The last day of spring is here with summer arriving in a burst of heat tomorrow. Rare around here for temperatures to hit 100 F, which we get on average only three days a year, but that’s the forecast for tomorrow. Finally getting around to painting a few rooms in the house and a bit of yard work outside kept me from getting out much this week, but I did manage to escape for a few good outings. The biggest event in the yard was having some guys come over to take down a tall cottonwood tree that had been ailing for a couple of years and didn’t make it through the winter. About the only tree in my yard, it was astonishing to see those two guys convert that 30′ tree into a pile of wood chips in less than an hour.
A week ago, the Audubon Thursday Birders made their annual visit to a friend’s cabin in the Jemez Mountains, a fabulous spot surrounded by tall ponderosa pines and aspen trees that is home to quite a few birds that we don’t see very often at home. First off were several Band-tailed Pigeons, birds that are pretty wary of humans and often difficult to see.
And at a neighbor’s feeder, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, several Pine Siskins, and a pair of Evening Grosbeaks were stopping by for sunflower seeds.
The area also has a nice wetland pond and a few open meadows beginning to fill with wildflowers, which brought out some good butterflies. One that I have only very rarely seen is the Purplish Copper.
We would spot close to half a dozen males, but only a single individual of the more colorful female.
Another good butterfly present in good numbers and the first I’ve seen this year is the Draco Skipper, and even better, a mating pair of them.
After the morning’s bird walk, our host, Lou, suggested we check out a few other nearby meadows where he’d seen swallowtails busy visiting the wild iris that was in bloom. Sure enough, once we spotted the iris a Western Tiger Swallowtail soon appeared.
Still hopeful of seeing our nemesis butterfly, the Rhesus Skipper, as the rest of the group headed back home Rebecca and I drove on to Valle Grande. No luck on the butterfly, but we were surprised to find that one can now drive into the center of the huge Valle Grande caldera. They also issue a limited number of daily passes to allow a few vehicles access to most of the area. An amazing place that had long been a private cattle ranch, ownership had transferred to a trust a few years ago and is now in the process of being brought under management by the National Park Service as the Valles Caldera National Preserve. I am definitely looking forward to a return visit to that magical spot.
Early this week, I spent some time wandering around Embudito Canyon in the foothills close to my house. It was quite a surprise to see Sandia Hairstreaks flying as late as June 15. I’d seen my first one this year on March 11 and the latest we’d seen them in the past few years is the end of May. Adding to the surprise was seeing nearly a dozen of them and on plants other than their usual host plant, Texas Beargrass. That day, they were most numerous on Apache Plume with a few on other flowers.
The next day a trip up to “the log” at Capulin Springs on the east side of the Sandias turned up (as usual) a delightful variety of birds coming in for a drink or splash.
Nothing too unusual stopped by while I was there, but several posed nicely for their portrait.
Others that dropped in included a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Audubon’s Warbler, and a very wary Black-headed Grosbeak.
Heading back down the mountain, I stopped at Tree Springs trailhead to visit the patch of wild iris that had been so productive for butterflies the previous week. The iris show was about over and there weren’t many butterflies around, but one that did show up was one that I hadn’t photographed since 2011 and that we only rarely see, the Anise Swallowtail! This guy would land on the moist dirt for a few moments before taking off, circling the area, and then returning to the salty mud.
One other butterfly also seemed to be enjoying the muddy area, a Silver-spotted Skipper.
This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder outing took us to Tunnel Canyon south of Tijeras, where we ended up seeing and hearing a good number of birds although it was generally pretty quiet as is typical during nesting season. It was fun to see a large short horned lizard (aka Horny Toad) someone spotted feeding at an ant hill.
Several good butterflies were seen there that morning as well, most so intent on nectaring that they didn’t fly off and everybody got good looks at them. Several Canyonland Satyrs, Two-tailed Swallowtails, and Checkered Whites were flying around as well, but one of the favorites was the Juniper Hairstreak.
The picture above was taken later that morning in nearby Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, which has a large patch of dogbane (also called indian hemp) that had just come into bloom and is irresistable to many butterfly species.
Another tiny but fabulous butterfly seen that morning is the Acmon Blue.
Later that morning, Rebecca and I stopped by that patch of dogbane at Ojito, then up to Tree Springs in case that Anise Swallowtail was still around (nope), and made a final stop at Bill Spring near Doc Long Picnic area. Bill Spring is always good for butterflies and it’s not unusual to see a variety of species stopping by the damp earth near the water. This time, new for the year was the Taxiles Skipper, which we should start seeing pretty regularly just about everywhere all summer.
Summer’s here, so there’s bound to be some be some fascinating sights to come in the days ahead!