The first full week of Fall and New Mexico is entering my favorite time of year with crisp sunny days, super sunsets, and new colors appearing every day. For the first time ever, my naturally landscaped yard is covered in sunflowers and even attracting a few butterflies, Clouded Sulphur, West Coast Lady, and Common Checkered-Skipper among the latest visitors. Early in the week, it was down to Tingley Ponds and Los Poblanos Open Space ostensibly to look for dragonflies. Oddly, very few dragonflies were about, but I probably saw more species of butterflies there than I’ve ever seen down by the river. Several Flame Skimmer dragonflies were about, however, and posed nicely for pictures.
While poking around the pond, a highlight of the day was an Osprey that landed in a tree right above me, close enough to see those bright eyes and sharp talons.
When it realized I was right there, it took off and circled a few times before landing in a tree across the pond.
Not much shaking at Los Poblanos Open Space this week other than the hundreds of Clouded Sulphur butterflies working the alfalfa and sunflowers. A little late in the season for the usual patch of flowers and vegetables in the northwest garden corner and few birds around either. The resident pair of Greater Roadrunners were beeping about the garden, however, acting like I was invading their personal space.
The Audubon Thursday Birders headed out to Cochiti Lake and Pena Blanca last week, where we had a few good birds including flocks of Pinon Jays, a Lewis’ Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, and a late season female Western Tanager, but can’t say my pictures of any of them were very good since they were either tucked into the trees or way off in the distance. Best picture of the day was this robber fly holding prey nearly its own size. When I first spotted it, it was actually flying with that grasshopper and I thought it might be some kind of unusual butterfly.
Friday, Rebecca and I made our way back down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area on a rather overcast day in hopes of seeing a few butterflies. Despite the weather, we did rather well and saw all of the species we’d seen on a visit a week or so earlier. Right now is the time we see Monarchs making their way back to Mexico for the winter, and we’ll see them again in April-May as they head back north. That day, we added eight of them to our list that we submit to the Monarch Butterfly Journey North website. They have an animated map on their website where you can track the progress of the migration based on reports from people across the country. This one is nectaring on the flowering seep willow that we notice seems to attract quite a few species.
Near the Monarchs on our last couple of visits have always been a few Queens.
Someday, I’ll look into the origin of the names of these guys – there’s the Monarch and Queen, then similar but not quite as fancy, the Viceroy and Soldier – some bit of British input, I’m thinking. The genus Vanessa (the Lady butterflies) is another group with interesting names for similar appearing butterflies. Last week I posted pictures of the American Lady (V. virginiensis) and Painted Lady (V. cardui), so it was good this week to see the third of the ones we get here, the West Coast Lady with the fabulous name Vanessa annabella.
Also busy on the seep willow along with assorted bees and fig beetles were some fresh Common Buckeyes.
In a large patch of globe mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), it was fun to spot a couple of calligraphy beetles. I’m not sure why some are orange like this,
while others are more of a greenish-gold color. Maybe sex, age, subspecies?
Very cool patterns on these guys and different from the Caligrapha dislocata we saw in Sierra Vista AZ around this time last year, which also showed color variations.
Finally got around to using my macro lens a few times this week for those beetles and a few butterflies. My 70-300 mm zoom is usually on my camera since it’s great for birds and lets me shoot butterflies from a pretty good standoff distance, but every now and then the subjects are patient enough to let me get close enough for a close-up with my 100 mm macro lens. This Melissa Blue was the first butterfly I’ve photographed with the macro in a few months.
Since that came out pretty well, on Sunday I returned to Cienega Canyon on the east side of the Sandias to try and photograph a few of the butterflies we’d seen there the week before. While not quite as busy this time, there were a few good ones flying about and the macro lens did its job pretty well. This is one of those American Lady butterflies with that little white spot in that orange cell I recently heard was a good quick way to separate them from the others,
and this is a pretty good shot of one of the thousands of Clouded Sulphurs we’re seeing just about everywhere this year.
And at the Rio Grande Nature Center yesterday, not only did I see another one of those migrating Monarchs, but got a nice macro shot of one of the smallest butterflies in the world and the smallest butterfly in North America, the Western Pygmy-Blue, which are quite common right now but easy to overlook with their 1/2 inch wingspan.
Butterfly season will be winding down soon with the colder weather coming, but with all the recent rain there should be a little burst of activity, which along with the onset of bird migration, should provide some good photo opportunities.