It has been said that March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion, but that was more like April around here. The wind started blowing on Saturday and kept it up through Wednesday with a blast of cold air along for the ride. No damage here, but was the kickoff for some rather nasty weather as it headed east through the Midwest and on to the East Coast. That and other things to do kept me from getting out much early in the week, but by the first of May, things were turning quite spring-like again. The Audubon Thursday Birders drove down to the Belen Marsh (aka “Taco Bell Marsh”) and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area for a good day of birding and a few butterflies. At the first stop, we got to see a couple of Burrowing Owls in the huge prairie dog town just west of the marsh. Unfortunately, this guy is sitting on a For Sale sign for the lot which doesn’t portend well for the future of this dependable location for the species. You’d never guess from this picture that the sign is posted in a desert setting of dust and weeds, and surprising no power lines or fences showed up in the background.
With the onset of spring and the annual migration, some good water birds were present on the ponds, including a good number of Wilson’s Phalarope, Black-necked Stilt, and American Avocet. This Avocet got rather territorial when our bunch walked down the road toward the larger pond and came flying right at me, circling back several times to warn us about coming any closer.
Later on at Whitfield, we got nice views of several Blue-winged Teal, which aren’t all that common around here, our first Bullock’s Oriole for the year, and even a lone Sandhill Crane that must not have gotten the memo about flying north a couple of months ago. Not much was yet in bloom there, but there were still several species of butterflies about, including both Painted (Phyciodes picta) and Pearl Crescents (P. tharos).
The next day, I decided to visit Tingley Ponds, in hope of taking a few pictures of dragonflies and damselflies. Not much luck on that idea, with several school field trips going on in the woods and not many odonates flying around. One of the reasons for that might be shown in the next picture.
I first noticed this Jumping Spider as it lived up to its name hopping forward a surprising distance a few times on that willow branch. It took a minute to realize it had somehow captured a dragonfly, a behavior I wasn’t aware spiders did and one that would’ve been quite interesting to watch in action. Also on the pond that morning was a Snowy Egret, which I don’t see there very often but might mean the Green Heron that’s usually there all summer should arrive soon.
The woods leading up to the two large ponds were pretty quiet, but I got a nice look at a recently arrived Ash-throated Flycatcher,
and spotted a Downy Woodpecker enter its nesting cavity, where it was busy inside for the next few minutes tapping away I assume doing some home improvement.
Since it was Friday, it was time for my weekly status update for the Great Horned Owl nest near the Open Space Visitor Center. Once again, I failed to see the adult male anywhere in the vicinity, but the female and two of the chicks seem to be doing well. I was pretty sure I’d seen three little ones there a few weeks earlier, but wonder if something happened to one of them since I haven’t seen the third one since. The following picture came out the sharpest, with Mom and the most mature young one keeping an eye on me, while the other little one was still a little shy and tucked down in the nest.
Not quite as sharp, I really like this next picture of them all. If you zoom in by clicking on it, you’ll see that Mom’s got one eye on me and both of the little ones are looking at me through those leaves. Take a close look at the talons on the adult – it’s not hard to imagine how good they can be at catching rodents, rabbits, and pretty much anything else they’re after.
Although my friend Steve had asked several times over the last few weeks if Great Horned Owls had nested again this year at Rio Rancho High School, I hadn’t managed to get over to take a look until Sunday. During the school week, it’s a closed campus, so the weekend is the best time to visit. Sure enough, they were right where they’d been last year, nesting comfortably among the spike strips that didn’t seem to deter them much at all.
They also didn’t seem particularly worried that there was quite a crowd heading into church services at the school on Sunday morning, all of whom were aware of the owl’s presence and busy pointing them out to their kids. Here’s a little closer view of the adult and one of the little ones. I had to laugh when I first saw this picture at home, with the little one seeming to have its hand (or wing) over it’s mouth as if it’d just had an ‘uh-oh’.
The day before under perfect butterfly weather conditions, Rebecca and I met up with our friend, Cliff, to look for butterflies in Las Huertas Canyon. Although there were a number of apple trees in bloom, they weren’t drawing any butterflies, but in the damp mud by the creek and a big open meadow we ended up seeing a good number of species, including several new ones for the year, including Reakirt’s Blue, Funereal Duskywing, a Field Crescent, Southwestern Orangetip, and our target species for the day, Yucca Giant-Skipper.
We had looked for this species for a couple of years before seeing our first one last year near Silver City, and a week later found one there in Las Huertas. Hoping for a repeat performance, we weren’t disappointed and saw probably four individuals of this species in the same spot this year. After Cliff had headed home, instead of heading back, too, we decided to continue on up and over the Sandias to see if anything was flying at the higher elevations yet and to stop at Doc Long and a good spot along Bill Spring Trail. Still a little early up high to see much, but the spring turned up a surprising number of butterflies in a small area and during our short visit. New for the season was a Dreamy Duskywing,
and several others that we’d been seeing lately, including Short-tailed Skipper, Mourning Cloak, Thicket Hairstreak, and a couple of Juniper Hairstreaks.
The upcoming week should be fun, with a couple of out-of-town visitors dropping in to hopefully see some of our special butterflies and the annual CNMAS Birdathon working to see as many species of birds as we can over a 24 hour period. Stay tuned.