Spring really got underway this past week with sightings of some good birds and more species of butterflies than I’ve been seeing in the past few weeks. I got out last Sunday to check on progress with two of the four Great Horned Owl nests and did get better pictures of both. Busy with other things early in the week, it wasn’t until Wednesday that I was able to get out and check on the other two nests. This time, I did get a little better picture of the one nesting near the Alameda Bridge and see she had her eye on me the whole time.
No owlets at any of the nests just yet and it’ll probably be a few more weeks before that happens. A couple of other good birds that morning included this pair of Wood Ducks floating in an acequia,
and a Red-tailed Hawk that flew off as I approached.
I’ve noticed several of the Wood Ducks hanging out in the trees lately, which I imagine means they are also getting ready to start nesting.
This week the Audubon Thursday Birders visited the Los Poblanos Open Space, which was a little slow for birding since the fields have all recently been plowed limiting the availability of decent habitat. Nonetheless, we tallied a good number of birds (it’s always good to end the day with more bird species than participants). A pair of Greater Roadrunners posed nicely for us in the community garden area and seemed undisturbed by our presence as they foraged about.
I also like this picture of a Northern Flicker perched high enough in a tree to not appear threatened by us.
Friday and Saturday were focused on checking several sites in the Sandias for butterflies. After getting off to a late and pretty slow start this year, this weekend we’re starting to see quite a few more species and had several rather incredible moments out there. On Friday, we decided to take a look in Las Huertas Canyon at the north end of the Sandias, which has water all year-round and turned up some good butterflies last summer.
Shortly after entering the canyon, a fruit tree full of blooms caught our attention with some bees and lots of those Litocala moths that are everywhere at this time of year flying around. Looking a little closer, we spotted our first Thicket Hairstreak of the season,
and had a couple of Mourning Cloaks (of the more than 20 we’d see that morning) stop by to nectar.
That was the only tree we’d see blooming, but further up the canyon, we stopped whenever we spotted willows which are just coming into bloom. These have also been good lately for attracting all those moths as well as a few butterflies. Two really good ones to see this early in the season were a Hoary Comma, of which we’d see four individuals that morning,
and a Rocky Mountain Duskywing.
On the way back after lunch, we decided to take a quick look in Embudito Canyon on the dry western side of the Sandias, where we’d been seeing Sandia Hairstreaks and a few other species since about mid-March. The Southwestern Orangetip should be flying about now, and sure enough we started seeing them there and in a couple of other locations over the next several days. The gooseberry plants that will attract them soon are starting to leaf out but haven’t yet started blooming, so spotting one usually involves looking for a single tiny white butterfly among all the dark moths, since they rarely seem to land or when they do, they just vanish in the brush. I did finally luck out and get a picture of one this morning, a nice male that stopped for a few seconds on a low cedar.
Having had such a great day at Las Huertas, the next day we decided to check out Hondo Canyon, Sulphur Canyon, and Doc Long Picnic Area, all on the east side of the Sandias. We’d been to Doc Long a couple of weeks ago, but there was still a bit of snow around and it was a little chilly for anything other than the overwintering Mourning Cloaks that are usually the first to start flying in the spring. It was probably a little too early in the day at Hondo, but we did spot our first Spring White of the season there.
Sulphur Canyon surprised us with several Mourning Cloaks and a couple of Hoary Commas all clustering on a small grouping of trees. Usually, we see these species individually either sailing up and down the canyon or perched on the side of a tree or the ground. Seeing so many at once is quite unusual for me, but was just a taste of what we’d find later that morning.
In a favorite spot from last summer at Bill Spring just up the trail from the Doc Long Picnic Area, we’d come upon another small stand of trees, which I’m pretty sure is Box Elder (Acer negundo), that once again had a large number (10-15) of Mourning Cloaks resting on the bark. There may have been a bit of sap on these trees that was attracting all the butterflies to them. Not only Mourning Cloaks, we’d also see several Hoary Commas, a California Tortoiseshell,
and a Satyr Comma.
Both the Tortoiseshell and that Satyr Comma are pretty unusual for us to see around here. We only saw the Tortoiseshell twice last year in mid-summer and have never seen a Satyr Comma in the Sandias before.
At the spring, it was a treat to see that the little bit of water there is still attracting various birds, including Red-breasted Nuthatches which we’d seen bathing and drinking here all last summer.
It truly is wonderful to be able to get out there for these natural moments as the seasons change from one to the next.