Let the Games Begin

With the weather around here still a little cool and cloudy, the idea of a long weekend trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park a couple hours east of San Diego seemed like a pretty good idea. Meeting up with our friend from Houston, Steve, who Rebecca and I had visited a few weeks ago to see the Falcate Orangetip and a few other butterflies, we drove to Borrego Springs in the heart of the huge park for a total of five days. There we met another friend, Frank, who’d been on our Brazil butterfly trip last year. Frank was just amazing, having scouted the area the day before and taking us to all the special butterfly hot spots in the area. Over the course of the trip we’d see close to 30 species, including at least 8 that were ‘lifers’ for me. A surprise for us was seeing a few of the more than 130 large metal sculptures by Richaro Breceda scattered throughout the valley, including this massive dragon that stretches for about 50 yards with the tail popping out of the desert across the highway.

Borrego Springs Dragon

Borrego Springs Dragon

Having had a good rain for two days before our arrival, the wildflowers were at their peak and the butterflies were flying. At Frank’s suggestion, one morning we also managed to spot a herd of the local Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, which apparently are not all that commonly seen.

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep

Also running around the Palm Canyon spot where we had the bighorns were a few California Quail, similar to the Gambel’s Quail we see at home.

California Quail

California Quail

During our time in Anza-Borrego, we’d also see the California Towhee, California Thrasher, quite a few Phainopepla, and a couple of Rock Wrens that insisted on having their photographs taken.

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Our main target species for the trip was the Sonoran Blue, a small colorful butterfly that is only found in a limited range along the California coast. One of the best spots to see it is Plum Canyon, where Frank first took us. Without Frank’s willingness to share his knowledge and show us these special places, I seriously doubt we would have been able to find them on our own. Driving in a mile or so and hiking up the canyon for another mile, sure enough we spotted a couple of Sonoran Blues, although they rarely paused long enough to photograph.

Male Sonoran Blue (Philotes sonorensis)

Male Sonoran Blue (Philotes sonorensis)

Having snagged that lifer butterfly, the trip would’ve been an unqualified success at that point, but we weren’t close to being finished. Another new one for us, and there were so many around it was incredible, was the California Patch.

California Patch (Chlosyne californica)

California Patch (Chlosyne californica)

Frank also had a couple of special spots for the ‘Loki’ subspecies of the Juniper Hairstreak. We get the ‘Siva’ subspecies in Albuquerque, which is green and brown; the ‘Loki’ has a gorgeous lavender wash on the hindwing.

'Loki' Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus loki)

‘Loki’ Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus loki)

Metalmarks are always a treat as we only see (rarely) a single species at home. Plum Canyon, however, had quite a few of the ‘Desert’ Mexican Metalmark,

'Desert' Mexican Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus deserti)

‘Desert’ Mexican Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus deserti)

and we had great looks at a Wright’s Metalmark, both of which were new for us.

Wright's Metalmark (Calephelis wrighti)

Wright’s Metalmark (Calephelis wrighti)

Tiny Checkerspots were also seen in good numbers in Plum Canyon and some of the other spots we visited.

Tiny 'Imperialis' Checkerspot (Dymasia dymas imperialis)

Tiny ‘Imperialis’ Checkerspot (Dymasia dymas imperialis)

Another great butterflying spot in the park Frank showed us was Culp Valley in the mountains high above the more desert-like environment below. There we added ‘Desert’ Black Swallowtail, Variable ‘Hennei’ Checkerspot, Sleepy Duskywing, and another of our major target species, the Desert Orangetip. We had chased these guys for an hour or so, only having them land very infrequently and usually for less than a second before we finally had a male stop for almost a minute and I was lucky to be in just the right spot to get several good photographs.

Desert Orangetip (Anthocharis cethura)

Desert Orangetip (Anthocharis cethura)

All in all, a most successful and fun trip, raising our expectations for a trip to Big Bend NP in a couple of months.

Back at home before the trip, I did spend a morning looking for the Great Horned Owls known to be nesting south of the Montano Bridge on the west side of the Rio Grande. No luck finding them, but I did have a Bald Eagle soaring over the river that headed right over me.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

And, yesterday near the same location there were two Great Blue Herons hanging out in the middle of the river. Unlike other places in the country, we usually only occasionally see maybe a single individual staking out its territory, so it was rather unusual to see a pair so close together.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Very few butterflies have been seen around here so far this year (part of the reason for those trips to Houston and San Diego), but the weather has been warming up to near 70 degrees for the last couple days, and expectations were high that butterflies would be flying again soon. Waiting until it got nice and warm in the afternoon, I headed off to Embudito Canyon to take a look. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had about 55 species in the canyon and first to fly are the Sandia Hairstreaks (the New Mexico State Butterfly) and Southwestern Orangetips. Starting at the most dependable spot for the former, which I’d seen unusually early on February 24 last year, there were at least two Sandia Hairstreaks posing in their host Texas Beargrass (Nolina texana).

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

Further up the canyon, where the creek again has a bit of water were several of the Southwestern Orangetip nectaring on budding willows.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

There also were several Mourning Cloaks flying about, which overwinter here but have been strangely absent earlier this year, and a surprising number of Hoary Commas.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Things are definitely picking up butterfly-wise and the fun is just beginning!


About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Flowers, Photographs, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Let the Games Begin

  1. thatemily says:

    Your photos are really beautiful! Did it take a lot of patience to capture such a good shot of the butterfly?

  2. joeschelling says:

    Thanks, Emily. Patience is a part of it, but usually it takes being quick to snap the picture when you spot a butterfly posing for a photo.

  3. Matt says:

    Another great lep trip! Congrats on finding the Sonoran Blues! That Apodemia metalmark looks a lot like the Sandia population. Do you know if those are still considered a population of Mormon?

  4. iago80 says:

    Really super photography. The Quail is stunning.

  5. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Wonderful pictures Joe. The metal sea serpent and the Desert Big Horn Sheep were a nice addition to the quest for California butterflies. I’m glad to see the butterflies are now showing up in your local patch.

  6. joeschelling says:

    Excellent trip, too. Thanks for suggesting it, and yeah, we got some to see around here again, too.

  7. Wow, don’t know which is more beautiful, these spectacular butterflies or the very lovely birds you saw at this spot …The sculptures are awesome, too! Sounds like a great place to visit.

  8. joeschelling says:

    True enough. A most amazing place and way more interesting than I expected.

  9. 1nmbirder says:

    Wow! I had no idea we had such pretty butterflies in Albuquerque. I guess I’ve not been in the right places at the right time in the past. I haven’t been on that trail in years. I guess it’s high time I go again 🙂 Beautiful finds and photos!

  10. joeschelling says:

    Up until Rebecca started pointing them out to me, I was totally oblivious to thier presence, too, and it’s just amazing the variety we see right here in town.

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