Mix and match, or maybe better, mishmash, would be a good theme for this blog update. It’s been nearly two weeks since my last posting and time for an update, but the pictures this time are all over the map from a number of different locations and habitats. More than once I’ve gone out with particular subjects in mind only to find others grabbing my attention, and that was certainly the case recently. Back on August 7, the Audubon Thursday Birder trip took us to Tingley Ponds, where we’d see a nice variety of birds but none that let me take any good pictures of them. Instead, there were quite a few damselflies and dragonflies hovering around the ponds including a surprisingly large number that seemed trapped in nearly invisible spider webs. One that managed to evade that danger was a Western Pondhawk.
The next day, Rebecca and I headed up to check on butterflies in the Sandias all the way to Sandia Crest. Although the east side of the mountains has been getting a nice amount of rain and there is a little more water in some of the small springs and puddles up there, we weren’t seeing as many butterflies as expected and the dogbane, always popular with the butterfly set, has finished blooming for the year. At the very top of the mountain at 10,678 feet (3255 m), my first Melissa Blue for the year was busy nectaring on the wildflowers.
More surprising and always a thrill to see were two Milbert’s Tortoiseshells on some wild onion flowers, a first in the Sandias for Rebecca and only the second one I’ve ever seen there.
A couple of times this past week have found me in Corrales, checking up on the nesting Mississippi Kites and walking a few of the trails in anticipation of a trip I’m leading for this week’s Audubon Thursday Birders. People have reported seeing the kites perched in the trees in the area as late as yesterday, so while nesting may now be over there’s still a good chance we’ll see them this Thursday. On one of my trips, I spotted a Snowy Egret hiding in the cattails and assumed it would take to the air if it saw me. For once, I managed to remember to deliberately set my camera to under-expose the scene since almost all my pictures of them usually come out way overexposed. Sure enough, it took off seconds later and finally the exposure seems about right.
Near the drainage ditches was a male Great Spreadwing, the largest damselfly in North America, which I’ve seen there several times recently.
Sunday, while out in the yard bagging yard waste, I noticed a cool spider web up in a corner by a window maybe 8 feet off the ground. Amazingly, one of the threads supporting the web stretched out all the way to the ground and maybe 5 feet from the wall. How a spider managed to pull that off is beyond me. Looking closely to see who was responsible for this architectural marvel, an orange spider was spotted deep in a maze of silk that I coaxed out for a closer look. Pretty small creature to create such a massive web, I finally figured out it was a Pumpkin Spider (one of several common names apparently).
On Monday, it was off to the Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area to look for a few butterflies with Rebecca. Cool birds hanging out at the Marsh including a Black Tern, almost a dozen Cattle Egrets, a calling Sora, Black-necked Stilts, and several other water birds. In the nearby open field, prairie dogs and at least three Burrowing Owls were seen; this one appears to be napping but a closer look shows he’s well aware of our presence.
A few Monarch butterflies along with a few Queens were among the species we’d see at Whitfield, but more should appear soon as more of the wildflowers come into bloom. Speaking of wildflowers, the monsoon rains have been very good this year, greening everything up and kicking off a second round of wildflowers. My local patch, Embudito Canyon, has exploded with color and rapid plant growth from all that rain.
The day I took that picture, there were an unusual number of Say’s Phoebes flying about and calling to each other. Closer examination showed most were young ones that have only recently fledged.
For something different, last Friday Rebecca and I went to the PNM Butterfly Pavilion at the Albuquerque Biopark. My first visit there this year, it’s fun to see a large variety of both domestic and neotropic butterflies in the enclosed area. Unlike the usual situation outdoors, these butterflies have habituated to people and are much easier to photograph. Always a favorite on my trips to the neotropics is the Blue Morpho, which is quite impressive both when perched with closed wings,
and even more so when you see them typically floating through the forest, moving just quickly enough to make them incredibly difficult to photograph. It was most unusual, therefore, to find this one perched with open wings probably soaking up some heat from the sun.
One we’ve seen occasionally in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas is the Great Southern White, identified by those turquoise antenna clubs.
There were also a couple of dramatic species from Southeast Asia, including a Paper Kite
and Golden Birdwing.
Someday, a butterfly trip to that area might have to happen and it’d be too cool to see some of the incredible species they have flying around there. Interestingly, there also are a couple of birds allowed into the enclosure. For the last couple of years, there has been a pair of Long-tailed Whydah hiding in the foliage, a small bird from East Africa with an impressively long tail that is sometimes bred as a pet. New this year is a Scarlet-chested Parrot from eastern Australia that has a delightfully soft musical call unlike the loud screeching of some other parrots.
Kids seem to enjoy wandering around the pavilion, spotting all the colorful butterflies and enjoying it when a butterfly lands on them now and then for a moment. One guy, though, spotted a cool snail he picked up and seemed ready to adopt to take home with him. I rarely take pictures with people in them and sort of hoped to photograph his snail in a more natural setting, but since that wasn’t happening, asked him if he’d hold it out for me to snap this picture.
It does seem a good thing to see kids obviously enjoying experiencing the natural world around them.