What keeps me going out to look at birds and butterflies every day are those moments on just about every outing that unexpectedly surprise me and create a highlight of the day. Surely most birders will recognize this phenomenon – you’ve been out wandering around on a slow day after a long winter and before migration gets seriously underway, not seeing much of anything and when you least expect it you spot an amazing bird or behavior that makes it all worthwhile. Seems it happens a lot with butterflies, too, although I’m still too new to that interest to know if it’s going to be a regular occurrence.
Started off today walking the pond at the Open Space Visitor Center where there’d been a few good birds last week. Pretty quiet today with the water level dropping and only a pair of mallards, probably the same Black Phoebe from last week, and a flock of Savannah Sparrows. Here’s a picture of one of those sparrows showing off the bright yellow around its eye.
Giving up and heading back to the car, sure enough a small flock of Red-winged Blackbirds rose out of the reeds and in their midst, one of those Yellow-headed Blackbirds that I tried so hard to get a good picture of a few weeks ago in Tucson. This one posed right out in the open for a couple of good pictures and let me get this one just before it dove back into the reeds.
That would have been enough of a surprise for the day, but there’d be another at my next stop to check on owl progress at Pueblo Montano. Mom’s still sitting on the nest and no little ones are yet visible, but the male was still being harrassed at close range by a Cooper’s Hawk, much as he was back at the end of March.
The absolutely worst lighting conditions for a picture, but I had some time to try for one, as these two faced off each other for easily 20 minutes with the hawk calling out continuously while being totally ignored by the owl . A second Cooper’s Hawk showed up about halfway into this display to harrass the female on the nest for a few minutes without getting any more of a response from her. Finally, the two hawks gave up and flew off. It’s rare enough to spot a male Great Horned Owl at all, let alone get to watch this kind of behavior.
Speaking of owls, during the Thursday Birder trip to Tingley Beach last week, not only did everybody in the group get a good look at the little one with the mother perched off to the side of the nest,
but my friend Tomas spotted the male much closer to the ground in a nearby tree.
That was a pretty special surprise for me, since last year I’d only managed to see a male a single time, but this year have now seen one at all four of the nests I’ve been watching in town. Got an interesting shot of a Pied-billed Grebe that morning, too, as it began to take off.
On Friday, I decided to look for the Monk Parakeet I’d been told was being seen ‘in the big yucca near Satellite’ – this is a coffee place just west of the Alameda Bridge on the south side of Alameda, and the big yucca is obvious in the lot next door with clear evidence of nest-building going on. Spotted the nest immediately, but not the bird. Apparently it just went to get coffee, since it called from the coffee place and then flew to the utility pole next to the nest.
Mission accomplished, it was then off to Copper Open Space and Embudito Canyon to see what else the day would hold. A little quiet that day with the breeze picking up, but along the way at Copper OS I spotted an uncommon butterfly that made a nice addition to the day and was a first for the year, a Mormon Metalmark.
A Greater Roadrunner popped up in Embudito, which I don’t think I’d seen there yet this year, and posed wonderfully for several minutes.
One of the nesting Cactus Wrens in Embudito also let me get a nice picture.
Several new wildflowers have started blooming along the foothills including the Desert Primrose.
Didn’t get out much on the weekend with a front passing through with hopefully the last bit of winter-like weather of cool, clouds, and wind, but once that was past all was good again.
With a friend of Rebecca’s coming to visit later this week to look for some butterflies, I did a little scouting at Embudo and Hondo Canyons on Monday and Embudito on Tuesday. Saw a few good ones on Monday, but just had an amazing day on Tuesday with at least 13 species seen quite well. Two-tailed Swallowtails had been patrolling up and down the canyon for the last several weeks and on Tuesday there was even a formation of three at once. One of my projects for this year was to try to capture a picture of one of them in flight, and this one might just be it.
After not seeing them for the last couple weeks, plenty of Southwestern Orangetips also were flying that day.
And in one of those surprising encounters, a Great Purple Hairstreak, one of the most incredibly colorful butterflies that we’d only seen once last year but have been seeing more often this spring, perched in the path for several close-up pictures and acted totally undisturbed by my presence for at least ten minutes.
The hits keep coming, so I’ll be going out there again tomorrow and the next days hoping for another of those surprising encounters with nature.