Spring has finally kicked in around here with warming temperatures, a few more blooms in evidence, and just enough rain to get water flowing again in some of the mountain creeks. We’re still in the worst drought in the country, however, so spring has been slow to arrive, there are way fewer flowers and butterflies around than last year, and the whole show just seems off to a delayed start.
In preparation for this week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip, I poked around Tuesday in Embudito Canyon seeing what birds were about. It was great to finally note running water at the canyon mouth, even if greatly reduced in volume compared to previous years. Although I didn’t spot the Scott’s Oriole we’d hear calling and catch a quick glimpse of on Thursday, I did get good close looks at a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers to show to everybody later in the week.
Also hanging out in the canyon were both Gambel’s Quail and Scaled Quail, one of the latter I seemed to surprise in the cactus.
Having not checked in on the status of things for almost two weeks in the three Great Horned Owl nests I’ve been watching, that afternoon it was off to visit the ones near the Alameda and Montano Bridges. A lot has been going on at both of them, with three little ones at Alameda getting very close to fledging and leaving the nest for good – this guy is probably the smallest of them and looks to have a couple of weeks to go.
Both owlets at Montano had also grown considerably since my last visit and were quite actively looking around upon hearing me stomping around down below. You can just make out Mom there on the left, and the guy in the middle is really taking on its adult plumage.
The next morning was a little cloudy, but that actually made it easier to get pictures of the two little ones at the third nest way up in a cottonwood near Tingley Ponds. I think this nest got going a week or so after the others, so they’ll probably still be hanging around for awhile after the other nests are abandoned.
In other baby bird news, Killdeer are now actively nesting and I went to visit two places where that”s been going on. One is right next to the parking lot at the Rio Grande Nature Center easily located by the orange cones and “Under Construction” tape surrounding the nest.
The nest is surprisingly (but typically) crude; just a depression in the dirt with a few pebbles and twigs around it. Probably not a good idea to disturb nesting, since the adult moves away trying to distract intruders leaving the eggs unprotected, only their patterning providing simple but effective camouflage.
The second nest was in an even more ridiculous location on a soccer field in a park at Rio Rancho. Apparently nesting was a success, however, as at least one little one was running around the field with the parents watching nearby. The little one could not have been more than a few days old, but had already learned important survival tactics. It wouldn’t let me get closer than about 20 yards or so and carefully made its way toward the edge of a field where a tree shaded the rock-covered base. Quickly darting up the hill, the juvenile simply disappeared in the shadows and only by assuming it still had to be there and looking carefully was I finally able to pick him out of the background. Amazing.
The Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Embudito turned up several more species than I’d found earlier in the week, including that Scott’s Oriole, a Cooper’s Hawk, and a Red-tailed Hawk, so although it was still pretty quiet up there, it was a good trip with a good list of species overall. Several more hummingbirds, both Black-chinned and Broad-tailed, were also around that day.
That afternoon, a couple of us headed off to Hondo Canyon in search of a few butterflies. Usually a pretty good location this time of year with a small waterfall and lots of chokecherry, we seemed to have missed most of the chokecherry bloom and the drought seemed to keep other plants from leafing out, so we weren’t very successful. The first, and one of my favorite, butterflies we did see, however, is the Great Purple Hairstreak, nectaring on one of the few blooming chokecherries.
Western Tanagers and Black-headed Grosbeaks are showing up in good numbers pretty much everywhere these days, and add color and music to those wanderings in the woods.
Saturday, it was off on another butterfly quest to Las Huertas, which always has water and usually good butterflies. A little windy, cloudy, and cool, there weren’t many butterflies around that morning, although the chokecherries were still looking good and there were several other flowers in bloom that attracted the few we would see. I did spot an interesting large moth just hanging out by the side of the road, which looks like it’s probably a Spotted Apatelodes Moth.
Since the weather was keeping butterfly activity down, we decided to continue on up the canyon and over to the east side of the Sandias on a fairly decent dirt road that I’ve only driven from the other side a couple of other times. We stopped to check out several of our usual spots, noting that the wild iris are just about ready to burst into bloom near the Tree Spring Trailhead and that they’ve finally opened Cienega Canyon to visitors again. We were amazed at the number of Field Crescents flying around the meadow and actively nectaring (as many as three individuals on a single bloom) at the few dandelions in the area.
We had a couple of other new species for the year there (Margined White, Western Tailed-Blue), but will have to visit again soon when the lupines will hopefully start blooming. With the drought so bad this year unless we get some rain soon, many of these areas may soon be closed to the public and it could prove difficult finding places to go for birds and butterflies until the usual summer “monsoon” kicks in.