Essential Escapes

Spring has been getting into high gear around here for the last couple of weeks with almost perfect weather and all manner of new nature sightings. I’m still being pretty good about complying with pandemic restrictions, limiting trips usually to fairly close locations and going out of my way to avoid contact with others, and only weekly visits to stores to stock up on food and supplies. A couple of times over the last two weeks, I have gone a little further afield but again only when and where there are few others. Last Thursday and Friday, however, I made an exception following Rebecca on an “essential” trip to Globe AZ. We’d planned the trip a year ago hoping to track down some special butterflies there, and while being around others was sometimes unavoidable (gas stations, food, hotel check-in) we took care to minimize those interactions and regularly use sanitizer.  More on the results of that trip below.

One weekend day, I motored up to Ojito de San Antonio Open Space not really expecting to see the most unusual Scarlet Tanager that had been reported there recently, but not having been there in months wanted to take a look. I did get  a nice look at a Western Tanager

Western Tanager

and also saw large flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwing

Returning about a week later turned up a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Usually the female would sit inside the nest for a few minutes before flying off for a bit and returning with more nesting material; the male would also put in an occasional appearance. That day would also find a Black-headed Grosbeak in the shade pecking along the ground.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Of course, I had to take a last look at a couple of my Great Horned Owl nests. The little ones have all left the nest now and as soon as they’re ready will disappear into the woods. In Corrales on May 4, I’d seen one of the two owlets out of the nest working it way up the nest tree and on May 10 saw both owlets “branching”. Not having them both look at me for their portrait that day, I tried again the next day. At first, they still wouldn’t look my way but were fun to watch.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

As some woman was walking her (unleashed) dog down the ditch toward me, the dog decided to jump into the water – that certainly got the owls’ attention!

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

Fun seeing several Viceroy butterflies in Corrales that day, too, a species I don’t see all that often.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

A few days later, it was off to check in on the owls at Pueblo Montano. It can be a little trickier avoiding people there, but usually not that bad. Others had reported both Great Horned Owl adults and three owlets there, but I’d only ever seen the adult female and one owlet. Success that day, however, with Mom and all three owlets close together (and the male somewhat lower in the same tree).

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

You’ll have to zoom in on the picture to see Mom on that diagonal branch on the right and all three little ones lined up on the horizontal branch-I didn’t realize the third owlet was there hiding in the leaves on the left until going through my pictures back at home.

Yellow-breasted Chats were in abundance there that morning as well. Loudly chattering away but usually well-hidden in the bushes, one or two of them would perform out in the open for me.

Yellow-breasted Chat

A few other sightings this week included this stunning cactus,

Cholla Cactus

my first short-horned lizard of the year,

Short-horned Lizard

and the first of what will likely be lots of White-lined Sphinx Moths; this one gave me time to crank the shutter speed way up to freeze those wings.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

The last couple of weeks have been really good for butterflies. Almost daily trips to Embudito which is quite close to home and normally not too many people around. Lately, I’ll take the old trail up the south side of the canyon where one is unlikely to run into any others and good butterflies are attracted to all the recently blooming thistle. Some of the butterflies seen there recently include the Python Skipper,

Python Skipper (Atrytonopsis python)

plenty of Pahaska Skippers and a few Viereck’s Skippers, this one on a prickly pear blossom rather than thistle.

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

The old trail eventually dips down to meet the arroyo at Oso Spring where the water and damp sand can attract a good variety of butterflies. It’s also be popular with people, many of whom don’t seem concerned at all about social distancing or choose to sit around taking a break or having a snack. That’s occasionally caused a problem when I’ll spot an unusual butterfly and try to get a photograph while folks are getting closer or want to see what I’m up to. One time, I ended up passing on trying to get a shot of the first Silver-spotted Skipper I’d seen this year because a family was parked there with no intention of leaving anytime soon. Nonetheless, on other visits I did get a good look at my first of the season Canyonland Satyr,

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

a Two-tailed Swallowtail licking up some salt,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and an Arizona Sister catching some sun.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

Several times, Rebecca and I have met at Three Gun Trailhead, recently discovered by us as having some very good butterflies that seemed quite happy nectaring on large areas of blooming fendlerbush at first and more recently on the newly bloomed thistle, horehound, wallflower, and other wildflowers.

This is a nice shot of a Sleepy Orange on that wallflower.

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

A Mormon Metalmark on (I think) Apache plume,

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

and a Reakirt’s Blue on the horehound.

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

As I mentioned earlier, last Thursday Rebecca and I made the fairly long drive (870 miles round-trip) to Globe (and Oracle) AZ. Butterfly friends of ours in Florida told us of locations around there that they’d seen two butterflies last year that we’d been planning to look for this year; both would be “lifers” and one was a species we’d tried for several times in recent years. I keep my expectations for success pretty low on this kind of quest, since finding a particular species is not at all guaranteed and depends on all sorts of things. In search of the Ilavia Hairstreak, we’d easily found a large patch of white yerba our friends had told us about, but very few butterflies. Driving on to another location they’d mentioned, we located a small, almost scraggly bit of the yerba that at first glance also seemed devoid of butterflies. But when Rebecca looked just a little closer, sure enough there was a Ilavia Hairstreak hiding there that hung around the whole time we were there – trip lifer #1!

Ilavia Hairstreak (Satyrium ilavia)

Also coming to visit that bit of yerba was a California Tortoiseshell,

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

which was much easier to identify when it opened its wings for an instant.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

Later that afternoon, we headed for Oracle AZ in hopes of adding that other target species, the Soapberry Hairstreak. Although our friends had given us very specific directions (GPS coordinates no less!), we had a little trouble finding the spot and finally parked and started walking looking for their host plant, Western Soapberry. My phone was directing me to the spot a few minutes walk away, and we’d about decided to give up after not seeing any soapberry and wondering if the habitat would even support it. It came as a bit of a surprise that by just walking a little further, we’d spot a small grove of blooming soapberry trees and even more surprising to see hundreds of Soapberry Hairstreaks buzzing around the blooms – it’s unusual for me to see more than a small number of most butterfly species. So there ya go, trip lifer #2!

Soapberry Hairstreak (Phaeostrymon alcestis)

Heading for home the next morning, we decided to make a short stop at Green’s Peak Road just outside of Springerville on the off-chance we might see a Rhesus Skipper. This species has been our “nemesis butterfly” for as long as I’ve been interested in butterflies. For years we’ve looked in likely habitat and locations suggested to us by others including Green’s Peak Road a number of times in the past. No luck again that morning, especially with the wild iris way past blooming and a bit of a breeze blowing. Remember that name – Rhesus Skipper – it might come up later.

We next pulled over on the far side of Quemado NM mostly to stretch our legs and take a break from driving, but figured it couldn’t hurt to see if any butterflies were around. I wasn’t expecting much since there didn’t seem many flowers about, but we’d end up getting some pretty good ones, including the tiny Western Pygmy-Blue which we usually see later in the season,

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

a Fulvia Checkerspot, which we do seem to spot one or two of every year,

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

and a Leda Ministreak, a species we also might see later in the season and one I haven’t seen since 2015.

Leda Ministreak (Ministrymon leda)

With another 160 miles to go, we got back in our cars thinking we might stop after 60 miles at The Narrows of El Malpais National Monument or maybe just keep heading for home. With Rebecca in the lead, she pulled off at about mile marker 17 (NM-36) after seeing some thistle and a few other flowers blooming and thinking we might see a few butterflies. Almost immediately after getting out of the car, we’d notice a different-looking skipper on the thistle. Not the Pahaska, Viereck’s, or Python we’ve been seeing on it lately, but, yep, you guessed it – that long-time nemesis, Rhesus Skipper! Oh, and trip lifer #3!

Rhesus Skipper (Polites rhesus)

We’d see several of them on thistle in that general vicinity and get great photos of them. Definitely worthy of a high elbow (high fives being out of fashion these days), we headed on. Stopping at another thistle patch near mile marker 10 on NM-117, dang, but we’d see even more of them! And certainly worthy of note at that location were also one or two Uncas Skipper, a species that we have occasionally seen in the past and have sometimes confused with Rhesus, but that usually flies a little later. It’s a little bigger, doesn’t seem marked quite so darkly, and definitively shows white veins through that dark patch near the center of the wing.

Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas)

An incredibly successful trip adding three species to our lifelists including that elusive Rhesus Skipper, on top of a couple of great weeks of so many good sightings despite the restrictions imposed by this bizarre pandemic.





About joeschelling

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

8 Responses to Essential Escapes

  1. Rebecca Gracey says:

    I’m so glad you accompanied me on the trip to Arizona. We did well! You got some wonderful butterflies pictures in this blog and a great picture of the chat.

  2. Linda Otterson says:

    Great Blog Joe. Congratulations on three lifers! I especially love the shots of the California Tortoiseshell. I’m always amazed at the beauty and difference with the wings open.

    • joeschelling says:

      Thanks, Linda. I see one of those about once a year, and even had one in Embudito on March 24. This was the first time I’ve gotten a good look at the underside.

  3. Beautiful pictures! I don’t know the names of most birds or butterflies, but I really appreciate their beauty.

  4. John & Nancy Crosby says:

    Joe, We are friends with Mark & saw where you guys got some great butterflies that Holly posted on NABA! Our AZ guide said we should contact you before our 2021 trip to NM. He said you had easier & more reliable spots than Big Bend for our targets. We are serious about social distancing & would sure like to have some help with locations & perhaps a trip together. We went with maps to the White Mtn locations after a guided trip from Tucson. Please contact us if you can help and THANK YOU for this blog.

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