Over the last few days, hints that Fall is on its way in just a couple of weeks have started to appear everywhere you look. Lots of warblers are being seen and starting their migration, formations of Canada Geese have been flying over, the chamisa and some of the trees are starting to take on their autumn colors, and it seems the days and certainly the nights are getting a little cooler. Always my favorite time of year here, by the end of the month the weather should be just about perfect, those autumn colors spectacular, and no doubt we’ll experience some amazing cloud formations and extraordinary sunsets.
The Audubon Thursday Birders spent a nice morning on August 23 cruising the back roads of the open fields east of the Manzano Mountains south of Moriarty near McIntosh and Estancia. Normally a spring trip for the group, this year our leader, Bonnie Long, also had us out in late summer and turned up a good variety of the raptors she monitors out there along with several other species. One of the few photos I managed that day was of a young Red-tailed Hawk keeping an eye on our caravan of vehicles.
A bit of a surprise seeing a young one, since they typically spend their summers way up in Canada, and I didn’t think they nested here.
A couple of days later, Rebecca and I drove down to Sevilleta NWR to help with their annual butterfly count. My expectations for the day weren’t very high since butterfly numbers have seemed low this year around here and you’d think the situation might be even worse in that area’s drier desert environment. A fun group showed up for the count that split into two groups, one headed down toward the riparian habitat along the Rio Grande while our group poked around the trails near the Visitor Center. Expectations, however, dropped even lower after looking over the species list from earlier counts…a good number of species, but all pretty commonly seen around Albuquerque. However, the day turned out way better right from just about the first butterfly spotted – a Palmer’s Metalmark!
One of only two species of metalmarks I’ve seen in New Mexico, usually it’s only a very few Mormon Metalmark every year and a Palmer’s Metalmark once every 2-3 years. And, of course, on this day we’d see two different individuals of that species. Parked right next to the second Palmer’s Metalmark was the first of several Rita Blues, another species seen about as rarely by me.
Both of these were unusual enough that I submitted photos to butterfliesandmoths.org for verification by our resident NM expert. Rather uncommon most years, too, was the American Snout.
All day, we kept seeing a couple of larger yellow butterflies flying by that wouldn’t land for us to identify. We were thinking they might be Southern Dogface from the size, color, and time of year, but when we finally did get a good look at one it turned out to be a Cloudless Sulphur – another crazy sighting of a species I’d only seen in New Mexico once before, way back in 2011! Never did get a decent photo of one that day, but plan to head back down there again soon and hope they’re still flying. Rebecca had even spotted their caterpillars on their senna host plant earlier that day, so they must be regular there, but so unexpected we hadn’t considered that’s what all those yellow adults might be.
A couple of other more common butterflies we’d see that day that posed nicely for photographs included Reakirt’s Blue,
and Western Pygmy-Blue.
After such an amazing day at Sevilleta, on Monday we drove out to a spot west of Socorro on Hwy. 60 that had been productive in the past. Not too much flying at our first stop (other than some more American Snouts – go figure!), but stopping at a large patch of Apache Plume off the side of the highway near Water Canyon we surprised a number of Variegated Fritillary butterflies flitting about that rather damp area. With no better idea, we then decided to check out The Box Recreation Area for a picnic lunch and to see if there were any butterflies about. We did see more of those Variegated Fritillaries (one of which we got a quick look at during the Sevilleta butterfly count),
and a good number of Sleepy Orange (maybe the most numerous of the butterflies at Sevilleta two days earlier).
More surprising was to spot a couple of Common Sootywing and then a couple of Hackberry Emperor, neither of which are seen all that often by me and certainly the first for this year.
After having such good luck on the last two outings, the next couple of days had me out poking around my ‘local patch’, Embudito, and several spots in the Sandias. Those days, however, were more typical of what I’ve been experiencing this year…. Embudito had a grand total of two butterflies, a Green Skipper parked in its usual spot in the dry wash, and a single Two-tailed Swallowtail on the Redwhisker clammyweed.
I did note that the canyon was much greener following the summer monsoon rains and there was a bit of water around, so there might still be a chance for a few more butterflies this year. The Sandias were rather lacking in butterflies, too, and about the only species I saw was way at the Sandia Crest, Melissa Blue.
Rebecca led last week’s most successful Audubon Thursday Birder trip to La Ventana Natural Arch and The Narrows in the El Malpais National Conservation Area. Birds were the order of the day, and got off to a great start spotting two Peregrine Falcons high on a cliff across from La Ventana. The very next bird spotted was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a species that I’m starting to see more frequently but had rarely seen in previous years.
Birding was a little slow at La Ventana, maybe because it was a little cloudy and those two falcons were around, but we’d make up for that at the next stop, The Narrows, where we birded awhile before having lunch. We’d expected to see a couple of butterflies attracted to a small stand of bee plant, but all that showed up were a couple of female Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. I’d thought they were Rufous Hummingbirds, but seems the females of both species are quite similar.
From the start, we were hearing Pinyon Jays calling from all about and soon had quite a few of them flying by, including this one that seems to have a couple of pinon nuts in its beak.
We’d go on to see a nice mix of species, including a Red-tailed Hawk, several Lesser Goldfinches, various warblers, and even a Green-tailed Towhee, but the best was first seen during lunch and then seen quite well a little later just after most of the group headed for home, a Lazuli Bunting! Quite possibly the first I’ve seen in New Mexico and only the second I’ve ever seen anywhere, so very cool to get a nice photo.
Thinking butterflies have been better south of town this year, on Monday Rebecca and I took a drive along the East Mountains, checking out Oak Flat (lots of blooming buckwheat, but too cool/cloudy for butterflies), Manzano Pond, and Quarai. A couple of good ‘bugs’ at Quarai, including two Monarchs
and a few of those Southern Dogface butterflies we’d been expecting to see somewhere the last couple of weeks.
On the return trip, we stopped again at Oak Flat but were right on the edge of a nice afternoon deluge that kept the butterflies out of sight. Just a thought, we also stopped at Tijeras Ranger Station where once again we were surprised to spot a couple of skippers, probably Green Skipper, and a nice fresh Gray Hairstreak.
Very few birds or butterflies making their presence known today on a visit to Pueblo Montano (several Wilson’s Warblers and one of the few porcupines I’ve ever seen in summer) or Piedras Marcadas Dam (no Great Horned Owl, but the milkweed was looking pretty good and there were easily 5-6 Monarch butterflies cruising around), but still a treat seeing a couple of the Osprey hanging out at the first successful nest site in the county that we’ve all been watching since at least early April.
These are most certainly a couple of this year’s young ones, since that one on the left was busy crying for the adults to bring it something to eat.
Looking forward to the arrival of Fall around here, gorgeous weather and scenery, lots of returning migratory birds, and some late season butterflies.