It’s been a little while since my last post, but with September upon us thought it about time for a new one. It’s interesting how those first inklings of the coming Autumn are barely noticeable at first but quickly become more apparent. The days are starting to become noticeably shorter, with the sun rising a little later each morning, and the light of day takes on a different quality I assume due to changing angle of the sunlight. The chamisa is just starting to gets its bright yellow bloom, the asters are starting to appear, and it won’t be long now until the leaves on the trees start changing.
On August 20, I met up with the Audubon Thursday Birders to lead the morning’s outing hoping that those immature Mississippi Kites would still be around to show everybody. To increase our odds, we’d make our first stop where I’d been seeing them for the last few weeks before heading to North Corrales Bosque Preserve for our usual walk. If we hadn’t seen them early in the morning, I figured we could try again later on the way back. Our rather large group of 26 people in 17 vehicles made our way through Corrales and parked in a long line (of probably more cars ever seen in that neighborhood!) and almost immediately heard the Kites calling. Moments later we spotted the first of the juvenile birds in the tree I’ve been seeing them. Unlike all my earlier sightings where the little ones would just sit there calling for the adults to bring them food, on that morning they were all over the neighborhood and now and then one would execute a dramatic low flying pass over the group before setting down high in a tree. All in all, rather exciting to watch and we hung around for the show for about a half hour.
The walk through the bosque seemed to be enjoyed by everybody and was a new location for the group. Not particularly birdy, but we did end up with more species than people, and some in the group got one or two ‘lifers’ and good looks at several usually elusive species such as a Yellow-breasted Chat. Several colorful dragonflies, including a new one for me, also provided good entertainment.
Somehow, I didn’t get out much and certainly didn’t get many photos over the next few days, but then things started picking up again. Anticipating a visit from our butterflying friend from Houston, Rebecca and I made a mid-week visit to Cerrillos Hills State Park where two years ago we’d tracked down a Rita Blue butterfly, which was a lifer for me then but which would be new for our visitor. While the weather was not very cooperative at all and we’d only see a few butterflies, we lucked out spotting one or two of them nectaring on their favorite buckwheat which was blooming profusely along the road.
Unfortunately, when we returned with our friend a few days later under excellent butterflying conditions, we didn’t see a single one despite several hours of diligent searching.
This past Thursday, the Audubon Thursday Birders were off to the Rio Grande Nature Center on a fabulously cooler and sunny morning than usual, and again exceeded our criterion for success of seeing more bird species than we had people. Still quiet for birds as is typical for August, walking quietly and looking carefully does let you spot them when they make a move. One bird that seemed perfectly content sitting out in the open was this Black Phoebe, which if you look closely is about the fluffiest bird I’ve ever noticed.
Another treat was watching this Snowy Egret on the hunt; the colors and reflections in this picture I thought turned out really well.
The next day, I made it out to my ‘local patch’, Embudito Canyon, wanting to check on the butterflies in case we’d take our visiting friend there for a look. Awfully quiet for birds and butterflies that morning, but perhaps not that unusual for this time of year, and I’m hoping things will pick up a bit as the chamisa and asters take off over the next month. One of the few butterflies that morning was a male Green Skipper patiently waiting in the wash for a female to pass by.
Toward the end of my walk, I was surprised to see a Cactus Wren dropping to the ground, picking up a few blades of grass, and building what seemed to be a nest in a nearby cholla.
I’d think it was a little late in the year for any bird to be nesting, but my friend, Judy, tells me it’s a winter roost. Pretty exciting, since it’s only been in the last several years that Cactus Wrens have been seen in the foothill canyons, and then nesting, and maybe now becoming year-round residents. All this activity also seemed to draw the attention of the other residents. Every time the wren would drop down for some more building supplies, a Curve-billed Thrasher would pop up and look around to see what was going on,
and for at least a minute a passing hummingbird hovered around the nest and buzzed the wren as it came and went.
Saturday morning, I made a quick stop at Tramway Wetlands, which this year has been turning up a great variety of shorebirds and has gotten quite popular with the local birding community. Although I did manage to identify a Western Sandpiper and a few others, most of the smaller ones that folks have been seeing really required a good scope to see from a fairly good distance. I did get a few shots of a White-faced Ibis back for the season before it spooked and flew off a little further away.
Our friend, Steve, arrived Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday Rebecca and I took him in search of that Rita Blue at Cerrillos Hills State Park. A perfect day for butterflying despite not seeing very many species at all, but most of those we did see were good ones. Seen pretty regularly this year almost anywhere was the Gray Hairstreak, which aren’t usually seen all that often.
Rebecca had spotted a single Mormon Metalmark during our scouting trip earlier in the week, but on this trip we’d see nearly a dozen of them.
Surprise of the morning for me was one Steve spotted and that I haven’t seen in quite awhile, the odd-looking American Snout.
After giving it our best for a couple hours and not managing to spot the Rita Blue again, we headed on to Hyde Memorial State Park and the Santa Fe Ski Basin just outside of Santa Fe. At Little Tesuque Picnic Area, we’d hoped maybe to spot a Snow’s Skipper, but saw few butterflies. A pretty cool looking caterpillar caught my eye there, which I’m pretty sure is that of a Hooded Owlet Moth.
Business was a little brisker up at the Santa Fe Ski Basin, where a few more butterflies were out and a variety of wildflowers were blooming. Green Commas (a butterfly I’ve only seen a few times) were out in large numbers working on thistleheads, with several individuals landing on the same one.
The next morning (after getting stuck in a ridiculous traffic jam for at least an hour just before our exit off I-25 on the way home), we did a little more butterflying in the Sandias with Steve before he headed back to Houston. Not much flying that morning, either, but we did get nice looks at several Orange Sulphurs.
A Pine Siskin, like most goldfinches, was busy working a dried sunflower seehead and posed nicely for a photograph.
I’m definitely looking forward to the changing season, cooler days, and Fall colors. Butterflies may be winding down here for the year, but bird migration is already starting and should bring some interesting visitors passing through and the arrival of a number of new winter residents.