After being away for awhile on that excellent trip to Wyoming and Montana a couple of weeks ago, it was good to get back to check on some of my usual haunts this week. The monsoon season has been well underway for almost a month now and things have been greening up nicely. Trips last weekend and early this week took me up to several spots in the Sandias and Las Huertas and Embudito Canyons to look into the butterfly situation. The long drought has had a pretty significant effect on species and numbers of butterflies this year in contrast to last year, and fewer of them this year seems to be the case both here in New Mexico and Arizona. This year it seems I also missed the blooming of the Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum) at the 8000’ Marker in the Sandias, where we’d seen lots of different butterflies last year. Without its blooms to attract any butterflies, I considered it lucky to spot a single Tailed Copper this past weekend.
It was entertaining to watch a whole family of chipmunks hustling among the rocks, occasionally stopping to nibble on a flower and see what I was doing.
Seems I also missed the blooming of the Orange Milkweed (Ascleplias tuberosa) this year. The few of these plants in a meadow in Las Huertas Canyon were also quite attractive to butterflies last year, but had finished blooming by the time I made it up there this week. A cloudy day there meant few butterflies were about, but I did manage to scare up several Northwestern Fritillaries waiting out the clouds on the ground. The situation was better in Cienega Canyon, where Rebecca and I went last Saturday, then I returned again on Tuesday, and again on Thursday with the Audubon Thursday Birders. We saw good numbers of both Common and Small Wood-Nymphs each time along with a few other species.
Not too happy with the pictures from the first visit, I tried again the following Tuesday. Not only was I able to get better pictures of the Wood-Nymphs, but I was treated to a visit from a Great Purple Hairstreak, the amazing butterfly that first turned me on to this butterfly business.
That blue flash on the outer forewing means it’s a male, and it perched patiently on that coneflower for at least a half an hour.
The detail in the eye of a Juniper Hairstreak from that day came out pretty well.
and here’s one from the Saturday visit that better shows off the markings and coloration of this species.
A little slow for birding on the Thursday Birder trip later in the week, but on the way back, Rebecca and I stopped at the turnoff to Calle del Caballo, where we’d first found the Redroot Buckwheat (Eriogonum racemosum) favored by the tiny Spalding’s Blue, a butterfly we’d first seen (a Bernalillo County record!) in 2011 and found again this year (another County record, this time for Colfax County!). Sure enough, we spotted a single individual hanging out on its buckwheat host plant.
Keeping up with this week’s trend for catching up on old favorites, on Wednesday I decided to head over to the abandoned buildings behind Sandia View Academy in Corrales to see if by chance the Mississippi Kites had nested there again this year. Although I didn’t see any evidence of a nest, it was a treat seeing a couple of the birds perched in the same spots as last year, and while I was photographing this immature one noticed two more pairs of them circling high above the area. You can tell this one is an immature bird because of the yellowish eyes.
The adults have bright ruby red eyes like this one.
Friday it was off to check in on the Burrowing Owls. Although several reside in the burrow at the Black Arroyo Dam, they seem rather skittish and I only saw a single one there that morning deep in shadow and scurrying back into the burrow when I approached. Since it was reasonably close, I then decided to see how the burrow at Richland Hills was faring. These owls (I’d see three of them) seem a bit more habituated to people and let me take their picture without bothering them, although they clearly had their eyes on me the whole time.
The original burrow they’d used had been completely buried in sand apparently during a recent flash flood, but they’d simply moved a little further up the arroyo to a new burrow. One of them finally had enough of me and flew a little further away to the top of a small hill. I wasn’t quite able to get focused on it as it took off, but captured the moment in this picture.
Saturday, Rebecca and I went in search of the elusive Rita Blue, a butterfly we’ve been hoping to see for the last couple years. For this quest, we did some serious research, looking up several references for where it had been reported in the past and consulting with Steve Cary (New Mexico’s resident butterfly expert) on where and when to see it. Unsuccessful at our first stop at Cerrillos Hill State Park, we did manage to identify the species of buckwheat it liked, Buckwheatbrush (Eriogonum corymbosum), but nothing was flying early in the morning. After checking out a couple of other reporting locations in the vicinity, we tried again at Cerrillos Hills. This time, success(!), and we’d spot a handful of individuals of both sexes along the road between the parking area and a spring.
It’s always fun getting to see a few of the old regulars out there, but there’s nothing better than seeing something entirely new every now and then.