It’s been a little over two weeks since my last posting and until this morning the days have been rather hot and dry. Haven’t gotten out much either with trying to keep my distance from others these days. Astonishing to me are those who totally ignore the threat and public health orders, from the president on down. Locally, it has been good seeing more awareness and compliance with social distancing and mask usage, although there will always be some who remain totally oblivious or uncaring. Of the times I have been out and about, up until the last few days I haven’t seen many birds and with few exceptions very few butterflies. I can’t say that’s particularly unusual, but it has been a bit disappointing.
One weekend, Rebecca and I did head up to Balsam Glade in the Sandias to take the dirt road down toward Las Huertas Canyon in search of a few butterflies. Not many butterflies that day, but it was good to see a large patch of James’ Buckwheat in bloom and attracting several Square-spotted Blue butterflies. I think these are both females, but included two photos to show a ventral view
and a dorsal view.
It was a major surprise earlier in the week to see a Facebook posting about an Ursine Giant-Skipper sighting – a butterfly that’s extremely rare to see in New Mexico (and maybe anywhere) and one we’d recently been hoping to find. Better yet, the photo was taken by a good friend who quickly got back to me saying he’d seen it in a fairly remote but easily accessible location in the Peloncillo Mountains in New Mexico’s “bootheel”. We immediately made plans to head there to try and find it, but eventually decided to wait until maybe next year after getting a report of someone else working unsuccessfully for it all day a week after it had been seen. Also, might be smarter to go with a group after hearing that flat tires are common on the drive and it’s miles from civilization. We’d made non-refundable hotel reservations in Deming for the trip, however, and headed down there to check on other butterfly locations in that area. Not much flying anywhere around Deming that day unfortunately, and the next morning we took a leisurely route home stopping at City of Rocks State Park and a couple of spots near Silver City. The drive was fun for me as I’d never been to City of Rocks or driven NM 61 through Mimbres Valley before.
At our first stop just outside the park a Western Pygmy-Blue was just lit up in the early morning sun.
After completely misreading the map and failing to note the obvious road sign at the first pullout for the park, we walked a 1.95 mile loop trail which we would later find out was the Cienega Trail, and was only about 1.5 miles from the actual park entrance and Visitor Center (oops!). Highlights of our short visit there included seeing a pair of Scott’s Orioles, a Greater Roadrunner dashing around,
and a Swainson’s Hawk that observed us for awhile from a perch on top of one of the massive rocks before flying off.
Back on NM 61 toward Railroad Canyon was a fabulous drive on a good highway, zero traffic, and the lush green valley of the Mimbres River. Quite a bit of thistle and milkweed along the side of the road had us slowing down and occasionally stopping to look for butterflies. Once again, not many butterflies but I did manage to have a Cloudless Sulphur perch nicely for a photograph.
Railroad Canyon was also quite pleasant for mid-summer in southern New Mexico, but pretty quiet for butterflies unlike several past visits. We would get to see a Four-spotted Skipperling
and our first Tailed-Blue for the year. I’ve labeled it as a Western Tailed-Blue based on range maps in my field guides, although it may well be the case that it is an Eastern Tailed-Blue based on information from our local expert.
What was interesting there was the great variety of wildflowers, several of which I’d never seen before, including Cardinal Catchfly
and Sweet Four-O’Clock.
Interesting drive home, too, and the first time I’d taken NM 152 heading east over Emory Pass. (Past trips have always been heading west toward Silver City.)
During the last two weekends, Rebecca and I met at Sevilleta NWR hoping to see a couple of the special butterflies we’ve had there in the past about this time of year. Our first visit did turn up one of them, a Rita Blue,
but despite all the buckwheat in bloom, that would be the only one we’d see on either visit. We did see a few other common species, but none of the Palmer’s Metalmark or Cloudless Sulphur we’d hoped for. As usual, there were plenty of lizards running around and lots of Walking Sticks
and Desert Spider Beetles.
This past week has been surprising in the birds I’ve seen in a couple of spots. At Embudito on Tuesday morning, there were several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers chasing each other around, at least two Rock Wrens (a bird I usually don’t see there until late Fall),
and a Green-tailed Towhee out in the open near the spring.
On Thursday, walking the ditch in Corrales between East Ella and Dixon, there were quite a few Wilson’s Warblers,
an entertaining flock of Bushtits drying off after what looks like had been a group bathing session,
and most surprising, a Northern Waterthrush along the shoreline. That’s a species I rarely ever get to see, but mentioning my sighting to another obvious birder was informed he’d just seen one further up the path.
Then today a friend told me about a Western Screech-Owl being seen in a cavity where I’d seen one a single time in early 2017. Naturally, I had to run down to take a look and as I approached it was sitting almost completely in the open. When it noticed me looking, it quickly ducked back inside and out of sight. In my experience, they usually just sit there keeping an eye on things, but not moving or even opening an eye, so that was a bit of a surprise. I wandered off and waited a few minutes before returning quietly to see if it was back out. Almost, but not quite.
Might just have to take another look soon.