One Week in April

This past week has been rather amazing with lots of good birds and a couple of special butterflies. The weather has been warm and sunny for the most part and it’s been a big week for owls and owl babies. Lots of pictures in this posting, but that’s the kind of week it was.

Checking in on nesting progress at several of the Great Horned Owl nests early last week brought a few fun surprises. At Calabacillas, the adult was just peeking out and it wasn’t until I got home to look closer at the picture that I saw the beak of the little one just in front.

Great Horned Owl - Calabacillas

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

At Piedras Marcadas, the male perched in a tree close to the nest gave me a good look at his face for the first time and didn’t fly away like he did on my last visit.

Great Horned Owl - Piedras Marcadas

Great Horned Owl – Piedras Marcadas

And at the Rio Grande Nature Center, I finally got a good look at the male. On previous visits I was sure he was in the area and he’d call to alert the nesting female, but remained quite well hidden. That day, however, he was right out in the open keeping an eye on things.

Great Horned Owl - RGNC

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

The Audubon Thursday Birders had an excellent day at Pena Blanca and Cochiti Dam. One of the target birds for that trip was the nesting Osprey on a platform below the dam. My pictures of the nest weren’t that good, but I did get a pretty good shot of one of them flying off before returning soon after.

Osprey

Osprey

At one stop in Pena Blanca, the cottonwoods were filled with a large flock of noisy Red-winged Blackbirds. It wasn’t until one of our group took a closer look and called out that the rest of us realized that a couple of them were the more unusual Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

At lunch down at the boat launch for the dam, we’d pick up two more good birds that are rarely seen around here, the Western Grebe,

Western Grebe

Western Grebe

and the even more uncommon Clark’s Grebe.

Clark's Grebe

Clark’s Grebe

The next day, Rebecca and I headed down to Carlsbad NM on the hunt for a special butterfly, the Henry’s Elfin. It had been reported in the past in canyons near Sitting Bull Falls at this time of year when the New Mexico Buckeye blooms. Although it was in full bloom, unfortunately the weather wasn’t very cooperative and we were unsuccessful in searching for it multiple times. We did get to see a number of Vesta Crescents, a butterfly I’d only seen once before in Big Bend.

Vesta Crescent (Phyciodes graphica)

Vesta Crescent (Phyciodes graphica)

Most exciting was seeing a single individual of what we’re pretty sure is a Definite Patch, a first for me.

Definite Patch (Chlosyne definita)

Definite Patch (Chlosyne definita)

The pictures were submitted to the Butterflies and Moths of North America for expert verification, and if it turns out to be the correct id will be the first sighting of that species anywhere in the country reported to that site since 2002.

A fairly common species we’d see in a number of locations was the Gray Hairstreak, nectaring on the same flowers as those others.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

Waiting for the temperature to rise and the clouds to disperse, one day we stopped by Rattlesnake Springs, a well-known birding hotspot near Carlsbad Caverns NP. Weather wasn’t all that great for birds, either, but we did get to see a few good ones, including this male Cinnamon Teal,

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal

and a couple of Wild Turkeys, including one way up in a tree and this guy heading across a fabulous field of wildflowers.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Always a treat to see were several Vermilion Flycatchers, even more vivid on such a gray day.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Heading for home, we took a break for lunch at Valley of Fires Recreation Area just outside of Carrizozo. As we had seen on previous trips, Sandia Hairstreaks were out perched on their host plant Texas Beargrass, and we had several Black Swallowtails busy hilltopping. Most unusual, since I only occasionally see them and never more than a single individual was at least five Great Purple Hairstreaks busy chasing each other around and occasionally stopping for a breather on a juniper.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

So, yesterday it seemed appropriate to check in on all the owls again. Before making the rounds of the Great Horned Owl nests, I went to see this huge prairie dog town outside of Los Lunas that everybody’s been talking about lately as having plenty of Burrowing Owls. Probably the largest prairie dog town I’ve ever seen, I spotted what I can only assume was an immature prairie dog (update: one of my readers suggests it’s actually a Spotted Ground Squirrel) that looked a little lost and some distance from a safe burrow.

Immature Prairie Dog

Spotted Ground Squireel

The Burrowing Owls themselves were scattered throughout the area and on my short visit saw at least seven of them from the road. (The area’s gotten pretty popular for birders lately and it’s recommended folks stay in their vehicles to minimize disturbing the birds.) This guy didn’t seem particularly bothered by my visit and appears to be dozing.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

When I first drove by another one, there was only a single owl standing on one leg looking into the sun, but when I passed by on the way back there were now two of them, constantly swiveling their heads and fun to watch.

Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owls

Then it was on to visiting several of the Great Horned Owl nests. Having not yet seen the little one (ones?) at Rio Grande Nature Center, that was my first stop and it was clear that this little one is growing up quick.

Great Horned Owl - RGNC

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

At Pueblo Montano, where I’d seen three little ones when I finally located the nest a couple of weeks ago, only two of the little ones were still visible and the adults were well hidden if they were around.

Great Horned Owls - Pueblo Montano

Great Horned Owls – Pueblo Montano

Not too many other birds seen that morning, but there was a Black Phoebe who posed nicely for me near the irrigation ditch.

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

At Piedras Marcadas, the female was still hunkered down in the nest making me think she’s still incubating her eggs, which should hatch any day now. And at Calabacillas (the first picture in this posting) another surprise – as we suspected a couple of weeks ago, it looks like we’ve got two little ones!

Great Horned Owls - Calabacillas

Great Horned Owls – Calabacillas

 

 

 

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About joeschelling

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

11 Responses to One Week in April

  1. 1nmbirder says:

    OMG! What a week you had! Stunning photos! Beautiful sightings! Sounds like fun!
    I am still looking for the Clark’s grebe….may have to take a drive there soon. And that vermillion flycatcher! Beautiful shot! Now I’m more excited than ever to head out tomorrow to see the owls. I have yet to see any babies but it looks promising. And I had no idea we had such gorgeous butterflies in this state. You have me looking at every one I see flying by. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures!

    • joeschelling says:

      Thanks. Yep, the baby owls are getting bigger by the day so should be easier to see. And, true, once you start looking you’ll see some fabulous butterflies around here – just last week I added a new one for Embudito, #56 for that small area.

  2. timali says:

    Great photos. Many species I’d like to see myself. Thanks for sharing your wonderful week! 🙂

  3. Shannon says:

    Fantastic post. I enjoyed the narrative as much as the most excellent captures. Cheers, and happy birding!

  4. Mike Powell says:

    Your postings are always full of wonderful images, Joe, but you may have set the bar even higher with this collection of incredible shots of a wide range of creatures. Wow–rare butterflies, baby owls, cute birds–what’s not to like?

  5. Rebecca Gracey says:

    It’s great that you got pictures of the two species of Grebes that are difficult to distinguish from each other. Nice butterflies too!

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