Better Butterflies

Soon after my last blog post, most days continued hot and dry making it difficult finding many butterflies or birds on my regular outings. The situation improved in a few locations as summer got started, and should only get better now that we’ve started to get some early monsoon season rain.

In Pueblo Montano Open Space, it was surprising (and a little scary) to see the ground covered with fluffy cottonwood seeds, which must surely be a fire hazard during these dry days.

“Cottonwood Snow”

No butterflies that day, but I did get a good look at a Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

and along the irrigation ditch came across a mother Wood Duck with her six little ones.

Wood Duck

The next day in Embudito Canyon, an obviously young Red-tailed Hawk was having a heck of a time trying to balance at the top of a juniper tree; once it got squared away it then flew off up the side of the canyon.

Red-tailed Hawk

About a week later, I’d also see that the Curve-billed Thrasher had returned to its nest in the cholla, which I’d last seen absolutely empty maybe a week earlier.

Curve-billed Thrasher

On June 17, Rebecca and I did our butterfly survey from Capulin Springs to Balsam Glade and were surprised to see 24 species and a total of more than 100 butterflies, way more than on any of our earlier surveys. A few of those included a Northern Cloudywing,

Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)

a Field Crescent (it helps to get the underside of this species to distinguish it from the similar Mylitta Crescent),

Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)

and (first for the year) a Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Story Time – Back in February, Jeff Glassberg emailed me about when and where in New Mexico he might see Mexican Sootywings. Jeff, of course, is the president of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), has written a number of excellent butterfly guidebooks, runs butterfly tours nationally and internationally, and is a recognized expert in the field. By the end of April, he said he was planning to arrive here on June 20 and spend a day or so looking for the Mexican Sootywing before driving north to butterfly around Raton for the rest of the week, and then back to Albuquerque for his last day or so.

That got me checking Embudito regularly for the next several weeks hoping to see one. Back in 2019, we’d regularly found them there and at several other nearby locations. Not so much in 2020, and with it being so dry this year have not been seeing sootywings or a number of other usual species. A week before Jeff’s visit, I spent a day checking all the places we’d seen them in the past around Albuquerque and as far south as the Abo Mission outside of Mountainair. I ended the day with a run to The Box outside of Socorro where we’d seen (most likely Common) Sootywing on April 24. Things were not looking good – way too dry everywhere, very little nectar, almost no butterflies, and zero sootywings. I suggested to Jeff at best he might take a look around Embudito his first day here, but he might just as well head on up to Raton.

The day before Jeff was due to arrive, Rebecca and I decided to give Capilla Peak Road a look since we’d had some good butterflies there about this time a year ago. Spotting some butterflies working a bit of alfalfa right where Capilla Peak Road leaves the main highway by the old church, we stopped to take a look. Seconds later, Rebecca called out that she’d seen a sootywing in the dry grass and I’d see another just moments later. Even better, I was able to get a photograph of the underside showing the diagnostic black veining of a Mexican Sootywing.

Mexican Sootywing (Pholisora mejicana)

Of course, that meant letting Jeff know of a possible change of plans for his visit!

We then continued on up the dirt road and were even more surprised to find crazy numbers of butterflies nectaring at big patches of Bergamot, Spike Verbena, and abundant Orange Milkweed. (We’d also see another sootywing further up the road.) Here’s just one picture to convey what it was like that day, 3 Variegated Fritillary, 15 Marine Blue, 1 Gray Hairstreak, and 1 Orange Sulphur, all on the Orange Milkweed.

Orange Milkweed Party

A few of the other species we’d see along the first five miles of the drive include Juniper Hairstreak,

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Melissa Blue,

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

and Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper.

Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari)

Jeff arrived late the next day and on Monday, June 21 joined us as we made a beeline for that area sure to re-find one of those Mexican Sootywings for him. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t being very cooperative and was much too overcast most of the time, particularly at the first spot close to the church. Deciding to continue on in the off chance the weather would improve, we would get a few sunny moments and again had good numbers of quite a few species, including several rather unusual sightings such as Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

and Texan Crescent.

Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana)

Some others from that day included Acmon/Lupine Blue,

Acmon/Lupine Blue (Plebejus acmon/lupini)

Canyonland Satyr,

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

and Pahaska Skipper.

Pahaska Skipper (Hesperia pahaska)

Jeff did get a look at a sootywing about 5.1 miles up the road (where we’d seen one on our first visit). Although I’d imagine it was probably a Mexican, we couldn’t get a definitive look/photo of it.

Returning at the start of the next week, we returned to Manzano with Jeff to try again for the Mexican Sootywing, but the weather was even worse with heavy monsoon rainclouds blocking the sun for most of the day. We then tried a couple other past locations, but with no luck on sootywings. It was fun at Quarai to spot their two little Great Horned Owls from the visitor center (the gray spots toward the upper left in the picture below),

Quarai Ruins (w/Great Horned Owls)

and from a bit closer.

Great Horned Owl

After Quarai, we headed to Abo, where we did have a little sun, some blooming thistle and bindweed, and got a few butterflies including a Queen

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

and a Monarch.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Between Jeff’s visits, Rebecca and I took a trip we’d planned months ago to Eagle Nest and Angel Fire hoping to see some of the butterflies we’d seen there in recent years. Turned out to be a pretty successful trip overall, seeing a few unexpected species while missing out on a couple of possibles. We timed the trip well for the Ruddy Copper

Ruddy Copper (Lycaena rubidus)

and the Purplish Copper,

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

but were a little early for the Blue Copper, which we’d seen for the first time last year. We also did quite well seeing plenty of Spalding’s Blue

Spalding’s Blue (Euphilotes spaldingi)

including this pair on the same Redroot Buckwheat (their host plant).

Spalding’s Blue (Euphilotes spaldingi)

Unexpected at least for me was Rebecca’s sighting first of a Riding’s Satyr

Riding’s Satyr (Neominois ridingsii)

and later a Common Ringlet.

Common Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia)

Another one she’d spot while we were having lunch next to the Cimarron River at the Tolby Day Use Area would turn out to be a Nevada Skipper, a species we don’t often see.

Nevada Skipper (Hesperia nevada)

Other species we’d see and get reasonably good photos of included Square-spotted Blue

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

and the tiny Western Tailed-Blue.

Western Tailed-Blue (Cupido amyntula)

Around Eagle Nest, we’d regularly spot American White Pelicans flying about,

American White Pelican

but were surprised as we headed for home to see first an adult Bald Eagle followed minutes later by a Golden Eagle on the opposite side of the highway, both posed on telephone poles until I stopped to try to photograph them. Naturally, the both flew off long before I could get my act together.

Can’t wait for the rain to bring out a few more butterflies over the coming weeks and maybe even some birds.

About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
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11 Responses to Better Butterflies

  1. I love butterflies but we hardly see them here (in Southern Saskatchewan) anymore.

    • joeschelling says:

      Sorry to hear that, Anne Marie. I’d imagine there are more the closer one gets to the equator, but still, there should be some good ones there most of the year.

  2. Rebecca Gracey says:

    That was a good story about our Mexican Sootywing quest with Jeff Glassberg. we saw lots of beautiful butterflies, just not the tiny black skipper that fits into the cup of a Bindweed bloom.

  3. Beautiful Series of images!! Enjoyed seeing them!

  4. Beautiful pictures! I love the spotted blue, I’ve never seen anything like it. Maggie

  5. pcallen says:

    That Cottonwood “snow” may have been Willow catkin “snow”, we had a lot before the Cottonwoods did their thing.

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