Grasshoppers have invaded Albuquerque over the last few weeks, with hundreds of them hopping about pretty much everywhere you go. Apparently the drought has caused them to head to town where watered plants provide better things to eat. This is good news for the birds, as every picture I’ve gotten of Black-throated Sparrows this week shows them chowing down on one of those hoppers.
Especially in the open grasslands, this phenomenon can make it difficult to spot butterflies as we discovered this week on several trips in search of the Strecker’s Giant-Skipper, which we never did spot and would have been a new butterfly for me. However, the onset of much warmer and sunnier weather has brought out a good variety of butterflies including quite a few seen for the first time this year. While poking around Embudito Canyon last week in another unsuccessful search for a Sandia Hairstreak we’d hoped to show our friend, Steve, coming from Houston for a weekend butterfly visit, the first butterfly I’d see was a very cooperative Acmon Blue, which allowed me to take nice photos of both the underside
and the top.
Another surprise awaited me up by the water at the mouth of the canyon, a Canyonland Satyr, which I’d only seen a couple of times before.
When Steve arrived on Friday morning, we returned to Embudito for the first of a number of outings over the next four days. Shortly after spotting the Canyonland Satyr and Bronze Roadside-Skipper again up by the water, Steve spotted a Sandia Hairstreak – his primary target species for the trip!
A wonderful result since we’d checked out a lot of beargrass in the canyon that day and I wasn’t optimistic after not seeing any since April 25 despite some pretty focused searching over the last few weeks.
Another new one for the season that morning was a Green Skipper that stayed around long enough to allow us to identify it definitively from several other very similar species.
Later that day, we’d check out Hondo Canyon and Bill Spring, two usually quite productive areas especially with the chokecherry in bloom, but something about the weather must have kept them in hiding and it wasn’t nearly as productive as expected. The next morning it was off to a spot in the Jemez Mountains where we knew of a patch of kinnikinnic (bearberry), the host plant for the Hoary Elfin we’d seen at this time there for several years. Oddly, we’d only see a single butterfly there even with three of us ranging over the whole area for quite awhile. At the time, we thought that’s what our one butterfly was, but on closer examination turned out to be a Brown Elfin.
Not what we were hoping for, but a good spotting and the first we’d seen in New Mexico. On the way back to Albuquerque, we next made a fortuitous stop for a snack at Cabezon Road just east of White Mesa, a place I hadn’t been for years. Fortuitous because we’d soon spot a number of Saltbush Sootywings flying about – a butterfly I’d only seen once before last year in Valley of Fires State Park.
Our next stop was Las Huertas Canyon, where we weren’t successful in finding the Yucca Giant-Skipper we’d seen there a week earlier. However, we did see that quite a few species had started flying again, many of which were new for the year, including a Weidemeyer’s Admiral and Arizona Sister.
Other good ones there that day were quite a few Field Crescents
and a couple of Silver-spotted Skippers.
The next day, we set off on the long drive to Chama and the Edward Sargent Wildlife Area in hopes of tracking down the Sheridan’s Hairstreak we’d seen there about this time in other years. Drier than normal this year, the butterfly numbers were pretty low other than plenty of Greenish Blues.
Rebecca would get a picture of a Large Marble (Euchloe ausonides), one of the two we’d see flying around but rarely landing, and we all got good looks at a Mountain Checkered-Skipper, a new one for Steve.
Several Pasque Flowers were blooming in the shadier areas, a flower I remember being one of the first to appear in Spring when I lived in Boulder, CO years ago.
We had pretty much given up on seeing anything else and were thinking of heading home when Steve finally spotted the one we’d come to see – Sheridan’s Hairstreak!
Our day a success, it was back to Albuquerque for one last trip to the Zuni Mountains on Monday before Steve headed back to Houston. Driving to Pole Canyon in the mountains near Grants, NM, we’d hoped to track down a Desert Elfin we’d seen there last year on its host plant, Cliffrose. Although we did find a large patch of the host plant and spent quite a bit of time carefully checking each one, we never found one and didn’t see many butterflies at all perhaps due to the drought conditions and breezy weather. We did get a Morrison’s Skipper, however, quite striking in appearance and not one we see all that often.
For several years now, Rebecca and I have been on the hunt for a Rhesus Skipper, another quite striking skipper with a fairly narrow range. I’d recently done a Google search on it and found a picture of one taken last year on the grounds of a B&B in the area, the Cimarron Rose B&B. It was a real delight to meet the owner, who showed us around and let us wander the property in search of butterflies, but told us that with the drought her wildflowers hadn’t yet started blooming and she hadn’t seen the Rhesus Skipper yet. We’ll certainly be returning for a visit and are looking forward to hearing from her when the butterfly shows up in her yard. The B&B is well-managed for wildlife and has a number of features attractive to birds and butterflies and promises to be a wonderful place for a weekend stay. Among the birds that day were several active nests of Western Bluebirds, one of which posed nicely for a portrait.
All in all, we had a good long weekend with our Houston friend and managed to get a good list of butterflies including several ‘lifers’ for Steve. This coming week I’ll keep an eye out for butterflies but might focus more on a few birds. Scheduled to lead next week’s Audubon’s Thursday Birder trip to Embudito, I want to nail down the Black-chinned Sparrow and Scott’s Oriole that I’ve been hearing there, along with the Black-throated Sparrow, Cactus Wren, Canyon Towhee, and others that have been hanging out there. A couple of days ago, a quick trip to Valle de Oro NWR turned up the Bobolink that had been reported there again this year – a quite rare bird for New Mexico, it’s been spotted there two years in a row now.
And stay tuned – yesterday’s Thursday Birder trip to the eastern grasslands near Stanley NM turned up a couple of nesting Great Horned Owls, Horned Larks, Swainson’s Hawks and others whose pictures I’m still going through and will be posting soon.