Time Flies

Surprising to realize it’s been three weeks since my last posting, so I wanted to get some of the few photos up there that I’ve taken during that time. No particular reason, I just haven’t gotten out there as often and haven’t gotten all that many pictures when I do get out there. Our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Las Huertas Canyon at the end of August turned up a couple of good butterflies including views of both sides of an Arizona Sister, first the dorsal view

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

and then the ventral.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

I’d also get what is probably my best shot ever of a Canyonland Satyr that hung around long enough for most of the group to see.

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

The next day, Rebecca and I made the fairly long drive up to Springer and then down to Mills Canyon wanting to check on some butterfly spots that had been quite good a couple months ago. Unfortunately, those spots hadn’t gotten much summer rain and there weren’t many nectar sources available so the butterflies weren’t around. Before heading home, we took a look around Las Vegas NWR and had fun seeing a few good birds including what I think we decided was a young Swainson’s Hawk.

Swainson’s Hawk

A few weeks later, we’d get good looks at several adult Swainson’s Hawks on our latest Audubon Thursday Birders trip last week to Valle de Oro NWR,

Swainson’s Hawk

and plenty of Say’s Phoebes and American Kestrels perched in different spots.

American Kestrel

Just a couple of days after our Springer trip, we were at Valle de Oro NWR to do a little scouting for last week’s trip and just happened to notice a few interesting flowers blooming in the weeds. Got home later to identify it as Hibiscus trionum.

Hibiscus trionum

Interesting to note one of its common names is Flower-of-an-Hour (some other common names include bladder weed, modesty, shoofly). It’s called that because “each flower blooms during a single day that is sunny, and remains open for only a few hours.” Who knew?

We’d also see a few young Snowy Egrets by an irrigation ditch where they’d still be more than a week later (Huge numbers of Cattle Egrets would also be seen off in the NW corner of the refuge.)

Snowy Egret

The next day on a walk at Pueblo Montano Open Space one of the few birds I’d see was a female Wood Duck parked right next to an American Bullfrog. Just the day before a friend had posted a similar picture from a different location, and both of us had wondered how common that is since we’d certainly never noticed it before.

Wood Duck

Last Saturday, we decided to check out the new butterfly exhibit and Bugarium at the Biopark. In a good way, the new exhibit only has native butterfly species rather than some of the fancier neotropic ones kept in the original butterfly pavilion. These included a number that we’ve only seen in in the wild in South Texas and Florida, such as the White Peacock,

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)


Julia (Dryas iulia)

and Atala Hairstreak.

Atala Hairstreak (Eumaeus atala)

Bugarium was pretty cool, too, with lots of unusual stick insects, some leafcutter ants, scorpions, beetles, and others.

Later that evening, we headed down to Sevilleta NWR for their Moth Night that included a twilight stroll around the Visitor Center for some good bugs. Just like last year’s event, we’d see quite a few walking stick insects in the Broom Dalea and on the stucco walls, and this year found several different spiders, many of which were Black Widows.

Black Widow Spider

For the moth part, John Wilson had his blacklight set up when we arrived and Rebecca brought hers along to add to the fun. We’d see a good number of moths, mostly small ones and several that we’d never seen before. My pictures weren’t that great, though, so none of them are included here (If anybody’s interested, they’re posted on my New Mexico Moth page at http://www.sandianet.com/moths/index.htm.). As usual, other insects attracted to the light would show up while we were looking at the moths, including a couple of katydids, grasshoppers, and antlions.


Months ago, I’d picked up a UV LED flashlight that I’d heard were good for spotting caterpillars and spiders that fluoresce under the UV blacklight. So far, it hasn’t seem to work to well for that purpose and I’ve only noticed a few small spiders that seemed to give off any light. But when I thought to point it at a stucco wall near where we’d been seeing moths, this scorpion just totally lit up from probably ten feet away.


That’s more like it! Guess I’ll bring that little flashlight along on future night explorations.


Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Flowers, Photographs | 3 Comments

Not Just Birds and Butterflies

A nice variety of new and interesting creatures since my last posting along with a few old favorites. In addition to the birds and butterflies I post regularly, this time there’s a few moths, spiders, a new for me lizard, a mammal I haven’t figured out yet, and a few other interesting insects.

On most of my recent trips looking for butterflies in the Sandias, the tachinid flies have been present in large numbers and are rather interesting if viewed closely.

Tachinid Fly

One of those trips to Cedro Canyon turned up a Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar; I’d thought only Monarch butterfly (and its cousins, the Queen and Soldier) caterpillars ate milkweed because it contains toxins disliked by predators.

Milkweed Tussock Moth (Euchaetes egle)

On Saturday, August 17, Rebecca and I drove down to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area to look for butterflies and to check the visitor center walls for any moths that had been attracted by their lights the previous night. A little surprising to me was how many different moth species we noticed, most of which Rebecca was able to readily identify (I’m still too new at this moth thing to easily identify any of them.). Among them was the Salicet Sphinx Moth,

Salicet Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus saliceti)

the Five-spotted Hawk Moth,

Five-spotted Hawkmoth (Manduca quinquemaculata)

and this small, but very cool looking Purslane Moth, one of which we’d seen during the White Sands Mothapalooza at the beginning of August.

Purslane Moth (Euscirrhopterus gloveri)

Target butterfly of the day, of which we’d see a good number and typically only see at Whitfield, was the Bordered Patch.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Another day, I made a visit to Owlville to see how things were going and assumed there would still be a good number of young Burrowing Owls about since we’d seen quite a few in Torrance County recently. Either it was the wrong time of day or more likely too late in the season, but I’d only manage to spot a total of two of them hiding under bushes. There were some guys out there busy drilling a well or some such that day that may also have sent the birds into hiding.

Burrowing Owl

Just a couple of days later, after hearing about it from a friend, it was off to an arroyo at the north end of Rio Rancho for a Barn Owl. I’d long suspected that area might be used by owls or other raptors in addition to all the Bank Swallows that nest there. I’d  heard about this Barn Owl a few years ago but had yet to see it. This time was lucky as there it was peeking out of a large cavity I noticed from still a good distance away.

Barn Owl

It had been watching me the whole time, however, and decided to fly off to better hide in a nearby big cottonwood tree.

Having been successful at seeing two owl species in recent days, I also stopped in on a Western Screech-Owl to see if it was around (nope). A nearby tree had a critter sleeping away the afternoon. I’d expected it would be a porcupine from its size and behavior, but it’s clearly not one of those. Too big for a squirrel, not the right color for a skunk or weasel; maybe a raccoon?

Mystery Critter

Rather slow day for butterflies in the Sandias last Friday, but we did get a good look at a Common Wood-Nymph in Ojito de San Antonio Open Space,

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

and a good picture showing all the colors of the top of an Arizona Sister in Sulphur Canyon.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

The day before had been a good Audubon Thursday Birder visit to Alameda Open Space, but my favorite sighting and photo from that day is of a White-belted Ringtail dragonfly, a new species for me and one that sat there patiently for quite a long time for all to see.

White-belted Ringtail (Erpetogomphus compositus)

It was also a treat a few days later to spot a similar-looking Brimstone Clubtail on a walk in Corrales, this one munching on a damselfly.

Brimstone Clubtail (Stylurus intricatus)

That same day, I stopped to check in on the Osprey that had nested at the North Diversion Channel Outfall since about late May. I’d known they’d successfully raised three young ones this year, but assumed they had probably moved on by now. It was entertaining to see one of the adults perched on top of the power pole leisurely digesting what looks like a large piece of salmon while below a nearly mature young one perched on the nest calling incessantly to be fed.


Last Saturday, Rebecca and I joined in on the annual butterfly count at Sevilleta NWR and had a fun day seeing a few species we don’t often see along with a nice variety of other interesting creatures. About the first thing we’d spot that morning was a new for us moth, the Clio Tiger Moth.

Clio Tiger Moth (Ectypia clio)

Shortly after getting a few pictures of it, Rebecca brought the count leader over to show it to him, arriving just in time to watch a lizard crawl down the stucco and snatch it for a snack. We’d see several species of lizard that day, some of which were new for me including what I’m thinking is a Long-nosed Leopard Lizard.

Long-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia wislizenii)

Later in the day, a Reginia Primrose Moth was spotted hiding in a bush, a species Rebecca had only recently seen coming to her UV light late at night.

Reginia Primrose Moth (Schinia reginia)

For butterflies, we’d see a few of our usual Reakirt’s Blue,

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

but also see several Rita Blue, a species we’ve only seen there and at Cerrillos Hills State Park.

Rita Blue (Euphilotes rita)

Another good butterfly to see was one we don’t see very often at all but had been hoping for since we’d had it on the Sevilleta count last year, the Palmer’s Metalmark.

Palmer’s Metalmark (Apodemia palmeri)

While busy looking hard for butterflies to add to our count list, we saw several other cool critters, such as this Jumping Spider eyeing me warily,

Jumping Spider

and this tiny Crab Spider, who’d managed to snag a bee.

Crab Spider

Always a highlight for me on visits to Sevilleta is spotting all the Walking Stick insects hiding in the Broom Dalea – it may take looking carefully a few times before spotting one as they’re quite good at camouflage, but once you spot one you’ll soon notice several others usually in the same bush.

Walking Stick

Other people may be able to see Praying Mantis insects here in town, but Sevilleta is about the only place in the state that I’ve ever seen one (and usually quite a few when I do). These guys tend to hang out in the Broom Dalea or clinging to stucco walls.

Praying Mantis



Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Photographs | 9 Comments

Midsummer Sights

Once again, pictures have begun piling up since returning from that great road trip to the Mothapalooza in Ohio. A couple of days later, Rebecca and I headed up to the Sandias to see what new butterflies were flying. Without really expecting to see many, we went a short distance from Balsam Glade on the road through Las Huertas Canyon wanting to check to see if the coneflowers were yet in bloom and maybe even a few patches of James’ buckwheat we’ve seen there. The coneflowers were indeed coming into bloom, but not much on them other than the ubiquitous Painted Ladies and a few Juniper Hairstreaks. But then we spotted a large patch of James’ buckwheat we’d never seen before that was attracting quite a few good butterflies. One we don’t see all that often but uses the buckwheat as its host plant was the Square-dotted Blue.

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

We would turn up several individuals of that species along with large numbers of Tailed Coppers, a species we’ve recently seen in several locations in the Sandias.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

Lower down the mountain in Cienega Canyon, we were surprised by how many Juniper Hairstreaks we’d see on the few blooming coneflowers and especially having several nectaring on the same flower.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Almost a week later, we headed back up to Balsam Glade (once again unsuccessful in our search for the Colorado Hairstreak we’d like to see there) and again down the road to Las Huertas. Pretty good butterflies that day, too, including plenty of those Tailed Coppers, but most surprisingly along the way to the buckwheat patch, I spotted a dark butterfly next to the road and managed to get out of the car quickly enough to get a picture.

Mexican Sootywing (Pholisora mejicanus)

I was pretty sure it was a Mexican Sootywing, a species we haven’t seen very often at all and certainly not this late in the season or at such a high elevation. Fortunately, the photo clearly shows the black veining and blue black sheen on the underside of the wings which differentiates it from the more widespread Common Sootywing. Submitted to BAMONA later that day, the identification was soon confirmed. That got us visiting other locations we’ve had them before, finding several individuals at most of those spots.

On both trips, we were sure to take a look at the dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) that was in bloom at the 8000′ sign, and when it’s working attracts all manner of butterflies, including two that we rarely see, Behr’s Hairstreak and Banded Hairstreak.

Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)

A couple of other fun pictures from that day include a Northwestern Fritillary,

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

Two-tailed Swallowtail,

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and a Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

On the paved walk by the meadow in Cienega Canyon, I spotted this snail making its way along.


There have been three Audubon Thursday Birder trips since my last blog update, but I only have one bird photo this time, a Swainson’s Hawk from our most recent trip looking for raptors (and lots of Burrowing Owls) in Torrance County.

Swainson’s Hawk

The week after returning from our Ohio road trip I led our annual trip to Corrales for the nesting Mississippi Kites. Although they’d nested at our meeting place every year since 2012, this year they weren’t nesting there and hadn’t even been seen recently, so it had me a bit worried. Fortunately, and indeed surprisingly, the group would get good looks at a couple of them that day although none on a nest. The next week was our visit to the Simms Ranch and summer potluck hosted by Bonnie Long. Both have ridiculously large numbers of hummingbirds zooming around the many feeders they keep filled with sugar water. Also present at the Simms was this cool Great Plains Skink.

Great Plains Skink

Having heard about it from a friend, the next day Rebecca and I drove down to White Sands NM for their Mothapalooza event scheduled for that evening with a moth expert we’d met at the Ohio Mothapalooza in 2017. A good number of people showed up out in the sand dunes where the park folks set up lots of folding chairs and had generators for powering a couple of presentations before using them to power UV lights on two mothing sheets. We’d see some interesting moths arrive as the evening progressed, some familiar from other places but others unique to this unusual habitat. We had one big one show up, a Western Poplar Sphinx Moth

Western Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx occidentalis)

and at one point a White-lined Sphinx Moth that for once was sitting quietly and not flitting about.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

Lately, there have been lots of this species busy nectaring on flowers all over town and I’m still trying to get a good photo of one flying…I kind of like the way this one came out the other day.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

It had probably been five years since we last did any butterflying around there, so we spent some time in nearby Cloudcroft before and after the Mothapalooza. Several Gray Hairstreaks flying around there, including this one that posed nicely for its portrait.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

And it was nice to again see the Four-spotted Skipperling

Four-spotted Skipperling (Piruna polingii)

and Tawny-edged Skipper, both species we haven’t seen in a few years.

Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites themistocles)

We were also thrilled to see several Pine White butterflies at close range, a species we’d been looking for at home for awhile and that’s usually spotted flying high around ponderosa pines.

Pine White (Neophasia menapia

The Painted Lady butterfly is just being seen everywhere this year and Cloudcroft was no exception. We’d see several of them on single flowers,

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

and they would often photo-bomb my pictures of other species, such as this Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) & Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

or this one of a Variegated Fritillary.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) & Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

We’d been hoping to see the very localized Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot (Ephydryas anicia cloudcrofti), but couldn’t quite find the spot we’d had them a few years ago and didn’t see one anywhere else this trip. We did see a couple of individuals of another specialty of the area, the Capitan Mountains Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis capitanensis) a subspecies of the Northwestern Fritillary we see in the Sandias. This one was also photo-bombed by a Sleepy Orange this time.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis capitanensis) & Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

Later, I’d get a nice shot of the Sleepy Orange on another thistle by itself (of course, photo-bombed by some kind of bee this time).

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

On the way home, we stopped for lunch at Valley of Fires Recreation Area outside of Carrizozo, where an approaching raincloud kept the butterflies under cover, but did turn up an interesting beetle

Spotted Tylosis Longhorn Beetle (Tylosis maculatus)

and I happened to notice a small patch of lichen with an unusual shape.


About a week later, I’d spot another interesting beetle we’ve seen a few times before, a Harlequin Bug.

Harlequin Bug (Murgantia histrionica)

A trip last weekend to Quarai as part of our ongoing quest to find more of those Mexican Sootywings (yes!) also turned up several Fulvia Checkerspots, a species we’ve seen there before but not very often.

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

That area also had a few Common Buckeyes, this rather fresh one posed nicely for me.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

The next day in Ojito de San Antonio Open Space the weather was keeping the butterflies hidden for the most part but we did get a good look at a Common Wood-Nymph, the first I’ve seen around here this year.

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)








Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs | 5 Comments

Midwestern Moths and More

Just back from a long road trip to Ohio to attend this year’s Mothapalooza, a most interesting and fun event held every two years with moth aficionados from all over the country, and wanted to share some of the story and photos with this latest blog posting. Rebecca and I had a wonderful time at the 2017 Mothapalooza and were quick to sign up for the 2019 event, this time reserving a cabin at the Shawnee Lodge & Conference Center near Portsmouth OH and deciding months ago to drive rather than fly from Albuquerque. We’d take 4 1/2 days driving through Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky on our way there, and then 2 1/2 days driving home a somewhat different route through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Along the way, we’d stop to look for butterflies at a number of promising spots. Our route also took us through Carbondale, IL, where I’d gone to college nearly 50 years ago but hadn’t been back since, and we had an unexpectedly entertaining evening the night we stayed in Frankfort, KY.

Our main butterfly target was the Regal Fritillary that is only found in a few remaining patches of tallgrass prairie in the midwest, has pretty much disappeared from the eastern US, and is currently under review for threatened or endangered status. After spending our first night in Tulsa OK, we spent most of the next day exploring several protected areas of tallgrass prairie in southwest Missouri. Finally, just after we pulled into the fourth location toward the end of the day we got a look at a single individual nectaring on an aging bergamot flower. I only had time to get a single photo and for Rebecca to run over to get a quick look before it flew off and disappeared.

Regal Fritillary [Speyeria idalia]

We poked around for probably another hour hoping to get a better look or maybe to find another one, and might have had one do a quick fly-by, but that was going to be it for this trip. Cool, nonetheless, #471 on my US Butterfly LIfelist!

That day and on several others we’d get good looks at the more common (across the northern US) Great Spangled Fritillary.

Great Spangled Fritillary [Speyeria cybele]

The trip was pretty good, too, for seeing a number of swallowtail species that we rarely or never see at home including Eastern Tiger Swallowtail,

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail [Papilio glaucus]

Pipevine Swallowtail,

Pipevine Swallowtail [Battus philenor]

and Spicebush Swallowtail.

Spicebush Swallowtail [Papilio troilus]

Similar in appearance on the underside, but a brushfoot rather than a swallowtail, were a number of sightings of Red-spotted Purple.

Red-spotted Purple [Limenitis arthemis]

Several places had good numbers of Question Mark and Eastern Comma butterflies…we sometimes see Question Mark and a few other comma butterflies at home, but never Eastern Comma whose range doesn’t come this far west.

Eastern Comma [Polygonia comma]

One of the more wooded, shady areas we visited in Missouri early in the trip had lots of both of those species along with quite a few Tawny Emperor and Hackberry Emperor. We’ll occasionally see Hackberry Emperor, but rarely in such good condition as this one from that day.

Hackberry Emperor [Asterocampa celtis]

Too common here and a little discouraging to see at a rest stop in Kentucky (we’d hoped to see a few more unusual species of small gold skippers), but still posing for a nice photo was a Fiery Skipper.

Fiery Skipper [Hylephila phyleus]

During our day outings in Ohio and then in Kansas on the way home (where we’d take another shot at that Regal Fritillary at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve), we’d see good numbers of Common Wood-Nymph, a species that is not quite as colorful in New Mexico and we hadn’t seen yet this year.

Common Wood-Nymph [Cercyonis pegala]

Highlight of that stop in Kansas, however, was this Eastern Collared Lizard, posing on a rock wall.

Eastern Collared Lizard

Lots of good damselflies, dragonflies, and other insects on the trip, too. (If you’re wondering, I’m getting to those moths…keep reading), including the Ebony Jewelwing,

Ebony Jewelwing [Calopteryx maculata]

a Halloween Pennant,

Halloween Pennant [Celithemis eponina]

and this wacky-looking critter, the first I’ve ever seen, an Owlfly.


The Mothapalooza kicked off on Friday night with registration, a number of presentations, and other activities basically keeping everybody busy until 10:00 pm, when it’s finally dark enough for the moths to start showing up at all the spots folks have set up their UV lamps (often bright mercury vapor lamps) and white sheets.  There were maybe 8 such set-ups among the 25 cabins where we were staying and a few more in various habitats around the state park that one could visit by driving or taking shuttle vans. This goes on all night or at least until about 2:00 or 3:00 am. Somehow, especially wandering around in the dark between light displays reminds one of trick-or-treating on Halloween or sometimes of zombies from “Night of the Living Dead”. The next day, most folks catch up on their sleep, head off on a field trip looking for birds, butterflies, flowers, and various other critters before a conference dinner, more presentations, and basically killing time again before looking at moths from 10:00 pm until early the next morning. Always a tradeoff for me in trying to stay awake vs staying up longer, and of course, the moths just get better as the night goes by. On top of all these cool moths, plenty of other insects (such as that owlfly above) are attracted by the lights, and at one of the spots the people pointed out some cicadas on the side of a tree that were molting, a multi-hour process of leaving their nymph shell behind as they emerge as flying adults – fascinating to watch and something I’d never seen before.


So, what kinds of moths did we see those two nights? Well, there were some that looked a bit strange such as the “cigar butt” or Yellow-necked Caterpillar Moth,

Yellow-necked Caterpillar Moth [Datana ministra]

and some that closely resemble bird droppings. There are actually a few species whose common names are “Bird-Dropping Moth”; this isn’t one but seems to be shooting for the same idea, the delightfully-named Beautiful Wood-Nymph.

Beautiful Wood-Nymph [Eudryas grata]

This one seemed quite unusual, but turned out to be a Lesser Grapevine Looper, common over much the eastern US.

Lesser Grapevine Looper [Eulithis diversilineata]

Others looked much more like what I’ve always though of as moths, but quite interesting to see all the details under those bright lights and up close, including the Lesser Maple Spanworm,

Lesser Maple Spanworm [Macaria pusularia]

Banded Tussock Moth,

Banded Tussock Moth [Halysidota tessellaris]

Basswood Leafroller,

Basswood Leafroller [Pantographa limata]

Tulip-tree Beauty,

Tulip-tree Beauty [Epimecis hortaria]

and what I think is a Lunate Zale.

Lunate Zale [Zale lunata]

And there was this one, the Glorious Habrosyne, with incredibly detailed markings.

Glorious Habrosyne [Habrosyne gloriosa]

By the way, I need to acknowledge Rebecca’s amazing help in identifying most of these moths and the input of the local experts that pointed some of them out to us or told us what they were.

We’d also see some of those big, colorful, and iconic species, such as the Luna Moth,

Luna Moth [Actias luna]

Polyphemus Moth,

Polyphemus Moth [Antheraea polyphemus]

and Tulip-tree Silkmoth.

Tulip-tree Silkmoth [Callosamia anguilifera]

Other incredibly cool big ones included the Imperial Moth,

Imperial Moth [Eacles imperialis]

Regal Moth,

Regal Moth [Citheronia regalis]

and one we’ve seen in New Mexico, the Io Moth.

Io Moth [Automeris io]

The Io Moth is hiding some serious eyespots it sometimes lets you see when it opens those wings a bit.

Io Moth [Automeris io]

We had several different species of Sphinx Moth appear during those night visits, including the truly striking Pandorus Sphinx,

Pandorus Sphinx [Eumorpha pandorus]

the Blinded Sphinx,

Blinded Sphinx [Paonias excaecata]

and the Walnut Sphinx.

Walnut Sphinx Moth [Amorpha juglandis]

Several Virginia Creeper Sphinx and an Azalea Sphinx also showed up, but you get the idea. (Other pictures from the trip are on my webpage at http://sandianet.com/midwest/index.htm .)

A few more fun ones…the Rosy Maple, one I’d hoped to see at the 2017 event, turned out to be rather common then and at this year’s event.

Rosy Maple Moth [Dryocampa rubicunda]

The Giant Leopard Moth, quite classy-looking, and usually with its wings closed. This one was flopping around in the light and most surprisingly, this shot froze that action and got a look at what’s under those wings.

Giant Leopard Moth [Ecpantheria scribonia]

Surprisingly, since it seemed the default flash settings on my camera easily froze the action in several of my moth photos, while I’ve rarely been able to do that with birds, butterflies, or moths during the daytime despite working the camera settings to that end….hmmm, maybe I should try the flash during the day?

Almost as if it was pre-planned (and maybe it was?), on the way out of the Lodge after the closeout presentation on Sunday morning there on the wall was a Black Witch everybody had to stop and photograph.

Black Witch [Ascalapha odorata]

Fun roadtrip for sure, but time to get back out there to see what’s been showing up around here the last few weeks.


Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Critters, Dragonflies, Photographs, Travel | 9 Comments

Something a Little Different

While this update has some of the better pictures I’ve gotten recently of my usual birds and butterflies, there are also a few of a bit more unusual subjects and behaviors. Back around the middle of June (6/17), I headed down to the North Diversion Channel on hearing that the Mississippi Kites had returned and would see at least five of them flying around east of the channel where they’d first shown up last year. That prompted me to check in on Sandia View Academy where they’ve nested since at least 2012 (and I’m usually asked to lead the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to see them). None were around that day or on a couple of other visits, so it was interesting to note that by July 3 they were absent from the North Diversion Channel but at least three were now hanging out at Sandia View Academy.

Mississippi Kite

(It was only after getting home and looking closer at the picture I’d notice the lizard snack in its claw.)

It was also interesting to see that the Osprey nest at the North Diversion Channel also was still occupied as of July 3 and I got a better look at the female and two young ones that have been there for several months now.


Again on June 17, since I’d seen a Burrowing Owl in nearby Rio Rancho back in mid-March, it seemed a good idea to see it they’d successfully nested there. Only saw one in the cavity I’d seen that earlier one and at first didn’t realized it was a young one, but then noticed a little further down the wash another cavity where the entire family was hanging out – that’s Mom on the right with her four young offspring.

Burrowing Owl

One of those four little ones was quite active and had really gotten into the flying thing, flying between the two cavities and then zooming off up the hill for awhile before showing up again. At one point, it got a little upset with me and parked it right in the middle of the arroyo below me, squawking and kicking sand at me!

Burrowing Owl

I took the hint and headed back to my car, thinking I’d next check in on the Great Horned Owl nest on a cliff in Petroglyph NM. I’d first seen two little ones there on June 2, much later than all the other nests I’d been watching but that got off to a late start after their first nest disappeared one day only to be replaced by an even better nest in the same spot a week later (most odd, since Great Horned Owls don’t build nests themselves). Expecting those little ones to be significantly more mature and maybe even moving around on the nesting ledge, it came as quite a surprise that the owls and the nest itself had again totally disappeared. I’d had a suspicion that ravens had been responsible last time and maybe they had succeeded again at running the owls off? Rather unusual, but that kind of thing seems to happen every year to at least one of maybe a dozen nests I’ll be watching. Also surprising that day was to see that one of the adults was still there, likely the male, standing in the hiding spot we’d seen him before despite the disappearance of everybody else.

Great Horned Owl

On Wednesday that week I spent a little time looking for butterflies at Ojito de San Antonio, Cienega Canyon, and Doc Long. Good to see the dogbane, a favorite nectar source for most butterflies, in bloom at Ojito but few butterflies other than a Black Swallowtail that posed nicely for me.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Doc Long and the trail to Bill Spring turned up a nice Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)

and a gorgeous Hoary Comma, a species that’s seemed a little scarce this year.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

The next day the Audubon Thursday Birders headed out to Villanueva State Park for a successful outing under perfect weather conditions. We’d started out at Clines Corner, meeting several folks that joined the group there to take a quick but unsuccessful look for Mountain Plover where we’d seen them in the past; we would get good looks at Cassin’s Sparrow, a species I’ve only rarely seen,

Cassin’s Sparrow

and right at Clines Corner a couple of Burrowing Owls I heard about later that day so we took a look on the way back home. A bit far away behind a fence on a rather windy afternoon, it got me thinking to look in on the owls in Owlville on Sunday (nearly two weeks after my last visit) and look for the young Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet I’d heard were being seen at Belen Marsh. Owlville was still in fine shape and I managed to spot two more nests…seven altogether this year.

Burrowing Owl

I might have been a week late hoping for the babies at Belen Marsh, only spotting a single young Black-necked Stilt that was too far away for a good picture. I did get a pretty good photo of one of the adults, tho.

Black-necked Stilt

The Friday after the Villanueva trip, Rebecca and I took a look for butterflies in Embudo Canyon almost a month after our last visit with our visiting friends, and were surprised to see quite a few Sandia Hairstreaks still flying, including 3 individuals on a single plant-we’ve never seen them before so late in June. And the next day, we drove to Placitas and then took the rough road up Las Huertas Canyon and over the top checking on the state of some of our better butterflying spots in the Sandias. A few good butterflies in Las Huertas, although it does seem the season has gotten off to a late start everywhere this year, and a couple of good photo ops, including good looks at the underside of a Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)

and a really fresh Variegated Fritillary.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

A week later, we had a great day of butterflying stopping first at Sevilleta NWR, then an unplanned visit to the Abo mission ruins, and a drive into Red Canyon and back home through the East Mountains. Very few butterflies to be seen at Sevilleta, but it was fun to see the walking stick insects had returned and we even found a mating pair well-camouflaged in a bush.

Mating Walking Sticks

Heading off to Abo next, we were a little disappointed in not seeing many butterflies near the visitor center but as we were leaving noticed a large area of white clover and fresh thistle blooms on the side of the road. Pulling over to take a closer look we’d see an amazing number and variety of butterflies nectaring away. In addition to one or two Black Swallowtails patrolling back and forth were some of the Southern Dogface we’d seen at a distance earlier,

Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

a large number of Gray Hairstreaks,

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

a couple of Juniper Hairstreaks,

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

and this sighting of a mating pair, most unusual since they are two different species, an Acmon Blue and a Marine Blue.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon) and Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)

We’d also see a Bronze Roadside-Skipper there, a butterfly I’ve been expecting for several weeks now, but that we’d also find at a couple of spots along the road to Red Canyon. One in particular was a bit differently marked than the ones we’re used to but photographed well on a thistle.

Bronze Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes aenus)

At Pine Shadow and another nearby creek along the way we’d see a few butterflies, including a dang Sandia Hairstreak (June 29!), Canyonland Satyr, and Taxiles Skipper, but clouds were building up forcing any others into hiding. Up at the Red Canyon campground, the clouds parted enough to give us good looks at several Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

On the first of July, Rebecca and I met up with our friend, Tim, to look around Embudito Canyon, and while we would see a Hackberry Emperor (a species I usually see maybe once a year in that location), there wasn’t much nectar around and things are starting to dry up so the butterflies won’t be too numerous until our monsoon rains kick in later this month. Deciding on the spur of the moment to make a run to the Sandias, Rebecca and I looked at a few spots along the way to Capulin Spring. Seems we were just a little early for the sumac to bloom at Cienega Spring or the dogbane at 8000′, and a little late for a large patch of wild iris near Tree Spring, and while the large field of penstemon was in full bloom at Capulin we wouldn’t see too many butterflies anywhere. It was fun to see that the Western Tiger Swallowtail is again flying and landing long enough to photograph.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

At one spot between Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long (where I’ve seen ridiculous numbers of swallowtails in the past), we had a small group of both Western Tiger Swallowtail along with some of the quite similar Two-tailed Swallowtail. In town, the big yellow swallowtail is usually a Two-tailed while the Western Tiger is more plentiful in higher and wetter habitats. At that same spot, we saw this display of two mating pair of damselflies. From reading up on their behavior later, it seems the bright blue male first grabs the more cryptic female by the neck with his “claspers” and eventually she’ll lift her tail up to connect to his abdomen in a heart-shaped formation.


Another run up to the Sandias this morning showed the sumac and dogbane have come into bloom and are attracting butterflies. We didn’t manage to see a couple of our target species, but I did get a nice shot of the tiny Russet Skipperling

Russet Skipperling (Piruna pirus)

and of an American Lady, similar to its cousin the Painted Lady that has just appeared in huge numbers this year, but easy to identify by the two large eyespots on the American Lady vs four on the Painted Lady and that little white dot in that large pink area.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)




Posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Photographs | 12 Comments

Late Spring Update

It hit me as interesting to realize how I put together blog updates for several different reasons, regularly changing the primary focus of a post. Often it’s a lot like a personal journal documenting what I’ve been up to over the last few weeks, sometimes more of a trip report on jaunts around the state or international vacations or even just summarizing one or two recent Audubon Thursday Birder trips, and occasionally focused on a single subject or aiming to highlight a favorite moment or recent photograph. Then there’s a few (like this one) where with no real point other than wanting to archive a few of the better photographs that have been building up since the last update. Hopefully, those of you taking the time to take a look will still find it interesting.

First up are the baby Burrowing Owls. I’d dropped by Owlville on May 31 for the first time since April 7 to see the first little ones out and about.

Burrowing Owl

Returning about two weeks later, I’d notice two more nests (of a total of five I’d see) and lots more young ones goofing around outside the burrow…some with just one or two visible,

Burrowing Owl

but most with a whole group of them watching what I was up to and moving around to get a better look, such as this bunch

Burrowing Owl

or these guys.

Burrowing Owl

One of the adults was usually rather obvious and keeping an eye out from a short distance away.

Burrowing Owl

Another bird I checked in on was the Western Screech-Owl in Columbus Park who I hadn’t seen on several visits since last November, who is indeed back in town, but apparently having a bit of a bad hair day.

Western Screech-Owl

After doing our bluebird survey for the Audubon Climate Watch program on June 3, Rebecca and I took a quick look at some of our butterfly spots in the Sandias and Capulin Spring, which had only recently reopened after its closure all winter. Enjoying the birds stopping in at the log for a splash or a drink, at one point two male Western Tanagers showed up and got into a little tussle with the dominant one shooing the other away.

Western Tanager

We’d return on June 8 for the annual CNMAS membership meeting at Doc Long for a delightful morning that included more butterflies and a few good birds, including this Grace’s Warbler – a bird I don’t often see especially out in the open like this one.

Grace’s Warbler

Wildflowers are having a great spring with fields of cholla all lit up with their bright magenta blooms.


Among the butterflies we’d see over the last two weeks were an Arctic Blue, one I’d been a little surprised when we found a few in Cienega Canyon with our recent visitors,

Arctic Blue (Plebejus glandon)

Silver-spotted Skipper, first for the year, in several locations,

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

and the return of the Arizona Sister both in the Sandias and in foothill locations such as Embudito Canyon. These are pretty dramatic looking butterflies from both the top

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

as well as underneath.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

We don’t usually see Sandia Hairstreaks into June, but this year the butterfly season seems a little delayed so I was surprised to see at least 7 individuals on June 9 in Embudito

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

and even a couple on June 12 this year.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

On the way back from a June 6 Thursday Birder trip to the Jemez Mountains, a quick stop at the road to Ojito Wilderness near San Ysidro turned up a couple of Saltbush Sootywing (a spot we’d unexpectedly found them in five years ago with a visiting friend)-no great pictures this time, but good to know it’s a dependable location. The next day, I was taking a break to pamper a cold while Rebecca headed out on a search for the Dotted Checkerspot by making the long drive up to Springer NM and back through Tucumcari NM. This is a species we’d hoped to find for our recent visitors, but one that hasn’t had any recent sightings on BAMONA and all she had to go on were a few ideas from our State ‘butterfly guy’, Steve Cary, of where he’d seen them years ago. It was quite exciting later that day to hear of her success at spotting a couple of them, and wonderful that she was up for a return trip the next week so that I could add them to my lifelist.

Along the way, we’d come across quite a few pronghorn including a few that had a few very young ones. Those pictures didn’t turn out so well, but I did keep one of this group of male pronghorn.


Still thinking there’d likely be might improbable that we’d successfully find the butterfly, it was rather amazing that it was the first butterfly we’d see there and that we’d end up seeing a large number of them with very little effort.

Dotted Checkerspot (Poladryas minuta)

We will certainly have to return next season for better photos (I still need a good ventral shot) and to show any of our friends that still need it.

Looking around a couple of other spots along Mills Canyon Road we didn’t see any more checkerspots that day, but found some very promising habitat for that and several other species of interest, one of which was a Giant-Skipper we’re hoping will turn out to be Strecker’s Giant-Skipper (Steve Cary might be able to make the call for us on BAMONA) along with a good number of Uncas Skipper (leading us to think it should also be good for our nemesis butterfly, the Rhesus Skipper).

Uncas Skipper (Hesperia uncas)





Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Photographs | 10 Comments

Full On Spring

Spring has come on strong here the last few weeks with many species of birds arriving and beginning to nest, new species of butterflies appearing every day, and plenty of greenery and wildflowers following good winter precipitation. All that water is raising water levels on the lakes and rivers, and all of the mountain springs and creeks are flowing better than they have in years. Being spring in New Mexico also means plenty of wind, but this year the winds seem much stronger than normal and lasted considerably longer than is typical. For most of the time since my last posting, Rebecca and I have been out checking on many of the butterfly spots we’ve visited in the past and several new ones in anticipation of a visit all last week from butterfly friends of ours from Massachusetts, Texas, and Florida. They had several species they were hoping to add to their life lists, including a few that we haven’t managed to spot yet. No new ones for us during their visit, but we were fortunate in getting good looks at several special ones for most of the group. Most of this post therefore has some of my better butterfly pictures from those outings, along with a few birds and other critters seen along the way.

We were able to join the excellent Audubon Thursday Birder trip on May 16 to Pueblo Montano Open Space, where among others we got several good looks at the normally secretive Yellow-breasted Chat.

Yellow-breasted Chat

A few days before that walk, I’d been there to check on the nesting Great Horned Owls there, but they must’ve fully fledged their young and the nest and all the owls had already disappeared. Almost a week earlier, I had checked in on the nest in Corrales to find those little ones nearly fully grown, but know of at least one nest in town that the adult must still be sitting on eggs.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

I did get nice looks at a few other species that we would see on the Thursday Birder trip, including a Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

Summer Tanager,

Summer Tanager

and Snowy Egret.

Snowy Egret

The group also spotted a porcupine not so high up a cottonwood. That was a bit unusual for me, since I usually only see porcupines in leafless trees in fall and winter.


One of the butterflies we’d see out scouting is one that we usually see plenty of but which would elude our visitors and is still the only one I’ve seen so far this year, the Hoary Comma.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

And one fine day in Embudito Canyon checking the Texas beargrass for Sandia Hairstreak (one of the target butterflies for our visitors), I had this guy complain loudly that I’d disturbed his nap by almost stepping on him.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Dumb of me to not look where I was stepping, but then again I’ve only heard one rattle once in probably twenty years of stomping around there. On my next visit a few days later, I’d get a nice shot of an Acmon Blue on the Apache Plume,

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

and the next day of a mated pair of Melissa Blue while checking out a new location in the Manzanos.

Melissa Blue (Plebejus melissa)

On the weekend, we took a longer ride out to Bear Trap Campground west of Socorro to look for a couple of those target butterflies our friends were hoping to see and also spent some time at Box Canyon Recreation Area near Socorro thinking it might be a good spot to break up the drive and to see if any butterflies were showing up there. We also made a short stop at Sevilleta NWR along the way, but didn’t see much in the way of butterflies. Several lizards were dashing around there, including this short-horned lizard.

Short-horned Lizard

Bear Trap is a pleasant small USFS campground, but accessible only by a long drive on a rough dirt road. We were fortunate in that it was a bit sheltered from the continuous winds and in finding several of one of our target species, the Mountain Checkered-Skipper,

Mountain Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus xanthus)

and surprised to see Yucca Giant-Skipper there as well.

Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae)

The Yucca Giant-Skipper was our first for the year after having missed them at places close to home where we’ve had them in the past. We’d hoped they’d turn out to be Strecker’s Giant-Skipper, which was a target for all our visitors but still haven’t seen that species this year. Stopping at Box Canyon on the return trip, we were pleased to see several species that we rarely see in New Mexico including the Common Streaky-Skipper

Common Streaky-Skipper (Celotes nessus)

and a Hackberry Emperor.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

For all of the last several weeks, there has been a huge number of Painted Lady butterflies migrating through the state making it a little difficult to notice any other butterflies. One that I photographed shows well the brilliant colors and markings on the underside.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

After all of our visiting friends arrived, we headed out to look for that Strecker’s Giant-Skipper on some private land east of the Manzano Mountains with permission to a spot we’d seen them in late May two years ago. No luck seeing that species unfortunately, but it was fun to find a mating pair of Fulvia Checkerspot.

Fulvia Checkerspot (Chlosyne fulvia)

Continuing on to a couple of other spots in the Manzanos, in search of Mexican Sootywing and a few other species, I’d get a nice photo of one of several Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

and we’d get good looks at a species that’s rather uncommon for us to see, Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper.

Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes oslari)

After checking those locations, we headed to Quarai for lunch and to look for a few butterflies. That was a bit difficult in the wind, but it was fun to see the two little Great Horned Owls back in their niche on this visit (you might want to click on the picture to zoom in to see them).

Great Horned Owl – Quarai

Still windy the next day, after checking on a couple of spots in town four of the group headed out to Bear Trap Campground to get that Mountain Checkered-Skipper, while the rest of us took a look in Cienega Canyon, where the lupines had come into bloom and we were fairly well sheltered from all that wind. A few butterfly species about, including a nice Juniper Hairstreak,

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

but then with a few clouds rolling in, we continued on to Sandia Crest House for the view of town from 10,678 feet. I looked in on a couple of butterfly spots along the way, but saw it’s too early in the season for any nectar plants to be blooming at the higher elevations.

Friday morning, we rolled out to Eagar, AZ and nearby Greens Peak Road where my nemesis butterfly, the Rhesus Skipper, is sometimes seen on the wild iris and volcanic patches around this time of year. We’ve tried for it here before as well as a few other places, and it would’ve been a lifer for everybody, but as usual after looking hard for two days it would once again elude us. We did get good looks at a few good butterflies there, two of which I thought I’d show here, the Morrison’s Skipper (also seen at Bear Trap Campground)

Morrison’s Skipper (Stinga morrisoni)

and butterfly of the trip for me at least, a Western Pine Elfin up close.

Western Pine Elfin (Callophrys eryphon)

Back home on Sunday, we spent the next day on another visit to Embudito Canyon and then Embudo Canyon, with the wind finally cutting us a little break. At the Embudito parking lot, a Greater Roadrunner was cooing for a date from up on someone’s chimney

Greater Roadrunner

and later in the morning we’d see a Scaled Quail calling loudly out to the neighborhood.

Scaled Quail

Butterflies were pretty good that morning in Embudito, with everybody getting good looks at several individual Sandia Hairstreak butterflies (lifer for some of the group),

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophrys mcfarlandi)

and more of another target for the trip that we’d see in several locations, Mexican Sootywing.

Mexican Sootywing (Pholisora mejicanus)

I’d always assumed I was seeing the Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus), but we had good looks at the definitive underside of these to decide they were Mexican. A couple of us went a little higher in the canyon and managed to see the first Canyonland Satyr for the year.

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

Coming back down the trail a couple of folks waited to point out a mating pair of Green Skipper, definitively matching the description in our guide books with those two overlapping white spots and slight arc to that line of three white spots.

Green Skipper (Hesperia viridis)

I’ve always had trouble making the distinction between Green Skipper and the very similar Pahaska Skipper, but we’d also see a number of the latter also clearly showing the differences between the species.

Pahaska Skipper (Hesperia pahaska)

For the Pahaska Skipper, those two white spots are a little offset from each other and the line of three white spots are more in a straight line.

In the afternoon, we went to Embudo Canyon a mile or so south of Embudito to make the fairly long steep walk up to a small spring. My first Arizona Sister of the year was flying there

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

and wandering around the area I just happened to stumble across a small gray skipper that had me calling everybody over thinking it might be one several of the group really wanted on this trip. It turned out indeed to be a Viereck’s Skipper, and there were actually several of them guarding their territories where they’d fly off only to return a short while later.

Viereck’s Skipper (Atrytonopsis vierecki)

On the last day of the trip, we returned to several of our local spots and added a visit to Hondo Canyon, seeing a few new species for the week but none that resulted in good photos for me. All in all, despite the almost continuous wind and missing out on a couple of the species we were really hoping to see, I certainly had a good time and am pretty sure everybody else enjoyed it too.



Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs | 8 Comments

Northern Pygmy-Owl Encounter

Of the nearly 300 posts to this blog since March 2011, there have been very few that focus on a single species. This past Monday, however, a visit to Cienega Canyon in search of the Northern Pygmy-Owl provided one of those rare and remarkable birding experiences that calls for such a separate post.

Over the last eight years, I seem to have gotten pretty good at finding nesting Great Horned Owls, sometimes see Burrowing Owls or Western Screech-Owls, the occasional Barn Owl, once a Northern Saw-whet Owl and once a Mexican Spotted Owl. The only other one on my list so far is the Northern Pygmy-Owl that I’ve gotten to see once in four of the last five years, all of which were found in Cienega Canyon.

My first one was on May 20, 2015 after hearing about them from two excellent local birders. I’d made the mile-long walk to the end of the paved entrance road twice without seeing the bird and returned for a third time the day the access road was opened to walk the remaining short distance to the nesting area. Nothing at first, but after sitting there for a while looking around, I finally saw the tiny little guy sitting way high in a tall cottonwood.

The next year, on February 9, 2016, again upon hearing they were again being seen in that area, I made the long walk in over the ice/snow covered road, and eventually the little owl appeared in pretty much the exact same spot. They fly so quickly and quietly, one second they just seem to be where there was nothing a moment before.

In April of 2017, it took two trips to spot one. No luck on April 10 when I went with a friend to look for it, but when I returned on April 15, I ran into two other friends who tried to point one out to me buried in an evergreen. After they left, I looked again but still couldn’t see the bird. But sure enough, just minutes later it popped up in the bare cottonwood where I’d seen it the last two years.

Although I surely looked a few times in 2018, I never managed to see or hear any that year.

After seeing several reports on eBird that they’d been seen there and in nearby Sulphur Canyon since early 2019, I’d looked unsuccessfully along Sulphur Canyon, and then at the end of April walked in to the area where I’d seen them in previous years. For the first time I can recall, that day I heard at least one calling regularly but had no luck spotting it despite trying to triangulate on where the call was coming from and checking the usual spots. And after telling my good friend Rebecca about having heard them that day, we decided to try again on May 6.

While taking that long walk in, just as we approached the large meadow and group reservation area (and still a quarter mile from the end of the road where I’d seen them every other time), we heard an owl calling loudly. The calls were so much louder than I’d heard before and since we were still so far from the usual nesting area, I assumed it had to be someone playing a tape trying to attract one into the open. Looking around the area, however, we seemed to be the only people around when it began calling again from what seemed a different location. They are a pretty small bird and seem to be good ventriloquists calling from high in a tree somewhere, so it had us wandering all around trying to figure out just where it might be. Rebecca soon saw one right where we’d been looking, naturally right out in the open a good ways up in a tree.

Shortly after I got on it, another one flew in and the two started mating! That’s an event that only takes a few seconds and is something I’ve only rarely gotten to see for other bird species.

The two of them sat next to each other for the next few minutes, grooming each other.

A couple of minutes later they each flew off in different directions. I’d been watching one, probably the male, fly some distance away, but Rebecca had seen the other, likely the female, pop into a nest cavity just a tree or two away from where they’d been sitting together.

Moving a bit farther away, it was possible for us to spot the cavity she was probably in, and sure enough, about ten minutes later there she was framed in the opening, sometimes looking around,

sometimes sticking her head out to get a better view,

and at other times seeming to doze off.

After a while, the male flew back to a perch a few feet above the nest, and five minutes later he’d dropped down to grip the outside of the cavity and look around.

He then climbed all the way in with the female already in there. It surprised me not only how one can get through such a small hole, but also to realize there’s enough room in there for both adults at the same time. About a minute later, he flew off and the female soon popped up back in the opening.

After watching all this for the last forty minutes, we decided it best to leave them be and as we walked away I noticed the male had once again returned to keep watch from another open branch close to the nest tree.

That was such an extraordinary encounter, we didn’t even continue on the rest of the way to where there’s supposed to be another nest near where I’ve seen them in the past.  A return visit in the near future is sure to follow in hopes of finding the other nest and maybe getting a chance to see one of this year’s little ones.

Posted in Birding, Photographs | 6 Comments

Birdathon and More

Most of the pictures for this posting were taken during last week’s Birdathon, with the rest from other outings from a week earlier. On April 24, a visit to Embudito turned up a Canyon Wren singing its heart out deep in the canyon,

Canyon Wren

accompanied by the non-stop vocalization of a Curve-billed Thrasher down in the cholla. While I’ve certainly got more than enough pictures of these guys, it’s hard to walk by without snapping another.

Curve-billed Thrasher

The next day was the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Manzano Pond and Quarai, the latter a unit of Salinas Pueblo Missions NWR. We’d end up with a pretty good bird list for the day despite birding being a little slow most of the time; no doubt numbers will pick up once spring migration is in full swing. One of the highlights at the pond was this spectacular male Mountain Bluebird blending into that New Mexico blue sky.

Mountain Bluebird

And for me (of course) the highlight at Quarai was seeing that the Great Horned Owls had returned to their nesting spot in the niches of the old Spanish Mission ruins. Everyone easily got to see the male  in an open niche and the female in another…the little ones were still a little shy and I was one of the few that got to see both of them later in the morning.

Great Horned Owl – Quarai

The next day, I checked in on a few of my other nesting owls around town and stopped by the Northern Diversion Channel (I prefer to call it Tramway Wetlands) to see that the Osprey nest is still a work in progress, and to sneak up on a few American Avocet that I don’t recall ever seeing at that location before.

American Avocet

Later that day the sunny, calm, and warm weather had me checking on the butterflies in my “local patch” Embudito, and it was fun to spot a few good species, including my first Great Purple Hairstreak there in two years, continuing Sandia Hairstreaks, and others. Close to where the stream starts its run down the canyon I had three Two-tailed Swallowtails dropping down to the damp areas, one of which might have been about finished since it didn’t fly off as I approached and at one point allowed a Dainty Sulphur to perch on its wing. (Later, a young boy walked right up to it and got to pet the butterfly!)

Two-tailed Swallowtail & Dainty Sulphur

On Saturday, Rebecca and I returned to look around to find a few more species including a Short-tailed Skipper and our first Spring Azure for the year, and to get a nice shot of a Southwestern Orangetip that had finally landed – one of the few butterflies I’ve ever seen on a dandelion.

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

A few days later, a Scaled Quail posed nicely for me on a fence post close to the parking lot. Years ago, this was the most common quail species in this area of town (and my yard) and only rarely would we see Gambel’s Quail, a situation that has completely reversed itself over time.

Scaled Quail

About those owls, highlights that week included a visit to the nest at Albuquerque Academy, where the one little one was out in the branches of the nest tree but not quite ready to fly yet. It had already started learning how to hide good, and this was the best picture I was able to get while I was there.

Great Horned Owl – Albuquerque Academy

It was a bit surprising exactly a week later to find no evidence of the little one or the female anywhere near the nest, although the male was still around in a nearby tree. Not sure what was up with that since I would have expected the young one to have a few more weeks close to the nest. At the nest in Corrales where I’d also seen a little one about a week earlier, this time I got a short look at two of them (Rumor has it there could be 3 in there, so I’ll be back soon.)

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

That one was also a little unusual, because while I spotted the male in his usual spot across the ditch from the nest the female was nowhere to be found. Usually it seems she’ll leave the nest to give the young ones more room, but will be standing close by.

So that brings me to our May 1-3 trip down to Washington Ranch south of Carlsbad, NM for the Thursday Birder Birdathon. Since Rebecca had volunteered to organize and lead the event, we got an early start to do some scouting for water birds at three locations near Carlsbad. While it was easy enough to get to our first spot, Cheapskate Point on Brantley Lake, driving a bit further north around a cove would have been a little tricky for some of the group and with the breezy conditions that day we saw very few birds. One that popped up right next to the car, though, was a cute Snowy Plover.

Snowy Plover

We also checked out an area around Avalon Lake and then Six-Mile Dam, but again didn’t see many birds maybe due to the time of day and weather conditions, and both involved driving down some deeply-rutted, but fortunately mostly dry, dirt roads. For the Birdathon, we decided we’d focus on three main locations, Washington Ranch, Rattlesnake Springs, and Slaughter Canyon thinking we might make an afternoon visit to Cheapskate Point if we’d exhausted the other locations and the weather improved. We’d had good luck on Birdathons at those three main locations in the past, but for most of us this would be the first time to stay in the few rooms and cabins available at Washington Ranch (with others in their RVs and tents on the property). The ranch itself gets an excellent variety of birds, with lots of fruiting mulberry trees, a large pond and several water features, a wetland area along a creek through the property, all surrounded by more typical desert scrub. Rattlesnake Springs is just next to the ranch, and is also quite the hotspot for good birding. The group of 20 gathered there for a picnic dinner the night before the Birdathon before heading back to the ranch, seeing a few Lesser Nighthawks flying about as dusk faded and hearing a Great Horned Owl near the pond (that we’d find the next day) along with all those Wild Turkeys strutting around and a few of the Vermilion Flycatchers usually seen there.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Unfortunately, very early the next morning outrageously stiff winds kicked up that would blow for hours, making it nearly impossible to do any birding and difficult to even be outside. Deciding to postpone the start of the Birdathon for a few hours, we all hung out in the lobby until Rebecca realized the winds had dropped a little and the south side of the building sheltered us pretty well. The mulberries were ripe out there and the birds starting showing up to eat, doing their best against the wind, and we were therefore all out there taking a look. Good birds, too, leading to a respectable total (considering the conditions) of 93 species by the end. One of my favorites, and a bird I’ve rarely seen anywhere, was the Lazuli Bunting, one of four species of bunting we’d add to the list.

Lazuli Bunting

We had a good number of Cedar Waxwings show up at several spots; despite the crazy winds blowing I was determined to get this shot of three of them lined up in a row.

Cedar Waxwing

As the morning progressed, the winds did die down some and we found there were areas that were fairly well sheltered from it and would turn up more good birds. Of the four oriole species we’d eventually see, I got pretty good shots of Bullock’s Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

and the Orchard Oriole.

Orchard Oriole

The Great Horned Owl at the ranch was also easy to see once somebody first located it,

Great Horned Owl – Washington Ranch

and I also got a pretty good look at a male Western Tanager (one of three tanager species we’d add).

Western Tanager

The group would also tally five species of swallow, most zooming around the buildings and the large pond, but two birds I’d at first assumed were swallows circling low over the pond turned out to be Spotted Sandpiper. Here’s a picture of one once it finally landed nearby.

Spotted Sandpiper

Northern Mockingbirds are fairly commonly seen (and photographed), but this one posed quite nicely for me.

Northern Mockingbird

By the next morning, the winds had finally died down and we headed out to Slaughter Canyon for what turned out to be a wonderful day, especially as the clouds burned off. On the way there, one of the team was first to spot a young Great Horned Owl on a snag near the road.

Great Horned Owl – Cottonwood Day Use Area

We’d been there the afternoon before looking for owls since we’d seen three little ones there during last year’s Birdathon, but were unsuccessful in seeing any and noticed last year’s tree had since been knocked down. We’re thinking this year’s nest must be right where that little one’s perched since it doesn’t look old enough to fly yet. Looking around we’d also spot both parents a good distance away. On the way back from Slaughter Canyon, of course we had to stop and take another look but didn’t see that baby owl anywhere although Dad was right by the road with Mom still pretty far from the nest tree.

Great Horned Owl – Cottonwood Day Use Area

Absolute highlight for everybody at Slaughter Canyon, and a “lifer” for several, was the Varied Bunting. This one let us get fairly close and the lighting was much better than the only other one I’ve ever seen (also in Slaughter Canyon on our 2016 Birdathon).

Varied Bunting

Focused on the birds those two days, I hadn’t paid much attention to butterflies but had taken a photograph of a Painted Crescent near the wetland area of Washington Ranch,

Painted Crescent (Phyciodes picta)

and on a stop at Bitter Lake NWR on the way home, Rebecca and I were both surprised to see good numbers of Saltbush Sootywing, a species I’ve only seen twice before, once in 2013 and then again in 2014.

Saltbush Sootywing (Hesperopsis alphaeus)







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More Birds and Butterflies

Spring’s really kicking into high gear around here with new for the year butterflies and birds, and baby owls popping up at almost all of the nests now. The day after my last post having read about a nesting owl near the Tingley Ponds, I went for a look. We usually have one somewhere in the vicinity but I hadn’t found it on earlier visits. Not too many possible nesting spots to check and after looking closely from several different angles I finally saw a tail sticking out of a large old hawk nest.

Great Horned Owl – Tingley

Looked about the same this morning and just no way to see any more of that bird. Much closer to the ground in a nearby tree was this Cooper’s Hawk, maybe wondering about the owl taking over its nest.

Cooper’s Hawk

By the public fishing ponds and parking area, I also got a close-up look at a young Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

There have been a few interesting developments with a few of the owl nests this year. One on a cliff in Petroglyph National Monument had been totally destroyed, maybe by some ravens that were photographed harassing the owls, and both the owls and the nest vanished. Amazingly, however, about a week later somehow new nesting material appeared in the exact same location and the owls are trying again. If anything, this nest looks much more secure than the previous one and had to have been built by someone other than the owls.

Great Horned Owl – Petroglyph NM

I’d been told but hadn’t seen it before that the male hangs out just below and to the left of the nest under an overhanging rock…this time I got a good look at our guy.

Great Horned Owl – Petroglyph NM

Some friends had told me of seeing another owl near Calabacillas Arroyo, another location where we usually have a nest but hadn’t found one since 2017. Managed to finally spot the owl (but still no nest) a few days later, typically extremely well-hidden in a bare tree, but a bit more obvious from a different angle off the trail. Like most owls I see, it stayed almost motionless while I was around, but at one point got quite active scratching and preening to where I almost got organized to take a short video.

Great Horned Owl – Calabacillas

Yesterday, I started the rounds of most of the nests I’ve been following thinking it’s about time we had a few more baby owls pop out. We’ve been seeing them at Albuquerque Academy for a couple of weeks now, but there was a bit of a disaster there recently when one of the owlets fell from the nest and apparently impaled itself on a branch…the good news is that the little one was rescued and is in rehab now in Santa Fe. It was good to see that the other little one in that nest seemed to be getting along just fine this morning.

Great Horned Owl – AA

I also made my way down to Corrales where I’ve been seeing the adults all year, but had only seen the nest since my friends told me about it a couple of weeks ago. Much excitement there with both adults back high in the trees on the east side of the ditch while at least one little one popped up now and then from the nest cavity.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

There might be little ones at Willow Creek, but that nest was so high all one can see is that Mom’s sitting up so I’ll need to check back there again soon. Meanwhile, this morning I also made a visit to the one at Pueblo Montano (near Bosque School) and, yep, a little one there (and Dad perched in the open in a nearby tree),

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

and at the nest near Bridge Blvd I’d first heard about two weeks ago, Mom was off the nest leaving at least two little ones some space to move about.

Great Horned Owl – Bridge

Lastly, I made the trek to the nest near Durand Open Space that we’d first spotted at the end of February on our Audubon Thursday Birder walk, and yep, got at least one little one there today, too.

Great Horned Owl – Durand OS

On the walk to that nest, several Snowy Egrets were making their way down the irrigation ditch, flying a short distance before hunting for a snack.

Snowy Egret

Rebecca and I took a weekend trip to Sedona, AZ a few days after my last post. I’d passed through there decades ago and remembered it as being rather spectacular, and decided we had to go since Rebecca’d never been.

Sedona AZ

Obviously a bit more crowded and touristy than it was forty years ago, the scenery was indeed fabulous (We learned it’s much easier getting through town early on Sunday morning than late Friday afternoon!). We picked up a few new butterflies for the year during our visit, including the Zela Metalmark, of which we saw quite a few on a visit to the Page Springs Hatchery.

Zela Metalmark (Emesis zela)

Back home and looking for butterflies in Embudito Canyon and other foothill locations on those days when conditions looked good have turned up several good species, including Acmon Blue,

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

usually one or two Sandia Hairstreaks and Mylitta Crescents, maybe a Gray Hairstreak, and yesterday an unusual number of Southwestern Orangetips,

Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis sara thoosa)

and, a species I might see there once a year, Mormon Metalmark. I’d just mentioned to Rebecca that we were in the area where I’d seen them in years past when she almost immediately spotted one.

Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo)

On one of those visits to Embudito, a Black-throated Sparrow posed for a portrait,

Black-throated Sparrow

and, while I hear they’ve been seen in Embudito and Embudo this week as well, we got good looks at a pair of Scott’s Oriole on a visit to Copper Trailhead.

Scott’s Oriole

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was quite successful, with the group of 14 birders seeing almost 50 species of birds on a trip to Coyote del Malpais Golf Course in Grants, a new location for the group. Among those birds were several Eared Grebe,

Eared Grebe

American Avocet,

American Avocet

Ruddy Duck,

Ruddy Duck

and a Savannah Sparrow.

Savannah Sparrow

Just my second visit to that area, it deserves more frequent visits with all the amazing birds that seem to show up there.


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