Autumn is well and truly on at last and arguably the absolute best time of the year in Albuquerque. The weather gets a little cooler, the sky a bit bluer, and the cottonwoods, aspens, and asters reach their peak as we move through October. Since 1972, one of the highlights is the annual Balloon Fiesta when hundreds of hot-air balloons lift off every morning (weather permitting, and as seems typical, it didn’t a couple of days) for the 9 days of the fiesta. This is a picture of some of them from last Monday morning when I stopped by Tramway Wetlands to see if any birds were about.
The birds didn’t seem to mind all the action above them and may actually have been a little distracted by all the commotion since this Snowy Egret allowed me to get fairly close for a change.
Later that morning, I stopped by Bachechi Open Space near the Alameda Bridge where there were a few ducks and coots in the ponds and large flocks of goldfinches feeding on the sunflowers. A purple coneflower caught my eye since we don’t see them often around here and they can attract butterflies.
Now that the chamisa is in full bloom, on Tuesday I took my usual walk in Embudito Canyon and was glad to see that the butterfly action had picked up with a couple of Arizona Sisters, Variegated Fritillaries, and a few other species. Highlight of the morning, however, was getting a few pictures of a Cactus Wren busy preparing a nest for the winter. A few years ago, these birds weren’t all that common in this area, but it’s become clear that more recently they are nesting here and may be resident year-round.
Another cool sighting that day was this Black Widow Spider that seems to have taken up residence on the stucco wall around my yard. Not certain what it was at first, but those red marks on the under side of the female’s abdomen are a pretty clear field mark.
The Audubon Thursday Birder group headed up to the Randall Davey Audubon Center near Santa Fe this week on an absolutely gorgeous Fall day.
The trip produced an Evening Grosbeak, several Townsend’s Solitaires, Red-tailed Hawk, and a good number of other species. We even saw a few butterflies, a couple of dragonflies, and after wandering away from the group for a minute I nearly stepped on this guy, a Striped Whipsnake (I think), before he slithered off the trail and kept an eye on me for the next few minutes.
Saturday, my friend Rebecca and I drove down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area near Belen hoping to see some butterflies in what can be a pretty productive area for them. With plenty of asters and other flowers in bloom, we had pretty good luck there given it was a bit of a cool and breezy morning. Just as we had on our last visit in late September, a few Common Buckeyes were about that are always a (rare) treat to see.
A couple of Variegated Fritillaries also put in an appearance; this one couldn’t get enough of these yellow flowers.
On the way back, we drove down Edeal Road in Los Lunas, where we’d seen Sandhill Cranes poking around the harvested corn fields last year. Sure enough, there were quite a few of them there and the numbers will only increase as we move into November and thousands more make their way south during their annual migration. Something, probably a hungry raptor in the area, sent everybody off while we were watching. A few would return, but it seemed that most of them decided to continue south.
The plan today was to get up early and get some more balloon pictures on this last day of this year’s Balloon Fiesta. Prevailing winds, however, sent all of them south over the city so you couldn’t see nearly as many from my neighborhood as earlier in the week. And then I found myself watching Felix Baumgartner’s balloon ride way the heck up there to jump off and break the sound barrier on his way down – pretty amazing show, but that took care of the morning (although I did manage to winterize my swamp cooler and fire up the furnace while he spent a couple of hours rising into the sky). I did finally stumble out of the house and made another visit to nearby Embudito Canyon this afternoon, and found the chamisa was attracting even more butterflies than I’d seen earlier this week. In about an hour, at least 14 species of butterflies caught my attention, including this Red Admiral
and, new for me in this area (I’ve only seen them once before in New Mexico way up by the Colorado border late this past June), a couple of American Snout butterflies.
Just when you’d think the butterfly season is about over for the year, there may yet be a few more to be seen and new ones are always a treat.