This past week brought us through the Autumn Equinox and later our first real cold front since Spring; it’s certainly starting to feel like Fall around here. Last Sunday, I started out by checking out the Piedras Marcadas Dam again hoping to spot one of the Monarch caterpillars that must surely be there after seeing lots of adults flying through in recent weeks and even a few females laying eggs. That morning the number of adults was way down from previous visits, and despite my looking pretty carefully over the whole area those caterpillars must have been pretty well-hidden. One butterfly I did see there, however, is one I don’t think we’ve seen in town before, a Bordered Patch.
Since it’s nearby and I’d seen some good birds there recently, I then walked the trails at Calabacillas Arroyo. Oddly quiet for birds that morning, I’d see few of the 40+ species the Audubon Thursday Birders tallied there just a couple weeks earlier. Walking back along the drainage ditch toward the car did turn up a pair of Wood Ducks, the male with its quite spectacular colors
and a female, showing much more color than you usually see.
I’ve been out several times in the last week unsuccessfully hoping to spot some of those migrating warblers but am starting to think maybe I’m just getting out too late in the morning. No excuses Tuesday, and I made it to Embudito Canyon just as the sun was coming over the mountain. Not the best habitat to expect warblers and there weren’t any to be seen, but there was a pretty good mix of other birds letting me know they were there. A good-sized flock of Gambel’s Quail were working their way through the brush, calling to each other and scurrying away when they saw me coming. Here’s a picture of two adults scanning the area while all their little ones hid quietly below.
Interesting to see was a Rock Wren returning to the canyon. We’ll usually see them along the rocky hillside in winter, but they are usually pretty scarce there the rest of the year.
Biggest surprise of the morning was seeing another Apache Skipper nectaring on the chamisa that’s just starting to come into bloom, especially since it was still a little cool and no other butterflies were about.
I’d been a little surprised to see one there last week and would be even more surprised to see at least three individuals later in the week. It seems they might be a little more common around here than expected.
The next day, it was off to the North Diversion Channel Outfall (aka Tramway Wetlands) which has been quite active lately with a variety of shorebirds. It’s kind of strange how that area changes over time; some days it’s full of water attracting one set of birds while at other times it’s almost completely dry. On this visit, the end that had all the sandpipers, plovers, and such a week ago was being bulldozed by AMAFCA (Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority) and was just churned up mud. A few of those shorebirds, including this killdeer, had moved closer to the river but the water level and mud kept me from getting very close.
A first for me was spotting an Eared Grebe in its winter plumage there – I knew it was a grebe, but had to check my books at home later to figure out what kind. We commonly see Pied Grebes near the river, but it’s pretty unusual to see any of the others.
Poking around the sunflowers near the water were several Lark Sparrows, another bird I don’t come across often around town.
Not sure at first what it was other than large, something caught my attention as it flew low out from the bushes in the water before settling back down further away. Finally spotting it through the weeds perched on a dry area, it turned out to be an adult Cooper’s Hawk who sat there for several minutes hoping I wouldn’t see it before heading deeper into the brush in the middle of the pond.
The Audubon Thursday Birder trip this week again picked up more than 40 bird species on a visit to the Rio Grande Nature Center. Just as the group was gathering to start, what turned out to be a most unusual Virginia Rail was spotted poking around the reeds at the Candelaria Ponds, and later we’d have a Belted Kingfisher fly over the group and would turn up a few of those warblers I keep looking for. Somehow I managed not to get any decent bird pictures that day, but did save this one of a couple of Red-eared Sliders getting some sun.
Hoping to get a better look at the Virginia Rail, I went back around the same time the next morning but it never showed itself. Maybe because I couldn’t go back behind the Visitor Center like we did with the group, the trails through the bosque were extremely quiet and I saw very few birds. Interestingly, the few I did see were ones the group missed the previous day, including a male Summer Tanager, Snowy Egret, and this Great Blue Heron hanging out with a male Wood Duck on the far side of the river.
Saturday afternoon with it having been a bit cool but clear and sunny, I stopped by Embudito Canyon to see that the chamisa are really starting to bloom but the rain from the previous night still hadn’t gotten the stream running again. It came as a bit of a surprise to see nine species of butterflies during my walk up the wash, including those Apache Skippers and a new one for my Embudito list, an Orange Skipperling.
This little guy brings my list of Embudito butterflies to 59, an interesting number which google tells me is the total number of species in the U.K. Sure, it’s only about 18% of the 325 or so species we can see in New Mexico, but it still amazes me there are that many to be seen in a fairly small canyon. Typically, my visits only take me about 1/2 mile up the wash to where there’s sometimes a small waterfall and usually at least some damp ground. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a few more species going higher up the canyon as the habitat changes from desert scrub to ponderosa pine forest.
Another small orange butterfly I’ve been seeing there since spring is the Mylitta Crescent.
Being seen pretty regularly in the Sandias just now is the Arizona Sister.
And a bit surprising was seeing what appeared to be a fresh Variegated Fritillary, a butterfly that I haven’t seen much since early spring.
On Monday, I decided to head up toward the Sandia Crest to see how the aspens were coming along. They can be just spectacular in early October, but you can’t really tell looking up about 5000′ to the Crest from down in town. My first stop was at Capulin Spring, where it was news to me that they’ve finished replacing the log trough that the spring trickles through and draws in all the birds in the area for a drink or a dip.
The new arrangement seems to be working pretty well and the birds are getting used to it. A couple of the ones I saw there were a Yellow-rumped Warbler
and a very cautious Steller’s Jay, who first hopped around several trees trying to figure out if I was a threat before finally coming down.
The goofy chipmunks who seem to spend their day managing the operation also seemed okay with the new log.
It was a pretty chilly morning, so a little surprising to see a couple of butterflies in the area – a Hoary Comma and this Field Crescent.
After that, I headed further up the mountain to the Ellis Trailhead, one of my favorite spots for those aspens. At the moment, the annual Fall show is well underway with colors ranging from lime green to yellow and into red; it won’t be long before the full golden glow appears. Even better than seeing the aspens, however, was having a Broad-winged Hawk circling above them, a rare sighting around here and one I hadn’t seen before. I did report it on eBird along with a photo good enough to identify it but it was rather out of focus due to (since resolved) technical difficulties with my camera. (If anyone’s looking closely at the picture below, no, that’s just a Turkey Vulture and not the hawk.)
A WORD ABOUT WORDPRESS – In order to provide the free blogging service through WordPress, they put an advertisement at the bottom of each post that the blog author has no control over and certainly does not reflect any endorsement or interest of the author. A friend recently informed me that one of those ads was a political ad for my least favorite presidential candidate – not the most appropriate sort of ad I’d expect in this forum. Caveat emptor!