Somehow the month of August is just slipping by without my having gotten around to posting a blog update. After returning from that fabulous trip to Brazil at the end of July the subject of my August 10 post, the first two weeks of August were pretty much taken up going through the ridiculous number of pictures that came home with me. That at last has finally settled down, but other goings-on have kept me from getting out much very often in the days since, something I’ll have to rectify in the few days remaining.
A few days after getting back, I did take a break to go out with the Audubon Thursday Birder bunch on their trip to the Tingley Ponds. Typical for such a good birding location right downtown on a beautiful morning, we had quite a large number of people join us but still managed to exceed our success criterion of seeing more birds than we have people. The island in the middle of the northern pond had a Green Heron on a fishing expedition, a bit far for the lens I had but the picture came out reasonably well.
The camera did much better on a dragonfly perched on the reeds near the edge of the pond.
On the southern pond, a Pied-billed Grebe in its breeding plumage paddled around the center of the pond.
That Saturday, I joined Rebecca in leading a butterfly walk for the BioBlitz at the Rio Grande Nature Center. People on the walk seemed to enjoy all the information about butterflies she shared with the group, but unfortunately butterflies just aren’t that plentiful near the river and we weren’t able to point out more than one or two during the walk. We had a similar experience on the USFS BioBlitz in Cienega Canyon in mid-May, not seeing any butterflies on what turned out to be a cold and cloudy morning. If the objective is to see lots of different butterfly species, we really should pick locations known to be good at that time of year and hope for good weather conditions. Nonetheless, we did see a few cool things that morning mostly spotted by a couple of the kids in the group. One of my favorites is the Calligraphy Beetle.
This is the first time I’ve seen them in the process of mating, and it’s just amazing how swollen that female is as she’s laying those eggs on the leaf.
Later that week, I was signed up to lead our annual Thursday Birder trip to look for the nesting Mississippi Kites in Corrales, and figured I’d better go try and scout them out before the trip. More common in Oklahoma, Texas, and southern states, they also nest along a narrow strip by the Rio Grande and have nested in Corrales for at least the last several years. We intentionally scheduled this year’s walk a couple of weeks earlier than we did last year, but it seems they nested even earlier this year and the little ones were fully fledged by now and almost ready to head off on their own. A friend had told me where to look this year and I’d been fortunate to spot both adults and juveniles in the same area on my two scouting trips, so it was fun being able to take the group to see them.
While I’d been off to Brazil, Rebecca had figured out where and when to see the Colorado Hairstreak butterfly that we’d been looking for most of the summer. We’d gone to look the day before, but were unsuccessful in finding any on that somewhat cool and cloudy morning. But after spotting my Mississippi Kites and noting that the sky was perfectly clear over the mountains and it was nice and warm, I made a beeline for the spot she’d shown me, and (yay!) got one at what seems about the end of their flight period.
A couple of other species also came out for the sun including a Checkered White checking out the purple asters that have started to bloom in the mountains.
The day after the Mississippi Kite trip, Rebecca and I headed down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area near Belen to check in on their butterflies. There were a few new species for the year flying around including Pearl Crescent and Bordered Patch, but the biggest surprise was seeing a total of 17 Monarchs working the milkweed during their Fall migration. This is quite a few more than we’ve seen in the past and it’s looking like a good year for them after a couple of years when their numbers have been way down.
It was also cool to see this moth, with what I presume are eggs, on the visitor center wall.
The next week’s Audubon Thursday Birder walk took us to the Ellis Trail high up in the Sandias where the birding was unusually good that day. Somehow I didn’t get any decent bird pictures, but we all had fun watching some mule deer that seemed unfazed by our presence,
and lots of tachinid flies that are pretty cool looking if you look close.
A couple of days later, Rebecca and I headed out for the Sandias again in search of butterflies. A little quiet for them that day and we’re thinking probably too late for those Colorado Hairstreaks, but there were a few species flying about. At one of our stops, I also saw what must be a family group of House Wrens busy flitting through the bushes in search of bugs.
And at Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, I had to laugh at the Pac-man cloud Rebecca spotted.
Some of what I’ve been doing this past week is fooling around with different camera and lens combinations, trying to decide which to bring on my next neotropic butterfly adventure. For several years, I’d used a Nikon 70-300mm lens for most of my pictures until it started acting a little funny and I succumbed to upgrading to a ridiculously expensive but crazy good 80-400mm lens about a year ago. That lens does get good butterfly pictures (the only lens I had on the Brazil trip for close to 100 species), but requires you to focus from a good distance away and is pretty dang big and heavy. Giving the old 70-300 another shot this week, a visit to my local patch, Embudito, turned up a Canyonland Satyr. Just about the only butterfly I saw that day, they have been much less common this year than last, and yeah, that lens is just not doing it for me any more.
A few days later, my Tokina 100mm macro lens got its tryout with this bee on a flower in Corrales.
That worked out pretty well so might be the way to go on the next butterfly trip. Its main drawback is that it’s not internal focusing and the movement of the lens housing as one focuses close can sometimes cause the subject to fly off, but it is way more compact and lightweight.
Another option for me is that Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 I recently got specifically for travel. Small, lightweight, big zoom range, even a reticulating screen for photographing those metalmarks that hide under leaves, it actually does a pretty good job and I’ve used it as my only camera on recent trips to Florida and East Texas. It can be quite frustrating sometimes in getting it to focus on the subject at hand and doesn’t have near as many options as the Nikon DSLR for other things I might want to play with. Took it along on this week’s Audubon Thursday Birder outing to El Malpais National Monument since I hadn’t messed with it since before the Brazil trip. Despite those drawbacks, it does take some pretty nice photographs, such as this spiderwort flower.
Driving to the South Narrows Picnic Area turned up a crowd of Turkey Vultures waiting for the thermals to start building.
One of the more scenic stops that day was the La Ventana Arch, a picture taken with the Lumix near its 25mm wide angle limit. In addition to it being an impressively dramatic landscape, we had some pretty good birds there that morning including a Peregrine Falcon perched high on the cliff way too far away for my camera, and a good mix of other bird species.
Four more days left in August – time to get back out there and see what there is to see.