The last week of summer has been a good one around here with plenty of interesting things to photograph for a change. A nice rain last night and more expected all day today, the first in almost a month, provides a good excuse to stay home and put together a blog update. Fall kicks in later tonight and seems to be coming on strong with cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and asters and chamisa blooming profusely.
Last Tuesday, I made a rare visit to the south end of Corrales, parking at the end of Via Oreada where the overgrown irrigation ditch provides excellent habitat for a variety of creatures. Hopping around the sunflowers and tall asters were two Wilson’s Warblers. Normally hidden and skulking about the undergrowth, they’d occasionally pop up for a look around.
Hiding along the ditch until I flushed it up into a nearby tree was a handsome adult Cooper’s Hawk, where it watched from the shadows for a few minutes before flying off into the woods.
Also perched near the ditch keeping an eye out for an insect snack was a Black Phoebe.
Pearl Crescents, Western Pygmy-Blues, and Cabbage Whites were a few of the butterflies working the flowers along with several damselflies and dragonflies. One of the latter I’ve only seen in that area was the Great Spreadwing.
Later that morning, a stop at Calabacillas Arroyo proved more typical of late summer with few things moving around. About the only bird I saw was a Say’s Phoebe posing nicely atop a New Mexico olive tree as if waiting for me to photograph it.
With the great weather continuing, early the next morning I was off to Capulin Springs and Doc Long Picnic Area in the Sandias. The log at Capulin Springs, as usual, brought in some great birds for a quick splash or drink. Hanging about high in the trees were several Band-tailed Pigeons. These birds are very wary of humans and weren’t about to come to the water while I was still there.
The Hermit Thrush is usually rather secretive, too, but didn’t seem to mind my sitting quietly nearby.
A couple of Northern Flickers also showed up and flitted around the trees for awhile before dropping down for a quick drink.
And, as always, the Dark-Eyed Juncos tended to dominate the scene and seem to love splashing about in the water. Here’s one as it first showed up before joining in the fun.
Things were almost as busy at Bill Spring near Doc Long Picnic Area, with several Northern Flickers and Steller’s Jays making noise in the trees before coming in for a drink after first running off the Mountain Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches who had earlier claimed the spot. Only good picture I got there, however, was of a Hoary Comma butterfly, which we’d seen regularly early in the year but not too often more recently.
The Audubon Thursday Birder trip this past week had a good trip to the Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. Surely the Bird of the Day was the Red Phalarope at Belen Marsh paddling around right in the open. A very rare migrant in New Mexico, these birds are normally only seen out in the ocean or summering in the Arctic. Several in the group got photographs of the bird, but the lighting was really awful for any hopes of a good photo.
Returning to the cars to head over to Whitfield, a Warbling Vireo, unusual to see in that environment, was hopping about in much better light.
Birding was a little slow at Whitfield that morning, maybe because it was a bit late in the morning, but the group ended up with a good species list of at least 40 species including a good-sized flock of White-faced Ibis. What got my attention, however, were all the butterflies we saw in larger numbers and species variety than any time in the last month. In addition to several Monarchs seen for the first time this year, butterflies that mimic the Monarch, including quite a few Queens and one Viceroy, were flying about.
A field of yellow flowers was busy with a good mix of butterflies including the Common Buckeye that drew everybody’s attention,
and it was fun pointing out the Western Pygmy-Blue, the smallest butterfly in North America and so tiny it’s easy to overlook.
The butterflies were so good there that Rebecca and I returned the next day to focus on them and try to spot an interesting skipper she’d glimpsed the day before. While we didn’t manage to spot the skipper again, we did add a new species to our Whitfield list, an American Snout. That list, now up to 32 species, is based on rather infrequent visits and there are certainly more to be seen there during the year. Pretty common this time of year is the Checkered White, the female of which shows more mottling on the underside than the male.
Whitfield is also one of the more dependable spots for Bordered Patch.
We even had a couple of Variegated Fritillaries, not all that unusual, but they usually perch with their wings open so it’s a little tricky getting a shot of the underside.
The wackiest thing we noticed on both visits was this unusual animal in someone’s yard just north of Whitfield.
Both times I was surprised at what sure looked like a zebra in that yard, and when we asked a neighbor were informed that, yep, but actually it’s a Zonkey, a cross between a zebra and a donkey – who knew?
Sunday morning, I headed off to my “local patch”, Embudito Canyon, wanting to see if the chamisa was blooming yet and if any American Snout butterflies were flying there since we’d seen one a few days before at Whitfield and one in Cerrillos Hills State Park at the end of August. In mid-October of 2012 they were present in very large numbers at Embudito (and the first I’d seen outside of Texas), but I haven’t seen them there since. It may still be a little early for this year and elevation, though. The chamisa really hasn’t quite taken off and none of those butterflies were seen so far this year. It was nice to see a Green Skipper, a couple of Western Pygmy-Blue, Common Checkered-Skipper, Arizona Sister, and a late for the season Two-tailed Swallowtail there that morning. A few new birds for the season also treated me with their presence that day, including the first Ladder-backed Woodpecker I’ve seen there in awhile, the last of the hummingbirds who are off migrating south, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and in the stand of hackberry trees where I’ve seen them in previous years, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Biggest surprise of the morning, however, was getting a close-up view of a bird I rarely see and have never seen in Embudito before, a Sage Thrasher.
Spotting it in the cholla, I assumed at first it must be a Cactus Wren, then figured maybe it was an immature Curve-billed Thrasher or Crissal Thrasher, which are common in the area, but the shape of the bill and well-marked breast indicated it was something else, which my friend Judy verified for me as the Sage Thrasher.
Yesterday, Rebecca and I returned to the incredibly scenic area of the Gilman Tunnels in the Jemez Mountains in a quest for the Apache Skipper we’d last seen there in 2012. The timing of our visit and state of the chamisa was promising, but cooler temperatures and some high thin clouds kept the butterflies in hiding and we were unsuccessful in spotting that species. We did have a few others there, however, including a Melissa Blue, which I haven’t seen lately,
and a nice fresh Mylitta Crescent.
Butterflies were a little sparse high up the canyon, but there were some pretty cool bugs flying about. Most of the chamisa had a number of Repetitive Tachinid Flies nectaring on it,
and there were also several Thread-waisted Wasps visiting for that purpose.
Driving back down the canyon just before getting back on NM 4, we stopped to check out the large stands of tall chamisa blooming alongside the road and got our surprise of the day, at least seven Monarch butterflies nectaring on the chamisa.
We only see this species during its spring and fall migration, and usually only one or two typically near their milkweed host plant down at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. Not only did we get to see so many individuals, but even caught a pair in the act of mating.
This is a good thing, as they are the only butterfly that makes a round-trip migration, but their numbers have drastically diminished in recent years due to habitat loss.
With Fall finally here, my favorite time of the year in New Mexico, there should be some good times out and about in the coming days.