And on to February

Almost the end of January and nearly a month since my last post. Seems I’ve been a bit distracted lately, and either not getting out much at all or at the wrong time of day. Weather’s been mostly good if a little chilly, but this time of year can also be rather slow for birding in the areas I’ve been visiting. Did have a few interesting sightings nonetheless over the last few weeks and thought I’d share them here.

Met up with some friends at Tingley Beach on January 6 for birding, and saw a few good birds and first porcupine for the year. Fun spotting a Great Blue Heron preening away high in the top of a cottonwood.

Great Blue Heron

Didn’t get a photo of the porcupine that day, but did see one awake in a tree a few days later at Calabacillas Arroyo.

Porcupine

The next day, a Canyon Towhee teased me from a cholla in Embudito.

Canyon Towhee

One of my better outings was the next day at Rio Grande Nature Center and the adjoining bosque along the Rio Grande. Pretty quiet (other than a few crows flying about) until I got to the river, where I first got a close look at a Great Blue Heron who stayed around long enough for a photo before flying off up river.

Great Blue Heron

Next, it was a treat to see a mature Bald Eagle on the far side of the river on a snag they’ve used in past years. Unfortunately, it didn’t feel like flying any closer while I was in the area.

Bald Eagle

Starting back toward the Nature Center I came across a couple of other photo ops, first a House Finch close to the trail in a Russian Olive,

House Finch

and then an Eastern Bluebird, in the shadows a bit higher up in a cottonwood.

Eastern Bluebird

New for me was finding a trail close to the river between my two usual access points. New for the birds, too, who’d been hanging out on the water not expecting any people to show up. This gave me a chance to get close to several Common Mergansers, who typically seem to head for the hills as soon as they detect nearby humans. Got an okay shot of the male,

Common Merganser (male)

but was quite happy with this one of a female.

Common Merganser (female)

A few days later, we decided to revisit the Northern Geologic Window that was part of our area for the Albuquerque Christmas Count back in December. Of the 117 species recorded on the count, we were the only team to get Sagebrush Sparrow and Crissal Thrasher, and wanted to find them again and try for better photos. Both species were still there, but my only good photo was of the Crissal Thrasher.

Crissal Thrasher

Embudito’s my ‘local patch’ and where I seem to go several times a week. It hasn’t been very birdy at all lately, but still worth going for a little outdoor exercise if nothing else. It was a treat coming across a couple of Black-throated Sparrows for the first time in quite awhile, and fun that they were so busy working under some bushes they ignored me entirely as I stood directly above them trying to back off the zoom enough to include the whole bird.

Black-throated Sparrow

Last Friday, we were off to the East Mountains for a Climate Watch survey, which we do twice a year counting all the birds we see in 5 minutes at each of 12 locations. Our focus is on bluebirds and nuthatches, which this time turned up a good number of Western Bluebirds, a few Mountain Bluebirds, and a single White-breasted Nuthatch. We also had several species of hawks this year that likely kept the numbers down for the smaller birds in the area. After completing the survey (and a good lunch at Rumor Brewing), we drove east to Moriarty and south to Clements Road, which at this time of year can be good for seeing several raptors. We would see a Rough-legged Hawk and a few Red-tailed and Ferruginous Hawks, but have had better luck in the past. I did catch one of the Ferruginous Hawks as it flew by.

Ferruginous Hawk

The most unusual sighting of the day and an absolute highlight was coming across a tree in someone’s yard that had 3 Great Horned Owls perched in it.

Great Horned Owl

In the photo above, two of them are quite obvious on either side of the main trunk; the third one is just above and to the left of the obvious one on the left. A friend mentioned seeing a nesting pair in the area early last year, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen an owl out there, let alone three of them! Even crazier was seeing a fourth owl perched in the next tree over.

Great Horned Owl

No nests in sight, and no idea how/if any of these were related.

Naturally, that had me out a few days later (January 26) checking in on one I’d seen a few months ago a friend had mentioned seeing as recently as January 10. Took me awhile to spot this guy, but yep, that shape finally jumped out at me, and of course, was looking right at me when I finally saw it.

Great Horned Owl

Walking the ditch in Corrales two days later, of course I had to look for the pair that seems present year-round near the nesting site they’ve used for years. It took two passes by those trees, but finally spotted one of them in a somewhat different location than usual.

Great Horned Owl

A quiet walk in the bosque near the Open Space Visitor Center the next day didn’t turn up many birds at all, but I did get a look at what I’m pretty sure was a female Western Bluebird hiding in the shade.

Western Bluebird

Posted in Birding, Critters, Photographs | 4 Comments

On to 2022!

Since my last post, we’ve been on two Christmas Bird Counts, the Bosque del Apache CBC on 12/18/21 and the Albuquerque CBC the next day. We had to skip the Sandia CBC after it was rescheduled from 12/26/21 to 1/1/22 and conflicted with a trip to Arizona.

We had a reasonably successful count for the Bosque del Apache CBC with 37 species on a cool and windy day. Biggest surprise was coming across a flock of 155 Wild Turkeys, way more than one usually sees in the area.

Wild Turkey

Among the other birds seen was a Merlin

Merlin

and a male Pyrrhuloxia out in the open (for a change).

Pyrrhuloxia

Fortunately, the wind died down by the next day as we headed out to several areas out on the West Mesa for the Albuquerque CBC. Only 19 species (174 individuals), but we got most of our target species and a few surprises, including a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

We successfully tracked down Sagebrush Sparrow and Loggerhead Shrike, species typically only found in our area of the count circle, but missed a couple of species we’d seen last year.

Loggerhead Shrike

Toward the end of the day, I was checking in on a zoom call with my sisters when I noticed my phone battery level was way low. While sitting in my car charging the phone and zooming, a Greater Roadrunner showed up fooling around desperately begging for a snack. Managed to juggle the phone, car window, and my camera to take a few pictures.

Greater Roadrunner

Over the next few days leading up to Christmas, I got out a couple of times and while there weren’t many photo opps, I did manage a couple of photos including this Canyon Towhee peeking out from behind a cholla in Embudito Canyon,

Canyon Towhee

catching both Great Horned Owls in their usual spot in Corrales,

Great Horned Owl

and this one of a Say’s Phoebe on a sunflower stalk at Los Poblanos…a shot I took just because it let me get reasonably close, but that I thought came out quite well.

Say’s Phoebe

Then it was off to a B&B in Arizona to meet up with friends, celebrate a birthday, and ring in the New Year over a long weekend. Much too cold and blustery most of the time and even some rain (and snow on the mountains) but still fun times with good friends and plenty of good birds to photograph.

A few of them are also seen in New Mexico, such as Lesser Goldfinch,

Lesser Goldfinch

Ladder-backed Woodpecker,

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and occasionally Pyrrhuloxia.

Pyrrhuloxia

Others were much more unusual for us to see but rather common for Arizona, including the Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker

and a pair of Northern Cardinals usually seen hiding deep in the brush.

Northern Cardinal

It was a surprising treat to see a hummingbird over the New Year’s holiday, which we suspect is a female Anna’s Hummingbird.

Anna’s Hummingbird

Stopping in at Chiricahua National Monument Visitor Center on the drive home, we’d also be treated to a number of Mexican Jays busy checking on tourists arriving in the parking lot.

Mexican Jay

Happy New Year, everybody! There will surely be some fabulous times in the days ahead keeping an eye out for more amazing birds, butterflies, lizards, ….

Posted in Birding, Photographs, Travel | 4 Comments

Almost Winter

Finally got cold and even a dusting of snow on the mountain and just a week until the official start of winter. Almost a month since my last posting, this one’s going to be a little different than my usual. Not surprisingly, the butterflies have pretty much disappeared until next spring, and I haven’t gotten out too often or photographed many birds. But then again, Thanksgiving happened since then, I’ve been busy getting all my Christmas ducks lined up in a row, and unfortunately had to make an unexpected trip to Texas for a week for personal reasons.

So here’s what I’ve got this time:

After several visits to the Rio Grande Nature Center, on November 18, one of the male Hooded Mergansers came reasonably close and popped up his hood as he sailed by.

Hooded Merganser – Rio Grande Nature Center

The next day, we made the drive out to the Coyote del Malpais Golf Course in Grants NM to see a decent variety of ducks but usually a bit far in the distance. One of my better photos from the day is this one of a flock of Northern Shovelers taking off with a Green-winged Teal there in the middle.

Green-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler

Later, we’d drive to La Ventana Natural Arch for a picnic lunch. At one point, a large bird launched from high on a cliff that I’d figured for a Common Raven that started calling at the same time…took me awhile to catch on while it circled higher and higher, but eventually determined it to be a Golden Eagle…cool!

The following day had me wandering around Los Poblanos Open Space, where I didn’t see much at first and had only distant views of Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes. But there came a point where I merged with a good-sized flock of the cranes who were making their way across the path from one field to another. That let me get a few good photos of them, although I missed catching any of the dancing routines or parachute landings. Here’s a couple of the ones I saved, a stately trio marching by,

Sandhill Crane – Los Poblanos

and one flying off somewhere.

Sandhill Crane – Los Poblanos

Now this next part is where things start to get different from my usual postings. On November 23, we went to the Albuquerque Biopark Zoo, me for the first time in at least two years (surely you remember life B.C. {pre-Covid}).

One of the first critters one comes across is a small flock of Flamingos, who can take interesting poses for a photographer, such as this one

Flamingo – Albuquerque Biopark

or a somewhat more recognizable version.

Flamingo – Albuquerque Biopark

It was fun taking pictures of several other creatures, and I plan on returning soon, but I’ll only show a couple more here. Baby hippo was kinda cute –

Baby Hippo – Albuquerque Biopark

and I liked this one of the last of the cottonwood leaves.

Cottonwood Leaves

Coolest sighting of the day for me was the Mountain Lion, quite alert and active and close to the fence.

Puma (caged)

Very rarely do I use Photoshop to erase distracting elements in a photo, and in the past only for something like a power line against an otherwise empty sky, but I’d just happened to stumble on to a few YouTube videos showing how to easily make more extensive corrections, e.g., removing the chain link fence in a photo…drumroll, please.

Puma (uncaged)

Not perfect, but whoa, I’m definitely returning to the zoo again soon and playing around with the resulting pictures.

As long as I was fooling around with Photoshop, I found another website showing how you could, in two simple steps, convert a photo to look like a watercolor rendering, which seemed a fun idea to try for some of the greeting cards I sometimes print. Here’s the result for two of my images, one a Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey (Photoshopped as Watercolor)

and one of a Cottontail Rabbit.

Cottontail Rabbit (Photoshopped as Watercolor)

Pretty cool, huh? That technique is definitely getting some attention from me.

One final picture for this post, from an evening at the River of Lights, a fascinating display of millions of holiday lights in various arrangements throughout the Botanic Gardens of the Biopark.

River of Lights

We’d gone once a few years ago and it was also magical, but this time we’d lucked into a time that was uncrowded, not nearly as cold as the earlier visit, and I had my new camera with its novel setting for minimizing blur in hand-held night shots (usually a major problem for me in the past).

Should be a few good photo opportunities in the next couple of weeks – it’s Christmas Bird Count season, and we’re signed up to for three of them this year.

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Birds and Butterflies into mid-November

Since my last posting on October 24, the weather has continued to be quite nice and here it is November 15 and we still haven’t had our first freeze. It’s been somewhat surprising to still being seeing a good variety of butterflies out and about, and fun starting to see a few more of our migrating birds. The cottonwoods have just been glowing for the last few weeks, but are now starting to fade as we move closer to winter.

Cottonwoods – Rio Grande Bosque

Among those butterflies I’ve been seeing at Embudito recently have been a Hoary Comma,

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

usually several Lupine Blues,

Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)

and plenty of Western Pygmy-Blues.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidum exile)

There’s usually a few others about, such as Common Checkered-Skipper, Clouded Sulphur, Dainty Sulphur, and Checkered White, and until quite recently a few American Snout. Here’s the ventral view of an American Snout,

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

and here’s the dorsal view.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

On a visit to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, we again saw a Question Mark on October 30 in the same area it’d been seen on September 3.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

Back in Embudito have been some fun interactions with a few birds. One day, I saw a Cactus Wren flying with a bit of fluff to its winter roosting nest, disappearing inside for a few seconds before flying off to a nearby perch.

Cactus Wren

I got aligned with that nest entrance and waited for awhile hoping to catch it returning, but after a few minutes decided to move along as my presence might have bothered the bird. A little later, I got good looks at the male Ladder-backed Woodpecker that hasn’t let me get very close this year.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

A few days later, I spotted a Greater Roadrunner jumping around the boulders near the ridgetop and got my camera squared away in case it took flight.

Greater Roadrunner

That worked, but I’m still looking to get that shot with the wide-open wings you sometimes get to see.

Walking along the Corrales Ditch one day, I noticed a Great Horned Owl near its usual nesting spot and would hear that both adults were seen the next day.

Great Horned Owl

In my last post, I mentioned seeing one near Calabacillas Arroyo on October 23 while this one was seen November 2; it seems quite unusual to me to be seeing them before February.

A couple days later at Los Poblanos Open Space, I’d see another Greater Roadrunner up close. There are usually a couple of them around the community garden, rather friendly apparently as the resident owners of the garden.

Greater Roadrunner

The next day, a visit to Tingley ponds turned up a few ducks, a noisy Marsh Wren, and Belted Kingfisher, but I wasn’t able to get decent photos of any of those. On the front ponds, tho, a female Wood Duck posed nicely,

Female Wood Duck

as did what turned out to be a Green-winged Teal/Mallard Hybrid (as we saw when it woke up and paddled off with a big yellow bill).

Green-winged Teal/Mallard Hybrid

Last Tuesday, I made a run down to Bosque del Apache NWR (and would return on Saturday). It was fun to spot a few good birds, most new for the season, and interesting to note different birds in different locations just a few days apart. There still isn’t much water on the refuge, but the ponds are starting to fill just in time for the ducks, geese, and raptors to arrive. Surprising to me was to see an adult Bald Eagle this early, hanging out on its usual snag despite the limited water in the large pond.

Bald Eagle

Interestingly, we didn’t see the adult on Saturday, but instead there was a young (3rd year) Bald Eagle on that snag. Fun for me on Tuesday was seeing quite a few female Northern Harriers and having them cruise by at fairly close range.

Northern Harrier

At one spot, I noticed a coyote quietly making its way through a meadow when a pair of Northern Harrier buzzed it a couple of times; didn’t quite get that photo, but here’s one of the coyote with a Northern Harrier keeping an eye on it from a resting perch.

Coyote watched by a Northern Harrier

Not too busy at the Visitor Center, except for one quite noisy bird bustling about in some bushes right by the parking lot. After minutes of all that business it finally popped out into a bare tree…Pyrrhuloxia!

Pyrrhuloxia

On my way home, I thought to take a look at Ladd S. Gordon Wildlife Area. Early this year, I’d gotten some good photos of both male and female Northern Harriers and once had several White-throated Sparrows in one location. Several years ago, we’d had large numbers of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese there, which the wildlife folks told us they used as a staging area for encouraging them to continue on to Bosque del Apache NWR in time for the annual Festival of the Cranes (unfortunately held virtually the last two years due to Covid). There were a few Sandhill Cranes, but few other birds seen this time. Seems a little late for dragonflies, but I would see a few of them around including this mating pair.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Today, after several attempts I finally got a good look at the Hooded Mergansers at Rio Grande Nature Center. There seem to be a couple of mated pair, but only one of the males came close enough for a photo.

Hooded Merganser

Should be fun over the next few weeks tracking down a few more of our winter visitors, but surely we’re about done with butterflies for the year.

Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Photographs | 11 Comments

Butterfly to Bird Transition

It’s always tricky trying to come up with a title for my blog posts, and seems like I have to do that before adding any text or pictures. I had two ideas for this one. At first I was thinking to make it about realizing once again how I lead a ‘charmed life’, after noting the weather this past week has just been perfect and after having had some amazing and unexpected experiences on almost a daily basis recently. But then I got to thinking that the last couple of weeks has also had me notice that butterfly season is winding down and my attention is turning to seeing what birds might be around as the Fall migration gets underway.

Shared on Facebook recently were two short videos, one on birds and one on butterflies, pulled together from my photos so far in 2021. In less than a minute each, you might get a sense of the amazing variety possible to see just by getting out there and taking a look around.

Rarely do I post individual pictures on Facebook, since not everyone is on it (So far, I’ve avoided Twitter, Instagram, and such myself.). Here, though, is one taken with my phone that I posted to Facebook.

Dog tested, Dog approved.

These three dogs, seen outside the Highway 4 Cafe & Bakery in Jemez Springs, just seemed ready to roll and out for a good time. We’d seen them on our way to Valles Caldera National Preserve, where I hoped access into the preserve would be much easier than on previous visits. That turned out to be the case, and we were able to drive the well-maintained dirt roads deep into the back country and catch some of the aspen gold along with the incredible views.

Valles Caldera

The next few days saw me making almost daily visits to Embudito Canyon mostly looking for some of those late season butterflies on the chamisa that was in peak bloom. Another one of the rock sculptures there caught my eye one day; anybody else see that cartoon face?

Cartoon Character?

On the 19th, I added a new butterfly, Ceraunus Blue, to my list of Embudito Butterflies, bringing the total to 68 species seen there since 2011. A few of the other butterflies seen in the last couple of weeks include Painted Lady,

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Gray Hairstreak,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

There have also been regular sightings of American Snout, such as this dorsal view,

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

and more often, a ventral view.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

It’s been a little surprising, too, to come across one or two Lupine Blue butterflies there lately, including this one seen on last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder outing.

Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)

Last Monday had me beginning that transition from focusing on butterflies to keeping an eye out primarily for birds. Starting at the bosque ponds in the woods behind Tingley Beach turned up a good mix of ducks and Canada Geese, but not the Belted Kingfisher I’d hoped for and most of the ducks were pretty far away. There was one Pied-billed Grebe close to shore for this photo,

Pied-billed Grebe

and several Wood Ducks wandering around the concession stand when I headed back to my car along the normal fishing ponds.

Wood Duck (male)

Not many birds around that morning until as I was making my way along the far side of one of the ponds, I spotted a Black-crowned Night-Heron on the shore. Despite being on the shaded side of it, I took a couple of photos from a fair distance away and then slowly continued along the path hoping not to disturb it. Just past it, a guy was sitting there fishing who the bird also ignored. Strolled up and let him know what I was doing before taking a couple good shots of the unusually complacent Black-crowned Night-Heron, the first of those living a charmed life moments for the week.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Two days later found me wandering around the woods at Pueblo Montano. Not many birds about and no porcupines (who can easily be seen in good numbers once the leaves fall), but a delighful day to be out and about. Deciding to wrap it up and head over to Los Poblanos Open Space to see the newly-arrived Sandhill Cranes and possibly a few raptors, I thought to take a look at a tree cavity that I’ve long suspected might be used by a Western Screech-Owl, and once heard from a friend about having seen one there. Not sure why I bother, since it’s always been empty in all the numerous times I’ve looked over the last few years. So in the next installment of my ‘charmed life’, here’s what was there that day.

Western Screech-Owl

Not only was the owl there, but he was wide awake and looking right at me. Usually, they seem aware of your presence but pretend to be snoozing away the day. I should also mention that this photo was taken with quite a long zoom so as not to annoy the bird. Here’s another shot taken with a more reasonable zoom.

Western Screech-Owl

Thursday was my first time with the Audubon Thursday Birders since the pandemic shut everything down, and it was fun seeing so many old friend many for the first time since then, and we did see some good birds. Only photo from the day was right at the end of one of the White-crowned Sparrows recently returned for the winter.

White-crowned Sparrow

Yesterday morning, I decided to head out to Romero Road in Corrales and walked through the bosque and took a look at the Rio Grande. Surprised to see so little water in the ditch there, and most of the birds seemed to be hiding or perched high in the cottonwoods. It was so quiet that when four Sandhill Cranes flew over just above the trees you could hear their wings moving through the air.

The river was quite low, but made for a nice photo with the fall colors just coming into their own against the backdrop of the Sandias.

North Corrales

Still early enough in the morning, on the way home I decided to give Calabacillas Arroyo and the trail north to Alameda a look. Often a little quiet for birds, it can be good at times and turn up some interesting sightings near the dam overflow. First bird I saw just as I was leaving the parking lot was this Great Blue Heron hanging out high in a cottonwood. Usually, they’ll fly off as soon as they notice me, but this one seemed content to just sit there showing off.

Great Blue Heron

Pretty quiet walk from that point on, and after making it to the dam overflow (where there were two more herons waiting for fish but far on the other side of the river), I started heading back. Although I usually return on the same trail in the bosque close to the ditch, for some reason this time I took the parallel trail closer to the river. In one more ‘charmed life’ incident, although I had very little expectation of seeing one especially at this time of the year there in the golden cottonwood leaves a Great Horned Owl appeared. I’d last seen them there in early May shortly before they’d usually disappear until the next breeding season.

Great Horned Owl
Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Photographs | 4 Comments

Early Fall Sightings

Surprised today to see more than three weeks have passed since my last posting. It is certainly feeling as if we’ve moved from summer to fall, with cooler temperatures, the occasional bit of rain, and of course the changes to the foliage along with new sightings for the season.

Among those new sightings were a couple of my favorites showing clearly that we must live in a desert, a good sized “horny toad” seen along the trail near Mars Court on September 18,

Hernandez’s Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi)

and a male tarantula on its annual migration in search of a female from Three Gun Spring on the 23rd.

Desert Blonde Tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes)

The visit to Three Gun Spring turned up a few good butterflies nectaring on the blooming Chamisa (Ericameria nauseosa), including two quite common species I thought made for pretty good photos – a Gray Hairstreak

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

and a Checkered White.

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)

Checking the Chamisa in some of the Albuquerque foothills that day also gave a nice look at what is presumedly a young Canyon Towhee.

Canyon Towhee

The next day, we drove down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen to find the Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides) working well to attract several butterfly species. Among those we’d see were a Queen,

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

West Coast Lady, a similar but not nearly as commonly seen species as the ubiquitous Painted Lady and the somewhat common American Lady,

West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella)

and some Bordered Patch butterflies, known to breed there and quite variable in appearance.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Over the next few days, I’d get out to check the Chamisa in the foothill canyons hoping to spot an Apache Skipper, a species we’ve only seen a few times over the years (Stay tuned for more on this species below.). I did come across a few American Snout while doing that,

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

and seemed to have had a few more Arizona Sisters flying past than usual.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

The next weekend had us off to Bear Mountain Lodge near Silver City on a long anticipated trip to celebrate my recent auspicious birthday. We weren’t really expecting to see many butterflies on the trip so late in the season, but there was a chance we’d spot the Orange Giant-Skipper we’ve been looking for the last couple of years and maybe a Red-bordered Satyr. While that didn’t happen, starting with a quick stop in Kingston followed by stops at Iron Creek Campground and Railroad Canyon on our way to Bear Mountain Lodge, we’d start coming across several good butterflies a few of which we’d rarely if ever seen before in New Mexico. A couple of the sulphurs included Mexican Yellow

Mexican Yellow (Eurema mexicana)

and the sometimes more common and similar-looking Southern Dogface.

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

Several times over the next few days we’d see Monarchs, such as this brilliantly colored male,

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

and starting with Railroad Canyon, my first Red-bordered Satyr for New Mexico.

Red-bordered Satyr (Gyrocheilus patrobas)

Got a good photo of an American Rubyspot while poking around for butterflies, too.

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)

Later that afternoon, we arrived at Bear Mountain Lodge and went to check in, noticing large Chamisa bushes out front that were just buzzing with butterflies. A lot of those butterflies looked like grass skippers, and it was astonishing to realize they were all Apache Skippers, that species mentioned above that we’ve rarely seen even a single individual and had been looking for over the last few weeks!

Apache Skipper (Hesperia woodgatei)

After a couple of fun days around Bear Mountain Lodge, we’d decided to spend an extra day around Las Cruces before heading home, having heard about good butterflying there recently. That worked out pretty well (despite on and off clouds and finding few damp areas) with more of those different sulphurs flying about, including good numbers of Tailed Orange,

Tailed Orange (Pyrisitia proterpia)

a good look at one of several Great Purple Hairstreaks we’d seen on the trip,

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

and both Hackberry Emperor and its cousin, Empress Leilia.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

Heading for home early the next morning, we spent some time at Paseo del Rio Campground just below Elephant Butte Dam. The Desert Broom was working there, too, drawing in quite a few Queen butterflies, a couple Monarchs, our only Viceroy for the trip (and maybe the year), American Snout, another Great Purple Hairstreak, and a few others. A major highlight, though, was spotting what turned out to be a Definite Patch, a butterfly I’d only seen twice before (2015 and 2017) outside Carlsbad, NM.

Definite Patch (Chlosyne definita)

That day also turned up one of the few Flame Skimmers I’ve seen this year, nicely posed and patiently waiting to be photographed.

Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)

Finally, a couple days after getting home, I spotted a Lupine Blue during a walk at Embudito Canyon, and quite like the photo I got with my newer Sony camera.

Lupine Blue (Plebejus lupini)
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Summer’s End

Less than a week until the Fall Equinox, we are starting to see signs that summer is coming to an end as we kick off autumn. It’s still been hot and sunny most days, but the foliage is changing, tree leaves are thinking of it, bird migration is getting started, and late season butterflies are being seen.

My first photo for this post is of a Monarch from Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area on September 3,

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

as is the last from Pine Flat on September 14.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

That morning at Whitfield turned up a couple of other good butterflies, including a Dotted Roadside-Skipper (a species we’d seen there before),

Dotted Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes eos)

and a Question Mark, the first I’d seen anywhere this year and the first we’ve ever seen at Whitfield.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

Early the next week, Rebecca and I were off in search of the Nokomis Fritillary, first just across the Arizona border to Luna Lake where we’d seen them in 2012 and after a night in Reserve NM taking a look at nearby Toriette Lake where they’d been reported in the past.

We’d easily see a good number of males flying around soon after we got to Luna Lake, but had to work to catch one resting. We’d almost given up on seeing any females, when Rebecca spotted the first one hiding in the grass, and spotted a couple of others nearby. Not the greatest focus, but this photo from Luna Lake highlights the striking differences between the appearance of the male and female.

Nokomis Fritillary (Speyeria nokomis)

The male is the orange guy on top, and here’s a photo of the female hiding out in the marshy grass.

Nokomis Fritillary (Speyeria nokomis)

The next morning we drove to Toriette Lake, and in a very similar habitat again had several males patrolling the marshy area in search of females, but we would only come across a single female who didn’t stick around long enough for a decent photo, and unlike the previous day flew away and out of sight. Our first sighting of this particular species for New Mexico, though, so the trip counts as a success! Here’s a photo of the underside of the male from that morning.

Nokomis Fritillary (Speyeria nokomis)

Another great find that morning, also spotted by Rebecca, was an Arachne Checkerspot, another first for my New Mexico list.

Arachne Checkerspot (Poladryas arachne)

While in Reserve, we’d see and hear several Acorn Woodpeckers in the neighborhood; here’s a photo of one of them.

Acorn Woodpecker

A couple of days later, I’d taken a look in Corrales along the bosque ditches. Other than lots of damselflies and a few dragonflies, not much else caught my eye other than a few Western Pygmy-Blue butterflies,

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

and a grasshopper.

Green Valley Grasshopper (Schistocerca shoshone)

I have recently been quite impressed by the Seek app from iNaturalist, which easily identified that grasshopper, and has been crazy good at identifying plants, bugs, and other living things – highly recommended.

Another day Rebecca and I rambled up to the top of the Sandias to see if any butterflies might be flying, and while that didn’t happen, we did come across a pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers, a species I’d only seen before back in 2011. They were quite patient with us if usually a little obscured and let us take a good number of photographs. Here’s one that shows both the male (top) and female (barely visible at bottom).

American Three-toed Woodpecker

The next day had me out in Embudito, which surprisingly (hot, dry, little nectar) turned up a reasonable mix of butterflies, including this Canyonland Satyr.

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

There were also quite a few White-lined Sphinx Moths flying about. I had my new Sony RX10iv camera that morning, and tried switching it to Shutter mode finding I could crank the shutter speed to a ridiculous 1/10000 sec (or more)…let’s see if that will freeze those moth wings.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

Two days ago wondering where to try for some butterflies, Rebecca and I checked out the lower parts of the road to Fourth of July Campground and then Capilla Peak Road and later Pine Flat. Not much flying on the first part of the trip until we stopped at a couple of muddy spots along the road. At each of them, we’d see puddle parties of different species, such as Common Checkered-Skippers, Cloudy and Dainty Sulphurs, and a number of blues. In addition, now and then another individual would stop by, such as a Variegated Fritillary, a few Crescents, and even an American Snout.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

My favorite photo of the day is this one of mostly Melissa Blue, but might also have a Lupine/Acmon Blue there on the left.

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa) [far left: Lupine Blue (P. lupine)]

At another stop along Capilla Peak Road, we’d first see a Question Mark and soon after started seeing American Lady, Painted Lady, and one or two Hoary Commas. Took a second, but we realized all of these were quite interested in the leftovers of a deer that had apparently been harvested during the current bow hunting season. News to me that hunters just take the bits they want and leave the rest there in the woods, but that’s what the Forest Service guys told us.

Front to Back: American Lady, two Painted Lady, Hoary Comma

One last fun sighting on the road that day was this Short-horned Lizard, probably the first I’ve seen this year.

Short-horned Lizard
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Past August

So here we are in September already with August in the rear-view mirror and autumn almost upon us. Not too many pictures this time, but on what started out as an unusually cloudy day (due to the remnants of a Pacific hurricane passing through), it seemed a good time for a blog update. On several days in a row following my August 14 posting, I’d gone to Embudito Canyon in search of the Mead’s Wood-Nymph reported a few days earlier. This was a most unusual event, only the second time one had ever been reported in Bernalillo County. On my first try, hiking further up Embudito Canyon than I’d gone in years and just as I was about to turn around, I totally lucked into seeing it and getting enough of a photograph to allow it to be identified by our regional expert at Butterflies and Moths of North America (Nowhere near as good as other folks’ photos so won’t show it here). Three other attempts to find it that week were unsuccessful, although there would be a large number of Common Wood-Nymph.

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

This year was the first time I’ve seen Common Wood-Nymph in lower Embudito Canyon, but there have been quite a few seen this year ever since. Also numerous this year has been Canyonland Satyr.

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

It seems a little late this year, but the Fiery Skippers are also showing up again.

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus)

Other photos from those trips to Embudito included this hummingbird (a friendly individual who let me get rather close, but I can only identify as a female or immature, but probably a Black-chinned Hummingbird)

Hummingbird (female or immature)

and a couple of mule deer browsing the hillside.

Mule Deer

On that first hike higher up Embudito, another large rock formation caught my eye. Is it just me or is this some ancient warrior staring into the distance?

Rock Formation – Embudito Canyon

That weekend, Rebecca and I driving around some of the back roads on the east side of the mountains outside Las Vegas NM. Some good photos from that day were those of several pronghorn, both individuals and family groups standing close to NM 120 on our way back to Wagon Mound; my favorite is this mother with one of her little ones.

Pronghorn

The next Monday, we met at Piedras Marcadas Dam to look for Monarchs (and hopefully their eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises) in the large field of Horsetail Milkweed at the base of the dam. We would indeed see quite a few adult Monarchs, but none of those other stages.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

It was depressing to see that AMAFCA (Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority) had started mowing the entire field that day, and had completed the job by our visit a week later. They probably need to do that now and then to allow the dam to function properly, but you’d think they could wait until after butterfly breeding was complete.

At least in the area they hadn’t yet gotten to, we saw several other butterfly species working the milkweed, including a Queen,

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

a Black Swallowtail,

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

and even a Great Purple Hairstreak.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

The following day, we made another trip up north on the west side of the mountains south of Taos NM, and eventually wandering back toward Santa Fe on the southern section of the ‘High Road to Taos’. During the day we’d see quite a few Black-billed Magpies in open valleys, and tried to get good photos of them. Not quite in focus, but still kind of fun was this one as the bird flew right past me.

Black-billed Magpie

At our lunch stop at a campground in the mountains, we had fun seeing large numbers of fritillaries, which included both the Southwestern Fritillary and Great Spangled Fritillary. At several places, we’d see both species sharing the same cutleaf coneflower.

Southwestern (top L) and Great Spangled (top R and bottom) Fritillaries

Following are photos of an individual of each species, which I find easiest to identify by the ventral view. First, the Southwestern

Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa)

and next the Great Spangled.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele)

Last Saturday had us returning to Seven Springs Fish Hatchery, near Fenton Lake in the Jemez Mountains, and later to the Gilman Tunnels on the hunt for more butterflies. Seven Springs was good for the Southwestern and Great Spangled Fritillary, but also had large numbers of Green Comma, a species we haven’t seen very often.

Green Comma (Polygonia faunus)

We’d also see several American Snouts and a Bordered Patch, both species that are being seen everywhere this summer. In the past, we’d only see them in a few locations if at all.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Seven Springs turned up a female Purplish Copper

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)

and a Variegated Fritillary, whose unusually dark coloring had us confused for awhile.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

A highlight for me was seeing several Sachem on the chamisa near Gilman Tunnels. The Sachem is common and widespread across the southern U.S., but this is the first I’ve seen in New Mexico.

Sachem (Atalopedes campestris)
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Something Amazing Every Day

It’s now been two weeks since my last update, and still surprising to me seeing something something new or different nearly every day often managing to get home with decent photos. This posting shows some of those photos from recent outings, mostly butterflies but with a few other creatures that caught my attention out there. On a successful visit to Oak Flat in search of a Spalding’s Blue prompted by our observation of their host plant, Redroot Buckwheat, a fresh Thicket Hairstreak also was nectaring on the buckwheat.

Thicket Hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum)

The next day a walk in Embudito turned up a Common Checkered-Skipper, not at all unusual to see but nicely posed.

Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Also seen hiding out in the hackberry trees was a Hackberry Emperor, a species I’ve been seeing there regularly this summer.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

A few days later, another one would pose for me in The Box Recreation Area near Socorro, showing the ventral view.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

On August 5, Rebecca and I did our butterfly survey again from Capulin to Balsam Glade, where it was a thrill to see our Colorado Hairstreak in the same location we’d seen it two weeks earlier.

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

We’d also see plenty of Tailed Copper butterflies there and on other outings. This one is a male from that day,

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota) – male

and this is a female from the next day on a trip to a new location, Lobo Canyon Road to San Mateo Spring near Grants, NM.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota) – female

I had no idea of what might be found in that area or what condition that road might be in, but thought it might be worth checking after seeing some recent sightings from there on BAMONA (https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/). All turned out well, however, easily finding the road, which was in good condition, and good directions to the well-marked spring. And it turned up some delightful butterflies along the way. We stopped first at a spot where we noticed some James’ Buckwheat (host plant for the Square-spotted Blue mentioned in my last post) along a roadcut. While we didn’t see that butterfly (I’d mistaken a Lupine Blue there for a Square-spotted Blue), we did find a good amount of Redroot Buckwheat on top and would see several of the Spalding’s Blue nectaring on it.

Spalding’s Blue (Euphilotes spaldingi)

Another butterfly we’d see there turned out to be an Uncas Skipper.

Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas)

And then it was on to San Mateo Spring and a nearby meadow filled with purple aster. There were quite a few of those Tailed Copper butterflies floating about as well as good numbers of Pine White (a butterfly we’ve been seeing plenty of this year, but most years rather hard to find). I think I got some pretty good, close photos of them – this one a female

Pine White (Neophasia menapia) – female

and this one a male.

Pine White (Neophasia menapia) – male

While working the meadow, we did get a quick look at a fritillary flying by, a type of butterfly some years quite common but less so in recent years. Continuing the short distance on to San Mateo Spring, we were immediately rewarded with large numbers of fritillaries working the dandelions and providing good photo opportunities (along with even more Pine Whites and a few other species). These would turn out to be our Southwestern Fritillary (Note: there seems to be considerable differences of opinion in the taxonomy of this species.)

Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa)

The next day took us on a tour to Sevilleta NWR, The Box Recreation Area, and Water Canyon. Sevilleta put on quite the wildflower display, but wasn’t very productive for butterflies. It was fun spotting some of the Walking Sticks camouflaged in the Broom Dalea – it wasn’t until I got home I noticed a second one in the background of this photo.

Walking Stick

The Box Recreation Area was much better than on a hot, dry day in June when I’d stopped to scout it, and maybe even better than our previous visit in April. The first butterfly Rebecca spotted as we left the parking lot turned out to be a Ceraunus Blue, a species we rarely find.

Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus)

We’d then find several of the Hackberry Emperor (ventral photo above), Common Sootywing, a Common Streaky-Skipper, and our first American Snout for the year.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

In early July, after seeing several posts to the ‘Critters of New Mexico’ Facebook group of some of our incredible lizards, I posted a photo I’d taken some time ago (6/15/20) of a Greater Earless Lizard from The Box. Something I rarely do and have no idea how many ‘likes’ such posts usually get, it was quite a surprise watching the ‘likes’ adding up to an eventual total of 355. Hoping to see one again, that was an underlying objective of my visit in June this year. No luck then, but this day (8/7/21) I’d get a good look at one just as we were heading back to the car.

Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)

On our last visit in April, we were stunned to see a large number of Sonoran Metalmarks at Water Canyon, and it was a little surprising on this visit to see a few still around.

Sonoran Metalmark (Apodemia mejicanus)

What made our day, however, was when we started seeing one or two Monarch butterflies checking out the immense amount of horsetail milkweed that lined the entrance road to Water Canyon. And then we started spotting Monarch caterpillars hiding in the milkweed, a total of 21 of them by the end of the day.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) Caterpillar

Even more of a thrill was spotting a couple of mating pairs of the 13 adults we’d see. Here are photos of two of those mating pairs, the first tucked high in a juniper,

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

and another close to the ground on a dead weed.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

A couple of visits this past week to my ‘local patch’, Embudito, turned up some more interesting sightings. First was this rather scary-looking Giant Ichneumon Wasp.

Giant Ichneumon Wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus)

Not to worry, tho, that long ‘stinger’ is actually the female’s ovipositor and not at all dangerous to humans.

Showing a friend around Embudito a couple of days later would turn up several Common Wood-Nymphs (one of three species added to my Butterflies of Embudito Canyon list this year),

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

and the first Arizona Sister seen since June.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

Last Thursday, I went to Cienega Canyon to look for butterflies and was a little surprised not to see many around. Checking the small stream near the picnic tables at the upper parking lot, still no butterflies but I was treated to a female or immature Broad-tailed Hummingbird hovering above the water and then dropping down for a splash or a drink. It didn’t seem to notice me at all and kept doing that for a minute or two, so I tried a couple of photos (having brought my new Sony RX10iv camera along instead of the Nikon I usually bring for butterflies)…here’s one of the better ones.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Similar to my Facebook experience about the lizard above, I thought to submit it to the ‘Birding New Mexico’ Facebook group. Folks must’ve liked that one, too, so far it’s gotten 433 likes!

Had that camera again yesterday when I checked out the Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center. Not too busy with butterflies there, either, but the small pond has some water in it again and I got this shot of a Snowy Egret.

Snowy Egret

Just another day and just another amazing sighting.

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More July Butterflies

Since my last posting, our summer monsoon has been quite good and led to several excellent butterfly outings. We’ve started to see some species that have eluded us in recent years along with some of our usual suspects that have been scarce this year. In addition to the butterflies, there’s also been some fun photos of a few birds and plants during some of those outings.

A first trip took us to Capilla Peak Road where we’d had excellent butterflies a month earlier. Much of the vegetation had changed over that time and we turned up fewer butterflies but some of different species. It was fun getting a decent photo of a Western Tailed-Blue,

Western Tailed-Blue (Comynta amyntula)

seeing a few of the Southwestern Fritillary, whose numbers have been low this year,

Southwestern Fritillary (Argynnis nausicaa)

and Rebecca finally got a good look at a California Tortoiseshell.

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

A few days later, we made a long day trip to Tres Piedras and then taking US 64 west, stopping at Hopewell Lake and a few promising wildflowers spots along the way to Tierra Amarilla looking for butterflies. While we wouldn’t see too many species at Hopewell Lake, we were surprised seeing so many Wood-Nymphs, species I rarely see more than one or two on any local outing. Most were Small Wood-Nymph,

Small Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis oetus)

I think, but there seemed to be a few Common Wood-Nymph around, too.

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

Several times we’d spot a small butterfly that we decided was Garita Skipperling.

Garita Skipperling (Oarisma garita)

Most exciting for me at Hopewell Lake was seeing the Anicia Checkerspot, a species I’ve very rarely seen anywhere, that Rebecca had spotted.

Anicia Checkerspot (Euphydryas anicia)

Several fabulous flowers were in bloom around the lake, including Orange Skyflower

Orange Skyflower

and Gunnison’s Mariposa Lily.

Gunnison’s Mariposa Lily

And of course, plenty of dragonflies and damselflies out and about including this mating pair.

Mating Damselflies

Following a picnic lunch, we headed on down US 64 stopping and looking around for butterflies at spots that looked good for and would turn out to be rather special. A large field of wildflowers that had quite a few Ruddy Copper (a species we’d first seen near Eagle Nest last year and then again in June of this year).

Ruddy Copper (Lycaena rubidus)

Even more exciting was seeing fritillaries going to the cutleaf coneflower and purple aster. One of these turned out to be an Aphrodite Fritillary

Aphrodite Fritillary (Argynnis aphrodite)

and another a Mormon Fritillary. Both of these were new for me in New Mexico.

Mormon Fritillary (Speyeria mormonia)

Back in town a couple days later had me taking a look at Embudito to see if the monsoon rain had done its thing on the spring, the vegetation, and hopefully a few more butterflies. Water appearing again in the recently-dry spring and a larger number of nectar plants in a wider variety of species raise hope for a butterfly comeback for the rest of the season. One I’d get a photo of was a Two-tailed Swallowtail nectaring on the clammyweed.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

The morning was made even more interesting by seeing a rather large rattlesnake slip away into the underbrush, only getting a last second shot of the tail,

Rattlesnake

and managing to get a photo of a Gambel’s Quail with a few of her little ones.

Gambel’s Quail

A few days later, I’d spot a male calling from the top of a bush, once catching a quick glimpse of a couple of those little ones hiding at the base of the bush.

Gambel’s Quail

A couple of other birds that posed nicely there for me were a Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

and a Cactus Wren.

Cactus Wren

On July 23, Rebecca and I went to the Sandias for our butterfly survey of the route between Capulin Spring and Balsam Glade. Absolutely major highlights for the survey that day was seeing two Colorado Hairstreaks, a butterfly we haven’t seen in several years and was one of the reasons for choosing the route,

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

and also seeing a Pine White, another species we haven’t seen in the Sandias for awhile now (but had a couple in the Jemez Mtns two weeks ago).

Pine White (Neophasia menapia) – male

After finishing the survey, we decided to drive a little ways down NM-165 to check on an outcrop of James’ Buckwheat where we first saw Square-spotted Blue years ago along with several other butterflies. The buckwheat was fully in bloom and had some of those butterflies working it, including this mating pair.

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

Three days later, we were back in Embudito doing our survey for that route. The weather wasn’t great, but we did end up seeing a few butterflies. One in particular caught my eye near the big elm just before the spring. Getting a closer look at it, I worked hard to get a decent photo as it would turn out to be the same species we’d seen high in the Sandias on that James’ Buckwheat, a Square-spotted Blue.

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

That is the first one of that species I’ve ever seen in Embudito, where I’ve now listed 67 species over the past decade. This would lead one to expect that the James’ Buckwheat would be somewhere in the area, but I don’t recall ever seeing it. Going to be looking soon to see if it can be tracked down there. We did happen to notice for the first time that there is a species of buckwheat just coming into bloom in the wash, which we are thinking is Sorrel Buckwheat (Eriogonum polycladon).

Sorrel Buckwheat (Eriogonum polycladon)

Another flower coming into bloom recently is one I’ve always known as Sacred Datura, but was surprised to find is also known as Jimsonweed.


Jimsonweed (aka Sacred Datura)

I’d hoped to get this blog update done by last Thursday, with so many pictures and interesting trips to cover. Please bear with me…only 6 more pictures from the last two fascinating days.

Friday was another trip to the Sandias for the Capulin/Balsam Glade butterfly survey. Not so many butterflies that day, but lots of fungi popping out including this rather photogenic variety.

Toadstool

After the survey, we checked out Cienega Canyon where the cutleaf coneflower is starting to take over the meadow and turned up a nice male Great Purple Hairstreak.

Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)

On the drive out, an unusual-looking large black/blue butterfly nectaring around a large patch of verbena caught my eye. Hopping out of the car gave me a chance for some good photos of what was a Pipevine Swallowtail, rather uncommon around here and the first I’ve only seen before close to the Mexican border with New Mexico.

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Saturday was a trip up to E.V. Long Picnic Area and Johnson Mesa in Gallinas Canyon west of Las Vegas NM. It too would turn up some goodies, including good numbers of both male and female Pine Whites (see the male above),

Pine White (Neophasia menapia) – female

more of those Gunnison’s Mariposa Lilies,

Gunnison’s Mariposa Lily

and even the quite tiny, Western Pygmy-Blue, not all that uncommon but my first for the season.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)
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