The summer solstice arrives on Monday and right on schedule we’re having some of our hotter days of the year and the wildfire season has started with a big one in the East Mountains. These last days of Spring have been delightful for seeing even more species of nesting birds, a lot more butterflies coming out, and a few other goodies. The Audubon Thursday Birders checked out the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center in Cedar Crest on June 9. A little quiet for birds, but we’d still meet our success criterion of seeing more bird species than we had people. Coolest sighting of the day was seeing a couple of short-horned lizards (aka horny toads) spotted by sharp-eyed members of the group.
Of the three species we can see here, this one is probably Hernandez’ Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi). After that morning’s birding, Rebecca and I went looking for butterflies all the way to the Sandia Crest (10,678′ or 3,255m). Up there at the top it was a bit breezy and we didn’t see the swallowtail we were hoping for, but I had just mentioned it seemed about time to be seeing the Melissa Blue when Rebecca spotted the first of several we’d see.
The next day, I dropped in on the Rio Grande Nature Center to check in on the American Kestrel nest and to see if any of the little Great Horned Owls were still about, but it appears everybody has moved on with their lives away from the nests. A Summer Tanager was making quite a fuss in the parking lot, begging for its picture to be taken but then playing coy hiding behind the leaves while still calling loudly. Finally got him to stop for a second.
It had been a month since I’d checked in on the nesting Cooper’s Hawk near Piedras Marcadas Dam, so it seemed worth a visit to see how things were going there. Oddly, once again all I could see was the adult female’s tail in exactly the same position as a month ago. She didn’t move at all while I was there making me wonder if everything was okay. Good news, two days later she was up and looking around so I’d bet we’ve got some little ones in there that I’ll have to look for in the next week or so.
Monday morning, Rebecca and I headed off to Las Huertas Canyon. Always good for butterflies this time of year, the day would turn up several new species for the year. A little cool at the start, they weren’t many flying and we’d either spot them perched quietly or startle them by walking by. First new species for the year was the Bosiduval’s Blue.
There are several muddy spots along the road and close to the creek that attract lots of butterflies when the sun is shining. Once things had warmed up a bit in the sun, butterflies would arrive in good numbers attracted by the salty mud, but all it took was a passing cloud for the butterflies to all but disappear. A few others we’d see that morning included some Margined Whites,
a Rusty Skipperling,
and a good number of Wiedemeyer’s Admiral – rather attractive butterflies both from the top
and from the side.
At a new muddy spot further up the road than where we usually find them, there were a large number of Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.
Among all of the Western Tigers, we noticed one was a little smaller and had different markings – an Anise Swallowtail, a species we rarely see anywhere.
Later in the week, I drove over to Ojito de San Antonio Open Space where a week earlier we’d seen the dogbane (Apocynum cannabium) coming into bloom. This plant is usually very attractive to a wide variety of butterflies, but on our earlier visit wasn’t quite in bloom and it was pretty late in the afternoon. It was much further along in the blooming stage that morning, but might still be a little early for some of the expected butterflies – stay tuned. There were a couple of Marine Blues and Juniper Hairstreaks that had discovered it, but it was still pretty quiet overall.
As long as I was in the area, a visit to Sulphur and Cienega Canyons and Bill Spring seemed a good idea. Everywhere I went that morning there were unusually large groups of puddling Two-tailed Swallowtails (the other big yellow butterfly around here).
So many that I couldn’t think of the correct term – “flock”, “herd”, “swarm” – Reference.com tells me the official term for a large group of butterflies is a “kaleidoscope of butterflies” – I like it! Here’s just one of them posing by itself.
Along the trail to Bill Spring a Mylitta Crescent posed to show me its ventral view, nice since they usually land with their wings spread open.
Nearby, a pair of Juniper Hairstreak butterflies were busy nectaring on the yellow clover.
At Bill Spring itself, there were a ridiculous number of Silver-spotted Skippers,
a few Taxiles Skippers,
another batch of Two-tailed Swallowtails, a couple of Weidemeyer’s Admirals, and several Arizona Sisters.
This week’s Audubon Thursday Birders trip took us out to Villanueva State Park, an absolutely gorgeous spot on the Pecos River about 1 1/2 hours from Albuquerque. There were some good butterflies in the area, notably several Black Swallowtails, but most of my pictures from the day were of some of the 40+ species the group would see. Birding highlights were Cassin’s Sparrow (likely a lifer for me), Hepatic Tanager, and Eastern Phoebe, none of which I’d get a good picture of, unfortunately. An Ash-throated Flycatcher was nice enough to pose for me near the bridge in Villanueva just outside the park.
It’s pretty unusual to see, let alone get close enough to photograph, a Plumbeous Vireo, but in the campground I’d get good looks at both an adult
and what I’d assume is its recently fledged young.
Next to one of the campsites, I’m thinking the residents had scattered birdseed about because of all the attention it was getting from several Black-headed Grosbeaks. I took way too many pictures of them and noticed that in a couple of them were pictures of both sexes hopping in the air – here’s the male,
and here’s the female.
Nesting was in full swing there that day, and the group would see nests of at least six different species. One that I found was one of an American Robin.
We had great fun at the end of the day watching the adult Northern Flicker feeding three young ones in their nesting cavity. Other friends on the trip would get amazing pictures (and videos!) of that activity, but I was late to the party and only managed to see one little one peeking out.
Summer’s almost here and is sure to lead to some amazing natural moments in the days ahead.