It has indeed been a good week for both birds and butterflies with a number of new species for the year being seen and some good photo opportunities along the way. Last week, the Audubon Thursday Birders had an excellent morning of birding at Shady Lakes just north of town near the Rio Grande. A large group as usual to a place new to most of them, we were fortunate to spot at least 50 species of birds in this excellent habitat. Because this area is managed for fishing (and water lilies), the stocked ponds drew in several Osprey and other hungry species.
A second one perched high in a cottonwood got a little nervous as we approached and flew off to get a little more distance from us.
A pair of Belted Kingfishers were also hanging around, regularly calling and diving into the pond after a snack.
Later that day and again on Sunday, I dropped in on the new Great Horned Owl nest I’d heard about last week. On the first visit, I managed to spot the adult male well-hidden in a fully leafed-out cottonwood, while the four little ones seemed to be snoozing the day away.
While I was hanging around looking at the nest, I noticed a huge hawk circling around and diving toward the ground several times. Snagging a rabbit on one of those dives, it then landed in a tall tree and let me watch as it pulled off the fur and proceeded to dine. If you zoom in on the picture, you can see those bunny legs to give you a idea of the size of this bird. Rumor has it there’s a nest in the area that I need to look for.
On my next visit on Sunday, the hawk was again flying around the area, but the highlight for me was spotting not only the male adult owl in its usual hiding place, but also the adult female on a branch just above the nest.
The little ones were also more alert, keeping a close eye on what I was doing there.
Visits to a couple of the other owl nests around town indicate that it won’t be long until this long nesting season is over and the little ones take off on their own. Just a couple of days after a friend got pictures at Calabacillas Arroyo of the little ones having managed to fly from the nest to that branch the adult female had been using, on my visit the show was over and the birds had all vanished. The pair at Piedras Marcadas are still patiently waiting, and since it’s been way more than long enough for any eggs to have hatched, it will be interesting to see what happens next – will they eventually give up and leave the nest or try again? All’s well at the other nests, but soon I expect they’ll all disappear into the forest until next year.
Twice this week, I’ve made the hike into Cienega Canyon where a friend tells me a Northen Pygmy-Owl is actively nesting and easy to spot. It’s eluded me so far, so I may be heading back there soon to try again. The first visit was with my friend, Rebecca, hoping to see a few butterflies along the way. No owl that day, but where that nest is supposed to be a Red-naped Sapsucker was busy working the aspens.
And at Bill Spring, another good butterfly spot, several Townsend’s Solitaire were visiting the reliable watering spot.
A good butterfly that day and only the second I’ve seen this year was a colorful Field Crescent.
With some butterflier friends coming to visit from California next week, I spent some time checking a few of our favorite spots to see what’s flying and what I might be able to find for them. One of their target butterflies is the Sandia Hairstreak that’s been flying for about a month now. A hike up Domingo Baca Canyon turned up a record number of them for me this week, seeing at least a dozen along the trail, all on their host plant Texas Beargrass (Nolina texana).
With the weather finally cooperating, I next went to Hondo Canyon near Tijeras, another bit of a hike but usually worth it for butterflies. At the top of the dripping waterfall about a half mile in, there were several Juniper and Thicket Hairstreaks,
a couple of Spring White butterflies,
and a fresh Mylitta Crescent.
My local patch, Embudito Canyon, also had a couple of Sandia Hairstreaks, one on the beargrass but another for the second time this season on the damp ground near the perennial creek. New for the season there was a Bronze Roadside-Skipper.
Getting back to birds, yesterday the Audubon Thursday Birders spent a delightful morning at Valle de Oro NWR. Nearly 40 people showed up in 25 vehicles so it was a bit surprising with such a large group that we exceeded our criteria for success of seeing more birds than people with a total for the day of 46 species. The group initially met on a street just south of the refuge where people have typically parked in the past to walk across the new bridge over the irrigation ditch. Apparently, all those cars have bothered a few of the neighbors, so in the future it’s been suggested people park within the refuge itself. Refuge staff have recently made an opening in the fence near the bridge and it’s an easy drive through the refuge to the new parking area there, so hopefully parking will no longer be an issue.
It was a good day for birds with several early migrants and a few unusual species showing up. Not a great picture, but this is one of the first Summer Tanagers of the season.
In an isolated tree in the middle of the open fields, a Swainson’s Hawk was keeping watch over the scene.
A couple of Cattle Egrets were busy wandering around the area near a nicely flooded field looking for grasshoppers and other insects. At one point, one of them took to the air flying right by us and providing an excellent opportunity for a photograph.
Bird of the day, however, was seen right at the end of the morning – a Peregrine Falcon on the ground near a large colony of nesting Cliff Swallows.