It’s interesting how many people you run into when you tell them you’re out looking for butterflies, will tell you about all the Monarchs they saw up the trail. I can only assume most people call pretty much any butterfly they happen to notice a ‘Monarch’, and may have made that mistake myself before getting so caught up in chasing them over the last couple of years. Of the 321 species of butterflies in New Mexico (about 1/3 of which I’ve seen in the last two years since I started looking), Monarchs aren’t all that common and so far this year have only seen them six times. And trust me, we’ve been looking since our state ‘Butterfly Guy’ Steve Cary asked us and others to submit details of any sightings to a migration study he’s conducting.
Last Wednesday, Rebecca and I went to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area near Belen to look for butterflies and were fortunate to see several actual Monarchs. Didn’t get any good pictures and some of the ones we saw were quite worn, so this is a picture of one I got last year.
What was interesting that day was seeing two other species that are pretty similar and cause us to look closely to decide what we’ve got. One is the Viceroy,
which is very similar in size and coloring, but has that distinctive line across the hindwing; another is the Queen,
big and orange, too, but considerably different in appearance if you’re lucky enough for it to land long enough to get a good look at it.
We also saw several other good butterflies that day including the tiny Western Pygmy-Blue
and a number of Pearl Crescents and Bordered Patches.
There were quite a few cool grasshoppers popping around and a few different species of damselflies and dragonflies, including this one, which was pretty unusual because of its yellow coloring and blue eyes. Haven’t seen it before, but think it likely is some kind of snaketail.
The next day, it was back up into the Sandias with the Audubon Thursday Birder group to check out Balsam Glade and then that incredible log at Capulin Springs again. Although I didn’t see any bears this time, one of our group did get a look at one on the drive up – it’s been a good year for bear sightings. Balsam Glade had a couple of good birds including this cryptic Brown Creeper that merges almost indistinguishably into the tree bark background, and you might have to zoom in on the picture to even see it.
An Audubon’s Warbler was also there that day, posing calmly for a picture.
And, as always, our visit to the famous log at Capulin Spring produced a new species for me. On several visits this year, each time a few new birds have shown up to what seems an irresistible attraction of a shallow trickling bathing and drinking spot. This time, along with the Red-breasted Nuthatches, Red Crossbills, and Dark-eyed Juncos, it was the normally reclusive Hermit Thrush.
It really does make one wonder what makes this spot so interesting to the birds as there are plenty of other watering holes hidden in the woods that don’t seem to draw anywhere close to the number of species I’ve seen there.
On Friday, I spent the morning on a walk to Domingo Baca Canyon and was surprised at how few birds or butterflies or pretty much anything were around that day, and guess maybe there’s just a pause in the action until fall migration or a last butterfly hatch gets underway. About the only creatures I saw that day were several lizards on the trail that would quickly scurry away. Looking at one of them more closely, however, I realized it was a species I hadn’t seen in the Sandias before, a Collared Lizard.
That sighting pretty much made my day being a first for the area and one of only a few sightings in the last couple of years of these amazingly patterned creatures. Saturday, it was off to Corrales to see what might be around, but again it was pretty quiet. The Green Heron that had been there along the ditch at Romero Road a couple of weeks ago apparently had moved on, but I did see the Cooper’s Hawk right where it had been before. Highlight of the day, however, was when I first arrived and noticed right by the parking lot an unusually dark butterfly that turned out to be a Black Swallowtail,
a species I’ve seen only a couple of times this year. Stopping by the Tramway Wetlands on the way home again proved productive with quite the variety of sandpipers and a couple of snowy egrets, a Great Blue Heron, and several kinds of ducks; this morning when I stopped by for a look there was even a White-faced Ibis poking around in the shallow water. No good pictures from those visits since they were a bit too far away for my lens, but still fun to see.
And just when you thought autumn was here and surely all the creatures out there must be getting ready for the winter that follows, my friend Steve told me about a Greater Roadrunner nest at the Rio Grande Nature Center with two little ones being closely watched by the nearby mother. Mom clucked at me as I approached so I only took a couple of pictures before backing off to leave them to get on with the business of growing up.