Owls and More

With the leaves off the trees and the days starting to get longer, ’tis the season to start looking for this year’s Great Horned Owl nests. Usually by late December, they’ll start pairing up and start looking for a nest site, and over time I’ve realized Valentine’s Day is about when I’ll first start finding occupied nests. Those leafless trees also make it easier to spot the old hawk nests that the owls seem to prefer. Any large lump in the trees is worth taking a closer look at and will probably be either an old nest or surprisingly often a snoozing porcupine.

Porcupine

Only last year did I realize owls regularly use the same nesting spot year after year so in addition to looking around for new nesting opportunities as I walk the trails, I definitely take a look at old nesting sites. Not too much luck so far this year, although I’m now up to four likely locations they’ll be nesting soon if not already. Along the way, there’s been a few other interesting sightings as well, such as this Spotted Towhee lit by the sun,

Spotted Towhee

a Hairy Woodpecker busy looking for bugs,

Hairy Woodpecker

and a pair of Common Mergansers; birds that are usually only seen way out in the river.

Common Merganser

In addition to the owls in Corrales and the Albuquerque Academy mentioned in my last posting, I’ve now found some in two more locations following up on suggestions from friends and eBird reports. First up was the exciting news that owls were again seen near the spot they’d nested in several years ago near Calabacillas Arroyo. Indeed, the first time I stopped by one was sitting right on the snag with the nesting cavity.

Great Horned Owl

A few days later it higher up the branch to the right of the broken off snag

Great Horned Owl

and trickier to spot – here’s more what it looks like without a zoom lens. Going up that right diagonal branch, the owl’s lined up with that vertical branch.

Great Horned Owl

Friends report that they’ve actually photographed an owlet at least two weeks old peeking out of that snag, which would be quite unusual in my experience having hatched at least a month earlier than any I’ve known before. Naturally, I’ll be returning again soon in hopes of spotting that little one.

My other sighting was of both owls at Willow Creek Open Space. I’d been unsuccessful in spotting them on a visit a week earlier, but found the first one very easily on my next visit sitting out in the open not very high above the ground.

Great Horned Owl

Having missed the other one at first, when I returned later that morning, the second one popped out at me very close to the trail but well-hidden in the branches.

Great Horned Owl

A couple of other fun pictures over the next few days included a Rock Wren at Piedras Marcadas,

Rock Wren

and from our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to El Oso Grande Park, the famous headless Greater Roadrunner.

Greater Roadrunner

Some friends I’ve kept in touch with over the years, but haven’t seen since meeting them on my first Peru trip in 2004, dropped into town this past weekend and we’ve been out to a few spots looking for some of our local residents. Missing the rosy-finches up at Sandia Crest on their first visit, we headed out to Clements Road near Estancia for some raptors. Several good sightings that afternoon including Scaled Quail, several Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrel, and Prairie Falcon, but it was a great treat to get good looks at one of what may have been a total of 3 Golden Eagles,

Golden Eagle

and a Ferruginous Hawk that let us approach rather closely.

Ferruginous Hawk

We figured it was less interested in us than in a large flock of Horned Larks working the field by the side of the road.

Horned Lark

The next day we met up at Bosque del Apache NWR, where we would see the last of the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese now migrating back north. Several Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks, but it seems the Bald Eagles may have already departed. It was fun getting good pictures of a Pyrrhuloxia despite shooting through the Visitor Center window,

Pyrrhuloxia

and one of my Lesser Goldfinch shots from out in the garden area came out well.

Lesser Goldfinch

One of our target birds, the Tundra Swan, wouldn’t appear until our very last stop for the day and was just off the Flight Deck.

Tundra Swan

Yesterday, I made my rounds of all of those Great Horned Owl nests (except Willow Creek) to see if nesting had yet commenced. No luck near Calabacillas, seeing only one owl even further away from that snag and other than possibly a single white feather caught in the bark, no evidence of the female or that little one. Fun, however, to see a Great Blue Heron first in a tall cottonwood and later along the irrigation ditch, and then to have a Belted Kingfisher drop by.

Belted Kingfisher

I hadn’t been to Corrales for awhile, and interestingly only saw a single owl there

Great Horned Owl

…the female could easily be nesting in their usual cavity, but I couldn’t see any evidence that she might be there. Wrapped up my morning by stopping by Albuquerque Academy where I’d last seen one of the owls tucked into its winter roost in a big Ponderosa Pine. Surprise of the day was to find nesting finally underway in their favorite spot!

Great Horned Owl

 

 

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January Wrap-Up

Here’s some of the photos from a few good outings over the last couple of weeks. Over the third weekend in January, Rebecca and I headed down to the area around Truth or Consequences, NM, to join Kim Score’s CNMAS trip to Percha Dam and to scout out a few locations Rebecca’s planning to include in this year’s Birdathon coming up in mid-May. In addition to Percha Dam, we’d spend time looking around Caballo Lake, Animas Creek, Paseo del Rio, Mim’s Lake, and several locations along the western shore of Elephant Butte Lake. At some of those spots at Elephant Butte Lake, we’d come across small groups of javelina (or collared peccary). I don’t see them very often and when I do, they’re usually pretty far away or on the run. One group we came across on a dirt road close to the lake was a little slower to take off, especially one young one that didn’t seem too bothered by us or in the mood to run.

Javelina

All weekend, we were surprised to see Verdin pop up in several places, a bird I usually don’t see very often at all…of those we’d see on this trip (Mim’s Lake, Paseo del Rio, and Percha), this is my best shot showing that yellow head and those red epaulets.

Verdin

A late afternoon trip to Animas Creek (a unique habitat for New Mexico of large sycamore trees along the creek) didn’t turn up the Bridled Titmouse we were hoping to see (and did early in 2019), but had plenty of our other target for the area, Acorn Woodpecker.

Acorn Woodpecker

After an interesting evening staying in the restored CCC cabins of the Dam Site Lodge (pelicans, herons, mergansers, and grebes appearing at dawn on the lake below), we met up with Kim and the group at Percha Dam State Park the next morning. Before we even got organized to start the walk we had lots of Phainopeplas flying around, a bird we’ve had a little trouble seeing lately in its usual spots closer to Albuquerque.

Phainopepla

More amazing was getting a great look at that Bridled Titmouse right out in the open also just as we were getting ready to get started.

Bridled Titmouse

As expected, the walk was quite good and we’d see a good variety of birds as the day went on. A highlight was having a mature Bald Eagle fly right over the group,

Bald Eagle

and later at Percha Flats on Caballo Lake, while not a highlight for the day flybys of some of the Ring-billed Gulls were a nice opportunity for some in flight photos.

Ring-billed Gull

Later that afternoon we stopped by Paseo del Rio Campground at the base of the Elephant Butte Dam, not only was it good to find a Verdin and the expected Pyrrhuloxia and cool to see a Great Blue Heron in its unusual, but regular, spot up on the cliff, but to also spot a Great Egret hunting in the water,

Great Egret

and have two Osprey fly by.

Osprey

In what was probably about an hour walking around the area around 4pm, we’d see 17 species which seems pretty good for this time of year.

Taking our time the next morning headed for home, we were unsuccessful in hoping to see the Golden Eagles, where a year ago we’d seen several perched on the power poles along the freeway south of Bosque del Apache NWR. A stop further north at the Bernardo Wildlife Area turned up a close view of a female Northern Harrier,

Northern Harrier

none of the Snow Geese we’d heard folks had been seeing recently, and not nearly as many Sandhill Crane as had been reported just days earlier.

Sandhill Crane

It was pretty good, however, seeing several White-throated Sparrows working the swampy ground covering.

White-throated Sparrow

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip returned to Bernardo where we finally managed to spot the White-throated Sparrows again,

White-throated Sparrow

along with a pretty good look at the Harlan’s race of the Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed (Harlan’s) Hawk

As usual, with all those eyes and a number of excellent birders on the trip, we’d end the day with a nice variety of species.

This past weekend, I got out to start looking for some of those owls that could start nesting in a few more weeks. In Corrales, where Great Horned Owls had nested last year and we got to see one for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count on December 15, this time I got to see both adults and even get a shot of them both looking right at me.

Great Horned Owl

Not yet nesting either, just on a hunch I checked in on the Albuquerque Academy where I’ve spotted them on a winter roost in past years, and sure enough managed to spot one of them.

Great Horned Owl

This ponderosa is close to where they’ve typically nested and when they do, is the easiest to watch of any in town.

I also had to stop by Columbus Park where the  Western Screech-Owl has reappeared after being off somewhere since last June.

Western Screech-Owl

Finally, after wandering around the Rio Grande Nature Center bosque without yet finding the owls that are undoubtedly somewhere around, it was a major thrill to get to see a Bald Eagle on the east side of the river where I’ve occasionally seen one in past years. For the first time there, this one didn’t immediately fly off and sat there posing nicely for me.

Bald Eagle

 

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First Post for 2020

Well, I’m just not keeping up with blogging of late and can’t come up with any particular reasons why that is. Since returning from that delightful Thailand trip described in my last posting, days were pretty busy first getting through all those trip pictures, followed by all the holiday activities and events and including three Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs). Already two weeks into the new year and it seems I haven’t been getting out all that often either and when I do things have been pretty quiet in most of my usual haunts. Nonetheless,  a few decent photographs have appeared during that time that I thought worth sharing here.

For the Bosque del Apache CBC, Rebecca and I were out from dawn to dusk covering the San Antonio area just north of the refuge. She’s done that area for quite a few years now and knows what to look for and where. I’ve joined her for the last eight years and always have fun getting some special birds and sometimes decent pictures. For this year’s count, the weather was just about perfect and here’s a few pictures from that day. Early on we got good looks at this Red-tailed Hawk,

Red-tailed Hawk

and later in the day a Pyrrhuloxia who came out in the open for a change.

Pyrrhuloxia

A highlight for me was seeing a Merlin, a bird it seems I only manage to find maybe once a year.

Merlin

Quite a few Western Meadowlarks around, this one showing off that bright yellow chest.

Western Meadowlark

The next day found us covering all of Corrales for the Albuquerque CBC where we ended up with a pretty good list. It was fun getting to add the Great Horned Owl for the list, found close to last year’s nest as a friend had reported on eBird a few days earlier.

Great Horned Owl

We only spotted the one, while more recent reports had both owls with one remarkably well-hidden close to the other.

The day after Christmas falling on a Thursday this year, the Audubon Thursday Birders added to the Sandia Mountain CBC by covering the area of Bear Canyon included in the count circle. As usual, we ended up seeing more species than on any of our scouting visits. Later that day, Rebecca and I headed out to our usual count area in the East Mountains and added a few more species. Somehow, I didn’t end up with any photographs from that day unfortunately.

To kick off 2020, I did get a nice close-up of a Spotted Towhee.

Spotted Towhee

A few days later, Rebecca and I wandered down to Shining River Open Space hoping to see the American Dipper that had been reported in the same spot it had been a couple years ago. No luck on our first attempt, but we went with some friends we met on our way back who quickly spotted it right where they’d expected to see it. I returned again the next day to find it still hanging around that same location.

American Dipper

Following that success, we decided to drop in on the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo, where Rebecca wanted to show me their new penguin exhibit she’d seen earlier. It was indeed pretty interesting, but a little tricky getting good photographs. I can’t help but take pictures of male Wood Ducks when I come across one,

Wood Duck

and while I rarely take photos of zoo animals, I liked this one of one of the gorillas catching some rays.

My local gorilla

Off to San Lorenzo Canyon and then Bosque del Apache last weekend turned up a few good birds, such as this Rock Wren,

Rock Wren

a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes,

Loggerhead Shrike

and close flybys of a Ferruginous Hawk,

Ferruginous Hawk

and a female Northern Harrier.

Northern Harrier

Two birds from today’s walk south of Alameda on the west side of the Rio Grande included a closer view of a young Bald Eagle that we’d seen a couple weeks ago from much further away,

Juvenile Bald Eagle

and one of several Hermit Thrushes that were working their way through the trees.

Hermit Thrush

We’ll see what the next few weeks turn up as hopefully I’ll be getting out more and see a few more birds. My owls should be appearing again about now as they start scouting out nesting locations for the upcoming season.

 

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Nature Tour to Thailand

Just over a month since my last post, I’m finally ready to share some of the photos from a recent 19-day nature trip to Thailand. We’d left early on a rainy morning a week before Thanksgiving (missing entirely the huge snowstorm at home over the holiday) on the more than 25 travel hours to Bangkok (22 hours in the air plus layovers in Los Angeles and Seoul). The flights home would be even more ridiculous, leaving about midnight and taking more than 33 hours with the 7-8 hour layovers involved. Time got sufficiently scrambled going both ways that I managed to avoid jet lag entirely, although Rebecca seems to have gotten a bit after the trip. Gotta love that International Date Line deal; even though we left Bangkok about midnight on 12/8, we still got home by 6pm the same day, almost 6 hours earlier than our departure.

Arriving about midnight, we checking into an airport hotel before flying another hour to Chiang Mai where we’d meet the rest of our tour group late the next day. Just outside the hotel the next morning we’d spot our first butterflies and see the most elaborate Buddhist spirit house of the many we’d see during our visit.

Spirit House at Amaranth Hotel

Our flight to Chiang Mai later that morning went smoothly and we soon checked into the marvelous Rachamankha Hotel located in a very quiet neighborhood within the old city walls just steps from the first of numerous Buddhist temples or wats we’d see and one of the most spectacular, Wat Phra Singh.

Wat Phra Singh

The next day after walking around the walled city neighborhood, we took a taxi to the Chiang Mai Zoo on the outskirts of town for an enjoyable afternoon of spotting a few more new butterflies and walking around the huge zoo that worked its way up forested foothills; passing by the lion exhibit on our way out, I happened to glance back at the exhibit and noticed this alpha male catching some sun.

Lion (Chiang Mai Zoo)

The tour, organized by Greentours UK, included the two of us, six folks from the UK, our incredibly knowledgeable guide, Paul Cardy, and our two drivers, Kampanat and Jo. For the next two weeks, we were off to look for butterflies, birds, and whatever else caught our eye as we drove in two comfortable vans to several national parks in northern Thailand, including Doi Suthep, and Doi Inthanon, a long driving day to Erawan and Sai Yok, further south to Kaeng Krachang for a couple of days and the last few days at Khao Sok.

Khao Sok Valley

Following are (probably too many) pictures of a few of the roughly 200 butterfly species we’d see along with some of the other amazing creatures from a most enjoyable trip.  One of the first butterflies to really get my attention was the Indian Purple Sapphire,

Indian Purple Sapphire (Heliophorus indicus)

soon to be followed by the Red Lacewing

Red Lacewing (Cethosia biblis)

and the White Dragontail.

White Dragontail (Lamproptera curius)

The hits would keep coming with such species as Common Earl,

Common Earl (Tanaecia julii odilina)

The Common Archduke,

Common Archduke (Lexias pardalis)

just a Common Evening Brown,

Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda)

The Knight,

The Knight (Lebadea martha martha)

and several of the Autumn Leaf, this one the freshest we’d see,

Autumn Leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide)

and the only one that gave us a peek at what was inside.

Autumn Leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide)

Much more to come, including the Fluffy Tit,

Fluffy Tit (Hypolycaena erylus)

one of which opened its wings to really show off,

Fluffy Tit (Hypolycaena erylus)

the Common Posy,

Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra)

and Club Silverline, well-spotted by Ian.

Club Silverline (Cigaritis syama)

A little later in the trip a few striking butterflies would appear and we’d find some locations with large numbers of butterflies swarming around puddles. A couple of these included the Common Bluebottle

Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon)

and the Red-spot Sawtooth (a mimic of the several species of Jezebel we’d see on the trip).

Red-spot Sawtooth (Prioneris philonome)

Butterflies were the main focus of our attention, but we spent a bit of time looking for birds as well, almost all of which were new for us (tho I’d seen many on a birding tour there in 2010), including several kinds of kingfisher,

Stork-billed Kingfisher

a Little Spiderhunter posing artistically on the heliconia,

Little Spiderhunter

the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater,

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

and Rebecca’s target bird for the last two years, Eurasian Hoopoe.

Eurasian Hoopoe

Everywhere we went, the local cats were incredibly friendly and would readily come over for a scratch. (They were also quite appreciative of the kitty treats Rebecca would bring along for the day.)

Friendly Kitty

In several places, we’d come across troops of monkeys working their way through the trees, crossing trails and roads on their way somewhere, or just sitting around grooming or digging for insects to eat. Overall, they seemed to realize we were there but paid little attention to us as they went about whatever they were doing. We’d come across some of the larger Stump-tailed Macaques, hear the singing (and almost catch a glimpse) of the White-handed Gibbons, but get our best photos of the Dusky Langur

Dusky Langur

and the Long-tailed (Crab-eating) Macaque.

Long-tailed Macaque

Lots of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) got our attention, which I suspect were one of our guide’s main interests, along with a variety of other insects and spiders. The tiniest spider I just happened to spot was this little one (no idea what species it might be),

Tiny Spider

and we were all amazed by this large colony of Cellar Spiders (Daddy Long-legs) covering the trunk of a tree.

Cellar Spider

Insects included several of the colorful Lantern Bug (almost 2″ long),

Lantern Bug

a cool Leafhopper,

Leafhopper

and a very cryptic Grasshopper.

Cryptic-looking Grasshopper

Most odd-looking was this moth spotted on an outdoor restroom wall.

Odd-looking Moth

A rather unusual toadstool got our attention one day.

Toadstool

We’d also come across a few frogs and toads,

Treefrog

all kinds of lizards including the large Tokay Gecko (way larger than the small House Geckos everywhere we stayed),

Tokay Gecko

and of course the rather huge Monitor Lizards.

Monitor Lizard

Only a couple of snakes. Didn’t get a picture of the cobra going after our guide one morning, but was amused by how quickly he was able to jump out of the way. More relaxing was this Painted Bronzeback that Rebecca happened to spot off to the side of the trail.

Painted Bronzeback Snake (Dendrelaphis pictus)

After four days at Khao Sok, we drove to Krabi for a quick flight to the Bangkok Airport where most of the group would fly home early the following day. Our flight wouldn’t depart until almost midnight that next day, so Rebecca and I had an interesting and fun day having a taxi drop us off near the Grand Palace in downtown Bangkok (about 30 minutes from the airport). An interesting boat tour of the canals followed by being rather unexpectedly dropped off in the middle of nowhere on the other side of the river. That turned out well, however, in our getting to visit the amazing Wat Arun – the Temple of Dawn, discovering we could ferry from there across the river for only 4 baht (12 cents), and walk by the Grand Palace where there was some kind of rehearsal (we think) going on of some royal event happening the next week. An excellent trip overall with a great group of people. If you’re interested in seeing more of the pictures from the trip, go check out my http://sandianet.com/thailand2019 webpage that’s still under development for a few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Quick Update

Once again it’s been a few weeks without much worth posting due to being busy with a few other projects around here, but the weather’s been pretty good and I’ve gotten out a few times so thought I’d share a couple photos from the last couple of weeks. Managed to get out awhile ago to scout out our planned route for the Sandia Mountain Christmas Bird Count that the Audubon Thursday Birders will participate in on December 26. Didn’t spot too many birds on only my second trip there, but did have a distant Cooper’s Hawk hiding in the burned over area and got another (one of way too many) picture of a Curve-billed Thrasher.

Curve-billed Thrasher

A few days later, a visit to the Rio Grande Nature Center did not turn up the Hooded Mergansers that everybody’s been talking about, but things were looking better at Tingley Ponds where I had this Northern Pintail,

Northern Pintail

a female Bufflehead,

Bufflehead (female)

and the (apparently) resident Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher

Two days later, good friend Leah led our Audubon Thursday Birders on a good trip at Rio Grande Nature Center (perfect weather and a surprising 37 species!), where I did finally get a quick look at those Hooded Mergansers.

Hooded Merganser

(that’s an out of focus female behind the three males and maybe a Lesser Scaup even further away?)

Definite on the Lesser Scaup motoring by while we did the checklist in the Visitor Center,

Lesser Scaup

but not sure if I ever got a good look at the much more uncommon Greater Scaup that people were seeing.

Quick trip to Bosque del Apache NWR a couple of days later and a little surprised at not seeing all that many birds, although the Snow Geese were in full form in the ponds just after you enter the refuge and Sandhill Cranes were showing up in good numbers all over.

Sandhill Crane

Most interesting as we were headed out of the refuge, was spotting this odd-looking hawk that we went back and forth trying to figure out. Looking at the pictures others had been posting on eBird recently, pretty sure we were looking at the rather rare for this area juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. Okay photo even if you can’t quite make out the rather distinctive banded tail that others made the call on.

Red-shouldered Hawk (juvenile)

Stay tuned. My next post in a few weeks should be interesting.

 

 

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Targets of Opportunity

Once again, a few weeks have flown by and we’ve now had our first taste of colder weather. The chamisa is in full bloom and the cottonwoods taking on their brilliant fall colors. Sandhill cranes, eagles, ducks, and other migrating birds have all started returning, while the butterflies have pretty much tailed off for the year. Busy around here lately with some major home improvements and getting caught by Apple’s latest IOS update, which is incompatible with much of the software I’ve been using for years. Pretty much over all that now, but realized I just haven’t been getting out all that often lately and haven’t taken many photographs while out and about. But there’s been a few I thought I’d share here, since most were rather unusual sightings and somewhat surprisingly showing up during a few trips targeting that particular species.

Chronologically, this first one wasn’t all that unusual to see, but the only picture I kept from Rebecca’s successful Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Bosque del Apache, a female Gambel’s Quail.

Gambel’s Quail

We’d seen some great birds on our scouting trip a week earlier (a couple of the photos in my previous blog posting), and were glad the group got to see the pair of Peregrine Falcons we’d seen then, along with a nice variety of other birds.

A week later on the Thursday Birder trip to the Corrales bosque, we’d also be successful in seeing plenty of good birds, including my first sighting of the season of Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

While scanning the trees lining the irrigation ditch, I’d noticed several kinglets making their way along the ditch, each stopping for a quick bath at the runoff from a beaver dam. Making my way down closer, I waited for a bit to try and catch one doing just that, but was only able to photograph one or two as they passed by in the trees close to the water. Later in the morning, we’d get a good look at a late season dragonfly, the fabulous Flame Skimmer.

Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)

About a week earlier, Rebecca and I were out checking out a potential location for a new Thursday Birder trip, the Mars Court Trailhead. We’d heard folks had been reporting Acorn Woodpecker around there recently and kept an eye out for it during that first visit. Rebecca met a couple of other friends there a few days later and they were got to see three of them on their walk. So, of course, Rebecca took me back to try to find them again a few days later. We got to the area where they’d seen them, but weren’t having any luck despite looking around patiently for some time. Crossed my mind to play their call on my iBird Plus phone app when I realized I had no idea what they might sound like, and playing it once was all it took to have first one and then another come zooming by to land on nearby snags. They’d sit there for a minute and then fly off to a more distant spot and eventually out of sight. Waiting around some more eventually we’d spot one or more flying off in the distance and then a single one that landed reasonably close. Don’t know for sure if this was a third one in addition to the pair we’d seen flying around, but it did seem to use different trees and we never saw a second one with it.

Acorn Woodpecker

Also cool to see that day were several Pygmy Nuthatches. I would never have thought to look except for Rebecca’s recognizing their call, and one let me get the best photograph I’ve ever gotten of one.

Pygmy Nuthatch

A few days later, I’d been out wandering all around Pueblo Montano Open Space without seeing many birds at all, although we’d done pretty well early in the month during the Thursday Birder trip. Heading back to my car without having taken any photos that day, I just happened to notice a Wilson’s Snipe sitting out in the open along the ditch behind the recently-installed steel fence. These guys are rarely so out in the open or let you get anywhere close before disappearing, but this one sat there patiently the entire time I stayed to watch.

Wilson’s Snipe

A target trip to Bosque del Apache NWR yesterday was also successful. We’d been down there a couple of times this month already but must have been too early for a cool-looking moth, the Nevada Buckmoth, we’d first seen there last year on October 20. On this latest trip, they were flying around everywhere we’d look but just like last year it took some effort to find one stationary…here’s the one we did manage to find sitting on the tall grass.

Nevada Buckmoth (Hemileuca nevadensis)

And being there just two weeks after our last visit, the ponds are starting to fill for the upcoming Festival of the Cranes, bringing in a good number of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese along with some of the other waterfowl, and we’d get good looks at a Golden Eagle flying over, and enjoyed watching several Northern Harriers cruising around including this one that was doing an excellent job of hovering in place close to the ground for awhile before dropping down quickly after spotting a potential snack, and then repeating the behavior.

Northern Harrier

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First Taste of Fall

Over the last few weeks, it’s become more clear every day that we’re well into my favorite season of the year. Autumn in New Mexico begins with new flashes of color starting with the golden chamisa and lavender asters, and then the trees start changing with first the aspen in the mountains and next the cottonwoods along the river. Migrating birds start appearing (while others start disappearing). The weather, of course, turns just about perfect typically sunny and clear with warm days and cooler nights.

Greater Roadrunner

Shortly after my last post, Rebecca and I made a return weekend trip to the area around Flagstaff and Sedona AZ, with hopes of finding a couple of late season butterflies. We had three species of Giant-Skipper in particular that we had targeted and spent a good amount of time looking around several spots we’d suspected they might be found. No luck at all on two of those butterflies, but we were thrilled and a bit surprised to get good looks at one, the Bauer’s Giant-Skipper, which we found in a travertine hollow at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

Bauer’s Giant-Skipper (Agathymus baueri)

Lifer for both of us (#472 for my US list), that alone made the trip a success! I’d also get my first photograph of a Tropical Least Skipper that Rebecca identified, and which I’d only see once before in 2012.

Tropical Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha arene)

Rebecca also realized that the Viceroy butterflies we were seeing in Cottonwood AZ were the southwestern version with quite a few more white spots than the one we normally see around town.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

While we really weren’t seeing many butterflies anywhere on that trip, we would stumble across some other interesting creatures, such as this male tarantula off on its annual migration,

Tarantula

the large caterpillar of a Carolina Sphinx Moth,

Carolina Sphinx Moth (Manduca sexta)

and up in the mountains above Jerome, this rather calm (and rather large) Black-tailed Rattlesnake.

Black-tailed Rattlesnake

Interesting sightings of several different odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), included a Serpent Ringtail,

Serpent Ringtail (Erpetogomphus lampropeltis natrix)

good numbers of American Rubyspot,

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)

mating Familiar Bluets,

Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile)

and one that we regularly see at home in late summer to fall, Variegated Meadowhawk.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Not too many pictures since returning from Arizona, partly due to my not getting out very often the last couple of weeks but also not seeing many birds or butterflies when I do and those I have seen usually haven’t presented good photo opportunities. That all changed last Friday when Rebecca and I drove down to Bosque del Apache NWR on a scouting trip for her Audubon Thursday Birder trip later this week where we got nice looks at some good birds, some of which we don’t see all that often and some that are passing through on migration. Fairly late in the year to be seeing them, we were able to drive up close to a Western Kingbird,

Western Kingbird

and later to a young Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk

A real surprise on the highway close to the refuge was seeing two Peregrine Falcons on the same power pole; it’s rather unusual to see one anywhere, let alone two. This is my best shot of one of them; photos of the pair didn’t turn out all that well.

Peregrine Falcon

Just past the entrance to the refuge, a Loggerhead Shrike posed for me,

Loggerhead Shrike

and later at the Boardwalk Pond, where we had a large flock of American White Pelicans, a Great Blue Heron was poking around the reeds.

Great Blue Heron

The next day, after helping with the Belen Marsh cleanup we stopped in at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area finding several large moths hanging out on the wall of the Visitor Center,

Rustic Sphinx Moth (Manduca rustica)

seeing a good number of buckeye butterflies working the flowers in the fields,

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

and getting to see a Verdin near its winter roosting nest after a friend of ours pointed it out to us.

Verdin

A couple of days later visiting Bear Canyon for a possible future Thursday Birder trip, we got nice looks at a Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and a fun Ruby-crowned Kinglet working a bush for insects and paying little attention to us or others going by.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

 

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Time Flies

Surprising to realize it’s been three weeks since my last posting, so I wanted to get some of the few photos up there that I’ve taken during that time. No particular reason, I just haven’t gotten out there as often and haven’t gotten all that many pictures when I do get out there. Our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Las Huertas Canyon at the end of August turned up a couple of good butterflies including views of both sides of an Arizona Sister, first the dorsal view

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

and then the ventral.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

I’d also get what is probably my best shot ever of a Canyonland Satyr that hung around long enough for most of the group to see.

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

The next day, Rebecca and I made the fairly long drive up to Springer and then down to Mills Canyon wanting to check on some butterfly spots that had been quite good a couple months ago. Unfortunately, those spots hadn’t gotten much summer rain and there weren’t many nectar sources available so the butterflies weren’t around. Before heading home, we took a look around Las Vegas NWR and had fun seeing a few good birds including what I think we decided was a young Swainson’s Hawk.

Swainson’s Hawk

A few weeks later, we’d get good looks at several adult Swainson’s Hawks on our latest Audubon Thursday Birders trip last week to Valle de Oro NWR,

Swainson’s Hawk

and plenty of Say’s Phoebes and American Kestrels perched in different spots.

American Kestrel

Just a couple of days after our Springer trip, we were at Valle de Oro NWR to do a little scouting for last week’s trip and just happened to notice a few interesting flowers blooming in the weeds. Got home later to identify it as Hibiscus trionum.

Hibiscus trionum

Interesting to note one of its common names is Flower-of-an-Hour (some other common names include bladder weed, modesty, shoofly). It’s called that because “each flower blooms during a single day that is sunny, and remains open for only a few hours.” Who knew?

We’d also see a few young Snowy Egrets by an irrigation ditch where they’d still be more than a week later (Huge numbers of Cattle Egrets would also be seen off in the NW corner of the refuge.)

Snowy Egret

The next day on a walk at Pueblo Montano Open Space one of the few birds I’d see was a female Wood Duck parked right next to an American Bullfrog. Just the day before a friend had posted a similar picture from a different location, and both of us had wondered how common that is since we’d certainly never noticed it before.

Wood Duck

Last Saturday, we decided to check out the new butterfly exhibit and Bugarium at the Biopark. In a good way, the new exhibit only has native butterfly species rather than some of the fancier neotropic ones kept in the original butterfly pavilion. These included a number that we’ve only seen in in the wild in South Texas and Florida, such as the White Peacock,

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

Julia,

Julia (Dryas iulia)

and Atala Hairstreak.

Atala Hairstreak (Eumaeus atala)

Bugarium was pretty cool, too, with lots of unusual stick insects, some leafcutter ants, scorpions, beetles, and others.

Later that evening, we headed down to Sevilleta NWR for their Moth Night that included a twilight stroll around the Visitor Center for some good bugs. Just like last year’s event, we’d see quite a few walking stick insects in the Broom Dalea and on the stucco walls, and this year found several different spiders, many of which were Black Widows.

Black Widow Spider

For the moth part, John Wilson had his blacklight set up when we arrived and Rebecca brought hers along to add to the fun. We’d see a good number of moths, mostly small ones and several that we’d never seen before. My pictures weren’t that great, though, so none of them are included here (If anybody’s interested, they’re posted on my New Mexico Moth page at http://www.sandianet.com/moths/index.htm.). As usual, other insects attracted to the light would show up while we were looking at the moths, including a couple of katydids, grasshoppers, and antlions.

Antlion

Months ago, I’d picked up a UV LED flashlight that I’d heard were good for spotting caterpillars and spiders that fluoresce under the UV blacklight. So far, it hasn’t seem to work to well for that purpose and I’ve only noticed a few small spiders that seemed to give off any light. But when I thought to point it at a stucco wall near where we’d been seeing moths, this scorpion just totally lit up from probably ten feet away.

Scorpion

That’s more like it! Guess I’ll bring that little flashlight along on future night explorations.

 

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Not Just Birds and Butterflies

A nice variety of new and interesting creatures since my last posting along with a few old favorites. In addition to the birds and butterflies I post regularly, this time there’s a few moths, spiders, a new for me lizard, a mammal I haven’t figured out yet, and a few other interesting insects.

On most of my recent trips looking for butterflies in the Sandias, the tachinid flies have been present in large numbers and are rather interesting if viewed closely.

Tachinid Fly

One of those trips to Cedro Canyon turned up a Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar; I’d thought only Monarch butterfly (and its cousins, the Queen and Soldier) caterpillars ate milkweed because it contains toxins disliked by predators.

Milkweed Tussock Moth (Euchaetes egle)

On Saturday, August 17, Rebecca and I drove down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area to look for butterflies and to check the visitor center walls for any moths that had been attracted by their lights the previous night. A little surprising to me was how many different moth species we noticed, most of which Rebecca was able to readily identify (I’m still too new at this moth thing to easily identify any of them.). Among them was the Salicet Sphinx Moth,

Salicet Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus saliceti)

the Five-spotted Hawk Moth,

Five-spotted Hawkmoth (Manduca quinquemaculata)

and this small, but very cool looking Purslane Moth, one of which we’d seen during the White Sands Mothapalooza at the beginning of August.

Purslane Moth (Euscirrhopterus gloveri)

Target butterfly of the day, of which we’d see a good number and typically only see at Whitfield, was the Bordered Patch.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Another day, I made a visit to Owlville to see how things were going and assumed there would still be a good number of young Burrowing Owls about since we’d seen quite a few in Torrance County recently. Either it was the wrong time of day or more likely too late in the season, but I’d only manage to spot a total of two of them hiding under bushes. There were some guys out there busy drilling a well or some such that day that may also have sent the birds into hiding.

Burrowing Owl

Just a couple of days later, after hearing about it from a friend, it was off to an arroyo at the north end of Rio Rancho for a Barn Owl. I’d long suspected that area might be used by owls or other raptors in addition to all the Bank Swallows that nest there. I’d  heard about this Barn Owl a few years ago but had yet to see it. This time was lucky as there it was peeking out of a large cavity I noticed from still a good distance away.

Barn Owl

It had been watching me the whole time, however, and decided to fly off to better hide in a nearby big cottonwood tree.

Having been successful at seeing two owl species in recent days, I also stopped in on a Western Screech-Owl to see if it was around (nope). A nearby tree had a critter sleeping away the afternoon. I’d expected it would be a porcupine from its size and behavior, but it’s clearly not one of those. Too big for a squirrel, not the right color for a skunk or weasel; maybe a raccoon?

Mystery Critter

Rather slow day for butterflies in the Sandias last Friday, but we did get a good look at a Common Wood-Nymph in Ojito de San Antonio Open Space,

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

and a good picture showing all the colors of the top of an Arizona Sister in Sulphur Canyon.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

The day before had been a good Audubon Thursday Birder visit to Alameda Open Space, but my favorite sighting and photo from that day is of a White-belted Ringtail dragonfly, a new species for me and one that sat there patiently for quite a long time for all to see.

White-belted Ringtail (Erpetogomphus compositus)

It was also a treat a few days later to spot a similar-looking Brimstone Clubtail on a walk in Corrales, this one munching on a damselfly.

Brimstone Clubtail (Stylurus intricatus)

That same day, I stopped to check in on the Osprey that had nested at the North Diversion Channel Outfall since about late May. I’d known they’d successfully raised three young ones this year, but assumed they had probably moved on by now. It was entertaining to see one of the adults perched on top of the power pole leisurely digesting what looks like a large piece of salmon while below a nearly mature young one perched on the nest calling incessantly to be fed.

Osprey

Last Saturday, Rebecca and I joined in on the annual butterfly count at Sevilleta NWR and had a fun day seeing a few species we don’t often see along with a nice variety of other interesting creatures. About the first thing we’d spot that morning was a new for us moth, the Clio Tiger Moth.

Clio Tiger Moth (Ectypia clio)

Shortly after getting a few pictures of it, Rebecca brought the count leader over to show it to him, arriving just in time to watch a lizard crawl down the stucco and snatch it for a snack. We’d see several species of lizard that day, some of which were new for me including what I’m thinking is a Long-nosed Leopard Lizard.

Long-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia wislizenii)

Later in the day, a Reginia Primrose Moth was spotted hiding in a bush, a species Rebecca had only recently seen coming to her UV light late at night.

Reginia Primrose Moth (Schinia reginia)

For butterflies, we’d see a few of our usual Reakirt’s Blue,

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

but also see several Rita Blue, a species we’ve only seen there and at Cerrillos Hills State Park.

Rita Blue (Euphilotes rita)

Another good butterfly to see was one we don’t see very often at all but had been hoping for since we’d had it on the Sevilleta count last year, the Palmer’s Metalmark.

Palmer’s Metalmark (Apodemia palmeri)

While busy looking hard for butterflies to add to our count list, we saw several other cool critters, such as this Jumping Spider eyeing me warily,

Jumping Spider

and this tiny Crab Spider, who’d managed to snag a bee.

Crab Spider

Always a highlight for me on visits to Sevilleta is spotting all the Walking Stick insects hiding in the Broom Dalea – it may take looking carefully a few times before spotting one as they’re quite good at camouflage, but once you spot one you’ll soon notice several others usually in the same bush.

Walking Stick

Other people may be able to see Praying Mantis insects here in town, but Sevilleta is about the only place in the state that I’ve ever seen one (and usually quite a few when I do). These guys tend to hang out in the Broom Dalea or clinging to stucco walls.

Praying Mantis

 

 

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Midsummer Sights

Once again, pictures have begun piling up since returning from that great road trip to the Mothapalooza in Ohio. A couple of days later, Rebecca and I headed up to the Sandias to see what new butterflies were flying. Without really expecting to see many, we went a short distance from Balsam Glade on the road through Las Huertas Canyon wanting to check to see if the coneflowers were yet in bloom and maybe even a few patches of James’ buckwheat we’ve seen there. The coneflowers were indeed coming into bloom, but not much on them other than the ubiquitous Painted Ladies and a few Juniper Hairstreaks. But then we spotted a large patch of James’ buckwheat we’d never seen before that was attracting quite a few good butterflies. One we don’t see all that often but uses the buckwheat as its host plant was the Square-dotted Blue.

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

We would turn up several individuals of that species along with large numbers of Tailed Coppers, a species we’ve recently seen in several locations in the Sandias.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

Lower down the mountain in Cienega Canyon, we were surprised by how many Juniper Hairstreaks we’d see on the few blooming coneflowers and especially having several nectaring on the same flower.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Almost a week later, we headed back up to Balsam Glade (once again unsuccessful in our search for the Colorado Hairstreak we’d like to see there) and again down the road to Las Huertas. Pretty good butterflies that day, too, including plenty of those Tailed Coppers, but most surprisingly along the way to the buckwheat patch, I spotted a dark butterfly next to the road and managed to get out of the car quickly enough to get a picture.

Mexican Sootywing (Pholisora mejicanus)

I was pretty sure it was a Mexican Sootywing, a species we haven’t seen very often at all and certainly not this late in the season or at such a high elevation. Fortunately, the photo clearly shows the black veining and blue black sheen on the underside of the wings which differentiates it from the more widespread Common Sootywing. Submitted to BAMONA later that day, the identification was soon confirmed. That got us visiting other locations we’ve had them before, finding several individuals at most of those spots.

On both trips, we were sure to take a look at the dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) that was in bloom at the 8000′ sign, and when it’s working attracts all manner of butterflies, including two that we rarely see, Behr’s Hairstreak and Banded Hairstreak.

Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)

A couple of other fun pictures from that day include a Northwestern Fritillary,

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

Two-tailed Swallowtail,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and a Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

On the paved walk by the meadow in Cienega Canyon, I spotted this snail making its way along.

Snail

There have been three Audubon Thursday Birder trips since my last blog update, but I only have one bird photo this time, a Swainson’s Hawk from our most recent trip looking for raptors (and lots of Burrowing Owls) in Torrance County.

Swainson’s Hawk

The week after returning from our Ohio road trip I led our annual trip to Corrales for the nesting Mississippi Kites. Although they’d nested at our meeting place every year since 2012, this year they weren’t nesting there and hadn’t even been seen recently, so it had me a bit worried. Fortunately, and indeed surprisingly, the group would get good looks at a couple of them that day although none on a nest. The next week was our visit to the Simms Ranch and summer potluck hosted by Bonnie Long. Both have ridiculously large numbers of hummingbirds zooming around the many feeders they keep filled with sugar water. Also present at the Simms was this cool Great Plains Skink.

Great Plains Skink

Having heard about it from a friend, the next day Rebecca and I drove down to White Sands NM for their Mothapalooza event scheduled for that evening with a moth expert we’d met at the Ohio Mothapalooza in 2017. A good number of people showed up out in the sand dunes where the park folks set up lots of folding chairs and had generators for powering a couple of presentations before using them to power UV lights on two mothing sheets. We’d see some interesting moths arrive as the evening progressed, some familiar from other places but others unique to this unusual habitat. We had one big one show up, a Western Poplar Sphinx Moth

Western Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx occidentalis)

and at one point a White-lined Sphinx Moth that for once was sitting quietly and not flitting about.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

Lately, there have been lots of this species busy nectaring on flowers all over town and I’m still trying to get a good photo of one flying…I kind of like the way this one came out the other day.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

It had probably been five years since we last did any butterflying around there, so we spent some time in nearby Cloudcroft before and after the Mothapalooza. Several Gray Hairstreaks flying around there, including this one that posed nicely for its portrait.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

And it was nice to again see the Four-spotted Skipperling

Four-spotted Skipperling (Piruna polingii)

and Tawny-edged Skipper, both species we haven’t seen in a few years.

Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites themistocles)

We were also thrilled to see several Pine White butterflies at close range, a species we’d been looking for at home for awhile and that’s usually spotted flying high around ponderosa pines.

Pine White (Neophasia menapia

The Painted Lady butterfly is just being seen everywhere this year and Cloudcroft was no exception. We’d see several of them on single flowers,

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

and they would often photo-bomb my pictures of other species, such as this Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) & Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

or this one of a Variegated Fritillary.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) & Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

We’d been hoping to see the very localized Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot (Ephydryas anicia cloudcrofti), but couldn’t quite find the spot we’d had them a few years ago and didn’t see one anywhere else this trip. We did see a couple of individuals of another specialty of the area, the Capitan Mountains Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis capitanensis) a subspecies of the Northwestern Fritillary we see in the Sandias. This one was also photo-bombed by a Sleepy Orange this time.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis capitanensis) & Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

Later, I’d get a nice shot of the Sleepy Orange on another thistle by itself (of course, photo-bombed by some kind of bee this time).

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

On the way home, we stopped for lunch at Valley of Fires Recreation Area outside of Carrizozo, where an approaching raincloud kept the butterflies under cover, but did turn up an interesting beetle

Spotted Tylosis Longhorn Beetle (Tylosis maculatus)

and I happened to notice a small patch of lichen with an unusual shape.

Lichen

About a week later, I’d spot another interesting beetle we’ve seen a few times before, a Harlequin Bug.

Harlequin Bug (Murgantia histrionica)

A trip last weekend to Quarai as part of our ongoing quest to find more of those Mexican Sootywings (yes!) also turned up several Fulvia Checkerspots, a species we’ve seen there before but not very often.

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

That area also had a few Common Buckeyes, this rather fresh one posed nicely for me.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

The next day in Ojito de San Antonio Open Space the weather was keeping the butterflies hidden for the most part but we did get a good look at a Common Wood-Nymph, the first I’ve seen around here this year.

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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