Butterfly Late Season Surprises

Although I’ve been out and about most days since my last posting, the week started off a little slow as far as finding photographs to take. Things did pick up, however, as the days passed and I visited several new locations along with some of my usual haunts. The Audubon Thursday Birder group visited the Rio Grande Nature Center on November 25, and while we managed to see a few good birds, none of my pictures from that day were very good. By Saturday, a cold front came through and despite low expectations for seeing any butterflies, Rebecca and I headed out to Los Poblanos Open Space and later Willow Creek Open Space in Rio Rancho. The Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes are beginning to take up residence at Los Poblanos with numbers increasing every day.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

We also spotted a female Northern Harrier waiting patiently in an open field for a few minutes before it eventually flew off. As quiet as it was that chilly morning, we did manage to see a couple of butterflies at Los Poblanos and a surprising variety later in the morning at Willow Creek.

Monday, I headed over to Embudito in hopes of getting a better look at the Common Buckeye seen briefly during other recent visits.  With the chamisa still in full bloom, luck was with me and several of them were about along with several other species of butterfly.

Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Seeing all those butterflies nectaring on the freshest blooming chamisa gave me the idea to poke around the foothills the next day checking out different spots where chamisa grows.  Starting at Copper Open Space, right off I spotted a couple of buckeyes. They tend to be a bit more wary than some butterflies and require a slow and quiet approach.  As luck would have it, these would also turn out to be a different species of buckeye, the ‘Dark’ Tropical Buckeye, a new species for my life list!

Tropical Buckeye

‘Dark’ Tropical Buckeye
(Junonia evarete nigrosuffusa)

Closely related to the Common Buckeye, this one has a dark band on the forewing and a larger orange band along the outer wing edges. It was cool enough that morning that this Western Pygmy-Blue allowed me to get close enough for a picture of the smallest North American butterfly as it was quietly soaking up the warmth of the sun.

Western Pygmy-Blue

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exilis)

My next stop at the lower parking area for Embudo Canyon had plenty of chamisa blooming but few butterflies.  I did get a nice picture of a White-crowned Sparrow there busy eating seeds on the chamisa.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

On a whim, I next stopped at the parking lot at Whitewash Canyon (also called Piedra Lisa) after noticing quite a bit of chamisa in the area.  I’d been there a few times in the past without much luck, but this day would turn out differently.  Of all the bushes around, there were one or two that were attracting an unusually large number and variety of butterflies.  This would turn out to be a useful observation – for the last couple of weeks, pretty much any chamisa bloom would draw in butterflies, but as the blooming season draws to a close, only the few remaining really fresh blooms seem to attract everything in the neighborhood.

Rebecca and I had planned to meet the next day at Embudito where we’d seen that storm of snouts recently, but decided to start at Whitewash Canyon which she had never visited.  Those few fresh bushes were just as active as they’d been the day before, and we spotted ten different species on them.  This is a picture of an American Lady, one of the four species of the genus Vanessa seen in New Mexico.

American Lady

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

Moving along, we then went to Embudito where we racked up a total of fifteen species, a surprisingly large number for this late in the season and considerably more than we’d seen this time last year.  As was the case at Whitewash, all of the butterflies were drawn to the few remaining fresh blooms. There were even more (53) of the American Snout than on our last visit, and several real surprises that day.  Probably the biggest surprise was the only skipper we’d seen in recent weeks that would turn out to be an Apache Skipper, a butterfly we’ve only seen twice before.

Apache Skipper

Apache Skipper (Hesperia woodgatei)

Quite similar to the more common Pahaska Skipper (Hesperia pahaska), the Apache Skipper has a darker underside and a bit of white just behind the black antennae.  Another surprise for this location and this late in the season was a couple of Southern Dogface butterflies, this one sharing the bounty with an American Snout.

Southern Dogface

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia) and
American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

Also pretty unusual for the foothills were a couple of Hoary Commas.

Hoary Comma

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Yesterday, the Audubon Thursday Birder group headed off to Rinconada Canyon in the Petroglyph National Monument west of the Rio Grande. Although it wasn’t very birdy that morning, we were successful in getting excellent views of a most cooperative Sage Sparrow, our target bird for the day,

Sage Sparrow

Sage Sparrow

and were surprised to spot a Burrowing Owl perched on one of the bushes, since they have usually migrated out of the area in September.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Having to leave the group before the end of the walk meant missing what surely was a highlight of the morning for the group, a Striped Whipsnake devouring a young Western Diamondback rattlesnake.

So the week turned our surprisingly well for both birds and particularly butterflies.  Although I keep expecting the butterfly season to wind down any day now, in the words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over!”

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About joeschelling

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

One Response to Butterfly Late Season Surprises

  1. Some great photos. I envy you being able to photograph butterflies so late in the year. Most of the insects have shut down for the winter here in British Columbia.

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