A major highlight of the last couple of weeks for me was the 3-day trip (May 6-8) Rebecca and I took for this year’s Birdathon in Sierra County (Elephant Butte, Truth or Consequences, Animas Creek, Percha, and Caballo) taking a new way home by way of Silver City to look in on a few butterfly spots. Having been vaccinated, for the first time in over a year we felt safe to drive in her car rather than driving separately. More on that below, but first a few pictures from the week before the trip.
One day, a visit to the Belen Marsh showed that there was a bit of water there and that the Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets had returned, but aren’t yet nesting. This is one of the few pictures I kept of an American Avocet.
Over the weekend, we drove through Las Huertas Canyon from Placitas seeing a few butterflies, but nowhere near as many as in past years; probably due to the continuing drought over most of the State. The road is in as bad a shape as ever, but it still passable taking one’s time. Best butterfly of the day was a Yucca Giant-Skipper, seen in our most dependable spot for that species.
Various wildflowers have started blooming recently making for some good photo ops. In Embudito the next day, a place I’ve been visiting almost daily hoping to see some first of the season butterfly species, one of the thistles finally opened and is sure to attract some of those butterflies.
There also were a few Flanders poppies peeking out in a few spots,
and every now and then a Claret Cup Cactus was showing off.
The day before the trip had me out around Corrales checking in on my owl babies. I’ve heard there are 3 little ones in the nest near Dixon Road, but have only seen two of them.
Over near Calabacillas Arroyo, the two little ones are getting older and a bit more adventurous.
Early the next morning we took off on our Birdathon, the annual fundraising activity for our local Central New Mexico Audubon Society. Over a period of 24 hours, the idea is to see as many species as possible with folks pledging contributions based on the total and in competition with other teams. Team Verdin (me and Rebecca) started at 8:30 at Animas Creek where we easily got our two target species along with an unexpectedly large number of 31 other species. Those two targets were the Acorn Woodpecker and Bridled Titmouse,
and one of those others was the Brown-crested Flycatcher which Rebecca was able to identify, but not often seen around here.
Our next stop was at Percha Dam State Park where we’d add another 25 species to our list before heading on to several locations near the southern end of Caballo Lake and 5 more species. Below the dam at Caballo Lake, we’d hear a frantic Killdeer mom trying to distract us from her new babies that were busy running about; eventually I’d get a picture of Mom with one of the little ones while the others were coming over to join her.
Things were slowing down bird-wise by then so we drove to a couple of spots around Elephant Butte Lake, adding another 3 species. Most surprising was Rebecca’s spotting a shorebird from quite a distance away that was still there when we arrived and would turn out to be the rarely seen Sanderling.
Thinking we were pretty much done for the day, we headed for Truth or Consequences stopping to take a look at Mims Lake. Not expecting to see much there at first, it would turn out to add quite a few species to our list (13), enough that we’d visit again the next morning. Adding a Rock Pigeon spotted in town that afternoon and another 13 species at Paseo del Rio that next morning gave a grand total of 93 species. One of those last species seen was a Black-crowned Night-Heron that first flew low right over us and we’d later spot perching in a tree.
Having completed our Birdathon, it was off toward Silver City in search of a few butterflies. One of our favorite spots in that area, Railroad Canyon, almost immediately turned up one of our target species, the Sagebrush Checkerspot, of which we’d see at least 18 individuals.
A few other species appeared, but it seemed the drought was likely impacting that area as well. One of the others, fairly common around here but first for the season, was a Mylitta Crescent.
We next headed to San Lorenzo, up to Lake Roberts, and back toward Silver City checking promising spots for more butterflies. One of the first was on a thistle just north of San Lorenzo, another first of the season, Viereck’s Skipper.
We’d end up spending quite a bit of time at McMillan Campground, where we ran into a fellow butterfly enthusiast from Texas, and get to see a few more butterflies, including an Arizona Hairstreak (a bit too worn to include a photo here) and a Clouded Sulphur (quite common here, but first of the season for me and made for a nice photo).
After spending the night in Silver City, the next morning we headed for home along a new route along the western border of New Mexico stopping now and then to look around a few areas that might be worth another look soon.
As mentioned above, I’ve been hitting Embudito almost every day recently keeping an eye on the butterfly nectar plants and hoping to spot a few of those butterflies that should make an appearance any day now. I’ve also been trying to get a good shot of the Scott’s Oriole that’s returned and I’ve been hearing and seeing for most of the last week. This is the best I’ve managed so far.
Another bird that fooled me by twittering away while hiding in a cholla right next to me eventually popped up for his portrait, a Black-throated Sparrow.
On Thursday, our survey between Capulin Spring and Balsam Glade for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Network turned up several first of the season species and a good number of species and individuals, including Field Crescent
and Silvery Blue.
A quick trip this morning to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area wasn’t very productive, but did turn up a bird I’ve been trying to get a decent photo of for some time (and served as our Birdathon team name) – a Verdin.