On Track to Spring

With last week’s success at finally locating a nesting Great Horned Owl near the Rio Grande at Pueblo Montano, it was starting to look like Spring is finally on the way.  Officially beginning next Wednesday, this year it appeared that the birds and butterflies were a couple of weeks behind schedule, but I’m pleased to report this week that things seem to be getting back on track.  On Monday, I was out checking a few other possiblities for owl nests without any success, but did get a nice look at a Red-tailed Hawk perched high up in a tree in Corrales.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

We’ve been seeing a surprising variety of hawks this year, but these guys with their dark heads and strongly-marked “belly bands” have been quite numerous and easy to identify.  Knowing that abandoned hawk nests are used by Great Horned Owls, searching for those nests before the trees leaf out is an easy way to locate them.  In this area, it’s mostly Cooper’s Hawk nests that are used, since the Red-tailed Hawks will soon head to northern Canada to breed.  Following a general description provided by a friend, the next day I spotted my second Great Horned Owl nest near Tingley Ponds a little south of where I’d looked last week.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Way up in a cottonwood tree but right next to the trail, this one was much easier to spot than the one last week and the nest looks more typical of those I’ve seen in past years.

At this time of year, Tingley Ponds are also great for a variety of ducks most of whom will soon head north in migration.  While they’re still around, they provide great photographic opportunities and I’m always glad when the surrounding water reflections work out.  Here are three of the ones from that day, first the male Common Goldeneye that is a little unusual to see here but has been around for several months now.

Common Goldeneye (male)

Common Goldeneye (male)

Huge numbers of Northern Shovelers have been present this year on just about any open water area.

Northern Shoveler (male)

Northern Shoveler (male)

And the flashiest of our local ducks, this shot of a male Wood Duck captures all of its most incredible colors.

Wood Duck (male)

Wood Duck (male)

The Audubon Thursday Birders headed down to Bosque del Apache this week on the first really warm and sunny day we’ve had this year.  A great day for birds, getting 73 species over the course of the day in our caravan of 12 vehicles.  Interestingly, several of the 43 species we’d seen on a scouting trip the week before when the weather wasn’t quite as cooperative weren’t seen this week despite all the eyes that were looking.  One of the new ones this week was a female Pyrrhuloxia that gave us quite good looks right at the Visitor Center.

Pyrrhuloxia (female)

Pyrrhuloxia (female)

A close cousin of the Northern Cardinal familiar to those back East, this is always a good bird to see, and is at about the northern limit of its range.  It was a good day for several species of shorebirds as well, including Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, a couple of sandpipers, and this well-disguised Wilson’s Snipe, hiding there in the lower right-hand corner of this picture.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Good to know they are real, after all those years of gullible Boy Scouts being sent out on their generally unsuccessful “snipe hunts”.

At the end of our trip, a friend who rode with Rebecca and I that day gave her a dozen fresh eggs from her organic farm.  Such a fabulous range of colors from pastel greens and blues to shades of pink and brown, I just had to take a picture before seeing how they tasted (fabulous, as one might expect).

Fresh Farm Eggs

Fresh Farm Eggs

In other good Spring news, the butterflies have started appearing as the weather begins to warm up.  For a couple of weeks now, we’ve been seeing a few Mourning Cloaks about.  These are one of the few butterfly species that over-winter in the leaf litter on the ground.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

The one I’ve been looking for, however, is the tiny thumbnail-sized Sandia Hairstreak.  The New Mexico State butterfly, last year we’d seen them as early as March 5, but despite several attempts this year, it wasn’t until March 13 this year that we finally saw one in a rather dependable spot in Embudito Canyon.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandii)

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandii)

Wikipedia says this butterfly is relatively rare, has a limited range, and was first identified in 1959 in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains.  It uses Texas Beargrass (Nolina texana) as its host plant and it seems prefers the larger plants usually near some protective scrub oak.  Returning on Friday, I spotted two individuals, so the annual emergence of these guys is off and running.  A friend I met along the trail mentioned seeing some other type of butterfly further up the canyon, so I headed there to see what I could see.  Several Mourning Cloaks and a few of what will turn out shortly to be a huge number of Litocala moths in the willow trees that line the upper canyon were present, but I also got a quick look at another butterfly and snapped its pictures.  Upon returning home, it turns out to be a California Tortoiseshell!

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

Most unusual, but apparently also a species that over-winters, we’d only seen this species twice last year in mid-summer near Doc Long Picnic Area on the back side of the Sandias.  This guy brings my species count for Embudito to 47, which seems pretty amazing to me – I’m betting this year I can get that count to 50 if I just get out there and keep looking.  Pretty cool when you consider my British friends tell me there are only 56 species overall in Britain.

With butterflies starting to emerge and the spring bird migration about to begin, the next few weeks should be pretty exciting.

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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.

3 Responses to On Track to Spring

  1. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Congratulations on the California Tortoiseshell and two Sandia Hairstreaks. I loved the picture of the beautifully-tinted eggs.

  2. Rosemarie Schelling says:

    Dear Joe, Thank you for your WONDERFUL Natural Moments.

    Your wood duck photo was perfect-What a beautiful duck!

    The fresh eggs-all colors. Did they taste as good as expected?

    I will be watching out for that mourning cloak butterfly-he just might show up here.

  3. ttreacy says:

    Great shots, Joe.

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