It’s been a fun week since my last posting, catching up with friends and family both here in town and across the country. A long weekend trip took me back to Decatur, Alabama for my nephew’s fabulous wedding and a too short visit with my mother, siblings, nephews, niece and grandniece. On a visit earlier this summer in conjunction with the biennial North American Butterfly Association (NABA) meeting in Chattanooga, a meadow at the entrance to the Wheeler NWR in Decatur proved fabulous for butterflies, so my plan was to go a day early and see what might be flying at this time of year. Unfortunately, the weather kept the butterflies pretty much hidden other than a large number of Sleepy Oranges,
and a single sighting of a Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis) which I’d only seen a few times before. In that fabulous meadow a Carolina Mantis was perched waiting for prey, and always fun to see.
A few dragonflies, including a Black Saddlebags and an Eastern Pondhawk also were around, but the coolest thing my sister pointed out in her yard one morning was what I think was a sphinx moth caterpillar covered with parasitic wasp larvae.
Back home, the weather’s been a bit unsettled the past few days as the clouds from Hurricane Odile head east. The weather was pretty good one day down by the Rio Grande where I surprised a Green Heron watching over a small pond at Alameda Open Space.
Despite ominous forecasts for major rainfall (as had occurred in Arizona earlier in the week and would occur in southeast New Mexico later that day), the local weather was perfect for the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to the Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. Awaking to clear skies and cool temperatures that morning was quite unexpected given that the clouds were so thick the day before that the 10,000′ mountain behind my house was totally obscured. First stop was the Belen Marsh and the nearby prairie dog village that is home to a number of Burrowing Owls. We’d see four of them that morning, including these two guarding an abandoned prairie dog hole.
A surprisingly large number of shorebirds were then sighted on the larger pond across the road, including about a dozen Cattle Egrets, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, a couple of interesting sandpipers, Wilson’s Snipe, and a Sora. Not the greatest picture due to the terrible lighting conditions, but this is the best I was able to get of that skulking Sora.
Then it was off to Whitfield where we had something like 43 bird species and 13 butterfly species during the morning walk. Other critters seen that morning included many Figeater Beetles on the blooming seep willow,
and two different colors of Globemallow Leaf Beetle (aka Calligraphy Beetle). My August 30 post has a picture of a red one, which we also saw this time, but we also had these almost metallic gold colored ones this week. I’ve no idea of the origin of these color differences – different subspecies, generation, age, sex? – but a very cool-looking bug with a great name.
The next day, a friend who I haven’t seen in years came to visit and was interested in looking for birds while she was in town. Although we’d worked together for years, we got to become friends on a couple of grand vacations to China/Japan and New Zealand years ago. With clouds blanketing the top of the mountain, we went first to my ‘local patch’ of Embudito Canyon in the Albuquerque foothills. A pretty good day for birds, we found the Cactus Wrens, saw that the Rock Wrens have returned, and spotted most of the usual species there, including Gambel’s Quail, Scaled Quail, Canyon Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, House Finch, and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. The woodpecker has been pretty common there over the last few years, but was the first I’d seen this year. The most unusual sighting was of a Cooper’s Hawk that swooped down landing on a cholla close to a Black-throated Sparrow nesting site.
Obviously on the hunt, it sat there for several minutes looking closely into the surrounding brush hoping to spot one of those little ones. No luck that time, it finally noticed our presence and flew a short distance further away.
With the clouds starting to burn off, it was off to the log at Capulin Springs – the one place I can always count on to easily see an amazing variety of local birds. A short walk down from the parking lot, all it takes is settling down a short distance from a hollowed-out log that has a bit of water trickling into it from a spring, a magnet for any bird in the area interested in a bath or a quick drink. As we approached, a large bird I’m pretty sure was a Band-tailed Pigeon quickly flew away – they are very wary of people getting anywhere close, but I’ve seen them there before and we’d see one again later that morning. Dark-eyed Junco, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Plumbeous Vireo, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill, Downy Woodpecker, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and Mountain Chickadee were a few of the birds that stopped by during our visit, along with several warblers, including Townsend’s
We even had what I’m pretty sure is a Cassin’s Finch.
Keeping an eye on all the action were a couple of chipmunks. Likely a Colorado Chipmunk (Tamias quadrivitattus), but the Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus) is also found in this habitat.
A little cool and cloudy for butterflies, we did get a quick look at an Arizona Sister as we headed back to the car for a quick visit to Sandia Crest. On the way back down the mountain, the sun came out so we decided to take a look at Bill Spring, another usually dependable spot for birds and butterflies. A little quiet for birds, we did get a good look at a Steller’s Jay standing in the water, but more fun was getting a close-up look at an Arizona Sister, new for my friend Norma,
and a couple of Hoary Commas.
Since she’ll be in town for a couple more days, the plan is to check out a few spots in Corrales tomorrow and maybe visit a couple of other locations. It’ll be tough to beat our count for the day in the Sandias, but with fall migration well underway and visiting different habitats, there’s no telling what might turn up.