Spring has come on strong here the last few weeks with many species of birds arriving and beginning to nest, new species of butterflies appearing every day, and plenty of greenery and wildflowers following good winter precipitation. All that water is raising water levels on the lakes and rivers, and all of the mountain springs and creeks are flowing better than they have in years. Being spring in New Mexico also means plenty of wind, but this year the winds seem much stronger than normal and lasted considerably longer than is typical. For most of the time since my last posting, Rebecca and I have been out checking on many of the butterfly spots we’ve visited in the past and several new ones in anticipation of a visit all last week from butterfly friends of ours from Massachusetts, Texas, and Florida. They had several species they were hoping to add to their life lists, including a few that we haven’t managed to spot yet. No new ones for us during their visit, but we were fortunate in getting good looks at several special ones for most of the group. Most of this post therefore has some of my better butterfly pictures from those outings, along with a few birds and other critters seen along the way.
We were able to join the excellent Audubon Thursday Birder trip on May 16 to Pueblo Montano Open Space, where among others we got several good looks at the normally secretive Yellow-breasted Chat.
A few days before that walk, I’d been there to check on the nesting Great Horned Owls there, but they must’ve fully fledged their young and the nest and all the owls had already disappeared. Almost a week earlier, I had checked in on the nest in Corrales to find those little ones nearly fully grown, but know of at least one nest in town that the adult must still be sitting on eggs.
I did get nice looks at a few other species that we would see on the Thursday Birder trip, including a Black-headed Grosbeak
and Snowy Egret.
The group also spotted a porcupine not so high up a cottonwood. That was a bit unusual for me, since I usually only see porcupines in leafless trees in fall and winter.
One of the butterflies we’d see out scouting is one that we usually see plenty of but which would elude our visitors and is still the only one I’ve seen so far this year, the Hoary Comma.
And one fine day in Embudito Canyon checking the Texas beargrass for Sandia Hairstreak (one of the target butterflies for our visitors), I had this guy complain loudly that I’d disturbed his nap by almost stepping on him.
Dumb of me to not look where I was stepping, but then again I’ve only heard one rattle once in probably twenty years of stomping around there. On my next visit a few days later, I’d get a nice shot of an Acmon Blue on the Apache Plume,
and the next day of a mated pair of Melissa Blue while checking out a new location in the Manzanos.
On the weekend, we took a longer ride out to Bear Trap Campground west of Socorro to look for a couple of those target butterflies our friends were hoping to see and also spent some time at Box Canyon Recreation Area near Socorro thinking it might be a good spot to break up the drive and to see if any butterflies were showing up there. We also made a short stop at Sevilleta NWR along the way, but didn’t see much in the way of butterflies. Several lizards were dashing around there, including this short-horned lizard.
Bear Trap is a pleasant small USFS campground, but accessible only by a long drive on a rough dirt road. We were fortunate in that it was a bit sheltered from the continuous winds and in finding several of one of our target species, the Mountain Checkered-Skipper,
and surprised to see Yucca Giant-Skipper there as well.
The Yucca Giant-Skipper was our first for the year after having missed them at places close to home where we’ve had them in the past. We’d hoped they’d turn out to be Strecker’s Giant-Skipper, which was a target for all our visitors but still haven’t seen that species this year. Stopping at Box Canyon on the return trip, we were pleased to see several species that we rarely see in New Mexico including the Common Streaky-Skipper
and a Hackberry Emperor.
For all of the last several weeks, there has been a huge number of Painted Lady butterflies migrating through the state making it a little difficult to notice any other butterflies. One that I photographed shows well the brilliant colors and markings on the underside.
After all of our visiting friends arrived, we headed out to look for that Strecker’s Giant-Skipper on some private land east of the Manzano Mountains with permission to a spot we’d seen them in late May two years ago. No luck seeing that species unfortunately, but it was fun to find a mating pair of Fulvia Checkerspot.
Continuing on to a couple of other spots in the Manzanos, in search of Mexican Sootywing and a few other species, I’d get a nice photo of one of several Variegated Fritillary
and we’d get good looks at a species that’s rather uncommon for us to see, Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper.
After checking those locations, we headed to Quarai for lunch and to look for a few butterflies. That was a bit difficult in the wind, but it was fun to see the two little Great Horned Owls back in their niche on this visit (you might want to click on the picture to zoom in to see them).
Still windy the next day, after checking on a couple of spots in town four of the group headed out to Bear Trap Campground to get that Mountain Checkered-Skipper, while the rest of us took a look in Cienega Canyon, where the lupines had come into bloom and we were fairly well sheltered from all that wind. A few butterfly species about, including a nice Juniper Hairstreak,
but then with a few clouds rolling in, we continued on to Sandia Crest House for the view of town from 10,678 feet. I looked in on a couple of butterfly spots along the way, but saw it’s too early in the season for any nectar plants to be blooming at the higher elevations.
Friday morning, we rolled out to Eagar, AZ and nearby Greens Peak Road where my nemesis butterfly, the Rhesus Skipper, is sometimes seen on the wild iris and volcanic patches around this time of year. We’ve tried for it here before as well as a few other places, and it would’ve been a lifer for everybody, but as usual after looking hard for two days it would once again elude us. We did get good looks at a few good butterflies there, two of which I thought I’d show here, the Morrison’s Skipper (also seen at Bear Trap Campground)
and butterfly of the trip for me at least, a Western Pine Elfin up close.
Back home on Sunday, we spent the next day on another visit to Embudito Canyon and then Embudo Canyon, with the wind finally cutting us a little break. At the Embudito parking lot, a Greater Roadrunner was cooing for a date from up on someone’s chimney
and later in the morning we’d see a Scaled Quail calling loudly out to the neighborhood.
Butterflies were pretty good that morning in Embudito, with everybody getting good looks at several individual Sandia Hairstreak butterflies (lifer for some of the group),
and more of another target for the trip that we’d see in several locations, Mexican Sootywing.
I’d always assumed I was seeing the Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus), but we had good looks at the definitive underside of these to decide they were Mexican. A couple of us went a little higher in the canyon and managed to see the first Canyonland Satyr for the year.
Coming back down the trail a couple of folks waited to point out a mating pair of Green Skipper, definitively matching the description in our guide books with those two overlapping white spots and slight arc to that line of three white spots.
I’ve always had trouble making the distinction between Green Skipper and the very similar Pahaska Skipper, but we’d also see a number of the latter also clearly showing the differences between the species.
For the Pahaska Skipper, those two white spots are a little offset from each other and the line of three white spots are more in a straight line.
In the afternoon, we went to Embudo Canyon a mile or so south of Embudito to make the fairly long steep walk up to a small spring. My first Arizona Sister of the year was flying there
and wandering around the area I just happened to stumble across a small gray skipper that had me calling everybody over thinking it might be one several of the group really wanted on this trip. It turned out indeed to be a Viereck’s Skipper, and there were actually several of them guarding their territories where they’d fly off only to return a short while later.
On the last day of the trip, we returned to several of our local spots and added a visit to Hondo Canyon, seeing a few new species for the week but none that resulted in good photos for me. All in all, despite the almost continuous wind and missing out on a couple of the species we were really hoping to see, I certainly had a good time and am pretty sure everybody else enjoyed it too.