Spring is now solidly underway around here with trees starting to leaf out, wildflowers beginning to appear, and several new sightings for the year. Rather unusual for me was seeing snakes going about their business on two different days this week. Typically, I might see snakes only two or three times a year, so to see them two days in a row was a bit surprising. First was a rather large gophersnake in the chamisa at Embudito. At least a yard long and beautifully patterned, it was interesting to watch how easily it could disappear quietly into the bush.
The very next day, following the first warm Thursday Birder outing of the year in the South Valley, my first visit to the Sanchez Farm property of the Bernalillo County Open Space turned up a Blackneck Gartersnake eyeing a multitude of minnows and tadpoles in a drying pond.
While I’ve never been particularly fond of snakes, they are pretty uncommon to see around here (maybe two or three a year) and generally seem unconcerned by human presence if undisturbed.
Friday and Saturday of this past week, my friend Rebecca and I were off looking for butterflies in the Sandia and Manzano Mountains. On Friday, we started off in Las Huertas Canyon and made the drive up and over the Sandias before dropping down the other side to check out Doc Long Picnic Area and Bill Spring Trail, and then newly-reopened Ojito de San Antonio Open Space. Things were still pretty quiet in Las Huertas, but it was early in the day and a bit cool and cloudy. The action picked up a bit more on the other side of the mountain with sightings of a few new butterflies for the season, notably a Juniper Hairstreak at Doc Long,
and a Gray Hairstreak at Ojito.
Being Spring, instead of the usual noisy flock of Bushtits flying through as they do all summer, individual birds can be seen and actually stop long enough to photograph.
Having had good luck with butterflies in Hondo Canyon earlier in the week, we decided to check it out again on Saturday. It would prove to be a pretty successful day, seeing a Juniper and Thicket Hairstreak on the same bush, our first Short-tailed Skipper of the season, and a very patient male Great Purple Hairstreak, the butterfly that first got me hooked on this butterfly thing.
The dripping waterfall at Hondo and the muddy areas around it should be good for butterflies for the next couple of months, and can only get better as the chokecherry trees soon come into bloom. Several Rocky Mountain Duskywings were also present that morning along with a number of other species.
Sunday, it was time to check up on a couple of the Great Horned Owl nests I’ve been watching this year. The three little ones near the Rio Grande Nature Center were still in the nest but growing up rapidly, and fortunately there wasn’t a repeat of last week’s drama with the Cooper’s Hawk.
With a heads up from some friends of mine that had visited the nest earlier in the week, it was wonderful to see that three fuzzy tennis balls have now appeared at the nest near the Open Space Visitor Center that we’ve been watching since late February. In this picture you can only see two of the little ones; the third one was hiding under Mom’s tail and would pop up for a look around every now and then.
It is amazing that the female sits on those eggs for more than a month before they hatch and then spends another 40 days or so sharing that small nest as the little ones grow to adult size. I haven’t seen the male on my last few visits, but know he has to be fairly close by, and others report they’ve seen him hanging out in the nearby trees where he’s been most days.
A couple times this past week, I’ve made it down to Valle de Oro NWR, where there is now a bridge across the drainage ditches allowing access to the bosque and nearby Rio Grande. Not only is there a new bridge, but a massive project is underway to remove non-native vegetation and jetty jacks, restore native vegetation, and to create a series of connected swales to form wetlands collecting storm runoff draining to the river. Once completed, this should become a fabulous habitat for wildlife. With all the construction going on at the moment, it wasn’t very birdy in the woods there on my recent visits, but I did see my first dragonflies for the year, including this Variegated Meadowhawk.
Workers in the farm fields that make up a good part of the refuge had recently flooded some of the fields, which brought in a variety of birds including a sizable flock of Ring-billed Gulls, about a dozen White-faced Ibis, Franklin’s Gulls in their pink breeding plumage, and plenty of Barn Swallows and Western Meadowlarks. A few Killdeer were calling, an American Kestrel was keeping an eye on things, and a couple of Western Sandpipers were poking about in the shallows.
This new urban wildlife refuge continues to surprise me with the variety of wildlife that shows up, and will certainly only get more amazing as the conversion from farm to refuge continues.