Last week, I mentioned how we had successfully verified seeing a Spalding’s Blue butterfly on its host plant, red-root buckwheat, in the area where we’d first seen the butterfly for a county record last year. On the suggestion of our State expert, Steve Cary, we headed back there last week in search of the caterpillar form expected to be present now that the buckwheat blooming period is reaching a peak. On one of the first plants we looked closely at was this tiny little guy, and we hoped we were onto something here.
My knees are getting a little old for this kind of thing, but we then examined pretty much all of the 50 or so plants in the area and saw about three more of these little ones and then this one big fella who was about three times the size of the little ones.
We’re still not sure if this is a Spalding’s Blue or perhaps a more common Geometer Moth caterpillar, but are heading back later this week to look some more. The Spalding’s Blue goes through four stages or instars where it sheds its skin and takes on a little different appearance each time before heading underground as a chrysalis for the winter before reaching the adult butterfly stage. The more I think about all this, the more fascinating it becomes. How do the adults ever locate this specific plant to deposit their eggs and what is it about this plant that it is the only one they use for that purpose? How amazing is it how closely the caterpillars match the coloring of the blooming buckwheat and are able to nearly vanish in the foliage? Incredible.
Not too many butterflies out and about this week, maybe due to the cloudy weather we’ve been having some days or the continuing drought, but we did see a few Field Crescents and one Small Wood-Nymph.
It was also entertaining to spot a mess of Abert’s Squirrels in the trees at Cienega Canyon – there were at least five of what I presume were immature squirrels jumping around chasing each other in a most comical manner; unfortunately, it was a little dark for a picture.
The highlight this week for me, however, was the birds. After scoping out the trip on Wednesday, Rebecca led the Audubon Thursday Birder group on what would turn out to be an exceptional trip for this time of year in Corrales. Our first stop was the Tramway Wetlands, where we’d see a good variety of shorebirds and ducks, a pair of Cooper’s Hawks, a Belted Kingfisher, and this Snowy Egret, who would soon take off and give us a good show as it circled over us several times.
Next up was Sandia View Academy, where we’d seen a Mississippi Kite the previous day. The visit on Thursday was just incredible with close views of two adults
and then someone in the group spotted a nest with an immature close to fledging.
The best looks I’ve ever gotten of this bird, the day would be a success if we’d stopped then. But, nope, it was on to Romero Road for some more good birds.
Walking along the ditch bank at one point, I spotted a Cooper’s Hawk surveying its territory from a shaded perch, who stayed long enough for everyone to get a good look before zooming off into the woods.
A real treat that morning, too, was a Green Heron working the ditch and pretty much unperturbed by our presence, most unusual for these birds that are usually quick to fly away and rarely allow such a close approach.
All in all, a most successful day of birding.
Late Sunday morning, we took a quick trip down to an area in the South Valley we hadn’t birded before to look for the rather unusual Upland Sandpipers that had been reported there. Formerly the site of Price’s Dairy, this area has been approved for development as the first urban national wildlife refuge. We did finally spot a couple of the sandpipers (and a couple of other birders) off in the distance but also saw a variety of other typical species for this flooded field habitat including these yellow-headed blackbirds.
So it’s off tomorrow in search of the mighty caterpillar once again, and who knows, maybe there will be an opportunity for some more good pictures in the coming week.