For a change of pace, over Easter weekend my friend Rebecca and I wandered down to Silver City NM, and over to Sierra Vista and Patagonia AZ, and back via Chiricahua National Monument to look for a few butterflies. While conditions (clouds, rain, wildfires) often conspired to thwart that objective, we did get to see a good variety of butterflies along the way and added at least one new one to my life list. At our first stop, we met our good friend Gary, who’d moved down there awhile ago from Albuquerque, and did a bit of birding and butterflying at Railroad Canyon, Cherry Creek, and McMillan Campground. Gary tracked down the Red-faced Warbler for us (always a good bird to see, but usually way too high hiding in the pine needles for a picture), and Rebecca was quick to spot a couple of excellent butterflies, including a sunning Arizona Hairstreak,
and (surprising to us) Yucca Giant-Skipper, which we’d see first in Railroad Canyon, and then again later in Cherry Creek Campground.
Another surprise that day was a Satyr Comma, which is much more common down there than the Hoary Comma we usually see around here. Those 3 dark spots on the hindwing distinguish it from the 2 spots we see on the Hoary.
Next, it was on to Sierra Vista, where pretty much all their wonderful canyons were closed because of the Brown Fire that had started earlier in the week. That was the bad news; in more good news, we caught some clouds and decent rains that helped bring the fire under control and allowed authorities to open Huachuca Canyon the next day. Since the mountains were closed when we arrived, we spent some time at San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Despite the on and off clouds, we did get to see a few butterflies and a few good birds that we don’t see very often around here, including Northern Cardinal, Inca Dove, and Vermilion Flycatcher.
One of the main points of the trip was to join the Southeast Arizona Butterfly Association (SEABA) field trip scheduled for Saturday morning in Garden Canyon. Because of the Brown Fire, as the week went on the trip was first changed to Huachuca Canyon and then cancelled altogether. But the Friday rains allowed Huachuca to open again and we met up with local expert (and astonishing photographer) Bob Parks on Saturday morning to check out a few butterflies there. He pointed out a few good spots for us, and we did see a few good ones, but the weather again wasn’t very cooperative. First one we saw right on the Ceanothus as he expected was the Zela Metalmark. I do like how this picture of it came out with almost a Japanese ikebana look to it.
Since it was the only one of the canyons opened while we were there, we stopped by several times to see what else might be flying. On the same bush as the Zela Metalmarks (and there were a couple of them around) was a fresh looking Juniper Hairstreak.
On two of our visits, we also spotted (after hearing its rather unique call), an Elegant Trogon – the bird that first got me seriously into birding years ago in the Chiricahuas. We’d only spot the one, but Bob said there had been a number of them around the day before.
Sunday, it was off to Patagonia, an excellent breakfast at the Wild Horse Restaurant, watching a bunch of clueless kids running around on an Easter Egg Hunt, and some good butterflies in the butterfly garden in the center of town and along Harshaw Creek. A bit underexposed, but I liked the dramatic look of this Spring Azure nectaring on the Lantana there in town.
Among the other butterflies we’d see that day was an Acacia Skipper (we’d first hoped would be a lifer Gold-Costa Skipper)
a couple of Arizona Sisters,
and one that was a lifer for me, a White-barred Skipper, shown here sharing a thistle flower with a Pahaska Skipper.
On our return trip, we detoured through Chiricahua National Monument on the west side of the Chiricahua Mountains, and a place I hadn’t been before (Every other trip there had been to the equally amazing eastern side.). Surprisingly lush and with some amazing rock formations, we were a bit surprised to spot a pretty good number of butterfly species after the ranger at the visitor center said he hadn’t seen many anywhere this year; a highlight was a Nabokov’s Satyr that flushed from the leaf litter and a few others on the roadside near the Visitor Center. Plenty of Acorn Woodpeckers and Mexican Jays around that morning, too.
Back home late on Monday, it was time for another status update on my Great Horned Owls. Only managed to spot one of the little ones at the nest near the Open Space Visitor Center, but things seems to be coming along just fine there.
I was surprised, though, by how rapidly things have changed at the nest near Campbell Road and the Rio Grande Nature Center. With the trees really starting to leaf out it was hard to even find the nest, which seemed to have been mostly taken down, and I didn’t spot either of the adults. After spending quite a bit of time tromping around below, I did finally spot first the most mature young one,
and after looking some more saw a second one nonchalantly peering at me from its shady perch.
I’m pretty sure there was a third one that was probably nearby, and imagine the adults were still somewhat close by, but it does look like the show’s about over and these guys are just about full-grown and will soon disappear.
The Audubon Thursday Birders headed off this week for Manzano Pond and Quarai National Monument. At Quarai, the Great Horned Owls are back but apparently still in the early stages of nesting hidden way back in one of the ruin niches. While we didn’t really get to see the nesting female that day, it was fun to show everybody the male keeping watch from one of the nearby cottonwoods. Crazy windy at Manzano Pond, and maybe a little early for some of the good birds that can be seen there, but we did see a small flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and had great views of a Red-naped Sapsucker.
Manzano Pond also had a few damselflies and dragonflies cruising around that managed to endure the rather cold winds that morning. I have no idea what species this one is, but it seemed a little unusual with its gray coloring. Might be time for a trip to Tingley Ponds soon to see what else might be flying these days.
After the birding trip, Rebecca and I headed up to the mountains to look for butterflies at Red Canyon, Pine Shadow Springs, and a couple of other places we’d seen some good ones over the last few years. With the weather partly cloudy, most of the butterflies stayed hidden, but we did see a few good ones including an unusually large number of Pacuvius Duskywings. Duskywings in general are difficult to distinguish by species, but the distinctive markings on these fresh ones made them fairly easy to identify. There were also a few Rocky Mountain Duskywings at the same spot, and not realized until I got home and went through the pictures, another brown butterfly, the Northern Cloudywing.
The next day turned out to be perfect for butterflies, nice and warm and quite sunny, for a visit to Embudito Canyon with my new butterfly friend, Cliff. Rain over the weekend while I was off to Arizona had kicked off all kinds of wildflowers and a few flowering trees that got the attention of more than a dozen species of butterflies. A few good birds were around that day, too, and we’d hear Cactus Wren, Canyon Wren, and Scott’s Oriole among the regulars, get good looks at Virginia’s Warbler and Crissal Thrasher, and this picture of a Canyon Towhee wondering what all the fuss was about with this noisy Gambel’s Quail.
Cliff’s quite good at spotting and identifying the local plants and butterflies despite having only recently moved here from Georgia, and added at least one and maybe two species to my list of the 50 species I’ve seen in Embudito Canyon in the last couple of years , the Common Sootywing (Pholisora cattulus) for sure, and possibly a Cassus Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes cassus) – although that might turn out to be a Bronze Roadside-Skipper (A. aenus) already on the list. Usually at this time of year, the willows bring out lots of Litocala Moths so it was a bit of a surprise to see this time very few Litocalas but large numbers of the striking Eight-spotted Forester Moth.
We bushwhacked our way a bit up the canyon past the waterfall, where there was some great butterfly habitat with lush grasses and damp soils and good shade of cottonwoods, box elder, willows and chokecherries, and a return visit is due soon before it becomes too overgrown to get through. Heading back to the parking lot, we joined the upper trail in a more desert environment to spot a second Common Sootywing and a couple of quite fresh Variegated Fritillaries checking out the recent blooms.
A blast of heavy winds and overcast skies here for the next day or so that will work its way across the country, but I’ll bet that’s all it will take to get the bird migration really going and loads of new butterflies, dragonflies, and plenty of new leaves and flowers showing up in the next few weeks.