Something a Little Different

While this update has some of the better pictures I’ve gotten recently of my usual birds and butterflies, there are also a few of a bit more unusual subjects and behaviors. Back around the middle of June (6/17), I headed down to the North Diversion Channel on hearing that the Mississippi Kites had returned and would see at least five of them flying around east of the channel where they’d first shown up last year. That prompted me to check in on Sandia View Academy where they’ve nested since at least 2012 (and I’m usually asked to lead the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to see them). None were around that day or on a couple of other visits, so it was interesting to note that by July 3 they were absent from the North Diversion Channel but at least three were now hanging out at Sandia View Academy.

Mississippi Kite

(It was only after getting home and looking closer at the picture I’d notice the lizard snack in its claw.)

It was also interesting to see that the Osprey nest at the North Diversion Channel also was still occupied as of July 3 and I got a better look at the female and two young ones that have been there for several months now.


Again on June 17, since I’d seen a Burrowing Owl in nearby Rio Rancho back in mid-March, it seemed a good idea to see it they’d successfully nested there. Only saw one in the cavity I’d seen that earlier one and at first didn’t realized it was a young one, but then noticed a little further down the wash another cavity where the entire family was hanging out – that’s Mom on the right with her four young offspring.

Burrowing Owl

One of those four little ones was quite active and had really gotten into the flying thing, flying between the two cavities and then zooming off up the hill for awhile before showing up again. At one point, it got a little upset with me and parked it right in the middle of the arroyo below me, squawking and kicking sand at me!

Burrowing Owl

I took the hint and headed back to my car, thinking I’d next check in on the Great Horned Owl nest on a cliff in Petroglyph NM. I’d first seen two little ones there on June 2, much later than all the other nests I’d been watching but that got off to a late start after their first nest disappeared one day only to be replaced by an even better nest in the same spot a week later (most odd, since Great Horned Owls don’t build nests themselves). Expecting those little ones to be significantly more mature and maybe even moving around on the nesting ledge, it came as quite a surprise that the owls and the nest itself had again totally disappeared. I’d had a suspicion that ravens had been responsible last time and maybe they had succeeded again at running the owls off? Rather unusual, but that kind of thing seems to happen every year to at least one of maybe a dozen nests I’ll be watching. Also surprising that day was to see that one of the adults was still there, likely the male, standing in the hiding spot we’d seen him before despite the disappearance of everybody else.

Great Horned Owl

On Wednesday that week I spent a little time looking for butterflies at Ojito de San Antonio, Cienega Canyon, and Doc Long. Good to see the dogbane, a favorite nectar source for most butterflies, in bloom at Ojito but few butterflies other than a Black Swallowtail that posed nicely for me.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Doc Long and the trail to Bill Spring turned up a nice Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)

and a gorgeous Hoary Comma, a species that’s seemed a little scarce this year.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

The next day the Audubon Thursday Birders headed out to Villanueva State Park for a successful outing under perfect weather conditions. We’d started out at Clines Corner, meeting several folks that joined the group there to take a quick but unsuccessful look for Mountain Plover where we’d seen them in the past; we would get good looks at Cassin’s Sparrow, a species I’ve only rarely seen,

Cassin’s Sparrow

and right at Clines Corner a couple of Burrowing Owls I heard about later that day so we took a look on the way back home. A bit far away behind a fence on a rather windy afternoon, it got me thinking to look in on the owls in Owlville on Sunday (nearly two weeks after my last visit) and look for the young Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet I’d heard were being seen at Belen Marsh. Owlville was still in fine shape and I managed to spot two more nests…seven altogether this year.

Burrowing Owl

I might have been a week late hoping for the babies at Belen Marsh, only spotting a single young Black-necked Stilt that was too far away for a good picture. I did get a pretty good photo of one of the adults, tho.

Black-necked Stilt

The Friday after the Villanueva trip, Rebecca and I took a look for butterflies in Embudo Canyon almost a month after our last visit with our visiting friends, and were surprised to see quite a few Sandia Hairstreaks still flying, including 3 individuals on a single plant-we’ve never seen them before so late in June. And the next day, we drove to Placitas and then took the rough road up Las Huertas Canyon and over the top checking on the state of some of our better butterflying spots in the Sandias. A few good butterflies in Las Huertas, although it does seem the season has gotten off to a late start everywhere this year, and a couple of good photo ops, including good looks at the underside of a Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)

and a really fresh Variegated Fritillary.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

A week later, we had a great day of butterflying stopping first at Sevilleta NWR, then an unplanned visit to the Abo mission ruins, and a drive into Red Canyon and back home through the East Mountains. Very few butterflies to be seen at Sevilleta, but it was fun to see the walking stick insects had returned and we even found a mating pair well-camouflaged in a bush.

Mating Walking Sticks

Heading off to Abo next, we were a little disappointed in not seeing many butterflies near the visitor center but as we were leaving noticed a large area of white clover and fresh thistle blooms on the side of the road. Pulling over to take a closer look we’d see an amazing number and variety of butterflies nectaring away. In addition to one or two Black Swallowtails patrolling back and forth were some of the Southern Dogface we’d seen at a distance earlier,

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

a large number of Gray Hairstreaks,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

a couple of Juniper Hairstreaks,

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

and this sighting of a mating pair, most unusual since they are two different species, an Acmon Blue and a Marine Blue.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon) and Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

We’d also see a Bronze Roadside-Skipper there, a butterfly I’ve been expecting for several weeks now, but that we’d also find at a couple of spots along the road to Red Canyon. One in particular was a bit differently marked than the ones we’re used to but photographed well on a thistle.

Bronze Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes aenus)

At Pine Shadow and another nearby creek along the way we’d see a few butterflies, including a dang Sandia Hairstreak (June 29!), Canyonland Satyr, and Taxiles Skipper, but clouds were building up forcing any others into hiding. Up at the Red Canyon campground, the clouds parted enough to give us good looks at several Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

On the first of July, Rebecca and I met up with our friend, Tim, to look around Embudito Canyon, and while we would see a Hackberry Emperor (a species I usually see maybe once a year in that location), there wasn’t much nectar around and things are starting to dry up so the butterflies won’t be too numerous until our monsoon rains kick in later this month. Deciding on the spur of the moment to make a run to the Sandias, Rebecca and I looked at a few spots along the way to Capulin Spring. Seems we were just a little early for the sumac to bloom at Cienega Spring or the dogbane at 8000′, and a little late for a large patch of wild iris near Tree Spring, and while the large field of penstemon was in full bloom at Capulin we wouldn’t see too many butterflies anywhere. It was fun to see that the Western Tiger Swallowtail is again flying and landing long enough to photograph.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

At one spot between Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long (where I’ve seen ridiculous numbers of swallowtails in the past), we had a small group of both Western Tiger Swallowtail along with some of the quite similar Two-tailed Swallowtail. In town, the big yellow swallowtail is usually a Two-tailed while the Western Tiger is more plentiful in higher and wetter habitats. At that same spot, we saw this display of two mating pair of damselflies. From reading up on their behavior later, it seems the bright blue male first grabs the more cryptic female by the neck with his “claspers” and eventually she’ll lift her tail up to connect to his abdomen in a heart-shaped formation.


Another run up to the Sandias this morning showed the sumac and dogbane have come into bloom and are attracting butterflies. We didn’t manage to see a couple of our target species, but I did get a nice shot of the tiny Russet Skipperling

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

and of an American Lady, similar to its cousin the Painted Lady that has just appeared in huge numbers this year, but easy to identify by the two large eyespots on the American Lady vs four on the Painted Lady and that little white dot in that large pink area.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)




About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Photographs. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Something a Little Different

  1. C.C. says:

    such beautiful photos – they are so crystal clear, Joe!

  2. H.J. for avian101 says:

    Great shots, Joe. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Something a Little Different | Natural Moments – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

  4. Terri Treacy says:


  5. Rebecca Gracey says:

    I loved your Mississippi Kite and the Burrowing Owl pictures. The butterfly shots were all beautiful, but the Juniper Hairstreak was just gorgeous.

  6. Mike Powell says:

    There is just something irresistible about Burrowing Owls and seeing your photos, Joe, of the young ones is wonderful–I hope to see some of them one day. Regarding the damselflies, I believe that what you are seeing is post-mating activity. The females are depositing their eggs into the vegetation and the male is holding on to make sure that things go according to plan, i.e. that the female don’t hook up with another male who might dislodge his sperm.

  7. joeschelling says:

    Thanks, Mike. Those burrowing owls really are fun to see; some will immediately disappear into their burrow when they see me, but others seem just fascinated looking at me. Thanks, too, for clarifying what those damselflies were up to.

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