This week the heat got turned up around town for the first time this year bringing out a few new butterflies for the year, but keeping the birds mostly hidden during the heat of the day. My week started with a trip to Albuquerque Academy on Friday, where friends were reporting another Great Horned Owl nest. While I never did spot the nest or the three nearly full-grown little ones probably because it was the middle of the day, I did catch one of the adults napping on a perch before waking up with a big yawn to give me the eye.
Quite a few of those nests this year; in addition to this one and the two from last week out near Stanley, there was the nest in the usual spot at Quarai NM, four in town near the Rio Grande, one at Rio Rancho High, and certainly there were a few more around that I never found.
Later that day, a reasonably long hike to Domingo Baca Canyon turned up more than a dozen butterfly species despite the almost dry conditions at what is usually a dependable stream. New for the season there was a Mormon Metalmark, which is only rarely seen around here. Also, it seems there really has been a second brood of Sandia Hairstreaks. First spotted on February 24 this year, one or two were regularly seen until April 25, but after than none at all until May 16. Now they seem to be even more plentiful than before, and I saw at least ten individuals in the area close to the water that day, and several others since.
Interestingly, many of them have a darker overall appearance with somewhat different colors and which doesn’t seem related to gender differences.
It was fascinating to watch the behavior of a Mourning Cloak, Arizona Sister, and Weidemeyer’s Admiral near the water source. Each of them seemed to have a preferred perching location they would actively defend if one of the others approached, driving the intruder away before returning to the exact same spot. The Weidemeyer’s Admiral, which has only recently started flying, is rather flamboyantly marked on both sides, unlike many butterflies that are pretty cryptic on the underside and only showing their more colorful side above when they open their wings or are in flight.
The next morning, Rebecca and I returned to Las Huertas Canyon where on a fabulous day for butterflying we’d see more than 20 species overall. An absolute highlight of the day was a butterfly “puddle party” at a damp spot by the side of the road. Although puddle parties are pretty common in other places, such as South Texas, Southeastern Arizona and anywhere in the neotropics, it is quite unusual to see them around here.
In the picture above are not only a couple of the Two-tailed Swallowtail that we’ve been seeing flying up and down canyons for the last couple of months, but also (new for the season) a few Western Tiger-Swallowtails,
and even a (rarely seen around here), Black Swallowtail.
The Two-tailed and Western Tiger Swallowtails are quite similar in appearance and often difficult to distinguish in flight, so it was interesting to compare them side by side – the Two-tailed on the left in the picture below is a richer yellow and has narrower black stripes than the two Western Tigers on the right.
In addition to all the swallowtails and admirals, there were plenty of other butterflies at the party and other nearby areas that morning, including a large number of Silver-spotted Skippers.
These guys were also present in pretty good numbers at Cerrillos Hills State Park where we headed next in our ongoing search for the Rhesus Skipper and Strecker’s Giant-Skipper. Somewhere along the way, I spotted this pair of beetles going at it. No idea what that little black ball is in front of these two.
We took up the search for the two skippers again on Monday, after realizing that the trail to Domingo Baca had just the type of habitat we’d been looking for – short grassland, yuccas, grama grass, etc. We would see nine species that morning, including a few Reakirt’s Blues, a Sandia and Juniper Hairstreak, but still no luck on the skippers.
The first White-lined Sphinx Moth for the year also put in an appearance, hovering over flowers long enough to get the camera focused on it.
The grasshopper invasion seems to be slowing down around here finally, only to be replaced by an unusually large number of cicadas flying about.
I don’t really mind either of them, but they do make it more difficult to spot butterflies when all that other stuff is zooming around. There also seem to be plenty of lizards around this year, maybe taking advantage of all that airborne protein. One I hadn’t identified before was a Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail that posed rather casually on the trail for a photograph.
And, since I started this post with a bird picture, here’s another one from this week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to a friend’s cabin up in the Jemez Mountains. At this time of year, the most common hummingbird here in town is the Black-chinned Hummingbird, but we do see a few Broad-tailed Hummingbirds around – the situation is just the reverse up in the mountains, where the Broad-tailed is much more commonly seen.
A nice cool day in the mountains gave us good looks at a surprising number of nest cavities in the aspen trees for Violet-green Swallows, Williamson’s Sapsucker, and White-breasted Nuthatch, and a number of other good birds.
Saturday, the plan was to head to the Sandia Crest to check on how the wildflowers were doing and see if any new butterflies had started to appear. But the morning started off a bit breezy with a large mass of clouds rolling over the tops of the mountains, so we headed south to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, which was sunnier and had a lot less wind. First stop as usual was the Belen (Taco Bell) Marsh, where the Burrowing Owls are doing just fine. The grumpy adult third from the left, doesn’t quite seem to appreciate being serenaded by the younger one there while its two siblings keep an eye out for trouble from all sides. (The other adult was perched on a dead branch a short distance away.)
At Whitfield, we picked up a couple of new butterflies for the year, Painted Crescent and a Pearl Crescent, but also spotted a few good odonates, including a Red Saddlebags, very cool Plains Clubtail, and this pair of mating Aztec Dancer.
Best picture of the day (and maybe the year so far) was a male American Kestrel at eye level in a cottonwood where there is almost certainly a nest.
Surprised at seeing how close he was at first, we quickly moved on after being scolded loudly, and he was still there (with the female circling above) on our return. As usual, my maxim of the more you look, the more you’ll see held true once again.