Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birders visited a new area for the group, Oak Flat Picnic Grounds about 9 miles south of Tijeras. Although most of the area is closed to vehicles, there are several trails through the woods and it is easy to make a loop around all the extensive picnic areas. The weather wasn’t all that cooperative that morning, but still brought out a few good birds, some of which are not usually seen in other locations the group visits. One highlight that morning was seeing a young Brown-headed Cowbird who’d apparently been raised by a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers. The baby bird, who was about 1 1/2 times the size of the adult warblers, called constantly to be fed and surely just about exhausted those smaller adults trying to meet that demand. I didn’t get much of a picture of that activity, but did get a pretty good one of a Pygmy Nuthatch, a bird we usually only seen at higher altitudes.
A few days later, Rebecca and I returned hoping to find some good butterflies in the large wildflower meadows there. In our desert climate, such meadows aren’t at all common and there are only a few I know of anywhere close to town. We did see several butterfly species there, but the dominant ones present were good numbers of both Painted Lady
and American Lady, these two sharing the same wallflower.
On the way back, we stopped at another picnic area, the Pine Flat Group Picnic Area. Nothing unusual there for butterflies, but it was fun watching a pair of immature Cassin’s Kingbirds also begging for food from their parents, who would fly in with a small snack about every minute or so.
On Friday, I managed to get out to check on things in my local patch, Embudito Canyon. A little surprised the spring wasn’t running a little better after all the rain we’ve had recently, it was obvious that there’d been at least one good flash flooding event recently and the whole area was definitely greening up. One good butterfly to see there that I’d only seen there once before was a nervous Hackberry Emperor who wouldn’t let me get quite close enough for a picture.
A Green Skipper, first one this year, was a bit more accommodating.
On Sunday, Rebecca and I did the big loop through Las Huertas Canyon over the Sandias and down the Sandia Crest Road, searching all our usual spots for what butterflies we could find. After seeing Behr’s Hairstreak on the dogbane a week earlier, we had hopes for seeing it and several other summer specialties like Banded Hairstreak, Colorado Hairstreak, and Tailed Copper, but it seems the blooms are coming a little later this year and none of them appeared for us that day. One that did show up (although in lower numbers than we’ve seen in the past, perhaps because the coneflowers haven’t really taken off yet) was a Northwestern Fritillary. In last week’s post, I highlighted the top view of this guy, a glowing orange with fine black markings; the underside is no less spectacular.
A very common species this year, the Marine Blue, can be seen just about anywhere, and even if they are common can be quite striking when fresh.
Filed under the category of “learning something new every day” was a female Mylitta Crescent.
I’ve been identifying this species based on the overall orange color with a network of fine black lines that is rather distinctive for the male, but had been writing off the female as just another Field Crescent. It did seem odd at the time that two different species would be so close together on the same flower, but it wasn’t until we got home and I checked a couple of field guides that the true story came out. Will certainly have to pay more attention in the future.
Another nice sighting that morning was a fresh Hoary Comma, who was so intent on nectaring on a specific type of yellow flower that it paid us no mind.
Another one that is usually seen flitting about high in the pines and that we’d been looking for unsuccessfully the last few weeks was a Pine White. Serendipitously, Rebecca spotted a slightly worn one hiding right next to the trail we were on. At least we know they’re flying again, so we’ll keep watching for them in the days ahead.
Pretty common this time of year has been the small Taxiles Skipper. I have way too many pictures of them already, but sometimes just can’t help myself.
Now that the Great Horned Owls have finished nesting and again disappeared into the woods, the hunt continues for other baby birds. Friends have gotten amazing pictures of quail families recently, which always elude me with the birds vanishing into the brush before I can get my camera organized, and others have been posting pictures of astonishingly cute young Pied-billed Grebes that someday I have to see. Might have missed out on hummingbird nests altogether this year, and am still on the hunt for killdeer and other wading birds. But I did wander down to Owlville, an unusually large concentration of Burrowing Owl nests a little south of town this week. Of the five or six nests nest I’d seen there before, one had both adults and at least six little ones catching some sun, but that one was a bit far from the road for photographs and it’s been suggested we not disturb the birds by getting out of our vehicles. A little closer one had at least three little ones, two of which you can see with one of the adults in this picture.
I’m guessing that’s Mom in the middle, who doesn’t seem too happy to have me there. The other adult was perched much closer to the road on a pile of construction debris, and also seemed a bit displeased by my presence.
My friend, Maurice, had also told me about some nesting American Kestrels near Piedras Marcadas, where we’d earlier thought a Barn Owl might be nesting. Checking it out, it seems the box it’s in has been damaged a bit since my last visit a month or so ago, and whatever might be in there is pretty well hidden. Quietly waiting a few minutes, however, showed one peeking out of the box.
Hard to tell for sure, but I think that might be one of the adults, with the other one perched on a power line some distance away and the little ones too small to peek out.
Certainly time to quit futzing around the house as I’ve been doing lately with home improvements and yard cleanup and time to get out there – summer’s moving along and won’t be here forever.