Really the height of summer in New Mexico, we’ve had a good monsoon season with wildflowers blooming everywhere and just the smallest signs that autumn is not far away. In my last posting on August 19, I mentioned my hope that we’d find those Mississippi Kites still in their nesting area near Corrales the following Thursday for the Audubon Thursday Birders. Quite a large group showed up that morning on a nice sunny morning for our caravan to the nesting site. Our visit turned out to be quite a success, seeing several adult and a couple of immature kites at close range and allowing for some good pictures while we were there. The adults tended to stay a bit farther away and were either flying around or perching high up in the trees.
The young ones were calling loudly the whole time in hopes of being fed, which on arrival was our first clue that the birds were still in the neighborhood.
Here’s that little guy from a bit closer.
After everyone had plenty of time to enjoy watching them, we headed back to East Ella in Corrales and walked about 1.5 miles through the bosque along the Rio Grande and along the parallel drainage ditches spotting birds along the way, although they were rather quiet that morning. By the end of the walk, we’d tallied 29 species among the 27 people along that morning, so we (actually surprisingly to me) surpassed our criteria for success of finding more birds than we had people.
A couple of days later, Rebecca and I headed back down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area near Belen to look for butterflies again now that more wildflowers should be in bloom. As usual, however, a stop at the Belen Marsh was the first order of business. Yep, Burrowing Owls are still hanging out near the prairie dogs and we spotted three individuals, although there were probably several others around. Then by the marsh, there was a temporary pond caused by the recent rains on the other side of the road, but with much better conditions for photography since it was so close and opposite the sun. Pretty special was seeing a couple of immature Black-necked Stilts in the pond (adults aren’t quite as cute and have bright pink legs),
and surprising was having a Lesser Yellowlegs pose without immediately flying away as they almost always do.
Quite a few other shorebirds were in the main ponds that morning, probably enjoying having a bit more water to work with, and after briefly checking them out, we decided to drive a little further south, where flooded agricultural fields often draw in some good birds. Not too many around that morning, but we did have what appears to be an immature Snowy Egret close to the road.
Then it was off to Whitfield where we did get to see a few good butterflies including a dozen Monarchs, a butterfly we only see occasionally in migration around here and never in large numbers. The large stands of flowering milkweed there are obviously working their magic and serving the needs of that butterfly. I’ve been surprised this year at how many Gray Hairstreak butterflies we’ve been seeing pretty much anywhere we go. A common butterfly occurring just about anywhere in the US, I typically see them only every now and then and never know where or when they’ll show up. This one is on one of its host plants, Globe Mallow, which several species of butterflies use to lay their eggs but on which we have only rarely seen any butterflies.
Another insect that shows up around this time of year and has a taste for this plant is the Globemallow Leaf Beetle (aka Calligraphy Bug). A huge number of them were present on most of the mallow on the southern side of the refuge, but none on the northern side for some reason, and I haven’t spotted any on the plant in any other locations I’ve been to this week.
We had a few birds flying around that morning as well, including a Swainson’s Hawk flying high in the sky, this Cooper’s Hawk that we surprised as it landed in a nearby tree,
and a pair of American Kestrel near the tree we’re pretty sure they had a nest earlier this year.
After a tasty lunch at the Green House Bistro in Los Lunas, we spent a little time walking the grounds looking for butterflies. In one of their herb gardens, Rebecca spotted one that was new for me in New Mexico, the Question Mark. Unlike the other members of genus Polygonia, the ‘Commas’, the underside of the wing of this one has a white period along with the usual white comma mark, hence the name. Great butterfly – great name.
This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip went about two hours north of town to the Abiquiu Dam and along the Chama River. Outstanding scenery and exceptional weather in a place I’d never been before despite 30 years of living here. Our leader, Judy Liddell, and her co-author, Barbara Hussey, published “Birding Hotspots of Central New Mexico” in 2011; no doubt their forthcoming book on northern New Mexico, expected in March 2015, will provide good information on this and other locations new to me, all likely well worth a visit.
A little breezy most of the day made it hard tracking down the birds, but once again we exceeded our target of having more birds than people even with an unexpectedly large group. After first checking out the Abiquiu Dam, we made several stops along the Chama River following Forest Road 151. The surrounding cliffs were incredibly scenic, and the wildflowers were exploding in many of the meadows in the area.
While I didn’t manage to get any decent pictures of any of the birds we saw, it was fun spotting my first definitive Southern Dogface in the state for the year.