It’s been an amazing week since Spring first sprang forth on March 20, and perfect weather for a road trip to Tucson for some birds and butterflies! Springtime in Albuquerque typically involves some good wind and a few dust storms, but before you know it it’s summer. But a little further south, say Spring Canyon State Park near Deming, the poppies burst out in a dazzling display for a few glorious weeks.
Thursday, Rebecca and I headed out for Tucson to join the Spring Butterfly Count of the Southeast Arizona Butterfly Association that would be happening on Sunday. First stop, Silver City, where we met up with Elaine Halbedel to look for a few butterflies in the nearby Burro Mountains. Elaine is incredibly knowledgeable on butterflies and a fun person to poke around the hills with looking for those little guys. With her help, we were able to see nearly 20 species in an afternoon outing to a couple of locations, including several ‘lifer’ butterflies for me such as the Satyr Comma, Mexican Yellow, Common Streaky-Skipper, and Goatweed Leafwing.
Several of the butterflies found the ladies rather attractive, with a Two-tailed Swallowtail attempting to mate with the one embroidered on Elaine’s hat and a Mourning Cloak and Satyr Comma that found Rebecca irresistible.
We arrived in Tucson on Saturday morning early enough to head for Peppersauce Canyon on the north side of Mt. Lemmon to look for a few butterflies. Peppersauce Canyon is a delightful canyon lined with huge sycamore trees and had a number of new butterflies cruising the dry wash. A new one for me was the Zela Metalmark, who posed quietly for a picture.
Another one that posed calmly for its picture was the western ‘Siva’ form of a Juniper Hairstreak, which I’d first seen last summer.
A Spring White also let me get close enough for a pretty good picture.
By now, you’ve all probably picked up from my earlier posts on my fascination with owls (and there will be more on a few new ones in the Albuquerque down at the end of this post). Sure enough as we’re motoring back to Tucson at 60 mph, Rebecca spots a nesting Great Horned Owl on the other side of the road. A quick U-turn at the only possible spot on the road brought us back to get a better look.
I can’t swear to it, but if you zoom in on the picture, that little white puffball on the right side of the nest could well be a little one. Late that afternoon, we spent some time at Sweetwater Wetlands for some good close-up looks at a few good birds, including a Common Moorhen, Cinnamon Teal, Buffleheads, a Verdin, Abert’s Towhee, and lots of Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. The Yellow-headed Blackbirds would come flying in from wherever and just disappear into the reeds, making their presence known only by their unusual calls. From probably 50 attempts to see one coming, aim the camera, try to focus, and snap a picture before they disappeared, I finally got this one coming in for a landing.
Saturday morning turned out to be a little cloudy with a bit of wind in the forecast, but would still provide a good day for butterflies during the SEABA Spring Butterfly Count. At the end of the day, the five or six groups met for dinner to tally up the count of a surprising large number of 63 species and substantially more numbers than were seen last year. Folks seemed a little worried numbers would be down since it had snowed the previous weekend, but that event proved much less of a problem than last year’s unusually cold February. Our group of four was led by the amazing Mary Klinkel, who took us to several lower elevation locations along Catalina Highway to track down several more good species for the trip. Sneaking into the Ventana Canyon resort for a quick look around for butterflies, we spotted this pollen-coated Black-chinned Hummingbird feeding on some of the flowers.
A highlight of the day from a photo perspective, however, had to be getting some good looks at the Great Purple Hairstreak, one of the most colorful of our butterflies and always a treat to see.
Off on an early start Monday morning to head back to Albuquerque, we took a break at Rockhound and Spring Canyon State Parks outside of Deming where we’d seen a few good ‘bugs’ last Fall. Spring Canyon (where the opening picture of the poppies was taken) was quite busy with a variety of butterflies in contrast to the unusually quiet Rockhound area. At one point, Rebecca spotted a newly emerged Pipevine Swallowtail by the side of the road that was slowly getting itself together to fly off, but giving us good close-up looks while it practiced figuring out what those wings were for.
Not to be outdone, this Marine Blue also posed nicely showing off its jewel-encrusted taillights.
Enough already with the butterflies and flowers, you’re saying, what about those new owls you promised us? Well, let’s see. First, my friend Judy Liddell told me about a couple of Burrowing Owls hanging out at a prairie dog village near Sandia Casino that I went looking for successfully on a breezy Wednesday morning last week before taking off for Tucson.
Unfortunately, my friend Matt O’Donnell would go there later in the week to find that one of them lost the battle in a face-off with a fast-moving automobile on nearby Tramway Boulevard, and a return visit is in order soon to see if the other one survives. Wednesday was also interesting in seeing a Bald Eagle on the roosting tree near the Nature Center where I’d seen three of them a few weeks ago. A little late in the year for them to be about, this one appears to be a fully mature individual.
On Thursday, after an interesting Thursday Birder outing to several birding hotspots in the South Valley, Matt, Judy, and I met Collin Adams at the Albuquerque Academy to nail down the Great Horned Owl that Judy and I had searched unsuccessfully for a few weeks earlier. Collin hooked us up with a couple of the science teachers from the Academy who were thrilled with our interest and graciously accommodating in taking us to see it nesting not all that high up in a Arizona Cypress there on the campus.
It was certainly cool to see the enthusiasm the teachers showed to the few inquisitive students who wandered by wondering what we were up to, and fun to see their excitement when they’d get a good look through the scope. Am definitely going to have to get back there to check on the nesting progress and to check out the student xeriscape garden that promises some good butterflies.
And that brings us to today, when Matt and I decided to head west on Paseo del Norte to look for the Burrowing Owls one of our Thursday Birders, Maurice, had described to me a few weeks ago. With good directions from Maurice and aided by Matt’s amazingly perceptive eyes, we quickly spotted first one then another three owls further down the wash. Now this first picture has been cropped quite a bit, so you have to imagine scanning the dry sandy wash closely examining the few rocks lying about looking for the one that’s staring back at you, and sure enough, it’s an owl!
Here’s a group picture of the other three we saw this morning.
The one standing lookout seemed to be the oldest and had most unusual facial markings; we didn’t see the other two until those two ‘rocks’ popped up out of nowhere.
So Spring is off to a good start – can’t wait to see what will show up in the next few weeks as the butterflies really start flying and bird migration gets underway. Stay tuned.