It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything, but finally a couple of days recently turned up an amazing variety of butterflies for so early in the year. Photos of some of these butterflies will form the bulk of this post. Found myself hanging around the house a lot lately, busy painting and fixing up in anticipation of having porcelain tile replaced in my entrance hall and dining room. It’s been interesting noting how things can build up a bit of dust and grime over more than a quarter century if you’re careful to avoid ever disturbing them. Anyway, with the cool mornings lately and a couple of bursts of rain and snow, it hasn’t been very motivating to go looking for birds. Two birds that made the cut this time include this Cactus Wren at Embudito,
and the Western Screech-Owl back in its cavity at Columbus Park.
Instead of birds, it seems if the weather got just warm enough, I’d head over to Embudito hoping to spot a few butterflies just starting into their flight periods. Last time, I mentioned starting to see Sandia Hairstreaks on March 2, and they’ve been around pretty much every time since, including this mating pair.
I would usually see one or two other species on a visit, but was expecting to start seeing Southwestern Orangetips any day. One would fly by on March 16 without stopping for a photograph, but I haven’t seen any at all since then.
Thinking we might see a few more butterflies about 200 miles south in the Organ Mountains just east of Las Cruces, and one butterfly in particular, we headed out early Thursday morning making our first stop at the La Cueva Picnic Area and the Fillmore Canyon Trail. Almost immediately, we’d start seeing good numbers of Southwestern Orangetips flying by, and unlike the ones in Albuquerque, these would readily land to nectar on various small flowers. Here are just two of the many we’d get to photograph, first a ventral view
and then a dorsal view.
While busy chasing after a couple of these, I’d dismissed a small yellow one nearby as the usually quite common Dainty Sulphur. When it landed, however, it sure looked more like an orangetip than a sulphur. The reference books suggest some Southwestern Orangetips can be yellow, but this one also had a different ventral pattern. Upon returning home and reviewing things a bit more, I’d decided this was the related Desert Orangetip, which was quickly confirmed following submittal to BAMONA. Cool – a species I’d only seen once before in Anza Borrego, CA in 2015.
Continuing on further up the trail, we eventually noticed quite a bit of New Mexico buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa), the host plant for our target butterfly for the trip, Henry’s Elfin. We’d seen it once before in early April 2017 at Last Chance Canyon near Carlsbad, NM, but were aware of past reports of it being seen in Fillmore Canyon. We’d hoped to focus our search by spotting the bright pink flowers of the blooming buckeye, but it was just too early in the season for the buckeye to show any sign of spring. The large seedpods of the buckeye were easy to spot, but we assumed our search was likely in vain without any flowers or even buds out yet. We did, however, have fun seeing good numbers and varieties of other species on a few sumac bushes in the area…orangetips, Gray Hairstreaks, Marine Blues, Funereal Duskywings, and even a Painted Lady.
Just starting back down the trail, I happened to spot a small butterfly on a dry stalk. Hmm, dang if that don’t look like a Elfin; indeed, it was our target species, Henry’s Elfin!
At home later, I’d read that they go into diapause as pupae (chrysalis) over summer and winter before emerging in early spring, so the lack of flowering buckeye wasn’t that critical.
Later that day, we’d head over to Soledad Canyon where we’d had some good luck on our last visit in early October 2021. We’d notice a few spots with sumac bushes attracting butterflies, but getting late in the day decided to return the next morning to explore a bit further. That turned out to be a pretty decent plan, as we’d end up seeing a nice mix of species most for the first time this year. One of them was the species that originally sucked me into this butterfly business, Great Purple Hairstreak.
We’d also see good numbers of Gray Hairstreak, a species that seems rather common but can pop up just about anywhere,
and even an American Snout, which some years we never see and other years (like 2021) everywhere.
The last species we’d see there was hiding in the underbrush and originally assumed as just another Southwestern Orangetip until we looked a little closer. Yup, something different and one of the three Euchloe species in NM. Got a couple of quick partial shots of it in the weeds before it took off, fortunately just a short distance away where we tracked it down again. Turned out to be a Desert Marble (Euchloe lotta), a species I’d only seen once before in Arizona.
Most successful outing! Heading for home, we took a break at Paseo del Rio Campground outside of Elephant Butte where we’ve sometimes had good butterflies. Quite dry and still just a week or so away from leafing out for Spring, but we managed to spot a few butterflies, including the first Queen for the year,
and several of the overwintering Mourning Cloaks we’ve been seeing around town lately…this one with a nicely blurred background.
Next couple of months should be entertaining around here now that the butterflies are back, bird migration is getting underway, and undoubtedly a few baby owls and other birds will be putting in an appearance.