In just the last week or two, it’s clear that the spring bird migration has gotten off to a good start, and every day more and more butterfly species are appearing on the scene. With two butterflying friends from California visiting this week in hopes of adding Sandia Hairstreak to their life lists, last Saturday Rebecca and I scoped out a couple of our favorite spots to look for them and to see what else was flying this week. A quick stop at Copper Open Space in the Sandia foothills turned up the hairstreak in its reliable spot, but the surprise of the day was seeing a single Lark Bunting perched on a cholla.
Unusual to see there in comparison to their more typical prairie habitat and usually in large flocks, this guy is likely a migrant heading north. Interestingly, several others have been reported around town this week. Our butterflying trip that day also took us to Quarai National Monument, Manzano Pond, Red Canyon, and Pine Shadow Spring. The weather wasn’t too promising (cool and cloudy), but while we did add a few new species for the year (Sleepy Orange, Acmon Blue, Pacuvius Duskywing), my best picture that day was of a Field Crescent.
Sunday and Monday took me on a round of checking in on progress with the Great Horned Owl nests. Last week it seemed that the show was over at Calabacillas Arroyo and all of the owls had seemed to disappear. This week, however, although I didn’t spot any of the little ones, one of the adults was still hanging around almost perfectly blending into the background, a behavior that never fails to amaze.
At the Rio Grande Nature Center, the single owlet was up out of the nest and sitting on a nearby branch, seeming to have already learned several lessons about hiding behind a branch to blend in with the foliage.
And things have been moving swiftly along at the most recent nest I’ve been checking, with two of the four little ones several branches above the nest and the other two getting close to making the move.
No change at Piedras Marcadas, with the female still parked on the nest long after the eggs should have hatched. I will keep checking, and it will be interesting to see how long until they give up or if perhaps they are making another attempt.
My friends from California arrived Tuesday for a full day of searching for butterflies on a day that was warm enough but confounded some by clouds forming over the mountains. One of them, Ken Wilson, had visited last year without success at finding that Sandia Hairstreak, and the other, Chris Tenney, is in the middle of doing a “Butterfly Big Year” hoping to photograph 600 species across the country by the end of the year. Although it took all day, they finally spotted a cooperative individual and got good pictures of it in addition to Chris adding several species to his big year list. While looking for those butterflies, we also saw a couple of good birds, including an Osprey, Black-chinned Sparrow,
and Gambel’s Quail.
A visit the next morning to Tingley Ponds turned up a couple of good birds returning to the area from their wintering spots, including a Green Heron
and a Summer Tanager.
We’d seen our first one the week before, but by this week the numbers are up and we’re also starting to see Western Tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak returning to the area.
This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was to Belen Marsh (after a quick visit to the Los Lunas “Owlville”) for Burrowing Owls and a few shorebirds before heading on to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area for a good variety of spring birds on a perfect birding day. Belen Marsh had quite a few American Avocet and Black-necked Stilts, Cattle Egrets flying over, and a few ducks and other species, and we spotted a pair of Burrowing Owls in their usual location (in addition to at least seven individual owls in “Owlville”).
At Whitfield, I got a nice picture of a Western Kingbird, which have also recently returned from their winter vacation,
and toward the end of the walk had a flyover of the first Snowy Egret I’ve seen in quite awhile.
Whitfield also turned up a couple of good butterflies new for the year, including a Variegated Fritillary
and a Painted Crescent.
On a warm sunny Friday, Rebecca and I hit the Sandias for a few new butterflies we’d hoped had started flying after the good rain over the past weekend. At Hondo Canyon, we had mostly a ridiculous number of at least 35 Rocky Mountain Duskywings but not much else. One of the few others that were flying late in their season was the Southwestern Orangetip, which usually land with their wings open so it was great getting a picture of the underside of one individual.
Rebecca briefly spotted a Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana), which would be quite unusual for this area and which unfortunately flew off before she could get a picture, prompting a return visit the next day in hopes of re-finding it. We also took a quick look at Bill Spring, spotting for the first time this year a butterfly I’d been expecting to see for the last few weeks, a Silver-spotted Skipper.
Returning to Hondo the next day for that Texan Crescent, we unfortunately wouldn’t see it but the weather was even better than it had been on several visits this past week and we did see the Juniper and Thicket Hairstreaks I’d seen there two weeks ago but not recently.
With the chokecherry coming into bloom, there’s no telling what one might see there in the next few weeks. We also got great looks at a Western Tailed-Blue, a butterfly we’ve rarely seen in New Mexico.
On the way home, we briefly checked out Three Gun Spring near Carnuel, a location we’d never looked at for butterflies before. On that short visit, we didn’t see many butterflies, but it does look like good habitat and has plenty of beargrass for Sandia Hairstreaks, so a return visit is likely soon. Another new bird for the year, returning from its wintering grounds was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a bird I don’t often see but posed nicely from a favored perch on top of a juniper tree.