With the first day of Spring still almost two weeks away, the weather is naturally still seesawing between seasons with warm and sunny days interrupted by cool and cloudy ones. Fruit trees in neighborhood yards are in full bloom and hints of green are starting to appear all over town. One of my favorite sightings this time of year is when our State butterfly, the Sandia Hairstreak, starts flying. Having heard that one was seen the day before, the first one showed up for me in Embudito late last Thursday afternoon.
During a short 20-minute visit, I’d spot at least eight of them hanging out on the Texas Beargrass (Nolina texana) and also saw my first Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa) fly by too quickly to get a picture. Rebecca and I would return on Saturday morning to see another half-dozen hairstreaks, a couple of orangetips, and add a first of the season Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta) and Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis).
We also had a few Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa), a Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) and probably a Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus). So the butterflies are back in business, now all we need is a few more of those sunny days and temperatures close to 70F.
On that Saturday visit, the first thing to catch our eye right by the parking lot was a Cactus Wren singing from a boulder used at other times by Curve-billed Thrasher, Scaled Quail, Gambel’s Quail, Western Scrub-Jay, and Canyon Towhee – obviously a favored spot for keeping an eye on the neighborhood.
At 9 this morning, even with the temperature in the low 50s, one of the hairstreaks was out in the open possibly hoping to warm up. Also new for the year this morning was a Black-throated Sparrow singing almost continuously from the top of a cholla.
Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Los Poblanos Open Space, led by Rebecca, squeaked out a success with the 28 people in the group seeing 30 bird species. While we dipped on the Western Screech-Owl that morning (there may even be two active nest boxes there now), the group would get good looks at a couple of Cooper’s Hawks, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a first-of-the-year Turkey Vulture. We also had a pair of American Kestrel, one of which I almost got a good picture of in flight as it landed at the top of a cottonwood,
and a surprisingly large number of Western Meadowlarks.
Friday had me back at Pueblo Montano Open Space once again looking for the Great Horned Owl that’s nested there for the last several years. Armed with a map from the folks at Hawks Aloft of all the nesting sites in the area, I worked it pretty hard but still haven’t spotted any in the stretch from the Oxbow to the Open Space Visitor Center where we had 3 of them last year.
When you’re looking that closely, you can’t help but spot the porcupines hanging out in the trees in that area. This one was low in the short trees lining the irrigation ditch just north of Bosque School.
Usually, these guys are just snoozing away the day before heading down at night for food, but this guy just couldn’t resist snacking on the new budding leaves. Oblivious to my presence, here’s a quick (13 second) video of it –> Porcupine Munchies
The first time I passed by, our next contestant immediately flew off calling loudly. But on my way back along the ditch, it decided to stand its ground and posed nicely for a photograph. This little stretch of the woods has been used frequently for nesting Cooper’s Hawks, which could be reused by those Great Horned Owls. The Cooper’s Hawks can be rather terrritorial, however, so that may have something to do with why I’m not finding owls.
The first report this year of a nesting Great Horned Owl was of the one near the Rio Grande Nature Center on February 6. Given their incubation period is 30-37 days, on Monday (March 7), it seemed a good idea to do a tour of some of the nests in the area to see how things were going. I visited five of the seven I know of that morning, but it seems we may have to wait a little longer. Maybe because it was a little cool and windy, but all five were still pretty well hunkered down and not easy to see. It’s a sure sign the little ones have arrived when the females start sitting up high in the nest. For the first time this year, I did spot the male hanging around close to one of the nests, making me think they might be close to having their little ones.
An eBird report tells me there might be another nest recently found near Valle de Oro NWR, so I was out the door on Tuesday to try to find it. No luck so far, but it was cool having a mature Bald Eagle fly over the river – it’s pretty late in the year to still be seeing them as they’ve mostly disappeared from this area on their northern migration along with the Sandhill Cranes.
Back for the season and always a treat for their marvelous song was a Hermit Thrush, uncharacteristically out in the open.
Hard to believe, but I just realized that as of March 5 this blog turned five years old. Started just about a month after I gave up that thing called work, it had never crossed my mind in the days leading up to that change to find myself out walking in the woods pretty much every day taking photographs of all the amazing things going on out there, becoming a much better birder (and photographer), and developing such an interest in that whole other world of butterflies. It’s been a fun ride so far and most enjoyable sharing these natural moments.