This Friday is the Fall equinox, the first day of autumn, and summer seems to have gone by pretty quickly this year. The weather has been quite nice lately with warm sunny days and pleasantly cool nights, kicking into bloom all the sunflowers and asters with the chamisa and changing leaves of the aspens and cottonwoods only a few short weeks away. The birds have been awfully quiet out there lately; certainly still around but making few noises and often hiding in the foliage. Butterflies have been a little hard to spot, too, with little or no water in the streams and not all that much nectar around. But, like always, all it takes is getting out there everyday to spot something worthy of a photograph.
Way back on the last day of August, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed west out to La Ventana Natural Arch and The Narrows in El Malpais National Monument, a trip I led since Rebecca was still under house arrest with her broken leg. For not having gotten out in advance to scout the area and with the birds being so secretive at this time of year, it was a pleasant surprise to tally 37 species among the 20 people on the trip. Fun for me was also seeing a mating pair of Dainty Sulphurs, a common enough butterfly but not one I’d seen mating before.
Bird of the day for most of us, and one we’d see at both locations was the Hepatic Tanager, a slightly different red and darker bill in comparison to the Summer Tanager we regularly see in the Rio Grande bosque all summer.
A few days later on one of several trips to Embudito Canyon this month, there were very few butterflies to be seen other than the Arizona Sister, of which three individuals had all found the one damp spot I noticed along the streambed.
On another day there, I’d see the first Western Pygmy-Blue of the season, a very small butterfly but quite well-marked.
Up in the Sandias a couple of days after that, there were some wildflowers about but still pretty quiet for both birds and butterflies. I did get an okay shot of what I assume is a young or female Wilson’s Warbler that morning.
That Sunday was a nice morning to wander around Pueblo Montano Open Space near the Bosque School, where it seems the Painted Lady butterflies that have been around all year in good numbers were still flying.
There was also an immature Black-chinned Hummingbird willing to pose nicely for me.
My biggest surprise, however, was near the end of my walk when I spotted a pair of Green Herons on a nearly dry ditch. One had stretched its neck and looked so much larger than the other I wondered if it might’ve been something different like maybe a most unusual American Bittern? Managed to get a picture of it that later the experts easily identified as just another Green Heron. Here’s a picture of the one sitting in more like their usual posture.
I’d missed the Audubon Thursday Birder trip on September 7 to Manzano Pond and Quarai National Monument, but heard they’d seen the rather uncommon Northern Waterthrush. The next week’s trip was to Poblanos Fields Open Space on the east side of the Rio Grande from Pueblo Montano Open Space. My expectations were not high that morning for seeing many birds since it had been so quiet everywhere else recently, but sure enough while we didn’t see large numbers of birds (no goldfinches with all those sunflowers around?), the group would not only end up with a respectable total of close to 20 species but have 3 that were quite unusual to see in that area. The first was a Peregrine Falcon perched high in a distant cottonwood but distinctly identifiable especially through good friend Lefty’s scope. Soon after he’d be the first to see a Barn Owl fly near the garden area, where it would disappear until dashing off to another hidden spot. While that area is my “go to” spot for Western Screech-Owl during breeding season, none of us had ever seen a Barn Owl there before. The third species, bird-of-the-day for most of us, had everybody scratching their heads for a minute until a visitor from Austin with our group quickly called it out as an Eastern Kingbird. New for me in New Mexico, it hung around long enough for everybody to get great looks at it.
I returned the next day hoping to maybe see any of those birds again, and while I didn’t see any of them there was a pretty good look at a Swainson’s Hawk,
the coyote we’d seen hiding in the fields the day before crossed right in front of me,
and I got a couple of pictures of the Globemallow Leaf Beetles we’d seen the day before.
A few days later, I checked out a few places south of town for birds and butterflies. First stop was “Owlville” near Los Lunas a friend had asked about earlier that week. He’d seen a couple of Burrowing Owls on his visit, but others hadn’t been seeing them lately. Now that breeding season’s over and they tend to migrate further south later in the year, I didn’t expect to see many, but it seemed worth a visit on my way to Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. Arriving there reasonable early (8:30 am), three of the owls were up and looking around, but staying pretty close to their burrows where it wouldn’t be too surprising they’d cool off in the heat of the day.
My other two stops weren’t particularly productive, with the Belen Marsh much smaller and drier than on other visits this year and also unusually quiet at Whitfield. At Whitfield, there was an Osprey sitting in a distant tree, a bird I hadn’t seen there before and it might have been a little too early or cloudy for many butterflies to be out. One of my reasons for going there was to look for Monarch butterflies and maybe the Bordered Patch that we’ve seen there before at about this time of year. Didn’t see either of those butterflies, but there were a number of Queens flying about attracted to the seep willow just coming into bloom.
Oddly enough, on an afternoon visit today to Piedras Marcadas Dam (where I’ve checked for Monarchs at least 3 times this week), I’d see a Bordered Patch for the first time in town, and a good dozen Monarchs whose migration must finally be underway.
It was fun later that evening sitting out on my porch to have two Mule Deer wander through the neighborhood; here’s one of them who’s either looking at me or that Scaled Quail up on the cholla in the foreground.
Back to Embudito yesterday morning, where it was a treat to spot a Canyonland Satyr, quite common last year but rarely seen this year,
and a very fresh-looking Mylitta Crescent.
Rufous Hummingbirds and Black-chinned Hummingbirds also were still quite numerous in the canyon, despite reports I’d seen recently saying the hummingbirds have disappeared on their migration. I’d also been hearing that Green-tailed Towhees were just being seen everywhere this year, but still hadn’t seen any for sure after targeting them on several of my recent outings. Running into friend Karen that morning, she mentioned seeing all those hummingbirds and the Arizona Sister butterflies I’d also see there, but when I said I’d gotten a quick look at a Green-tailed Towhee over there by the hackberry trees she said she’d already seen six of them that morning! Paying a bit more attention on the way out finally paid off with a nice look at one of them perched up in a bush rather than skulking along the ground where I’ll usually see them.