Now that all my little owls have grown up and disappeared into the woods, I’ve been keeping an eye out for other birds nesting. New to me having only rarely come across them in the past, already this year more than a dozen species have caught my attention. Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip took us to a friend’s cabin on Thompson Ridge in the Jemez, which would turn up plenty of nesting birds in the aspen trees. In addition to the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, and Broad-tailed Hummingbird nests we’d found on the previous week’s trip to Doc Long Picnic Area in the Sandias, we’d see a couple of nests of the Northern Flicker,
quite a few for the Violet-green Swallow,
and even one for a House Wren (seen here on her way to the nest).
While we didn’t see their nests, during lunch a Pygmy Nuthatch kept flying into the feeders and then off to its little one in a nearby tree and a Western Tanager dropped by several times for a visit.
Our annual visit to this spot usually turns up a couple of good butterflies, too, with a Western Pine Elfin this year, but we were probably a week or so early for some of the other local specialties. On the way home, we’d take a slight detour to check out the kinnikinnick (aka bearberry, Arctostaphylus uva-ursi) spot nearby where we’ve seen two species of elfin butterflies in the past. On this visit, we’d spot several individual Hoary Elfin.
The next day, Rebecca and I headed off to Union County in the northeast corner of New Mexico in search of a couple of special butterflies in the area around Capulin National Monument and Sugarite State Park. We didn’t have much luck with our target butterflies on our first few stops along the way, but would get some good ones in Tollgate Canyon a little later in the morning. Two that we spotted aren’t ones we’ve seen very often at all, Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper
and Viereck’s Skipper.
Most of the butterflies were busy nectaring there on a purple flower in the pea family, but the purple thistle was just about to come into bloom. This shot of a purple thistle was kind of fun, showing that pattern of the Fibonacci sequence rather commonly seen in nature.
Back to baby birds, at the guest house we stayed at in the small town of Branson, CO, we had American Robin, Western Kingbird, and probably Great-tailed Grackles all nesting in the same tree, and in a birdhouse next to the driveway, Mountain Bluebird.
The next day we had a pretty good mix of butterflies at Sugarite State Park, including Common Sootywing, Mexican Sootywing, Silvery Checkerspot,
and a new one for me, the Hobomok Skipper, along with several others.
Our last day in the area was pretty good and would turn up a couple of those butterflies we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking for on past trips. On the first day, we spent a good part of the morning checking out the volcanic features just north of the Capulin Volcano for my nemesis butterfly, the Rhesus Skipper (so called because we’ve been looking for it unsuccessfully for several years although it should occur in most of New Mexico). On Sunday, we drove a little further west and saw a good number of Green and Pahaska Skippers on the blooming thistle. Then we headed back toward the volcano and looked around some larger patches of yucca at one spot. I’d wandered pretty far away when I heard Rebecca calling. Heading back quickly, she’d spotted a Strecker’s Giant-Skipper (one of those butterflies we’ve been hoping to spot for the last couple of years). Sure enough, it was still there basically circling a fairly small area and occasionally landing on a dried-up yucca stalk. It did require hopping a barbed wire fence and tracking it down, but the effort was well worth it and another new one for our life lists.
As sometimes happens, it wasn’t until we got home to look at some of my other pictures from the trip in more detail that I realized in addition to all those Green and Pahaska Skppers, I’d managed to get a photo of this guy. Somehow it just didn’t register with me at the time, but there’s a good chance it could be the long-sought after Rhesus Skipper.
My expert who told us about this area isn’t completely sure about the identification and it might instead be an Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas), so I’m running it by another local expert for a second opinion – in any event, a cool butterfly to see!
The drive to and from Union County turned up some pretty good big mammals along the road, including a large herd of Mule Deer, a confused Bighorn Sheep standing in the middle of the road, a herd of elk off in the distance, and pronghorn just about everywhere. At one point, Rebecca braked hard and pulled over to see what really was a treat, a very young pronghorn with its mother. Usually, I’ll see one or two pronghorn and rarely much larger groups, but have never seen a little one before.
Realizing that the Rhesus Skipper likes volcanic soil and blue grama grass, it struck me on Monday morning to go check out Petroglyph National Monument on the west side of town to look for them. Although there’s plenty of blue grama in my yard, it was a little surprising to not find it close to the cliff edges of the volcanic escarpment but farther from the edge. While I never did spot one of those little guys, there were a few other creatures about in habitat I only rarely visit. A Reakirt’s Blue was nectaring on Purple Sage and posed nicely for a photo.
Along the trails to our line of volcanoes were several pair of Common Checkered-Skippers engaged in fierce territorial disputes, but waiting until a battle ended found the victor of the most recent confrontation calmly surveying its territory.
Several species of cactus were in bloom,
a snake of some kind quickly slid into its hole on my approach, and there were several Horned Larks in the area.
At one point, the lighting was just right to catch the purple gorget on this male Black-chinned Hummingbird, who only let me get so close before it zipped off.
My neighborhood seems to have plenty of small Cottontail rabbits, which were also present out there in the desert, but also seen there is the much larger Black-tailed Jackrabbit.
Most interesting out there, however, was all the different types of lizards darting about before resting in the shade of low bushes. I’d see at least four different species including this one, which was the first of its kind for me.
The next morning, it was down to the Rio Grande Nature Center to check in on the Great Horned Owl nest that had been found late in the season, but they’d either grown up enough to vanish into the woods or were hiding really well. On the way in and out, I took several looks at the cavity where there’s an American Kestrel nest right by the entrance to the Visitor Center. I knew they were there, but for the longest time there was just nothing to be seen. Finally, however, one little one climbed up to perch on the edge of the cavity.
Others with more patience to wait around with the mosquitoes than me have seen as many as four little ones peering out, and one friend caught an amazing shot of one of the adults arriving with a small lizard to feed the little ones. These guys are very close to fledging and leaving the nest for good.
Yesterday morning at Embudito was a good day for butterflies. With little water around, what damp areas there were drew a good variety of species. At one spot, three Two-tailed Swallowtails were working the mud together, the first time this year I’d seen them not just flying back and forth high in the sky.
Having heard that one was seen in the foothills a week ago, my target for the morning was a Canyonland Satyr, and it was satisfying to spot two individuals and to point them out to other hikers in the canyon.
Surprise of the day, however, was seeing a Hackberry Emperor, first on the shadowed granite wall by the creek and then again over by the stand of hackberry trees. I only see this species maybe once or twice a year and never this early in the year.
On the way back to the car, my annual sighting of baby quail occurred. As always, about the time I spot them, they run away surprisingly quickly to hide in the underbrush and typically long before I can get my camera on them. These were Gambel’s Quail, and the adult female was trailed by probably ten of those little ones. While the adults are about 10″ tall, their young are precocial (new term for me, too) and only an inch or so when they hatch, but are able to run and keep up with the folks within hours of hatching. I stood there for a few minutes hoping they’d come out in the open again, but instead I could hear the adult clucking at them to stay there and keep quiet while she slipped off to a nearby bush and started clucking louder to get my attention. When I moved closer, she flushed and flew off while the little ones stayed still and hidden. Amazing behavior to observe, but figured I’d best move along and let them get on with their business.