I was fortunate to get out several times this week to a number of my favorite spots and got to see and photograph a nice mix of several new butterflies for the season, a few young birds and a couple of regulars. Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birders dropped in on Ojito de San Antonio Open Space and got nice looks at a good variety of birds, more than I would have expected for that area at this time of year. One of my favorites that we saw quite a few of is the Western Tanager.
I also got a good look at an immature American Robin with its speckled chest that will turn into the adult’s solid brick red as it matures.
Other recent visits to this area have turned up some good butterflies worth looking at in addition to all the birds. A winner for Rebecca and I was a sootywing she spotted that we’ve decided is the Mexican Sootywing, more unusual to see around here than the Common Sootywing. Almost identical, the Mexican species is distinguished from the Common by the black veins on the underside of the wings.
Following a group lunch at the Lazy Lizard in Cedar Crest, Rebecca and I headed back into the mountains in search of a few more butterflies. At one of our favorite spots, the 8000′ marker, the dogbane is still blooming but not attracting as many butterflies as we’ve seen in the past. Two weeks ago, we got one of our rarer hairstreaks, the Behr’s Hairstreak (Satyrium behrii), and on this latest visit got another we’d been hoping to see, the Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus).
A visit to Bill Spring later that afternoon turned up several Taxiles Skippers and Russet Skipperling along with a couple of Margined Whites, which have been flying since mid-April.
Still eluding us so far this year is the Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus), which we’re still looking for. Over the weekend, we headed down to Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, which in the past has turned up a few butterfly species we don’t see very often if at all in town. At the marsh, we missed seeing the Burrowing Owls that day (although a later stop at “Owlville” in Los Lunas would turn up a couple), and there were quite a few Black-necked Stilts in the water along with their new offspring. A couple of White-faced Ibis were also hanging out in the area.
Getting back to butterflies, at Whitfield we were glad to see one or two Monarchs flying around as well as a couple of Queens (this one taken a few days later at Ojito de San Antonio OS)
but also spotted a couple of those we typically only see in that location, including the Bordered Patch
and some Painted Crescents.
The latter are pretty easily identified by the view underneath (if you can catch them like that) and differ considerably from the more common Field Crescent, such as this one seen in the Sandias a few days earlier.
Although the Common Buckeye is indeed usually pretty common at Whitfield, it is not that often that I get a good view of their underside since they usually land with their wings open.
Another nice find that day was a Melissa Blue, which we’ll see around town usually but hadn’t spotted yet this year. Pretty similar to the Acmon Blues that I’ve posted pictures of lately, the Melissa Blue has that orange coloring on both wings unlike the Acmon which only has it on the hindwing.
Other outings this week have taken me to places like Carlito Springs OS, Embudito Canyon, Corrales, back to Ojito de San Antonio OS, Tramway Wetlands, and the Rio Grande Nature Center. It was pretty quiet overall at the Nature Center, but I got a couple of good pictures, first of an Eastern Bluebird (complete with its aluminum band likely provided by the rather active bird banding activity there)
and of a Blue Grosbeak.
A return visit to Ojito de San Antonio OS didn’t turn up near as many birds as on the previous Thursday, but did have some pretty good butterflies. One I’d been trying to get now for a few weeks was a Southern Dogface, which we’ve been seeing but always in flight before. When it lands, you’re able to see that “dogface” in the forewing and even more distinctly if you can catch it with the sun behind it.
In about a month, I’m scheduled to lead the Thursday Birders on the hunt for nesting Mississippi Kites in Corrales, so I’ve been out a couple of times now hoping to find one. For the last several years, they’ve nested on the grounds of Sandia View Academy and I’ve looked pretty carefully for them this week. On both visits, I’ve seen the bird but have yet to spot a nest. Here’s the one I saw today.
I spoke with a couple of people there, including a neighbor who was thrilled to see their nest last year, and the groundskeeper who’s told me about nests he’s been aware of there for the last two years. This year, he pointed out a nest that turned out to be that of a Cooper’s Hawk, which he says have been rather aggressively defending their territory. I’m wondering if maybe that’s dissuaded the kites from nesting there, and may have to look around to see if they’ve moved to another location, say maybe that big grove of cottonwoods near Tramway Wetlands where there have been multiple recent reports of kite sightings?
At least two immature Cooper’s Hawks, however, were hanging around the Academy that gave me some good photo opportunities. Here is one of the little ones posing nicely in the sunlight.
In getting a couple of close-ups of this guy, in this shot if you zoom in by clicking on the picture you can see what wikipedia tells me is the nictating membrane that acts like a windshield wiper over their eyes and is used instead of blinking – cool!
Here’s another picture of the same guy waiting patiently in the shadows – most impressive talons in my opinion.
It never ceases to amaze me the fascinating things you can see if you can just get out there and look around.