The changing of the season is well underway around here with the arrival of cooler temperatures and appearance of all the new colors of fall. Competing with them every morning this week, of course, were the daily mass ascensions of some 550 hot air balloons participating in the 45th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the biggest event every year in town. Once that daily spectacle ends, all the visitors head into town and out to some of the natural attractions in the area from the Rio Grande bosque to the Sandia Mountains.
The day before all the balloons started popping up, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed out to Cochiti Lake for a good day of birding. One of our first unusual sightings was a large flock of American White Pelicans circling the lake that were spotted from the Tetilla Peak Campground.
Although a bit of wind that morning kept a lot of the birds in hiding, we had a pretty good variety pop up the longer we looked. One odd one we spotted perched in a tall pine tree was a Yellow-headed Blackbird, a bird usually seen in large groups hiding in the reeds of marshy habitats.
Quite a few Chipping Sparrows were around, including this one that posed nicely for me.
Naturally, as we took a break for lunch we were interrupted by several other birds making an appearance, including an Osprey, Northern Harrier, and a tern that one of our experts quickly identified as the most unusual for this area Caspian Tern. Hovering over the lake and diving for fish for a few minutes, it then flew low right over us – Bird of the Day for sure.
Later that afternoon, we drove through the village of Pena Blanca, successfully seeing the Black-billed Magpies we’d hoped to see there at the southern limit of their range, and also saw a number of Common Buckeye butterflies.
The next morning, I stopped by Elena Gallegos Open Space close to my house wondering if the Western Screech-Owl might still be around. No owl that morning, but as I was leaving a Sage Thrasher flew into the top of a pine and let me get the best picture I’ve ever gotten of one and the first time I’ve seen one in the foothills.
Saturday was a good day for a visit to my “local patch” Embudito, where the chamisa bloom just gets brighter and more extensive with every visit and attracts more and more species of butterflies. Two from that visit include a Painted Lady
and Marine Blue.
Although I have entirely too many pictures of Curve-billed Thrashers there in Embudito, once again one almost begged me to take its portrait perched in a cholla, its forehead apparently stained from feeding on a cholla fruit.
On Monday, Rebecca emailed me that she’d spent some time that day looking for Monarch caterpillars at Piedras Marcadas Dam, where we’d recently seen large numbers of the migrating adult butterflies nectaring on milkweed and sunflowers and had even seen females laying eggs. After a pretty long search she finally spotted one of those caterpillars, which got me down there the next day to see if I could find any. Took me a little time to spot one, and it was a little surprising to only find a single one after a pretty long search, but it certainly made my day to finally see it.
Even more of a surprise, however, was shortly later spotting a Monarch chrysalis!
From what I’ve read online, those eggs we saw being laid a few weeks ago hatch in about 4 days, then live as caterpillars for two weeks before turning into a chrysalis. Ten days later, they emerge as adult butterflies.
As usual, there were large numbers of Lesser Goldfinch feeding on the sunflower seeds at Piedras Marcadas Dam,
and after several attempts in recent weeks, it was very cool to finally spot one of those Great Horned Owls in the trees near where they’ve nested for the last several years – quite the productive morning.
Back at Embudito the next morning turned up a pair of Cactus Wrens that were busy foraging for insects and allowed me to get quite close without overly disturbing them.
A couple of good butterflies also turned up that morning, including a Checkered White working the purple asters,
and on the chamisa a very fresh Variegated Fritillary
and definitely an Apache Skipper.
I’ve been seeing so many of these recently, I’d started to wonder if some of them might be the more common and very similar-looking Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis) that also can be flying in early Fall. But this guy definitely caught my attention with that darker greenish brown wash of color and those black and white antenna tips.
This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip took us to Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe. A successful trip in that we tallied more bird species than people and a few birds we hadn’t seen in a long time. It was a bit cool and windy, though, and we had to work a bit more than usual to see them. Despite the conditions, there also were a few butterflies and dragonflies out that morning, including this Common Checkered-Skipper
and a Western Meadowhawk.
Yesterday, Rebecca and I headed up the mountain to catch the aspens just about at their peak of color.
The aspens will continue to build that glow for another week or so before dropping from the trees in the next big wind and the first snow, and just about then the cottonwoods along the Rio Grande should kick off their bright yellow Fall display. The oak trees are also well into their Fall wardrobe change.
Among the stops we made while enjoying the color show was a visit to the log at Capulin Spring, where I had one of the many Pine Siskins we’d see that day stop by for a photo.
The Red Crossbills, although they’re around all year, seem more numerous from now through the winter and we’d see quite a few of them stopping to enjoy the colors of Fall.