swallowtail Caterpillar (Battus polydamas)

Polydamas Swallowtail Caterpillar (Battus polydamas)

The brushfoot family was well-represented over the course of the trip, too, including all those Tawny Emperors and a ridiculous number of Queens. Very common and nearly impossible not to photograph is the Gulf Fritillary.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Maybe even more common, the White Peacocks we’d see on this trip must have been quite fresh and had unusually vivid marking.

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

More unusual to see was a Ruddy Daggerwing, who could be found in the exact same spot on several visits to the National Butterfly Center.

Ruddy Daggerwing (Marpesia petreus)

Ruddy Daggerwing (Marpesia petreus)

Another of my favorite types of butterflies are the leafwings, of which we’d see several individuals at a couple of locations.

Tropical Leafwing (Anaea aidea)

Tropical Leafwing (Anaea aidea)

Some of the smaller members of the brushfoot family were also fun to see. Possibly the wackiest looking butterfly of all and present in huge numbers everywhere was the American Snout.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

Another butterfly that is handsomely colorful on both sides is the Crimson Patch, also generally found only in South Texas.

Crimson Patch (Chlosyne janais)

Crimson Patch (Chlosyne janais)

We also had a good number of species in the Pieridae family (Whites and Sulphurs), one of which we don’t often see is the Tailed Orange.

Tailed Orange (Phoebis agarithe)

Tailed Orange (Phoebis agarithe)

That leaves the largest family of butterflies, the skippers. Lots of skipper species, especially in places other than the neotropics are small, dull brown jobs that can be difficult to identify. But every now and then, however, there’s one that has to show off. This one in particular we’d heard had been seen in the area, and one day Steve spotted one hiding under a leaf, but it wasn’t until the last day of our trip right in the Alamo Inn garden, we finally got one to put an exclamation point to the trip, a Guava Skipper!

Guava Skipper (Phocides polybius)

Guava Skipper (Phocides polybius)

Stay tuned – next up (as soon as I stop fooling with those 2800 raw files) are some of the astonishing butterflies from that Ecuador trip.

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

Fall Sampler

The changing of the season is well underway around here with the arrival of cooler temperatures and appearance of all the new colors of fall. Competing with them every morning this week, of course, were the daily mass ascensions of some 550 hot air balloons participating in the 45th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the biggest event every year in town. Once that daily spectacle ends, all the visitors head into town and out to some of the natural attractions in the area from the Rio Grande bosque to the Sandia Mountains.

The day before all the balloons started popping up, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed out to Cochiti Lake for a good day of birding. One of our first unusual sightings was a large flock of American White Pelicans circling the lake that were spotted from the Tetilla Peak Campground.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Although a bit of wind that morning kept a lot of the birds in hiding, we had a pretty good variety pop up the longer we looked. One odd one we spotted perched in a tall pine tree was a Yellow-headed Blackbird, a bird usually seen in large groups hiding in the reeds of marshy habitats.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Quite a few Chipping Sparrows were around, including this one that posed nicely for me.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Naturally, as we took a break for lunch we were interrupted by several other birds making an appearance, including an Osprey, Northern Harrier, and a tern that one of our experts quickly identified as the most unusual for this area Caspian Tern. Hovering over the lake and diving for fish for a few minutes, it then flew low right over us – Bird of the Day for sure.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

Later that afternoon, we drove through the village of Pena Blanca, successfully seeing the Black-billed Magpies we’d hoped to see there at the southern limit of their range, and also saw a number of Common Buckeye butterflies.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

The next morning, I stopped by Elena Gallegos Open Space close to my house wondering if the Western Screech-Owl might still be around. No owl that morning, but as I was leaving a Sage Thrasher flew into the top of a pine and let me get the best picture I’ve ever gotten of one and the first time I’ve seen one in the foothills.

Sage Thrasher

Sage Thrasher

Saturday was a good day for a visit to my “local patch” Embudito, where the chamisa bloom just gets brighter and more extensive with every visit and attracts more and more species of butterflies. Two from that visit include a Painted Lady

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

and Marine Blue.

Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

Although I have entirely too many pictures of Curve-billed Thrashers there in Embudito, once again one almost begged me to take its portrait perched in a cholla, its forehead apparently stained from feeding on a cholla fruit.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

On Monday, Rebecca emailed me that she’d spent some time that day looking for Monarch caterpillars at Piedras Marcadas Dam, where we’d recently seen large numbers of the migrating adult butterflies nectaring on milkweed and sunflowers and had even seen females laying eggs. After a pretty long search she finally spotted one of those caterpillars, which got me down there the next day to see if I could find any. Took me a little time to spot one, and it was a little surprising to only find a single one after a pretty long search, but it certainly made my day to finally see it.

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillar

Even more of a surprise, however, was shortly later spotting a Monarch chrysalis!

Monarch Chrysalis

Monarch Chrysalis

From what I’ve read online, those eggs we saw being laid a few weeks ago hatch in about 4 days, then live as caterpillars for two weeks before turning into a chrysalis. Ten days later, they emerge as adult butterflies.

As usual, there were large numbers of Lesser Goldfinch feeding on the sunflower seeds at Piedras Marcadas Dam,

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

and after several attempts in recent weeks, it was very cool to finally spot one of those Great Horned Owls in the trees near where they’ve nested for the last several years – quite the productive morning.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Back at Embudito the next morning turned up a pair of Cactus Wrens that were busy foraging for insects and allowed me to get quite close without overly disturbing them.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

A couple of good butterflies also turned up that morning, including a Checkered White working the purple asters,

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

and on the chamisa a very fresh Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and definitely an Apache Skipper.

Apache Skipper (Hesperia woodgatei)

Apache Skipper (Hesperia woodgatei)

I’ve been seeing so many of these recently, I’d started to wonder if some of them might be the more common and very similar-looking Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis) that also can be flying in early Fall. But this guy definitely caught my attention with that darker greenish brown wash of color and those black and white antenna tips.

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip took us to Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe. A successful trip in that we tallied more bird species than people and a few birds we hadn’t seen in a long time. It was a bit cool and windy, though, and we had to work a bit more than usual to see them. Despite the conditions, there also were a few butterflies and dragonflies out that morning, including this Common Checkered-Skipper

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

and a Western Meadowhawk.

Western Meadowhawk (Sympetrum occidentale)

Western Meadowhawk (Sympetrum occidentale)

Yesterday, Rebecca and I headed up the mountain to catch the aspens just about at their peak of color.

Aspens

Aspens

The aspens will continue to build that glow for another week or so before dropping from the trees in the next big wind and the first snow, and just about then the cottonwoods along the Rio Grande should kick off their bright yellow Fall display. The oak trees are also well into their Fall wardrobe change.

Oak Leaves

Oak Leaves

Among the stops we made while enjoying the color show was a visit to the log at Capulin Spring, where I had one of the many Pine Siskins we’d see that day stop by for a photo.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

The Red Crossbills, although they’re around all year, seem more numerous from now through the winter and we’d see quite a few of them stopping to enjoy the colors of Fall.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

 

 

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

And Autumn Begins

This past week brought us through the Autumn Equinox and later our first real cold front since Spring; it’s certainly starting to feel like Fall around here. Last Sunday, I started out by checking out the Piedras Marcadas Dam again hoping to spot one of the Monarch caterpillars that must surely be there after seeing lots of adults flying through in recent weeks and even a few females laying eggs. That morning the number of adults was way down from previous visits, and despite my looking pretty carefully over the whole area those caterpillars must have been pretty well-hidden. One butterfly I did see there, however, is one I don’t think we’ve seen in town before, a Bordered Patch.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Since it’s nearby and I’d seen some good birds there recently, I then walked the trails at Calabacillas Arroyo. Oddly quiet for birds that morning, I’d see few of the 40+ species the Audubon Thursday Birders tallied there just a couple weeks earlier. Walking back along the drainage ditch toward the car did turn up a pair of Wood Ducks, the male with its quite spectacular colors

Male Wood Duck

Male Wood Duck

and a female, showing much more color than you usually see.

Female Wood Duck

Female Wood Duck

I’ve been out several times in the last week unsuccessfully hoping to spot some of those migrating warblers but am starting to think maybe I’m just getting out too late in the morning. No excuses Tuesday, and I made it to Embudito Canyon just as the sun was coming over the mountain. Not the best habitat to expect warblers and there weren’t any to be seen, but there was a pretty good mix of other birds letting me know they were there. A good-sized flock of Gambel’s Quail were working their way through the brush, calling to each other and scurrying away when they saw me coming. Here’s a picture of two adults scanning the area while all their little ones hid quietly below.

Gambel's Quail

Gambel’s Quail

Interesting to see was a Rock Wren returning to the canyon. We’ll usually see them along the rocky hillside in winter, but they are usually pretty scarce there the rest of the year.

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Biggest surprise of the morning was seeing another Apache Skipper nectaring on the chamisa that’s just starting to come into bloom, especially since it was still a little cool and no other butterflies were about.

Apache Skipper (Hesperia woodgatei)

Apache Skipper (Hesperia woodgatei)

I’d been a little surprised to see one there last week and would be even more surprised to see at least three individuals later in the week. It seems they might be a little more common around here than expected.

The next day, it was off to the North Diversion Channel Outfall (aka Tramway Wetlands) which has been quite active lately with a variety of shorebirds. It’s kind of strange how that area changes over time; some days it’s full of water attracting one set of birds while at other times it’s almost completely dry. On this visit, the end that had all the sandpipers, plovers, and such a week ago was being bulldozed by AMAFCA (Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority) and was just churned up mud. A few of those shorebirds, including this killdeer, had moved closer to the river but the water level and mud kept me from getting very close.

Killdeer

Killdeer

A first for me was spotting an Eared Grebe in its winter plumage there – I knew it was a grebe, but had to check my books at home later to figure out what kind. We commonly see Pied Grebes near the river, but it’s pretty unusual to see any of the others.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

Poking around the sunflowers near the water were several Lark Sparrows, another bird I don’t come across often around town.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Not sure at first what it was other than large, something caught my attention as it flew low out from the bushes in the water before settling back down further away. Finally spotting it through the weeds perched on a dry area, it turned out to be an adult Cooper’s Hawk who sat there for several minutes hoping I wouldn’t see it before heading deeper into the brush in the middle of the pond.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

The Audubon Thursday Birder trip this week again picked up more than 40 bird species on a visit to the Rio Grande Nature Center. Just as the group was gathering to start, what turned out to be a most unusual Virginia Rail was spotted poking around the reeds at the Candelaria Ponds, and later we’d have a Belted Kingfisher fly over the group and would turn up a few of those warblers I keep looking for. Somehow I managed not to get any decent bird pictures that day, but did save this one of a couple of Red-eared Sliders getting some sun.

Red-eared Slider

Red-eared Slider

Hoping to get a better look at the Virginia Rail, I went back around the same time the next morning but it never showed itself. Maybe because I couldn’t go back behind the Visitor Center like we did with the group, the trails through the bosque were extremely quiet and I saw very few birds. Interestingly, the few I did see were ones the group missed the previous day, including a male Summer Tanager, Snowy Egret, and this Great Blue Heron hanging out with a male Wood Duck on the far side of the river.

Great Blue Heron and Wood Duck

Great Blue Heron and Wood Duck

Saturday afternoon with it having been a bit cool but clear and sunny, I stopped by Embudito Canyon to see that the chamisa are really starting to bloom but the rain from the previous night still hadn’t gotten the stream running again. It came as a bit of a surprise to see nine species of butterflies during my walk up the wash, including those Apache Skippers and a new one for my Embudito list, an Orange Skipperling.

Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiaca)

Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiaca)

This little guy brings my list of Embudito butterflies to 59, an interesting number which google tells me is the total number of species in the U.K. Sure, it’s only about 18% of the 325 or so species we can see in New Mexico, but it still amazes me there are that many to be seen in a fairly small canyon. Typically, my visits only take me about 1/2 mile up the wash to where there’s sometimes a small waterfall and usually at least some damp ground. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a few more species going higher up the canyon as the habitat changes from desert scrub to ponderosa pine forest.

Another small orange butterfly I’ve been seeing there since spring is the Mylitta Crescent.

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

Being seen pretty regularly in the Sandias just now is the Arizona Sister.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

And a bit surprising was seeing what appeared to be a fresh Variegated Fritillary, a butterfly that I haven’t seen much since early spring.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

On Monday, I decided to head up toward the Sandia Crest to see how the aspens were coming along. They can be just spectacular in early October, but you can’t really tell looking up about 5000′ to the Crest from down in town. My first stop was at Capulin Spring, where it was news to me that they’ve finished replacing the log trough that the spring trickles through and draws in all the birds in the area for a drink or a dip.

The new "Log at Capulin Spring"

The new “Log at Capulin Spring”

The new arrangement seems to be working pretty well and the birds are getting used to it. A couple of the ones I saw there were a Yellow-rumped Warbler

"Audubons" Yellow-rumped Warbler

“Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler

and a very cautious Steller’s Jay, who first hopped around several trees trying to figure out if I was a threat before finally coming down.

Steller's Jay

Steller’s Jay

The goofy chipmunks who seem to spend their day managing the operation also seemed okay with the new log.

Chipmunk

Chipmunk

It was a pretty chilly morning, so a little surprising to see a couple of butterflies in the area – a Hoary Comma and this Field Crescent.

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

After that, I headed further up the mountain to the Ellis Trailhead, one of my favorite spots for those aspens. At the moment, the annual Fall show is well underway with colors ranging from lime green to yellow and into red; it won’t be long before the full golden glow appears. Even better than seeing the aspens, however, was having a Broad-winged Hawk circling above them, a rare sighting around here and one I hadn’t seen before. I did report it on eBird along with a photo good enough to identify it but it was rather out of focus due to (since resolved) technical difficulties with my camera. (If anyone’s looking closely at the picture below, no, that’s just a Turkey Vulture and not the hawk.)

Aspens

Aspens

A WORD ABOUT WORDPRESS – In order to provide the free blogging service through WordPress, they put an advertisement at the bottom of each post that the blog author has no control over and certainly does not reflect any endorsement or interest of the author. A friend recently informed me that one of those ads was a political ad for my least favorite presidential candidate – not the most appropriate sort of ad I’d expect in this forum. Caveat emptor!

 

 

 

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

Birds and Bugs

As we move closer to the start of autumn around here, an interesting change occurs in the natural world around us. The annual fall migration of birds has begun and we’re seeing many different kinds of warblers and shorebirds passing through, and the arrival of the first Sandhill Crane was reported this week. Following the summer monsoons, many plants are blooming and all manner of insects have started appearing.

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip headed to the east mountains and the Manzano Pond and the Quarai unit of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. On a day that started out cool and cloudy, it eventually turned warm and sunny providing the group good looks at many of those warblers and plenty of other good birds. Two that I got photos of at Manzano Pond included a male Wilson’s Warbler

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

and one of a party of several Orange-crowned Warblers.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Birding slowed down a little later in the morning at Quarai, but we’d still add another 25 species or so, including a Barn Owl that flushed out of a tall cottonwood and a Golden Eagle high in the sky.

The next day, hoping to track down a few more warblers I dropped by the Rio Grande Nature Center, but must’ve gotten there a little too late in the morning and didn’t see many birds at all. There was, however, a young Red-tailed Hawk that circled above me for quite some time until a young Cooper’s Hawk showed up to chase it away – seems the Red-tailed won the fight eventually running off the smaller Cooper’s.

Cooper's Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk

Later that afternoon, I met a friend at Embudito who wanted to try out my 80-400mm lens before deciding whether or not to get one for herself. Pretty quiet in the still heat of the afternoon, but we traded lenses and photographed anything we did see. Just as we were wrapping it up, a special butterfly dropped by and perched long enough for us to take a few pictures. Turned out to be the Apache Skipper that I’d hoped we might spot there since it only flies for a short period of time and is a butterfly I’ve only seen there once before and rarely anywhere else.

Apache Skipper (Hesperia woodgatei)

Apache Skipper (Hesperia woodgatei)

A couple of days later, it was off to Cienega Canyon, Bill Spring, and Capulin Spring on another quest for some of those warblers and to look for some late-season butterflies. Surprisingly, there were very few of either flying at those locations that morning. One or two Arizona Sister butterflies appeared at each spot but were constantly on the move, and even at Capulin Spring, which usually draws in a good variety of birds, only a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos dropped in for a quick splash. Bill Spring eventually turned up a wary American Robin and then a small group of Mountain Chickadees.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

In addition to the bird migration that’s well underway, various species of butterflies also migrate, the most well-known of which is the Monarch. We only seem to see them here from late August into October on their journey south, and two of the spots we’ve seen large numbers include Piedras Marcadas Dam here in Albuquerque and at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen. Both of these areas have good amounts of their milkweed host plant and large fields of a favorite nectar plant, sunflower.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

The picture above shows the sunflowers in full bloom at Whitfield last Tuesday during a butterfly tagging event run by the Southwest Monarch Study.  This organization is researching the migration and breeding behavior of Monarchs in the southwestern U.S., and we had a group of about 15 folks wandering through all those sunflowers, some attempting to capture and apply small numbered tags to hopefully be recovered at some future point in the migration. Monarchs are known to over-winter in southern California, southern Florida, and a famous location in Michoacan, Mexico; what is still unknown is where those migrating through Arizona and New Mexico might be heading.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

In addition to the 40+ Monarchs we’d see that day were two other butterflies that mimic the Monarch. The Queen is a different species in the same genus.

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

The Viceroy is in a completely different genus but has similar coloration to the Monarch apparently to fool predators. Always a treat to see, this is a species I’ve only rarely seen here.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Whitfield is always dependable for a couple species of Crescent butterflies that we don’t seem to see in Albuquerque, including the Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

and the Painted Crescent.

Painted Crescent (Phyciodes picta)

Painted Crescent (Phyciodes picta)

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip also went to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, with a stop first at the Belen Marsh. A very productive outing with the group of 19 birders tallying more than 50 species for the morning. Belen Marsh turned up a good variety of shorebirds despite the water level being quite low. Special sightings included a Sora, several species of Sandpiper and Yellowlegs, and American Avocet in its non-breeding plumage.

American Avocet

American Avocet

In the nearby field, a few folks even spotted a pair of the Burrowing Owls, a species that hasn’t been reported recently in the area. Then it was on to Whitfield for a longer walk than the group normally takes, but that would turn up a number of other good birds for the day. With the group well spread out, some would only be seen by a few, one of which was a Townsend’s Warbler, a new species sighting for the Whitfield list. My best photo of the day came right at the end when we returned to the Visitor Center, a female Black-chinned Hummingbird nectaring on a Firecracker penstemon.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

On a nearby globemallow, it was interesting to see three stages of the globemallow leaf beetle, the black larval form, the greenish gold of the mature beetle, and the red immature beetle.

Globemallow Leaf Beetle (Calligrapha serpentina)

Globemallow Leaf Beetle (Calligrapha serpentina)

Several different dragonflies (and a few damselflies) were busy around the ponds that morning. I like this picture of a Twelve-spotted Skimmer resting on a cattail as another one comes flying in.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libelulla pulchella)

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libelulla pulchella)

A Flame Skimmer also seemed to have a favorite perch on a cattail, flying off and returning to the same spot several times.

Flame Skimmer (Libelulla saturata)

Flame Skimmer (Libelulla saturata)

Quite a few other insects were out and about as well, including a large underwing moth and praying mantis clinging to the Visitor Center wall, plenty of different species of ants and bees, those figeater and other beetles, and a good variety of grasshoppers.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

In the coming week, I’ll no doubt be out looking for those warblers again, keep an eye out for more interesting insects, and expect to be seeing some of the interesting spiders that usually appear at this time of year.

Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Photographs | 6 Comments

An Interesting Start to September

The past week has turned up some pretty interesting and unusual sightings as I’ve gotten out a little more often. There are hints of autumn’s approach with the weather turning delightfully cooler and the purple asters and golden chamisa starting to come into bloom. Many of the birds and Monarch butterflies have begun their annual migration and an interesting mix of insects have begun appearing.

A week ago Monday, Rebecca and I drove down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen where we weren’t surprised to see large numbers of Monarch and Queen butterflies nectaring on the milkweed as the Monarchs pass through on their Fall migration.  There is a good variety of nectar plants at Whitfield attracting a number of different butterflies at this time of year, including the Bordered Patch.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

More surprising to see was the American Snout, of which we’d see two individuals that morning and another one in Albuquerque a week later.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

Several cool bugs were sighted there as well. My last posting had a picture of the very cool Globemallow Leaf Beetle mating and laying eggs; at Whitfield that morning we’d see their larvae – almost as large as the adults already, but not very attractive, and looking like black, hairy grubs. Another favorite of mine is the Asilidae Robber Fly with its huge emerald eyes.

Asilidae Robber Fly

Asilidae Robber Fly

A new one for me was the Fire Blister Beetle,

Fire Blister Beetle (Pyrota punctata)

Fire Blister Beetle (Pyrota punctata)

and as usual, there were any number of Figeater Beetles busy foraging.

Figeater Beetle (Cotinis mutabilis)

Figeater Beetle (Cotinis mutabilis)

The next morning I wandered down to Calabacillas Arroyo, since I hadn’t been there since my Great Horned Owls had left their nest a few months earlier and would be the location for the week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip a couple of days later. It seemed a little quiet for birds that morning until I reached the dam near Alameda Blvd, where there was a Great Blue Heron off in the distance and a Snowy Egret working the shoreline. Moving closer to photograph the Snowy Egret, it flew as short distance downriver only to land right by a Green Heron.

Green Heron & Snowy Egret

Green Heron & Snowy Egret

Returning on Thursday, it was a treat for the Thursday Birder group to see the Snowy Egret and Great Blue Heron, along with a couple of other shorebirds I’d missed on my earlier visit, but it seems the Green Heron had moved on or was in hiding. The Thursday trip was pretty exceptional, however, with the large group of 37 people spotting 40+ species that morning. Included in that total was a small flock of Cedar Waxwings and a few warblers moving through in migration.

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

In addition to the birds, one person spotted a porcupine perched way up in a cottonwood and most of us got a good look at a coyote likely also looking for the quail we could hear working their way through the brush.

Coyote

Coyote

As the group headed through the woods heading for the dam, a couple of people got a quick glimpse of a large bird darting high into the trees and had the impression it might have been an owl. As several of us moved closer trying hard to spot whatever it was, a young Cooper’s Hawk flushed from the ground to a nearby perch and watched us for quite awhile.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

We’d all just about come to the conclusion that must have been the bird we’d been looking for when Rebecca picked out a Great Horned Owl much higher up a few trees away. It sat there well aware of us as everybody in the group got a good look at it.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Bird of the day, for sure, since outside of nesting season these guys can be pretty hard to spot.

Seeing an eBird report that a pair of Great Horned Owls had recently been spotted at Piedras Marcadas Dam, where both the owls and Cooper’s Hawks nested this year, and since I hadn’t been there in awhile either, that was my destination the next morning. Didn’t see either species that morning, but was surprised to see a crazy number of Monarch butterflies working the large expanse of milkweed and sunflowers that had popped up in the area.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

While it seems this is the butterfly most people have heard of and often assume is what they see, they really aren’t very common around here and are usually only seen passing through on their Fall migration right about now. I stopped counting after seeing close to twenty of them all over that area. There was even one pair mating up in a cottonwood tree.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Others recently have been reporting an interesting mix of shorebirds showing up at what used to be called the Tramway Wetlands, but is now referred to by the much less classy name North Diversion Channel Outfall. It wasn’t too surprising then to run into several other birders checking it out on Sunday morning. The reports were correct and we were seeing quite a few species that aren’t all that commonly seen around here. For once, I got a pretty good shot of a Lesser Yellowlegs…usually these guys are pretty far away and it’s more typical for me to see the closely related Greater Yellowlegs.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Somewhat hopeless at identifying any of these characters, it was also satisfying to get good shots of some of the Western Sandpipers wandering about.

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

Since Rebecca shares this butterfly thing and had never been to Piedras Marcadas Dam before, the next day we headed back there to check out all those Monarchs. That morning, we’d count a ridiculous number of 36 individual Monarchs, once seeing a mating pair flying away together and fascinated to watch a female quickly laying eggs on any bit of green she’d land on before heading to the next.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Among all of those Monarchs were also a good number of Queens, Clouded Sulphurs, Checkered Whites, Western Pygmy-Blues, and even an American Snout. While chasing down those butterflies, we also saw a pretty cool looking bug,

Spotted Tylosis Longhorn Beetle (Tylosis maculatus)

Spotted Tylosis Longhorn Beetle (Tylosis maculatus)

and I woke up a rather large toad hiding in the leaf litter.

Woodhouse's Toad (Bufo woodhousii)

Woodhouse’s Toad (Bufo woodhousii)

We next headed for a quick visit to the nearby Piedras Marcadas Canyon unit of the Petroglyph National Monument. After our summer monsoons kick in, the desert canyon becomes lush with green and lots of blooming flowers. We didn’t see many butterflies on that short visit and a longer return visit may be in order, but I did get a pretty good photograph of a Western Pygmy-Blue, probably the smallest butterfly in North America.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

Next we headed over to the North Diversion Channel Outfall to check out a few more of those shorebirds I’d seen the day before. Rebecca is way more knowledgeable about those guys than me, and had brought her birding scope and Sibley’s excellent field guide, and we were able to identify quite a few more species. One that even I could identify, but hadn’t been around the day before was an American Avocet probably the first time for me when it wasn’t in its breeding plumage.

American Avocet

American Avocet

A first for me, too, was the Semipalmated Plover that Rebecca pointed out.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Keeping an eye on us the whole time we were busy scoping the water was a Greater Roadrunner posing proudly.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

With the official start of Fall just two weeks away, it’ll be fun to see what other seasonal specialties start showing up.

 

 

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

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 | 4 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 | 9 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