The arrival of the summer solstice last Monday brought the first drops of rain in quite awhile, the huge fire in the east mountains almost to a close, and sightings of a few new butterflies, birds, and a couple of other interesting creatures. On Saturday before the official start of summer, Rebecca and I made the big butterfly loop of the Sandias, starting at Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, checking out Sulphur Canyon and Bill Spring, and around and down to Las Huertas Canyon. The Indian hemp (aka dogbane or formally Apocynum cannabinum) was blooming in Ojito and is always attractive to a wide variety of butterflies. Although we were there a little early in the morning, we spotted 15 Juniper Hairstreaks coming to it and almost a dozen species all told, including a Weidemeyer’s Admiral that posed next to the trail for me.
Near Sulphur Canyon, we came across large numbers of Two-tailed and Western Tiger Swallowtails, a scene that would be repeated in other locations that day. In Las Huertas, the few tropical milkweed plants in the only spot we know of for it in the Sandias were blooming – another butterfly favorite; on one flower we had three different butterfly species – Reakirt’s Blue, Juniper Hairstreak, and Marine Blue. Rather drab, but a good species to add to our list for the day was the Dun Skipper.
Lots of the skippers are dull brown or yellowish and told apart by distinctive patterns on the underside. One of them, the highlight of the day, was the Python Skipper, which we have only seen a few times before.
On Monday, I spent a little time poking around the Corrales Bosque to look for Mississippi Kites, which should start nesting soon. Unfortunately it was a little quiet for almost everything that day, but on the way out I spotted this odd-looking bird that I’m pretty sure must be a juvenile Summer Tanager just starting to get its adult coloration.
Tuesday morning took me to Tingley Ponds, where I thought I might find a few baby ducks and maybe some dragonflies. The dragonflies were indeed out, but of the two species I noticed, almost all were Widow Skimmers. In a few more weeks, many more species should start flying.
The biggest surprise of the day was seeing a Gulf Fritillary flying near the river and landing on the Russian Olive, a butterfly I’ve never seen in New Mexico before.
A Black-headed Grosbeak hiding in the shade also let me get close enough for a picture.
A visit to Embudito on Wednesday produced very few butterflies, possibly due in part to the spring having dried up over the last week or so, but hopefully our summer monsoon rains will arrive shortly to replenish it. The birds that morning seemed to want to show off and posed nicely for me. First was a Cactus Wren calling for my attention from the top of a cholla,
and then a Gambel’s Quail trying to draw my attention away from its flock of little ones hiding under the same bush they’d run to the last time I visited. I’ve seen the family a couple of times now, but so far they’ve been too quick for me to get any kind of photograph of the little ones.
This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip returned to Ojito de San Antonio, where the group would get a respectable total number of species seen although most were pretty far in the distance. Birding highlight of the day was watching the acrobatics of a Cooper’s Hawk attacking a Red-tailed Hawk high in the sky. Everybody also got good looks at those Juniper Hairstreaks still working the Indian hemp.
Toward the end of the walk, a couple folks pointed out a large dark swallowtail nectaring on one of the blooming thistles. Another butterfly I don’t see very often at all, a Black Swallowtail!
As I was pulling into my driveway after the morning walk, it was amusing to see four Mule deer calmly munching away on my neighbor’s desert willow blossoms. Very rarely around sunset, I’ll notice deer moving through the more natural grassland habitat behind my house, but this is the first time I’ve seen them during the day or in a front yard.
Friday was one of those amazing days when I headed out with no specific location or objective in mind, but would be astonished at what I’d find when I got there. Finally decided to head to Capulin Spring, which would give me a chance to check on the Indian hemp at 8000′ and knowing the spring is always a good spot for birds. The Indian hemp was just starting to come into bloom up there and a couple of weeks behind that at Ojito, but was already attracting a few butterfly species, including my first Gray Hairstreak for the year.
What was really amazing that day, however, was the next stop at Capulin Spring where fields of blue flax and Rocky Mountain penstemon were drawing in all kinds of different butterflies. Both the Two-tailed Swallowtail
and the Western Tiger Swallowtail were coming to it and pausing to nectar for several minutes at a time, allowing time to really observe the differences between these two species. (6/28/16 Correction: While both of these species were likely present, I usually identify them by the richer yellow color and the typically narrower black stripes on the Two-tailed Swallowtail, but got that confused on the original post. The two tails are obvious in the picture above, but I just learned that the female Two-tail also has thick black stripes and it’s only the male that has thinner stripes. The caption on the photo below has been corrected from Western Tiger Swallowtail to correctly identify it as a male Two-tailed Swallowtail. Note that it’s missing both of its longer of the two tails, the damage more obvious in a close-up.)
Several of the few Painted Lady butterflies I’ve seen this year also dropped by for a visit.
And an unexpected surprise was an American Snout. Although they fly most of the season, we only occasionally see this species and most often in the Fall.
The birds did not disappoint either that day, with close to a dozen species coming to visit the water during my short time watching. This is a Northern Flicker just before he took a quick bath in the shallow water in the log.
A Pine Siskin landed close to where I was sitting before heading down as well.
And nearby a Green-tailed Towhee was keeping a sharp eye out from its hiding place in the shadows.
I may just have to head back there again in the next few days, first early in the morning when all the birds in the area seem to stop by for a splash or a drink and then later when it warms up for butterflies among all those flowers.
Last week, a friend had given me some information on where his Cooper’s Hawks were nesting in an area near the Rio Grande he monitors for Hawks Aloft, so despite the unusually cloudy morning I headed down for a look on Saturday. Since it was on the way, I also decided to take another look at the nest I’d found occupied back in early May near Piedras Marcadas Dam. On May 10, I’d spotted the adult female’s tail sticking out and when I next visited on June 10 saw that tail in exactly the same position. That got me worried since it looked like she hadn’t moved and would’ve surely hatched any eggs by now. It was a relief to see her sitting up looking out at me when I next visited two days later. It was worrisome again when I returned the next week to find only the nest – no adults, no little ones peeking out. It was certainly a thrill this morning to finally see that yes, we’ve got little ones and they’re well on their way to growing up!
If you zoom in on the picture, you can just see the beak of the smaller one to the left of the older one that sat up and watched me the whole time during my visit.
After that thrilling discovery, I went on to look for those two nests my friend had told me about. Never found the first nest, but did spot one of its little ones close to where the nest probably was – this guy is obviously much further along and nearly ready to start its life as an adult.
Those clouds finally got more serious and it even starting raining a little, so I passed on trying to locate the other nest. One last surprise for the day was spotting a porcupine resting in a tree. I can usually find these guys pretty easily in the winter and early spring before the trees leaf out, but rarely see one the rest of the year since they are mostly nocturnal and are (usually) good at finding hiding places in the summer.