Highlight of the past week was a long weekend road trip to Tucson in search of a few butterflies, including our primary target species, the Arizona Hairstreak (Erota quaderna). Luckily the weather was with us the whole time with bright sunny days, only reverting to windy dust storms (par for the course for the New Mexico spring) and back to winter cold and even a little bit of rain and snow after getting back home. At least that’s over now and the days ahead are looking pretty good. As usual, road trips are cause for taking lots of pictures and this trip was no exception so this posting may run a little long this week.
Our first stop was a place called Granite Gap way in the southeast corner of New Mexico south of Road Forks (about as remote as you can get in the state). Much drier this spring than last, there were few poppies to be seen and only a few patches of some bright yellow flowers that fortunately harbored nine species of butterflies, including the first of a large number of Golden-headed Scallopwings we’d see on the trip.
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was working its way through some low bushes near the flowers and let me get this interesting picture that just about made it out of the frame before I got it.
Then it was on to Tucson to check out a few spots we’d been to last year and a couple of new ones. Arriving in mid-afternoon, we drove up into the Santa Catalina Mountains on the road to Mt. Lemmon stopping at several spots we’d visited last year. Although we didn’t see too many butterflies on a bit of a breezy day, there were quite a few Pipevine Swallowtails around (as there would be everywhere that week)
and we got a great look at what was a new species for me, the Desert Marble.
We also had a couple of species of hummingbirds zipping around, including several Broad-billed Hummingbirds such as this guy whose colors just beamed when the sun would catch him just right.
On the way into one of our favorite spots, Peppersauce Canyon, (after a quick stop at the Pima Canyon trailhead a little too early in the day for butterflies) I spotted a rather large snake doing some cool sidewinder moves down the road.
And on the way back, there was another one making its way across the gravel road so I pulled over to take a picture, but the pickup truck behind me just speeded up to pass and ran right over the snake, which got tossed several feet up into the air. You’d think it would be curtains for that snake, but it slithered off apparently none the worse for wear. There must’ve been just enough give between the gravel and the tire and flexibility on the snake’s part to survive that, but you know that had to hurt.
Peppersauce was great for butterflies and we spotted 17 species during the afternoon there, including at least 40 individual Sagebrush Checkerspots.
Rather attractive from the top, they’re pretty amazing underneath, too.
I was a little surprised to see an American Snout that day, since we’ve only seen them at home in the fall, but apparently they can be seen all year in the south and fly spring to fall further north.
A couple other good ‘bugs’ there were the Southwestern Orangetip
and ‘Siva’ Juniper Hairstreak.
On the way back to town we decided to stop at Catalina State Park, which at first didn’t look too promising for butterflies with all the mowed grass picnic areas. Deciding to walk the short birding trail into the canyon, we ran into a couple of guys who told us about a spot a bit up the trail that had a little water and mentioned they’d seen a few butterflies there. A fairly small riparian area, it did have nice green grasses and obviously damp mud that proved a magnet for butterflies. In the time we spent there, we saw 16 species, the second highest number of any of the places we visited and definitely worth a return visit in the future. A special one for us, which we’d only seen once before last year in the Gila National Forest was the Common Streaky-Skipper, of which we’d see six individuals that day and several more in the next two days.
On the way back to the car, Rebecca recognized the call of a Verdin, a bird I’ve only seen a few times in the past, and which would eventually show itself and provide a good photo opp.
Acting on a tip from one of the local experts, Mary Klinkel, the next morning we headed for Madera Canyon, which she says ‘is just fabulous for butterflies right now’ and where about a dozen of those Arizona Hairstreaks had been seen recently. She got that right, as we’d get our highest daily total of 22 species there that day, including several pretty special ones.
We checked out a couple of areas along the road up Madera Canyon to spot a few species, including a popular blooming chokecherry tree and some flowering rosemary at the Santa Rita Lodge. Among the butterflies we saw were several Texan Crescents (of which we’d seen earlier in the trip),
and two species of our first metalmarks of the season, including at least a dozen Zela Metalmarks.
Parking at the picnic area at the end of the road, we weren’t too successful at first, but did spot two Arizona Hairstreaks rather quickly flitting around some oak trees. We didn’t get good looks at either of them, but since we’d seen a couple, we spent quite awhile working the oaks along a trail looking for them without much luck.
After taking a break for lunch, we took a quick look at the oaks again and then decided to look along the creek that ran down through the picnic area. Right at the edge of the road before heading down to the creek, we spent some time watching a Painted Redstart busily trying to cure that itch as it flew down to the water for some vigorous bathing then up to a tree to fluff its feathers and take care of some mites or whatever was causing the problem, before flying down for another bath. Comical to watch, every now and then it would take a break and pose for a picture.
Getting back to that creek – whoa, this should’ve been where we started! As soon as we got down there, we spotted an Arizona Hairstreak in the damp leaves near the creek, and as time went on, we’d see at least five individuals and get close enough for some pretty good pictures of them.
With that turquoise color and those golden highlights, I’m surprised Arizona chose the Two-tailed Swallowtail as their State Butterfly over this incredible species. I’d been wanting to see this species ever since first seeing it in the field guide, and it surely didn’t disappoint.
Speaking of State Butterflies, this is New Mexico’s, the Sandia Hairstreak I got a nice picture of earlier this week.
But wait, there’s more! The creek also had a very patient Sleepy Orange that allowed an even closer approach with my macro lens,
and several Short-tailed Skippers posing nicely in the sun.
There were even a variety of lizards poking around in the creek, including this Collared Lizard peeking at us over a rock.
All in all, a successful road trip with a total of 39 species over four days. On the way home, it was pretty much ‘pedal to the metal’, but we did stop in at Spring Canyon and Rockhound State Parks and despite it being pretty dry and the wind starting to blow managed to see seven butterfly species, including this Great Purple Hairstreak, one of my favorites and my first of the season.
Of course, my week wouldn’t be complete without seeing another Great Horned Owl, and in the same isolated saguaro where one nested last year just north of Tucson, sure enough we spotted the female with a nearly full-grown owlet.
They must’ve gotten started weeks earlier than the ones I’m watching in Albuquerque, but it’s got me thinking it’s time to go check our nests again and see if any little ones have popped up yet.