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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
and the even more uncommon 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.
Most exciting was seeing a single individual of what we’re pretty sure is a Definite Patch, a first for me.
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.
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,
and a couple of Wild Turkeys, including one way up in a tree and this guy heading across a fabulous field of wildflowers.
Always a treat to see were several Vermilion Flycatchers, even more vivid on such a gray day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not too many other birds seen that morning, but there was a Black Phoebe who posed nicely for me near the irrigation ditch.
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!