Circle A Ranch and the Sandias

This week started off with a good trip to the Circle A Ranch near Cuba, New Mexico with the Audubon Thursday Birders, and a reliable spot for Lewis’ Woodpecker and a little different habitat than we have around here.  We did get a good look at the woodpecker, but highlighted against the sun so the photos weren’t that great.  We were able to sneak up in the car, however, on this Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

and a Lark Sparrow.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Close to the main ranch building, it was interesting to see how the resident Acorn Woodpeckers store their acorns in cavities hammered into soft wood.


Acorn Woodpecker Granary

We didn’t see the usually quite active and comical woodpeckers that we’d seen the year before, but the owners pointed out several active nests, one of which had a female peering out.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

Accompanied by a pair of ranch dogs, we’d have a nice walk through the woods and meadows before getting a little lost just like last year, but eventually figuring out where we were and making our way back to the ranch house for lunch.  This place has a meadow that later in the summer after the rains come is covered in wildflowers and attracts a large number and variety of butterflies.  Even in late June, a few thistles were blooming and attracting good butterflies including our first Pine Whites of the year and large numbers of Northwestern Fritillaries.  On one of the thistles, in addition to a couple of fritillaries and Dun Skippers, I spotted this yellow Southern Dogface.

Southern Dogface

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia) with Northwestern Fritillaries and Dun Skippers

Over the next several days, we’d head to some of our favorite butterfly spots in the Sandias to see what was flying and one day were accompanied by Steve Cary, New Mexico butterfly guru and author of ‘Butterfly Landscapes of New Mexico,’ who was interested in checking out some of these areas with us.

Two of the good butterflies we’d spot on these visits included the Common and Small Wood-Nymphs.

Common Wood-Nymph

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

Small Wood-Nymph

Small Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis oetus)

We’d seen the Common a couple of times last August, but the Small Wood-Nymph was a new one for me, and there seem to be quite a few of both flying this year.  Another new one for me was the Pine White that was present in good numbers usually flying quite high at Circle A, but is now being seen in the Sandias as well.

Pine White

Pine White (Neophasia menapia)

So far, we’ve only seen the males, which have only the smallest bit of pink coloring on one wing in comparison with the more colorful females, so we’ll be watching for them in the weeks to come.

With the monsoon rains just getting kicked off yesterday, things have been quite dry everywhere.  Along the Bill Spring trail near the Doc Long picnic ground, we did find a very small area where water came to the surface and provided some nice mudflats and the first of the coneflowers had started to bloom.  This picture shows one of the coneflowers, busily being attended to by several Juniper Hairstreaks, a bee, and a bug Matt tells us is a Black and Yellow Lichen Moth (Lycomorpha pholus).

Juniper Hairstreak

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Most exciting at that spot was seeing what we first assumed was just another Hoary Comma, but was actually a California Tortoiseshell, a ‘lifer’ for both Rebecca and I.

California Tortoiseshell

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

A highlight of our morning there with Steve and reason for a rather rapid departure was my startling a black bear who must’ve wandered down for some water and hadn’t noticed our presence.  It jumped into a tree as we slowly moved away back toward the car. Unfortunately the conditions just weren’t right for a picture and we were more interested in putting some distance between us than in photography.  First bear I’ve seen in the Sandias in almost 30 years, so pretty cool.

Our spot at the 8000′ marker had a few coneflowers blooming as well, with plenty of quite fresh Northwestern Fritillaries about.

Northwestern Fritillary

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

Near the road, the Indian hemp or dogbane, was in full bloom and quite attractive to butterflies of all kinds, including five different hairstreaks, a Fulvia Checkerspot, and plenty of other species, such as this Field Crescent and very fresh Two-tailed Swallowtail.

Field Crescent

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

Two-tailed Swallowtail

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

At the top of the Crest were plenty of Taxiles Skippers, but few other butterflies yet since the rains hadn’t yet induced the summer wildflowers to bloom up there.

Taxiles Skipper

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

We ended the day with a short stop at San Antonio de Ojito Open Space where there was more dogbane reaching the end of its blooming season and a few other flowers around to attract a few species.  This pair of Orange Sulphurs were mating as I approached before flying off a short distance and resuming their activity uninterrupted.

Orange Sulphur

Mating Orange Sulphurs (Colias eurytheme)

Butterflies had been so good in those areas, we returned on Wednesday and again got some good looks at lots of good butterflies.  A favorite this year and present in surprisingly large numbers for the last few weeks is the Tailed Copper,  gorgeous from both a side view

Tailed Copper

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

as well as the top (on those rare moments when it opens up).

Tailed Copper

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

We also got to see several types of hairstreaks again, including the Banded Hairstreak

Banded Hairstreak

Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)

and the common Gray Hairstreak.

Gray Hairstreak

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

I’d also see my first Margined White of the year, nectaring on a colorful flower.

Margined White

Margined White (Pieris marginalis)

Hanging out with the butterflies on the Indian Hemp at the 8000′ marker was what I originally took for some kind of bizarre bee, but think is actually a Repetitive Tachinid Fly (Peleteria iterans).

Repetitive Tachinid Fly

Repetitive Tachinid Fly

Now that the monsoon rains have arrived, today was a good if humid day for the Audubon Thursday Birders to hit the Tijeras Ranger Station and then Ojito de San Antonio Open Space.  We saw nearly 40 bird species along with a few of those butterflies we’d seen there earlier in the week.  Bird of the day, though, was an Indigo Bunting that is not all that common in this area and gave us several good looks.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

There are only a few weeks left until August when this area is closed for several months to allow the black bears access to forage on the apricot, apple, and cherry trees that are now coming abundantly into fruit.


About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Photographs. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Circle A Ranch and the Sandias

  1. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Your pictures of the butterflies are wonderful. I loved the top view of the Tailed Copper but the side view is equally beautiful. That was a nice picture of the Indigo Bunting too.

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