An interesting week with a couple of surprises along with some new sightings for the year. While it’s true some of these weren’t exactly total surprises since I’d shown up hoping they might appear, others really were surprising and just happened to catch my attention. Out looking for butterflies on the east side of the Sandias one morning, for example, somehow a Greater Short-horned Lizard (aka “horny toad”) caught my eye, a critter not often seen but surely around during the warmer months of the year.
That would also be the morning Rebecca would spot a single Silvery Blue right by the parking lot in Sulphur Canyon, one of the few butterflies we’d see there and one we don’t see all that often.
On a whim, we stopped at Ojito de San Antonio Open Space on the drive home, only to spot Gray Hairstreak, our first Juniper Hairstreak,
and our first Thicket Hairstreak for the year, all on the same to-be-identified flowering bush.
Earlier in the week, I’d made the hike into Cienega Canyon with friend Judy hoping to see the Northern Pygmy-Owl that was reported to be nesting in the same spot as last year. No luck on that Monday, but I got up Saturday morning and decided to give it another look. This time, I ran into two good birder friends who pointed out the male hiding high in a cedar tree. After they headed out, I took another look for what had at first appeared as just a rather unphotographic feather ball high in that tree. Somehow he’d flown off when we weren’t looking, so I tried looking harder to no avail when it called from somewhere behind me. Okay, he’s still around somewhere, just keep looking. After about fifteen minutes of waiting and looking around, dang if he wasn’t just sitting way up high in the aspen where I see him maybe once every year.
Every time, I at first dismiss it as just another House Finch or American Robin, but once he’s in the binoculars there’s no question it’s him!
Still reasonably early in the day, it seemed a good time to check in on a couple of my Great Horned Owl nests to see how things have been progressing. Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip took us to the Tingley Bosque Ponds. Great location and perfect weather naturally brought out a large group of 30 birders for an excellent morning of birding, starting with a Snowy Egret flying about the southern fishing pond as the group got organized,
adding the first Summer Tanager for the year, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Osprey, and others for a good total of 39 species (easily exceeding our success criterion of species/birders >1). Then the group followed me over to check out the Great Horned Owl nest nearby with the adult female keeping a close eye on her two nearly fully-grown little ones (that’s both of the little ones on the left facing different directions).
So, anyway, that was my first stop after getting to see that Northern Pygmy-Owl. This time, Mom was way off in a different tree with the two little ones still pretty close to the nest.
The older one is learning better how to hide in the branches, while the other one (just barely visible close to the trunk) seems a bit more hesitant to acknowledge the presence of visitors. Couldn’t pass up stopping by Albuquerque Academy to see how that one’s doing. A little surprising there was only one owlet there this year, but it seems to be growing up just fine.
This time, Mom was off in a cottonwood away from the nest about as far away as Dad, who was in his usual spot but giving me a little better look at him than in other recent visits.
Easter Sunday turned out to be a most interesting day after deciding to check out a couple of the areas the Audubon Thursday Birders will visit this week on the way to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. I figured I’d check out “Owlville” near Los Lunas and the Belen Marsh, first to see what we might expect to spot on Thursday but also to have a little more time to try for some pictures. eBird reports something like 21 Burrowing Owls being seen later in the day in Owlville, and I was glad to see five individuals, one sentry at each of what I assume are different nest sites.
Belen Marsh is also going to be good this week, with water levels up and a good variety of species. I didn’t stay long, but saw a couple of American Avocets and the expected Black-necked Stilts, most just poking around for something to eat,
and one or two taking to the air now and then.
A surprising treat, but unusual only in that it stayed out in the open for several minutes, was a Sora.
Not on the itinerary for the Thursday Birders, but certainly worth a visit at this time of year is the rookery on the corner of South Bosque Loop and Camino de Chavez in Bosque Farms. Reportedly not appreciated by some of the neighbors for all the noise and bird poop associated with the event, the owner (and his dogs) seems to enjoy having all these amazing birds choosing his tree-filled lot for some concentrated nesting. There are any number of Cattle Egrets bringing in nesting material
and hanging out in the trees,
along with Snowy Egrets sporting that amazing breeding plumage,
and a number of Black-crowned Night-Herons.
The next morning seemed a good time to head back over to “my local patch,” Embudito Canyon, to see if any more butterfly species had started flying since my last visit. This year it seems like I’ll spot one or two new species for the year on nearly every visit there. And, once again, in a most serendipitous moment just about the first butterfly I saw in a random spot near that stand of hackberry trees was a Mormon Metalmark, a species I’ll only see once or twice every year.
Huge surprise as I was making my way back down the arroyo, was a Yucca Giant-Skipper.
Before this year, we’d only seen these in Silver City in 2013 and then again a week later in a meadow in Las Huertas Canyon where we’ve seen at least one every year since, and that one last week in the upper picnic area at Las Huertas. Seeing one in Embudito was quite the surprise, and chalks up #61 for my Embudito List. To make my day complete, just as I was headed to the car thinking I’ve seen them here before, a blue flash caught my eye that turned out to be the first Acmon Blue for the year.