Life goes on around us despite the coronavirus pandemic and all the unrelated social issues raised in recent days, and there have been quite a few interesting sightings over the last two weeks leading up to the first day of summer. My apologies in advance for such a long posting this time; there’s just been too many goodies popping up lately. A couple of days after my last post, I made the trek into Embudo Canyon to see if there was any water in Embudo Spring and maybe a few butterflies. Very few other people around and easy to keep a good distance away from those that did appear. There was indeed water at the spring, and more than I’d seen on my last visit more than a month ago. A few good butterflies around including my first Dun Skipper for the year, a Two-tailed Swallowtail so busy licking salt that it wasn’t at all disturbed by my presence, and a colorful Hoary Comma.
While looking around for other butterflies, a Colorado Chipmunk popped up to see what was going on.
Later that afternoon back home I noticed that all of the little strawberry cactus in my yard had chosen that day to pop out their flowers, an event that occurs on some random day in late spring or early summer and only lasts until sundown.
That Friday, Rebecca and I decided to meet up at Capulin Springs before attempting the drive down into Las Huertas Canyon. While our mission was primarily butterflies, we started out by taking a look for birds coming to the hollow log at the spring. It’s well-known as a great spot for seeing pretty much any of the birds in the area, with different species dropping in during the day for a quick splash or drink. For some reason, this year it’s been unusually popular with photographers and five or six were there during our short visit. It was unusual to see a Brown-headed Cowbird waiting its turn, since it’s normally seen in open grasslands.
Leaving the spring, we spent a little time working the flower-filled meadow around the parking area for the surprisingly few butterflies out that morning, and then headed down NM165 to Las Huertas. A rough and rocky dirt road, the State had done a good job of improving the upper section a few years ago and it’s still driveable although deteriorating, but the lower section is really getting difficult to navigate. It is always amazing to see someone go by in a small, low clearance vehicle; they never return so assumedly they made it all the way. The butterflies were pretty good at our favorite spots there, two muddy areas near the creek and an open meadow (with the only Butterfly Weed I know of in the area in full bloom). A highlight of the morning was this large number of Western Tiger Swallowtails.
The day before, I’d visited a new butterfly spot Peter Callen had recently suggested at the Open Space Visitor Center close to the Rio Grande. He and Cameron Weber have been working for the last two years to restore an old farm field into a more natural habitat filled with native wildflowers. Rebecca and I rarely look for butterflies anywhere along the river since we haven’t found any good spots or very many butterflies there. I’d been impressed on my first quick visit so the day after our Las Huertas trip, we met there and spent a good amount of time exploring the field. It was great to finally meet Peter in person, as I’d only known him from a few emails in recent years commenting on this blog or telling me about sightings he’s had in his neighborhood. Peter, Cameron, and what appear to be hard working volunteers have done a terrific job restoring and maintaining the site. During our visit, we’d finally get a good look at a Southern Dogface, a species I don’t recall seeing in town before and that refused to land during my first visit.
We’d also see a ridiculously large number of buckeye butterflies. Most timely, since we’d only recently heard that new genetic studies have determined that our buckeyes belong to different species than had previously been assumed. (For the full story, read Steve Cary’s blog posting at https://peecnature.org/a-tale-of-two-buckeyes/ .) Instead of the former Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), which is seen back east, ours is now called Gray Buckeye (Junonia grisea),
and we may also see Dark Buckeye (Junonia nigrosuffusa).
[Note: This photo is actually from a 6/19/20 visit to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, but one from OSVC has been submitted for verification.]
Steve Cary’s discussion also mentions that these two species are able to mate and produce intermediate forms, of which we saw a few.
Despite the rather breezy day, I managed to get a decent photograph of one of the small dragonflies that were also busy buzzing the field.
Pulling into my garage upon returning home, these two characters begged me to photograph their yin and yang moment.
Since early April, I’ve been keeping an eye on a Cooper’s Hawk nest I pass on my regular visits to Embudito Canyon. A week after my last visit (see picture in my previous post), I got this shot of one of the little ones. Nearly ready to fly, its once all-white body is taking on the brown chest streaks of a juvenile and will soon have a brown head and different eye color.
That may also be the last photo I get for a while. Right after taking it, I had Mom fly out of nowhere almost smacking me upside the head. She made 3 passes at me before I got back to the safety of my car. My owls have never done anything like that, but the Mississippi Kites have a few times and I’ve heard that Cooper’s Hawks are known for doing it. Interesting that quite a few people wander by the nest while out for a walk or walking their dogs without consequence, so she must pick up on my obvious interest in her nest. Learned my lesson, so she can trust I’ll leave them all alone now.
After hearing about lots of that Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) blooming at Water Canyon recently, Rebecca and I decided to check it out, stopping along the way at Sevilleta NWR and on the way home at The Box Recreation Area. Sevilleta would turn up an easily photographed Sleepy Orange,
a Western Pygmy-Blue,
and two Leda Ministreaks. In my blog posting from May 24, I’d mentioned seeing the Leda Ministreak for the first time since 2015 returning from our Arizona trip. Since then, we also had one that day in Las Huertas and in addition to these two Rebecca would see them in at least one other location that day.
Sevilleta also turned up a pair of Walkingstick insects, which we usually see good numbers of later in the season in the Broom Dalea.
Along the road into Water Canyon, the white clover was attracting large numbers of Variegated Fritillaries and plenty of other blues and hairstreaks. I’ve posted a few of these Juniper Hairstreaks already this year, but this one was quite fresh and posed nicely.
Onward into the canyon, we easily found quite a bit of that Butterfly Weed but not many butterflies maybe due to the weather getting a little cloudier. It did give me nice looks at several Queen butterflies, however.
Wrapping up the day at The Box didn’t turn up many butterflies at all (It has surprised us in the past with a few unusual species.), but what got my attention was a total of three Greater Earless Lizards, one of which posed for us quite unconcernedly showing off its crazy color scheme.
Last Thursday, Rebecca and I headed down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, which is now mostly open again after having been closed due to the pandemic since March. We thought to meet first at Owlville (fields behind the Los Lunas Walmart) where I’d heard young Burrowing Owls were being seen. I’d been surprised seeing four adults on a visit June 1 after hearing that the owls were being encouraged to move elsewhere due to pending construction. With fairly low expectations of even seeing one, it was a treat seeing at least four active nesting burrows and lots of owls, including one large family quite close to the road with perfect lighting. Didn’t stay long, but got some good photos (only 3 of which I’ll share here). First one of Mom and the six little ones (more than I’ve ever seen for one nest),
just four of them looking at me while everybody else scurried underground,
and one near another nesting site.
And that brings me to yesterday. We started the morning at Oak Flat (checking the buckwheat that should turn up Spalding’s Blue one of these days); not many birds or butterflies around but we had fun seeing the largest and freshest Two-tailed Swallowtail we can remember ever seeing who easily posed for as many photos as we wanted,
a Broad-tailed Hummingbird so intent on nectaring on the Indian Paintbrush that it totally ignored us and allowed me to get close enough and remember to ratchet up my shutter speed to freeze those wings,
and a tiny scared little bunny thinking it best to sit motionless in its almost a hole.
From there over to Mars Court Trailhead, wondering if the meadow there would bring forth a few butterflies. Not many butterflies there that day, and once again we wouldn’t see the Acorn Woodpeckers, but did see a couple of Pygmy Nuthatches. Making our way uphill back to the parking lot, I just happened to look up to realize what I was seeing not all that far ahead.
First bear I’ve gotten a good look at in awhile and first one I’ve photographed since 2012. I’ve never seen one this light in color before, but don’t know if that’s just natural variation or for some other reason. It was nice of it to ramble away from the trail when it first noticed us and we got to watch it continue off into the woods.