This past week has been a good one for seeing a few new things for the year – new birds, new butterflies, and even a few new babies. Although I’ve been seeing them for several weeks now, last Monday in Embudito Canyon a most cooperative Hoary Comma posed nicely for one of the better butterfly pictures I’ve ever gotten.
This guy had a real thing for this particular patch of wet gravel and kept returning after flying off when a shadow passed over or it was attacked by another butterfly. What really gets me about this picture is how obvious that little white mark or “comma” is that led to its common name, and that you can clearly see the shortened front legs that place it in the brushfoot family. All butterflies have six legs as do all insects, but for the brushfoots the front pair can be quite small and hard to see.
The Audubon Thursday Birders last week spent the morning at Elena Gallegos Open Space, but got caught in a surprise late snowstorm that kept most of the birds pretty well hidden and hunkered down in the bushes. The day before, however, the weather had been quite spring-like and perfect for the long hike to the nearby Domingo Baca Canyon, where I had my first Rocky Mountain Duskywing (Erynnis telemachus) and Marine Blue (Leptotes marina) along with several other species, including a Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi) and this female Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa).
The Orangetips seem to be flying everywhere these days, having been seen in several places all along the foothills and other mountain canyons. A bird spotted that morning that I didn’t recognize until checking the bird book at home turned out to be a Vesper Sparrow, a species I’d only seen once before about this time last year.
By Friday, the weather had improved and it was off on a status check of the nesting owls. The pair near the Open Space Visitor Center were about the same as last week, with the female still settled deep in the nest. Expectations are high that there should be some chicks there soon. At the next nest site close to Coors and Montano, most surprisingly the owl, the nest, and any evidence of occupation had disappeared. There had been some talk that the nesting female might have been injured, and high winds might have taken down the nest since my visit a week before.
Things were hopping at the third nest I checked near the Rio Grande Nature Center. People had been reporting first one and then two little ones had appeared in the nest over the last two weeks, but I had yet to see any of them. To my surprise, not one or two but three little heads popped up that morning.
It turned out to be an even more interesting morning when a Cooper’s Hawk flew in calling loudly and landing just above the nest. It would call a few times and then fly away for a few minutes before returning to harass the owls some more. This obviously upset the female owl as she’d hop around and start calling loudly to the male hidden in a nearby tree who would answer her. I’d hoped to get a video of all this action and those calls, but klutz-like managed to push the wrong buttons on the new camera and didn’t get it, but here’s a picture of her calling to the male while one of the little ones kept an eye on me.
Also cool to see that morning hanging around the feeders at the Nature Center was this male Ring-necked Pheasant, which normally don’t allow a very close approach, and did vanish into the brush when it realized I was there.
Acting on a tip from my friend Judy, Sunday morning I headed down to UNM’s Zimmerman library where she’d heard there was another Great Horned Owl nest. Sure enough, I saw the silhouette of the male before I’d even parked the car.
A student taking pictures of him pointed out the female and two little ones perched in a nearby tree. All of them were pretty obvious in the open foliage, but turned away from the ogling public pretending we weren’t there and making it difficult to get their picture. Here’s the best I could do of the female.
Most surprising was how far along the little ones were, much more developed than the ones near the Nature Center and almost full-grown.
Apparently, the presence of this little family is pretty well-known on campus. After the student had pointed them out to me, two other guys noticed me taking pictures and had me point them out after telling me they’d heard there were supposed to be some owls somewhere around here. And as I drove away I could see one of the guys passing the news on to another girl that had walked up.
The next day I headed out to Piedras Marcadas, part of the Petroglyph National Monument on the west side of town since it’d been awhile since my last visit. It was surprising to see the desert floor covered with purple, white, and yellow wildflowers, because it’s usually much hotter and drier over there than the foothills that don’t yet have many flowers blooming. Rather quiet out there that day, with only a few birds and butterflies and one or two huge Black-tailed Jackrabbits running around. The most common bird was the Rock Wrens that called from their perch on top of a rock in several different spots. One got fairly close and made me laugh when I got home and looked at this picture – never seen a wren hop before.
Just about the only other bird around that day I didn’t figure out until checking the bird book at home turned out to be a Sage Thrasher, again a bird I’d only seen once before in the East Mountains last year.
This past weekend, Rebecca and I drove out to Las Huertas Canyon near Placitas which can be good for butterflies, but the weather wasn’t very cooperative and not much was seen. Another visit soon is certainly in order, and with the days warming up and the wind settling down, a lot more should start flying there.
Another spot that can be good for butterflies this time of year is the waterfall up Hondo Canyon that I scoped out yesterday thinking we might hit it again this weekend. Although most of the nectar plants in the canyon aren’t yet in bloom, the damp areas near the waterfall brought out nearly a dozen species, including two more new ones for the year, a Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) and this Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).
Among the butterflies there was also my second Rocky Mountain Duskywing (Erynnis telemachus) and Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum).
As I was leaving, a White-breasted Nuthatch kept calling, begging me to take its picture, so I obliged.