Surprising Sightings

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.

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus)

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus)

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.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

And down at the pond, plenty of turtles were busy warming up in the sun.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

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.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

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.

Solitary Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

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.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

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,

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

a couple of Queen butterflies,

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

a Hoary Comma,

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

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.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

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.

Great Horned Owl

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.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

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.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

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,

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

and a few Dark-eyed Juncos along with several other species.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

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.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

Mixed in with all the goldfinches were a good number of House Finches, a single Blue Grosbeak and one Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

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.

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About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Butterfly, Flowers, Photographs. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Surprising Sightings

  1. 1nmbirder says:

    Great pic of the monarch butterfly! Sounds like a good week! I was in TorC last weekend and saw lots of those American Snout butterflies. Lots of ruby-crowned kinglets too. As always I enjoy your blog. I had tried to meet up with the Thursday birders this past week but have just been too busy traveling and working. Got lots to write for my blog! Hopefully I will join you soon on a birding excursion.

    • joeschelling says:

      Those snouts are just too cool, aren’t they? And I’ve been seeing those kinglets everywhere lately but always tricky to photograph. Looking forward to your blog update, and yeah, hope to see you soon with those Thursday Birders.

  2. Linda Otterson says:

    We saw a Great Horned Owl in flight on our Sun morning bird walk at the Nature Center. It took off from the area over the first feeders at the beginning of the walk. I told Lefty we needed your keen “owl” eye to find it again. And behold, you did!

  3. Johnna says:

    Fabulous post – you know me – loved the turtles, deer-in-the-headlights-owl, heron landing – but above all, the Morning Glory. Gonna have to paint that one some day – ok?

  4. Shannon says:

    Aw, thanks for whetting my birdie appetite! I do LOVE that back-lit morning glory, and all of your birds and butterflies are tantalizing. The kinglet — such a cutie. Great captures all of them. We are plotting and planning to get nearer the Rio Grande than we are, hopefully at Big Bend by year’s end. I’m guessing this wasn’t too far from there? Cheers! And enjoy your time outdoors. Thanks for the share.

  5. joeschelling says:

    Good thinking, Shannon, Big Bend is fabulous for all kinds of critters and can be quite pleasant late in the year. And, yep, those pictures were pretty close to the Rio Grande, which runs right through Albuquerque,but a long day of driving north of Big Bend.

  6. Wonderful collection of pictures. I enjoyed!

  7. C.C. says:

    The Queen butterflies look so much like Monarchs! I will research what the differences are and look again at the photos I took in the Jemez 2 weekends ago.
    Great post, thanks!

    • joeschelling says:

      True. Apparently all that milkweed Monarchs like makes them taste bad to predators, so the Viceroy (a different genus) evolved to mimic the Monarch, and the others in the genus Danaus, such as the Queen and Soldier, look similar but they are all pretty easy to distinguish based on size, color, and patterns. We mostly had Monarchs in the Jemez a few weeks ago, surprising since we usually see Queens around here.

  8. Mike Powell says:

    Wonderful images, Joe. I love seeing the roadrunner–ever since my cartoon days, I’ve wanted to see one in person. The owl sighting is great. It’s hard to believe you could spot one with so many leaves still on the trees. One thing I especially like about your postings is that you include beautiful shots of some of familiar species (i.e. ones that I could identify) as well as the more rare and exotic ones.

    • joeschelling says:

      Thanks, Mike. I can’t look at a roadrunner without thinking of those cartoons either. And, sure, it’s always cool to spot an unusual creature but fun to get a good shot of the more common ones.

  9. Rebecca Gracey says:

    The White-breasted Nuthatch picture was especially good too.

  10. joeschelling says:

    Thanks. I thought a number of them came out pretty well this week.

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