Despite the springtime winds that popped up pretty much every day this week, it was a good week for butterflies, birds, and even a few cool-looking lizards and other surprises. Thursday would see the Thursday Birder group off to Otero Canyon in the East Mountains for a variety of vireos and flycatchers and several butterflies. Usually singing loudly and constantly but pretty difficult to spot, this Plumbeous Vireo probably didn’t realize he could be seen up there singing for all he was worth.
This Two-tailed Swallowtail, one of several floating around the canyon, paused to take a break on a nice muddy spot.
Later in the week, we’d see the similar Western Tiger Swallowtail for the first time this season. With the wind forecast to be a little lighter, the next day we were off looking for butterflies in a few favorite spots in the Sandias, including Cienega Canyon, Doc Long, the 8000′ marker, and Ojito de San Antonio.
Quite a good day for butterflies and much livelier than it had been just a week earlier. The meadow at the 8000′ marker provided an amazing sight of incredible numbers (hundreds!) of Painted Lady butterflies nectaring on dandelions.
I’d found it interesting just a short while ago to find more than one butterfly on the same plant, so seeing so many swirling around that day was absolutely remarkable. Two other butterflies we’d see there and get good pictures of were an Acmon Blue and Margined White.
Lower on the mountain, we’d see our first Northwestern Fritillary and Arctic Blue of the season; here’s a picture of the latter.
Not having very high expectations after our last visit to Ojito, we’d get excellent looks at two good butterflies this time, a first of the season Gray Hairstreak
and a remarkably patient Wiedemeyer’s Admiral.
Sunday, with the week of ridiculously windy weather expected to end, it was off to the area around Capitan NM in an unsuccessful search for some rare hairstreak butterflies. The wind was still blowing at our first stop at the BLM Valley of Fires Recreation Area, where we’d see a few butterflies but also a colorful Eastern Collared Lizard.
Although we missed out on our target hairstreaks, among the butterflies we did see were close to a dozen Western Tiger Swallowtails nectaring on a butterfly bush outside the Smokey Bear Park.
After seeing only Two-tailed Swallowtails around for the last month or so, it’s clear summer is on its way when these show up and with a close enough look easy enough to distinguish them with their thicker banding and darker thorax.
During the trip we’d see what we’re pretty sure is a Mexican Sootywing and a couple of Common Sootywings, both of which were new to me.
On the way back home, we stopped at Gran Quivira and Quarai, two of the three Spanish mission ruins that make up Salinas National Monument. Neither of us had been to Gran Quivira before, which is a surprisingly large site, and Quarai had been great for butterflies a few weeks earlier. Got a picture of another lizard, the Little Striped Whiptail, at the former and a new butterfly for the season, a Melissa Blue, at the latter.
We did stop in to see how “Blinky”, the forlorn Great Horned Owl I mentioned in a recent post, was doing. He seems to be doing fine now and has learned how to fly a little, so will probably be taking off soon.
Not only that, but this time we got to see its sibling, “Winky” (of course), sitting in the shade close by while the adults watched carefully from the nearby cottonwoods.
Tuesday, I finally got around to going to the Nature Center to track down the nesting Green Heron I’d heard about a few days earlier. Despite perfect directions, it still took a few minutes to spot the nest tucked deep in a Russian olive tree.
You do have to zoom in and look closely at the picture to see that rusty color of the breast and that yellow eye staring back at you.
Heading back to my car I just happened to look up and saw a large bird circling above; something like an eagle or a hawk, surely not a TV (turkey vulture) – turned out to be a Common Black-Hawk, which is quite rare in this area. Snapping away hoping to get a picture, I finally got this one when a Raven started harassing it and chased it around for the next several minutes.
That was a pretty extraordinary sighting, so it seemed about time for a blog update. But today would turn out even more amazing on a morning trip to Las Huertas Canyon to see if there might be any butterflies in an area we rarely visit. Kicked things off pretty well with this guy –
an immature bobcat Rebecca somehow spotted hiding a little ways up a cliff face. It does look pretty much like somebody’s housecat until you notice those ear tufts and a bit more dangerous mouth. Most cool and only the third time I’ve seen one in New Mexico. That would’ve been enough to make my day, but we’d soon find ourselves in some amazing butterfly territory, ending the morning with several new species for the season and a total of about two dozen species overall. Among them were a number of Wiedemeyer’s Admirals, which we’d been seeing recently but not getting good pictures of from the top.
And particularly exciting was seeing the Arizona Sister, which we’d only seen fleetingly a couple of times in the last several weeks, but finally got one that would pose for pictures.
Just to give you an idea of how magical it was there this morning, here’s a picture of an Arizona Sister (lower left), Mourning Cloak (top center), and Wiedemeyer’s Admiral (lower right).
We’ll certainly be hitting that area again soon to see what else might be around, and I certainly have to end this update before any more surprises appear in the upcoming days. Stay tuned.