It really feels like summer around here lately. Massive thunderheads have been building up every day for the last week or so and most days there will be a little splash of those monsoon rains at least around the mountains every afternoon. New butterflies for the season are appearing along with lots of different dragonflies and more of those baby birds that have recently fledged.
Last weekend and then again early this week, I’ve made the rounds of some of the good spots for butterflies up in the Sandias. At a spot Rebecca found last year to be pretty dependable for Colorado Hairstreak, there also have been large numbers of Tailed Copper this year.
Rather striking from the side, they’re even more incredible from the top. We’d mostly see males on our first visit that are kind of a uniform goldish brown sometimes with a purplish sheen, but I also had a female (below) with that vivid dark patterning.
We did look pretty hard for those Colorado Hairstreaks, too. I still haven’t spotted one yet, but Rebecca saw one in each of the two places we looked; the first open in the sun showing off a brilliant purple that I didn’t get on quickly enough before it flew off. I did manage to get a quick side shot of the second one and will surely head back up there to try for another one.
Couple of other interesting sightings while we were waiting for the Colorado Hairstreaks to come out. First we noted quite a few tussock moth caterpillars on the oaks (and many caterpillars and cocoons in the restrooms and picnic shelters) – pretty cool when you get a close look at them, but I’ve heard they sting so it’s best to keep your distance.
The tachinid flies are out again for the summer, too, and there were plenty of these really wacky looking flies working the oaks as well.
We also had a female Warbling Vireo holding a caterpillar hopping all around the oak we were searching for butterflies, and finally spotted her nest with at least one little one in there. Moments later, quite close by we saw that one of them must have just fledged and seemed a bit annoyed at our visit.
It had been a couple of years, but I drove part of the way down from Balsam Glade toward Placitas, where there’s a patch of James’ Buckwheat we’ve seen Square-spotted Blue in the past. Lots of Tailed Copper there, too, but an unexpected treat to see the buckwheat in bloom and drawing in a few of those butterflies to nectar.
Coneflower has started blooming all up the mountain, and always draws a few good butterflies. One that I’d been waiting to see return for the summer, but so far in much lower numbers than I remember, is the Northwestern Fritillary.
It’s another one of those butterflies that looks at least as colorful from the side as it does from the top.
This year has seen an incredible number of Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies flying around, but all of a sudden we’re also starting to see its cousin, the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis).
This one is told from others in the genus by those two large eyespots and that little spot of white surrounded by pink in the forewing.
Coneflower seems to attract most butterflies, but this is the first time I’ve seen Hoary Comma come to it, and two of them to the same flower!
Down by the Rio Grande, a good variety of damselflies and dragonflies are flying again. It’s always fun trying to identify them, and they often seem to pose nicely for rather nice photographs. In particular, the Audubon Thursday Birders last week spent the morning at Pueblo Montano Open Space, where we had a good number of birds but also had lots of dragonflies, including those shown below. One of the more common ones is the Widow Skimmer (the male has those white patches on the wings).
I always see plenty of Blue Dasher out there, too, whose white face nails down its identity from several otherwise similar dragonflies.
Not quite as common to see and even more uncommon to see perched rather than flying back and forth is the Twelve-spotted Skimmer, who posed rather dramatically for me.
Very special as I have so rarely seen it, is the Eastern Amberwing.
Walking along the irrigation ditch with the Thursday Birders, Rebecca spotted a cool sphinx moth, a nice sighting as this was our first outing with the group since that moth-focused trip to Ohio for Mothapalooza 2017 the week before I talked about in my last blog post.
Pueblo Montano was so good for birds and other things that day, I went back again the next day to get a few more pictures. Yellow-breasted Chats were much more visible than normal on both days; this is the best picture of one that perched pretty close.
It was also fun being serenaded by this female Summer Tanager on the walk back to the car.
In one of those moments when you just had to be there to see it, a Black-chinned Hummingbird paused to investigate this sunflower-like flower.
Both days, we’d see several Wood Duck families practicing paddling along the ditch.
Roadrunners seem to be enjoying summer this year, too, with quite a few of them being spotted this month, often showing off the latest lizard they’ve managed to snag. This guy had just missed one at the Albuquerque Academy on the Fourth of July, but made for a fun picture showing off that mohawk haircut and flashing its good ol’ red, white, and blue eyeliner.
For the last six years, I get to lead the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to look for nesting Mississippi Kites in Corrales, and so once again I’ve made a couple of scouting trips recently looking for them. These guys migrate to South America for the winter and then head back in late spring to nest, usually more like Texas north to Kansas or the southeastern states, but some head up the Rio Grande just about this far north. So far this year, I haven’t found any nesting but was surprised to see five first-year individuals in a single tree on my first visit, and three just last week in the same area they’ve used every year. Here’s a shot of two of them way at the top of a very tall tree.
Hopefully, they’ll still be around in a couple of weeks for this year’s Thursday Birder trip, and maybe I’ll even luck into spotting a nest by then. While looking for nests, I did see a Cooper’s Hawk tending her little ones in the same area on my first visit, but by the second visit they’d fledged and it was fun watching two of the young ones fighting over some kind of snack they’d found on the road. One finally took the prize and spent several minutes loudly announcing its success between bites.