After nearly a week of unusually cloudy and rainy weather, marvelous fall weather returned for the final two days of the Balloon Fiesta last week and continued all this week. For the first time in years, the morning mass ascension of the balloons happened on all nine days of this year’s event. With the wonderful weather, the chamisa is now in full bloom bringing out many more butterflies than we’ve seen in recent weeks. This past week has also been good for several surprising bird sightings. A visit on Saturday to Tingley Ponds and the Rio Grande Nature Center turned up a few good butterflies on the chamisa and seep willow, which is also coming into bloom, including a large number of Common Buckeyes and several Fiery Skippers.
At the base of a chamisa bush, a Greater Roadrunner was tearing around, stopping abruptly to look intently, and then taking off again, likely chasing a lizard hiding in the bush.
And down at the pond, plenty of turtles were busy warming up in the sun.
Stopping at Tramway Wetlands on Monday morning, I immediately spotted the trio of Long-billed Dowitchers that folks had reported seeing there, and was surprised they let me get fairly close for a picture.
Among all the other birds working the area that morning was also a Spotted Sandpiper, another bird that I don’t see all that often around here.
Later in the morning, I checked out the state of the chamisa at several spots along the foothills. As I’d hoped, conditions turned out best at Embudito Canyon where Rebecca joined me that afternoon for a bit of butterflying. There haven’t been many butterflies around there in the last few weeks, but with the chamisa exploding into color the butterflies finally showed up in good numbers. Most surprising and BOD (Butterfly of the Day) was an American Snout.
I had been surprised seeing my first one in New Mexico there back in 2012 and in large numbers, but hadn’t seen another there in the last three years. We also saw quite a few Common Buckeyes feasting on the chamisa,
a couple of Queen butterflies,
a Hoary Comma,
and a surprisingly large number (at least seven) of Monarch butterflies. This one is a male, identified by those black scent patches on the hind wing. In typical years I’ve only seen two or three Monarchs, usually isolated individuals off on their annual migration, but this year we’re seeing larger numbers of them in several different locations.
The next morning I headed down to the Rio Grande Nature Center hoping to see the Eared Grebe that has been seen regularly on the Candelaria Pond. No luck on that objective, so I headed on into the bosque to see what other birds might be around. It was pretty quiet during that walk with only a woodpecker or two hammering on the trees and a Killdeer and a couple of ducks out on the river. Heading back to the Nature Center, however, some motion in a cottonwood tree caught my attention and had me thinking at first it was probably a porcupine since I’ve been seeing them around recently and whatever it was seemed pretty large. Investigating a little closer, I was surprised to realize it was a Great Horned Owl.
Most often, I only see these guys from February to early April during their nesting season and when the leaves haven’t yet appeared on the trees. Once the little ones have fledged, they seem to just vanish into the woods until the next season. This year, however, I spotted one at the end of September in Route 66 Open Space and now this one – too cool.
Obviously, most of my photographs are of birds and butterflies with the occasional bug or critter thrown in, but now and then other things will catch my eye. This week it was this back-lit Morning Glory glowing in the sun.
Wednesday started off a little quiet for birding at Calabacillas Arroyo where I went to look for a Western Screech-Owl that had been reported recently on eBird. With the help of a friend, I did find its roosting cavity but the bird either wasn’t home or didn’t want to be seen that morning. An example of a perfect roosting spot close to where a Great Horned Owl had nested a couple of years ago, I’ll make a point of checking that spot in the future. The one bird I did see that morning was a Great Blue Heron coming in for a landing.
Later that day, I headed up to Sandia Crest to see that the aspen are still putting on their fall display of color which will soon end. Along the way, I checked “The Log” at Capulin Springs where there were easily two dozen Pine Siskins playing in the water along with nuthatches, chickadees, and crossbills. Another stop at Bill Spring showed it is still quite popular with the birds as well. Early afternoon had quite a few White-breasted Nuthatches dropping by,
and a few Dark-eyed Juncos along with several other species.
Wrapping up this past week, the Audubon Thursday Birders met at Poblanos Fields Open Space on a cool and sunny autumn morning. A successful outing for the group of more than two dozen birders seeing 37 species, including our first Sandhill Cranes for the season and large numbers of Canada Geese (and one Snow Goose). At the north end of the fields, seedheads on patches of sunflowers drew in a large flock of Lesser Goldfinch.
Mixed in with all the goldfinches were a good number of House Finches, a single Blue Grosbeak and one Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
The weather forecast for the coming week is predicting windy conditions, cooler temperatures, and maybe even some rain, which should really take us into fall. While the butterflies may be just about done around here for the year, I can look forward to the return of all of our winter migrant birds returning for the season.