This past week has been an interesting one, seeing a few new sights along with some old friends from past years. Having just returned from a fabulous week of butterflying in SE Arizona, we were keen to get into the local mountains to see if any new butterflies had started flying, so on Monday Rebecca and I headed up Las Huertas and over the mountain to see. The monsoon rains have been great this year giving us some much needed rain, but also bringing more clouds than we’re used to and keeping the butterflies pretty much hidden away. When the sun would pop out for a few minutes, however, the butterflies would magically re-appear before vanishing again as the clouds moved in. We did see a Two-tailed Swallowtail who’d apparently been around awhile as it seems to have lost one of its tails in some unknown conflict.
There was also a remarkable Checkered White, a female showing the most dramatic patterning and perhaps the most newly emerged I’ve ever seen.
Highlight of the day, however, was spotting a patch of what we’ve come to know as James’ Buckwheat (Eriogonum jamesii), host plant for the Central Blue (Euphilotes battoides centralis), one of the subspecies of Square-spotted Blue butterflies. We’d wondered about one we’d seen on a damp patch in Las Huertas a few weeks before, but had seen them on the Arizona trip with Jim Brock who also showed us that host plant. So it was pretty cool not only to see the buckwheat but to find one of those butterflies nectaring on it, confirming our earlier sighting.
A few days later, the Audubon Thursday Birders had their annual visit to Simm’s Ranch and potluck at Bonnie Long’s house in the East Mountains. Crazy cool for hummingbirds at both places, the weather was most unusually cloudy. Not great for photographs, but it had no effect on the swarms of four species of butterflies that were mobbing their feeders. I’m lucky to attract maybe two hummers to my little feeders and rarely have to add any sugar water, but I think Bonnie goes through something like a gallon a day to feed all the hummingbirds that show up in her yard every day. A new one for me was the Calliope Hummingbird, which I’ve long known shows up here but never managed to see before.
I continue to be grateful that we’ve moved past film to digital photography thinking of the old days where it cost me about 50 cents every time I pushed that shutter button – when you’ve got hummingbirds everywhere, you just have to push that button! Despite the weather conditions, here’s a couple of those guys and it was the Rufous Hummingbirds that were burning all my bits.
The females were also present, this one performing a nice mid-air pirouette,
and another male showing off that brilliant gorget.
With all the clouds around, not too many birds other than those hummingbirds were active that day. Hiding in a yucca, however, was a very cool damselfly that I haven’t yet identified but seems a bit unusual for not being the usual blue all over.
On Friday, Rebecca and I tried again in the Sandias for some butterflies (that patch of blooming dogbane at 8000′ has got to be good if the clouds will ever leave!). Cloudy again and not much butterfly action, so we spent some time watching the birds drop in for a bath at Capulin Spring. Always an amazing spot, a hollow log there has just a bit of water dripping through it from a spring that birds seem to find irresistable. During our 1-1/2 hour visit, 16 species would drop in, look carefully about, and then take leisurely baths obviously enjoying themselves. Of the 16, the most unusual for me was a Brown Creeper, a bird I usually only see camouflaged against tree bark in the shadows, so to have one right out in the open was pretty special.
Here’s the same guy post-bath working on drying out those feathers.
Adding to the entertainment value that day was a pair of chipmunks we assume was an adult with a little one tagging along to see what was going on.
Sunday morning I decided to see if the water had started flowing again at my ‘local patch’, Embudito Canyon, which has some great birds and butterflies. The rain apparently hasn’t yet filtered down enough to get the water flowing again, but, acting on a hunch, I checked out the small stand of hackberry trees near the spring and sure enough spotted a Hackberry Emperor!
Cool butterfly that we’d seen at Paseo del Rio Camprground near Truth or Consequences last week on the way home from Arizoan, but the first I’ve seen in Embudito. A small foothill canyon, it continues to surprise me how many species of birds and butterflies can be seen there – the Emperor brings my total number of butterflies in the canyon to easily more than fifty.
Also hanging around Embudito that morning were several White-lined Sphinx Moths, which seem to be unusually common pretty much everywhere this year, but always a bit of a challenge to photograph – they hover in place well, but dang those wings move fast.
In a couple of weeks, I’m signed up to lead a birdwalk to hopefully show everybody our Mississippi Kites that have been nesting in Corrales for the last couple of years, and figured it might be a good idea to go check on how things were going there this week. The good news is all seems to be well with the nesting pair I know about, but I do wonder if we might be a little late to see them in two more weeks. I had a great time watching both adults drop from the skies with something for the little one, and fun showing it to a couple of people that were working there, but am thinking the little one is getting big enough to be heading out on its own pretty soon.
Then it was off to the riverside drainage ditches in Corrales where we’ll likely look for birds during that upcoming walk. A few birds around still although it was getting to be a little late in the morning, but a few other interesting creatures of note about as well. Along with quite a few Flame Skimmers, Widow Skimmers, and lots of bluet damselflies were two new ones for me, a Great Spreadwing and the White-belted Ringtail.
I’m thinking I may need to spend more time down there looking around for odonates. Also had the Dotted Roadside-Skipper butterfly again, one we were surprised to see last week everywhere in the Sandias. Highlight of the week, tho, was coming up on a Northern Raccoon there along the ditch. First I’ve ever seen here and usually nocturnal, I think, so we both seemed a little surprised to run into each other. This guy pretty much froze staring at me, probably thinking if it didn’t move no one would see notice it, and finally sneaking quietly away into the underbrush when it figure I wasn’t looking.