In my last post, I mentioned it seemed about time for a road trip to someplace a little cooler and wetter, and so off we went on Friday for a long weekend based out of Eagle Nest in northern New Mexico, with day trips to Taos Ski Valley, Cimarron Canyon State Park, Angel Fire, Coyote Creek State Park and Valle Vidal. Just what the doctor ordered – the weather was cool and we even got a little rain every day, not to mention some new butterflies and several good birds. Lots of pictures this time so this post might get a little long, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Before we hit the road, the Audubon Thursday Birders spent the morning at Manzano Pond and Quarai National Monument, where we got to see a good variety of birds and other creatures despite the ongoing drought and heat. The pond had a few dragonflies buzzing about and I managed to photograph a couple of them. This Flame Skimmer posed rather artistically on a blade of grass.
But my favorite was a Blue-eyed Darner I managed to catch in flight and remembered to adjust the exposure to keep it from getting blown out, although it was a little dark to stop those wings without using a flash.
A highlight for me at Quarai was getting to see the nearly adult Great Horned Owls that were still around several weeks after all our local young ones disappeared into the woods. A pair of adults has successfully hatched little ones here the last few years and seems to have found a good home high up in the ruins of the old Spanish mission.
Up early on Friday, it was off to Eagle Nest by way of Santa Fe and Taos. Our first stop was at Taos Ski Valley, which had lots of wildflowers in bloom and rainclouds building above. The flowers drew in a variety of butterflies, many we’d been seeing regularly at home, but a few high altitude species including the first Common Alpines and Common Ringlets we’d see in other places later in the trip. Usually rather common around here, we haven’t seen all that many Painted Lady butterflies this year due to the drought, but there were a few around in the cooler, wetter air of the mountains.
A great one and first of the season for us was this Large Marble visiting one of the many Blue Flax flowers.
Late that afternoon after enjoying getting caught out in a brief rainstorm and checking into the motel, we took a quick look at the habitat near the lake shore, spotting a few Greenish Blues and Spalding’s Blues, first of the season for us. Last year, a Spalding’s Blue turned out to be a Bernalillo County record for us, and looking online it seems we might have a Colfax County record for this species as well. The next morning, we headed back to that area to look successfully for its host plant, redroot buckwheat. Not only did we find plenty of buckwheat in the fields just west of the lake, but nearly twenty individual butterflies of that species – here’s a picture of one of them on the buckwheat.
It would prove to be quite an interesting morning, with a quick look at only my second ever Western Green Hairstreak and my first ever Riding’s Satyr (the first of three ‘lifers’ I’d get on the trip).
It’s always interesting to see how quickly butterflies disappear when clouds appear and then pop right back out the instant the sun returns – we’d see this phenomenon time and time again on this trip. With the sun out and clear skies, we drove down through Cimarron Canyon that morning, fortuitously stopping at a pull off along the way that turned out to have a large stand of blooming Dogbane. I say fortuitously because we hadn’t noticed it or any butterflies around when we first pulled off, but immediately spotted it nearby and noticed lots and lots of various butterflies actively nectaring on it. There’s a similar spot at about 8000′ in the Sandias that was great for butterflies last summer but is closed due to fire restrictions this year. One of the most common butterflies at this pull off, and also one I’d seen for the first time last year, is the Silvery Checkerspot. This butterfly is similar (and related) to some of the Crescents we usually see, but has distinctive spots one can see from both above and below.
Another butterfly hanging out on the dogbane was an Acmon Blue, whose picture shows its fabulous coloring and patterns.
Heading a little further down the canyon, we found another small patch of dogbane with a few more species, and another plant being visited by a Weidemeyer’s Admiral.
With the clouds closing in, we called it a day and headed back to Eagle Nest.
Sunday morning started off with clear skies, so we first hit the area around the lake hoping to see that Western Green Hairstreak again and to check a couple of other likely looking habitats for other butterflies. The clouds started building quickly, however, especially to the north so we headed south instead toward Angel Fire and later Coyote Creek State Park. Still a bit cloudy when we first arrived at Angel Fire and few butterflies about, but the first one Rebecca spotted has been on our target list for quite some time and was another lifer for me, the Milbert’s Tortoiseshell!
Too chilly to fly very far, it took off once while we were watching only to settle back down nearby giving us plenty of opportunity to take photographs. Also around that morning were several Western Bluebirds, one of which was hunting along the ground for something to eat.
I’d never seen this behavior before and it was fascinating to watch it hop around with its wings spread wide until it made its catch, which it looks quite proud of.
Coyote Creek was also pretty good for birds and butterflies, but again we found ourselves waiting out the clouds that came and went. I’d expect more dragonflies and damselflies in the riparian habitat there, but only saw a few including this one that I haven’t yet been able to identify but like how the picture turned out.
I also got a pretty nice shot of a female Taxiles Skipper there that we’d also seen at several other locations.
Stopping on the way back at the lake habitat, we again got several good pictures of those Spalding’s Blues and a couple of other species, including a very fresh Variegated Fritillary.
Monday morning and the last day of our trip, we drove back through Taos and north to Costilla to visit the fabulous Valle Vidal. Quite a few Black-billed Magpies were flying about, which don’t make it very far south of Santa Fe, and we spotted a pair of Lewis’ Woodpeckers, which aren’t all that common anywhere.
The drive to Valle Vidal is incredibly scenic near treeline and along a swiftly flowing creek and wide grassy meadows. Quite popular with the fly-fishing set, who were out in considerable numbers. Once again, the clouds were building up as the morning progressed (but nobody’s complaining – we’ll take any rain we can get!), so we didn’t see quite as many butterflies as we’d hoped, but did get a few good ones when the sun was out. This is a picture of a Common Alpine, which we’d seen earlier at Taos Ski Valley and last year at the Santa Fe Ski Area.
Another good one for the trip that we’d seen in several locations but that I’d only seen once last year is the Common Ringlet.
On the way back down the canyon, we spotted the best bird of the trip and one I’d only seen once before decades ago, the American Dipper.
This bird is only found in this habitat of fast moving mountain streams and has a habit of bobbing up and down on rocks before jumping into the water and swimming or even walking along the stream bottom – quite a thrill to see!
A fabulous trip and a wonderful break from the heat and drought, it was just a treat to return home and find that the weather came right along with us. Finally, it’s a little cooler in Albuquerque and the last few days have seen clouds developing late in the afternoon that even dropped a bit of rain late in the evenings. Not quite the monsoon, but a very favorable development that hopefully will get a few things blooming around here, a few more butterflies out and about, and maybe even some easing of those fire restrictions soon.