Last of January

There have been a few fun photo opportunities over the last two weeks I’ll share in this post. Oddly enough, the weather continues to be quite mild around here. Although most days start out a bit chilly, they usually warm up into the 50s and even 60s with clear, sunny skies by the afternoon. We could definitely use some winter precipitation, but haven’t seen much of that at all for some time now.

Almost three weeks ago, the Audubon Thursday Birders spent the whole morning at Valle de Oro NWR seeing a good number of birds by driving around the fields and then walking the bosque trails to the Rio Grande. One of the best sightings was at the end while we were going through the list when a female Northern Harrier flew right over the group and then circled around several times fairly low.

Female Northern Harrier

While walking through the bosque, we’d also see a couple of porcupines snoozing away in the trees and in the weeds had Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

and four Spotted Towhees, assumedly a family group, in the same area.

Spotted Towhee

After the walk, Rebecca and I drove to to Los Lunas to feed two stray cats we’d first met on Christmas Day. So obviously famished they quickly ate the leftover bits from our lunch that day, and then some official cat food we picked up at a nearby gas station and brought to them. Since then, we’ve been back every other day usually seeing both cats who continue to eat all the food we bring, along with the stray french fry, leftover burrito, and whatever else they come across. Rebecca named them on that very first visit; this is Kale (he was the one who first lapped up our leftover kale salad)


and this is Luna (she’s named for the Village of Los Lunas where we found them).


While they do seem to recognize us and usually come running for the food, they’re still too wary to let us get too close let alone try to pet them. But these two need to be rescued before a coyote or raptor spots them or even a bad stretch of weather hits, so we’re working with animal rescue folks to trap them, have them neutered and then Rebecca’s adopting them.

The next day while strolling around Embudito Canyon, a rather cooperative Curve-billed Thrasher posed nicely for me.

Curve-billed Thrasher

This year, there seem to be quite a few Curve-billed Thrashers in the wash along with a few Crissal Thrashers. A most unusual Golden-crowned Sparrow has been seen in a flock of White-crowned Sparrows at a feeder near the parking lot by a number of folks, but I’ve yet to spot it despite several recent visits.

The following week, Audubon Thursday Birders again had a successful day at Alameda Open Space. Despite having quite a large crowd of about 36 birders, we still exceeded our success criterion of more bird species than people.  While we didn’t see the quite rare American Woodcock that our leader Gale had seen on her scouting visit a couple of days earlier, it was a treat to get good looks at an immature Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle (immature)

Leaving the group at the conclusion of the walk, a few of us went to look for the Western Screech-Owl roosting in a natural cavity that a friend had heard about and had been reported on eBird a week earlier. Fortunately, there were only a few cottonwood trees with potential in the area and we spotted it without having to look too hard. Quite a few birders have been to see it since and I’ve even made a couple of return visits. Hopefully it feels safe enough high in that tree that it isn’t too bothered by all of us lookie loos.

Western Screech-Owl

A few days later, Rebecca and I headed out to the east mountains to participate in Audubon’s Climate Watch Survey, where every six months folks return to their 12 survey locations to identify and count all the birds seen in a 5 minute period; target birds are bluebirds and nuthatches. After doing our counts, we returned to the area south of Moriarty where the Thursday Birders had been on January 11 hoping to see a few more of the raptors that we’d missed on that earlier windy day. Much better luck this time, seeing (and my first picture of one ever) a Prairie Falcon,

Prairie Falcon

and the Rough-legged Hawk that wasn’t around on the first trip.

Rough-legged Hawk

We’d also see Ferruginous Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and even a Loggerhead Shrike. A Western Meadowlark posed nicely on a fence for me, showing off its bright yellow chest.

Western Meadowlark

A couple of days later, I was back at Pueblo Montano Open Space wanting to check again on a possible screech-owl cavity I’d seen early in the month, but while it still had a tell tale feather on the cavity, I still haven’t seen any owls. A few other good birds that day, however, included this pair of American Wigeon,

American Wigeon

a skulking Hermit Thrush (first I’ve seen this year),

Hermit Thrush

and a Cooper’s Hawk bathing in the irrigation ditch who paid no attention at all to me taking its picture from the other side of the ditch.

Cooper’s Hawk

That area always has a few porcupines about, and on my loop through the trees there that morning, I’d see at least five individuals doing their thing.


This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was, as usual, a successful walk around Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen. Highlight of the day for me, was a male Northern Harrier flying reasonably close to the group. While we usually see females flying low over the fields at this time of year (and would see one that day), males, called “the gray ghost”, are just not seen anywhere very often.

Male Northern Harrier

This is the time of year that the Great Horned Owls should be picking out nest sites, which they should start occupying sometime this month. Once they do, they’ll be on or near the nest for about three months until they disappear again for the year. Of course, that’s got me out looking for them and identifying occupied sites before the trees leaf out in the spring. Not much luck so far this year, but then I haven’t really been trying too hard yet. Two days in a row last week in the same spot in Piedras Marcadas Dam, however, I did see this one, so indeed the games are about ready to begin!

Great Horned Owl

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Birds of Early Winter

A month into winter and for the most part it continues to be a rather mild one for Albuquerque. Somehow, though, I haven’t gotten out as often as usual or taken nearly as many photographs as is typical for me. Still, it’s been fun to see a few of those birds that tend to show up around here for the winter and to get a few decent shots of some of them. A long morning shortly after the New Year began had me out checking out a few of my usual spots near the river, including Alameda Open Space, Los Poblanos Open Space, and the Rio Grande Nature Center. Among a nice variety of birds working the irrigation ditch at Alameda was this immature White-crowned Sparrow that didn’t immediately fly off with the others as I approached.

White-crowned Sparrow (immature)

At Los Poblanos, of course I had to check the screech-owl boxes to see if any of them were out sunning. Of the three boxes I’m pretty sure are occupied just now, I’d only see one that day and again about a week later.

Western Screech-Owl

A Say’s Phoebe posed nicely for me that morning as well,

Say’s Phoebe

and it was entertaining to spot a couple of the resident Greater Roadrunners all fluffed up in the cold hoping to catch a little warmth from the sun.

Greater Roadrunner

At the Nature Center I mostly headed straight to the Rio Grande to see if any Bald Eagles were about since I’d regularly seen them in a particular spot across the river in past years.  Didn’t spot them this time, but did get nice long looks at a small flock of Cedar Waxwings perched in the Russian olive trees.

Cedar Waxwing

Heading back along the Bosque Trail to my car, however, I did have a young eagle take off from its perch in a nearby dead cottonwood and circle ever higher above me before it headed off in the distance. That had me looking the next morning during our Audubon Thursday Birder outing to Pueblo Montano Open Space on the west side of the river across from the Nature Center. An unusually overcast and cool morning kept the birds out of sight at first (other than the Pied-billed Grebe seen right off in the ditch near the parking area), but we’d end the morning with a good number of species. And sure enough as we got to our first view of the river, we’d spot two mature Bald Eagles, one directly across the river being harrassed by a number of crows and one on our side of the river but far to the north.

Also seen that day was the perfect cavity for a Western Screech-Owl that had a few telltale feathers around the opening, pretty strong evidence for a cavity actively being used by an owl. Naturally, I had to check it out again the next morning, but still have yet to see anybody home. As long as I was there, I checked the river again for Bald Eagles and saw two of them still on the east side of the river, so it was back to the Nature Center in hopes of sneaking up on them. I poked along slowly starting from the Aldo Leopold Trail a little north of the center where from out on a sandbar I’d see the birds had flown a little further south, and then headed that way hoping to spot them before they moved on. I did finally get lucky, seeing both of the adults on the same branch of a snag close to the river, but first one and then the other took off when I tried to get just a few steps closer.

Bald Eagle

Continuing down the trail to the river, it seemed pretty clear the eagles had staked out that spot because it was close to a small flock of Sandhill Cranes on a sandbar.

Sandhill Crane

On the first Saturday of 2018, Rebecca and I spent a little time at Valle de Oro NWR, where we finally got some close-up looks at some of the Horned Larks that we’d been seeing in large swirling flocks along the Rio Grande several times earlier in the week.

Horned Lark

Also seen that day, surprisingly, was a Northern Mockingbird, a bird we don’t usually see here in winter. On checking eBird at home later that afternoon, I’d seen that others had reported it already for that day.

Northern Mockingbird

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birders trip had a line of cars driving along dirt roads out in Torrance County on our annual trip to see a variety of raptors that hang out there during the winter. Unlike most years, there wasn’t any snow covering the fields and while it was a bit colder than I had expected, a fairly stiff breeze had those raptors off hiding somewhere rather than perched on their usual telephone poles, trees, and irrigation equipment. Still, we’d end the morning with more birds than people, including several Loggerhead Shrikes and a rare sighting for this time of year of a large flock of Long-billed Curlews off in the distance. Having to leave the group early, it was a treat to see a Ferruginous Hawk just as I headed for home. I’ll have to make a point to get back out there soon when it’s not windy to look for a few more of these guys in their usual spots.

Ferruginous Hawk

This past weekend, I headed out early to Willow Creek Open Space at the northern end of Rio Rancho, unsuccessfully hoping to see the family of bobcats regularly spotted there and to look around to see if their Great Horned Owls had yet shown up. No bobcats and few birds, but I am starting to see porcupines snoozing away in the trees just about everywhere I go these days.


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Wrapping Up 2017

While most of the country seems to be dealing with really cold temperatures and a fair amount of snow, the weather around here the last couple of weeks has been unusually mild with temperatures reaching the mid-60s most days, clear and sunny. Recent Audubon Thursday Birder outings to Tingley Ponds and the Rio Grande Nature Center turned up good numbers of species under much more comfortable conditions than typical for this time of year. One of the last species we’d add at Tingley was the Wood Duck, a good number of which were seen in one of the fishing ponds as the group was going through their species list. These are both males, but there were a number of females in the large group.

Wood Duck

A couple of days later on a quick trip to Embudito Canyon, I spotted a Crissal Thrasher in the middle of the arroyo – at first all I saw through my binoculars was its bright chestnut rear; not usually easy to see but rather definitive. Getting a bit closer showed off some of its other characteristics different from the  Curve-billed Thrashers more commonly seen there.

Crissal Thrasher

On Christmas Eve, I wandered around Alameda Open Space hoping (unsuccessfully) to get a picture of a displaying Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Instead, I happened to notice a few Cedar Waxwings perched quietly in about the only tree along the irrigation ditch that had any birds, but for some reason that tree attracted nearly a dozen species.

Cedar Waxwing

Another visitor to that tree was a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a species that can be quite common around here at this time of year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

On Christmas Day, Rebecca and I headed south looking around several spots around Belen and Los Lunas for a few birds. A highlight of the day was getting close views of large numbers of Sandhill Cranes in the cornfields of Los Lunas, including this family group.

Sandhill Crane

The next day was the Sandia Mountain Christmas Bird Count – great weather once again if a bit windy at times and a good variety and number of birds seen. For that count, our friend, Bonnie, joined Rebecca and I cruising around our assigned area on both sides of I-40 east of Tijeras. At the compilation dinner that evening, I ran into an acquaintance who works at Albuquerque Academy who told me where their Great Horned Owls are hanging out, so naturally I had to go look for them.

Great Horned Owl

It really is amazing how such large birds can hide in plain sight. The only way I saw these guys was first knowing they had to be in that tree and second looking closely from every angle several times before finally spotting that flash of white on the chest of one of them. I’d first seen one on December 22, and then returned on December 30 hoping (successfully) to see the pair, and was surprised to see them both so close together. It was too bizarre taking another look at my pictures from December 22 to realize both owls were right there in the pictures, too, but at the time I’d only realized one was there.

More obvious there was a Red-tailed Hawk sitting out in the open near the parking area.

Red-tailed Hawk

The last day of 2017 while heading back from the west side of town, I thought to drop in to see if that American Dipper was still around. First seen on December 14, people had continued to report it hanging around the same area ever since. And sure enough, even with about four guys fishing in the irrigation ditch the bird was easily seen and was busy going about its business, first perched just above the water looking around and then walking along often completely under water as it searched for food.

American Dipper

And to kick the New Year off on a promising note, a visit to Embudito on the first day of the New Year may have turned up only a few birds, but one in particular was pretty special, the first Sage Thrasher I’ve ever seen there – a bird I rarely see and usually quite far away when I do.

Sage Thrasher

On first seeing it, I’d assumed it was the more common Hermit Thrush that also has a streaked breast, but looking at the picture at home later had me thinking it was the thrasher. Friend and expert, Judy, confirmed its identity for me shortly afterward.

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Winter Solstice Eve

Shortest day of the year starts with the winter solstice at 9:28 tomorrow morning, and tho the days have been getting noticeably shorter so far other than a couple of cold snaps the weather still hasn’t gotten wintry around here. I’ve made several visits in the last month to Los Poblanos Open Space now that the raptors have returned along with a few Sandhill Cranes. On most visits, one or two Greater Roadrunners are seen wandering around the community garden in the NW corner of the open fields.

Greater Roadrunner

Most fun was seeing that the Western Screech-Owls have again taken up residence in several of the roosting boxes there. Of the five boxes I know of, three appear to be occupied these days. For the first time since I’ve been looking, the only one that faces north has somebody in it.

Western Screech-Owl

Another box nearby that has had an owl in the the past was being swarmed by just about every other bird in the neighborhood one afternoon, so while I didn’t see the owl that day there undoubtedly was one tucked inside. A few days later, I’d at first see an owl in the box way at the eastern end of the property, but then a White-breasted Nuthatch showed up that continued to harass the owl until it finally had enough and dropped down inside the box.

Western Screech-Owl and White-breasted Nuthatch

A real treat to see this past week with Audubon Thursday Birders was an American Dipper in an irrigation ditch in Shining River Open Space; most uncommon to see in this area and perfect that it stayed around for a few days and got counted in the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count (CBC) this past Sunday.

American Dipper

Tis the season for Christmas Bird Counts and last weekend Rebecca and I headed down to Bosque del Apache NWR for their CBC. We drove down on Friday to see what was flying on the refuge and to scout out our area north of the refuge and south of Hwy 380 for the count that started at 7am Saturday. On Friday, we’d get to see the huge flocks of Snow Geese take to the air whenever a Bald Eagle would appear, saw several Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels patrolling the area or roosting in trees, and had lots of different ducks on some of the ponds. My favorite picture of the day, however, was this Great Blue Heron along one of the ditch roads.

Great Blue Heron

A little chilly and breezy on the count day, but sunny weather brought out at least 115 species for the Bosque del Apache count. A few of the species we saw and that I got reasonably good pictures that day included a Phainopepla


and Pyrrhuloxia,


birds we don’t see as far north as Albuquerque, along with a few others that we do see here but not usually as close or as much in the open, the Red-naped Sapsucker,

Red-naped Sapsucker

and American Pipit.

American Pipit

This year, we skipped the compilation party to head home a little earlier to get ready for the Albuquerque CBC that kicked off at dawn the next day. Our friends, Bernie and Pauline, who’ve helped us with our area of the Bosque count the last several years, were staying down there the next day and did go to the party to turn in our results.

For the Albuquerque CBC, Rebecca has long been responsible for southern Corrales and I’ve tagged along for most years since I retired in 2011. This year we were again joined by her friend, Bruce, and under marvelous late Fall weather conditions ended up with a good number of species, including several sightings of Cedar Waxwings, lots of Gambel’s Quail, and a couple of Greater Roadrunners – species that sometimes elude us, and unusual except for this irruption year, Steller’s Jays in good numbers. Preliminary results for the Albuquerque CBC have it with at least 110 species, which seems pretty good for a range of mostly urban habitats.  Best picture I got that day was of a Yellow-rumped Warbler along a stretch of an irrigation ditch that turned up quite a few different species.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Unusual for me to see at any time was a muskrat sunning itself along that same ditch until it swam into its hidden burrow when it realized we were watching.


While out and about yesterday, I went back to that area hoping to photograph some of the birds we’d seen during the count. However, very few birds put in an appearance that morning due to the presence of a Cooper’s Hawk that was working its way along the ditch slightly ahead of me and pausing to perch in a tree until I’d catch up. I finally let him continue on his hunt, while I turned around to head back and saw a few more of the little birds starting to come out again now that the hawk had moved on.

Cooper’s Hawk

One more Christmas Bird Count to go (for me), the Sandia CBC, held the day after Christmas and always interesting since we cover an area in the east mountains that I don’t normally visit. Also might just be that far into winter that we typically seem to run into a little snow and ice but that just makes it more fun.



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Three Weeks in November

Delightful Fall weather continues around here in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, with the golden leaves of the cottonwoods just starting to fade to brown and then fall away. Birds continue to remain quiet and mostly hidden, but the sandhill cranes, various ducks, and all the other winter migrants have been showing up.  Right after Halloween with candy passed around by Rebecca before the walk, the Audubon Thursday Birders visited a new area for the group, the Cedro Creek Nature Trail in Otero Canyon near Tijeras. As expected from my scouting visits, birding was a little slow until we got to the limestone cliffs and small wetland area near the end of the trail. Once there, however, we had a nice variety of birds show up for the water that can be pretty scarce to find in the mountains. Highlight for me was having several Townsend’s Solitaires perched quite close unlike their usual spot high at the top of a ponderosa.

Townsend’s Solitaire

A few days later I returned to the east mountains to check out several spots along the Crest Highway, noting that they’d re-opened Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long after the bear closures since late summer, and that Cienega Canyon and Capulin Spring are now closed to cars for the winter. At Bill Spring, I was thrilled to see a Golden-crowned Kinglet flash its crown but flitting away before I could get a picture. Usually, they’re only seen (and not that often) in the evergreen trees high on the mountain, but this year are being seen at lower elevations and even in the foothills. Unfortunately, that was the only one I’d see despite several more attempts. On one of those visits, I did get a nice close view of a Hairy Woodpecker working the mossy branches for insects.

Hairy Woodpecker

Heading up the mountain, I had to stop for a minute as a line of seven Wild Turkeys crossed the highway in single file near Tree Spring Trailhead, again disappearing before I could get that camera squared away. A single male, however, was hanging around Balsam Glade who did let me get a few photographs.

Wild Turkey

Along the trail to Kiwanis Meadow very close to Sandia Crest where I’ve seen Golden-crowned Kinglet in the past, on this trip it was very quiet for birds and few were seen. A slight movement just off the trail did catch my eye toward the end of my walk and after watching for movement, a Brown Creeper (always tough to photograph) finally popped into view and hung around for a couple of minutes at the base of the trees.

Brown Creeper

When I just can’t decide where to go or want a quick outing, it’s usually Embudito Canyon where you’ll find me. New for the season there recently was a Rock Wren that I usually only see there in winter.

Rock Wren

Until the last couple of years, Scaled Quail were quite common there most of the year and Gambel’s Quail only rarely seen and usually only in winter, but more recently the Gambel’s Quail is more typically seen in good numbers and pretty much all year.

Gambel’s Quail

Fairly often but by no means guaranteed there is a Ladder-backed Woodpecker who usually gets my attention with its sharp one note call.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

One day along the irrigation ditch north of Pueblo Montano, the cottonwoods were in full color and loaded with crows who seem to roam in large packs along the river this time of year.

American Crow

It was also a treat that day to have a Belted Kingfisher making its way up and down the ditch, flying off as soon as anybody came anywhere close.

Belted Kingfisher

I’ve also made a few trips to Los Poblanos Open Space recently, where starting in the Fall a good number of Sandhill Crane, Canada Goose, and sometimes Snow Goose arrive to feed on the open fields along with a good variety of raptors. The cranes have started to arrive and there was a Red-tailed Hawk and several American Kestrels that day,

American Kestrel

but no Northern Harrier or any of the other hawks that should show up soon. A surprise high in a very tall cottonwood I’d assumed at first was another American Kestrel turned out to be a Merlin, a species that I don’t often see.


A Say’s Phoebe posed nicely for me that day against that blue New Mexico sky.

Say’s Phoebe

We’re all surprised this year to be seeing lots of Steller’s Jay all over town and down by the river, definitely an irruption of a species we usually only see in the evergreens on the east side of the mountains and most often at higher elevations. This year, I’ve seen them at Piedras Marcadas Dam and a number of spots along the Rio Grande including this one from Pueblo Montano.

Steller’s Jay

Last week with the 30th Annual Festival of the Cranes down at Bosque del Apache NWR, Rebecca and I headed south to first visit a friend in Silver City, stopping along the way at Elephant Butte, Truth or Consequences, Caballo Lake, and Percha Dam, before returning to stop in at the festival on Saturday. Pretty late in the season to see many butterflies, we did see a few still flying, including at Percha Dam both a Sleepy Orange

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

and a Mexican Yellow.

Mexican Yellow (Eurema mexicana)

Sunset at Elephant Butte Lake is always fun with the sound of the waves providing background music to the usually amazing colors appearing in the clouds and reflecting off the mountains. We had a few good bird sightings while all that was going on, including a close pass by a Ring-billed Gull,

Ring-billed Gull

a trio of Western Grebes that would get fairly close before diving down only to reappear much farther away,

Western Grebe

and a tiny Least Sandpiper carefully working its way along the beach searching for food.

Least Sandpiper

A bit breezy out on Saturday when we got to Bosque del Apache, but fun running into quite a few birding friends, seeing my first Bald Eagle for the season, watching the thousands of snow geese take off when a large raptor flew over, and getting several chances to photograph some of the Northern Harriers that were patrolling the area.

Northern Harrier

Monday morning had me heading down to the Rio Grande Nature Center hoping to see the Hooded Mergansers that showed up last week and that I’d seen excellent photographs of the day before. They seem to be hanging around the Visitor Center Pond, but can be hidden off in the distance or behind the small islands. On my second try, they popped up near one of those islands and I got a decent shot of both the female on the left and the male on the right.

Hooded Merganser

I had never noticed before that the male floats around with that white crest sometimes raised to its full height but then drops it almost all the way just before he dives below the surface. In the picture above, his crest seems to be in mid-position but I’d see him much later that day with it raised all the way.

Hooded Merganser

Another guy out on the water that day was a Pied-billed Grebe whose photograph I like for that watery background.

Pied-billed Grebe

Got home later that morning and fooled around most of the day until I got a surprise text message from birding friend (and fellow owl enthusiast) Kathy Covalt telling me she was at the Nature Center looking at a Northern Saw-whet Owl and she’d wait to show it to me if I had any interest in seeing it. Only seen there once before back in January, I’d missed it that time waiting to go the next day and being a species I’d never seen in the wild before, I quickly hopped in my car for the 20-minute drive. Spotted first by Matt Zmuda, it was directly across the path from the tree it had been seen in in January, and Matt had been there most of the afternoon showing it to others that had heard about it. Thrilled to find it still there when I arrived, and grateful to both of them for letting me know about it.

Northern Saw-whet Owl




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Seasonal Adjustments

Once again having let way too much time go by between posts, here are a few of the pictures I’ve managed to take since my last update. I have been getting out pretty regularly but the butterflies are about done for this year and birds in general seem to be keeping quiet and hidden from me. Also noticing the days growing shorter and temperatures turning cooler. Asters and aspens have peaked and the chamisa nearly done as well, but in just the last few days I’ve noticed the cottonwoods down by the Rio Grande have turned a gorgeous golden color.

Autumn Cottonwoods

I ended my last posting talking about all the water at Piedras Marcadas Dam that had drawn in some rather unusual birds (kingfisher? snipe?) for that normally dry location. Returning just a few days later, the water and all those riparian habitat birds had disappeared, and the Great Horned Owl had gone back into hiding. Even the deep mud had pretty much dried up, which was good since I could look around the milkweed for the Monarch caterpillars and chrysalises that I’d lucked into seeing a few of last year. No luck on that score, but did see a pretty fresh Variegated Fritillary. Usually fairly common to see during the summer, they weren’t seen nearly as often this year.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

There was also a Say’s Phoebe posing nicely for me from its usual spot, where it goes after flying insects before returning to this perch.

Say’s Phoebe

Later that same morning, I dropped by Embudito and found the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher again in the same area it had been almost a week earlier. This time there were two of them and one let me get close enough for a couple of better pictures.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Later that afternoon, a birder friend was asking on Facebook about where to look for this bird since she really wanted it for her list. Ended up meeting her in Embudito the next morning where after working our way all the way up and down the canyon, we finally got it for her in pretty much the same spot they had been the day before. Like some other bird species, this one seems to come out later in the morning, we’re guessing about when the bugs start flying around those bushes. It was also a little surprising so late in the year to still have quite a few hummingbirds flying around there in the canyon; mostly Broad-tailed Hummingbirds but also a couple of Rufous Hummingbirds. I managed a decent shot of one of the female Broad-taileds nectaring on one of the very few globe mallow plants still in bloom,

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

and had another sit for its portrait at quite close range; she’d seemed rather successful in powdering her bill with a bit of pollen.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

A few other birds from different locations recently included this Northern Flicker, one of the very few birds I saw on a walk at Willow Creek Open Space,

Northern Flicker

a Canyon Towhee perched on a cholla in Embudito,

Canyon Towhee

and a Great Blue Heron working the irrigation ditch just in front of Bosque School, first time I’ve seen one there.

Great Blue Heron

Last week’s Thursday Birder trip to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area turned up some good birds, such as our first Northern Harrier for the season, quite a few migrating Sandhill Cranes, a pair of Ring-necked Pheasants, large flock of American Wigeon, and about 30 more species.  I didn’t manage to get any decent bird pictures that day, but liked this shot of milkweed seeds. Large areas of milkweed there at Whitfield do attract good numbers of Monarchs as they migrate through every year.


Butterfly-wise, we’re still seeing those Painted Lady butterflies that have been around in unusually large numbers just about everywhere this year,

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

but it was a real treat to realize one I saw was instead the closely-related West Coast Lady that we just don’t see around here all that often.

West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella)

One of the best ways to tell them apart is those markings near the wingtip – the orange bar of the West Coast Lady just inside that line of white dots is a white bar on the Painted Lady and the other species we sometimes see around here, the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis).


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First Days of Fall

The first days of autumn have passed with mostly delightfully sunny and temperate days interrupted by a few that were cloudy and even rainy. All that rain seems to have convinced the yellow chamisa and purple asters to burst into bloom, and while the cottonwoods along the river have yet to change I’m betting the aspens up in the mountains are about reaching their seasonal peak of bright yellow and gold. All these changes have brought out some interesting new birds migrating through or starting to arrive for the winter. A few more butterflies, including some new ones for the year, are also being seen showing up for the nectar from the fall wildflowers.

The Audubon Thursday Birders had a good day at Valle de Oro NWR on September 21, where the flooded fields were attracting a few new birds with others showing up over the next few days. (The Thursday Birders planned trip to Santa Fe the next week was cancelled because of the unusual forecast for all-day rain and snow.) Rebecca and I drove back to Valle de Oro on Saturday and just missed the Black-bellied Plover some had seen that day, but did get a very good look at the Merlin that seems to have taken up residence.


A highlight for everybody at Valle de Oro over the last several weeks were the Clouded Sulphur butterflies going for the fields of blooming alfalfa. There were literally thousands of these butterflies nectaring on the alfalfa or flying around the fields and nearby bosque. None of my photos adequately captured how impressive seeing all those butterflies was, but here’s a closeup of one of them taking a break on a sandbar down by the river.

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

Among that outrageous number of all the same species, I did manage to see a single Monarch passing through on its migration, a Common Buckeye, a couple of Western Pygmy-Blues, and just one or two Orange Sulphur butterflies, almost identical from the side and identified mostly by the bright orange color on the top when they fly. Here’s a picture of an Orange Sulphur I’d see a few days later in the Sandia foothills.

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

After checking out the show at Valle de Oro, we made a quick stop at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen where we’d hoped to spot a couple more Monarchs, which I add to the migration reports compiled by Journey North every spring and fall when they pass through. The weather wasn’t that great for butterflies, but it was good to see the milkweed and seep willow were still attracting butterflies and to see several Monarchs, Bordered Patch, Queen, Common Buckeye, and Variegated Fritillary during our short visit.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

The next day, a visit to my local patch, Embudito Canyon turned up the wacky looking American Snout, a butterfly that we’d seen in good numbers on the blooming chamisa in the Fall several years ago, but not at all in other years.

American Snout (Libyetheana carinenta)

Just as I started into the canyon that morning, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher stopped by for a quick visit before heading off.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

A surprise that day was to see a Bordered Patch also working the chamisa there in Embudito Canyon.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

In the past, we’d never seen that species any further north than Whitfield and the surprise was that it adds a new species (#62) to my list of Butterflies of Embudito Canyon. While I’ve never tried keeping lists of bird species seen, I have done pretty good at keeping my butterfly lists up to date and spent some time this week on that project. For New Mexico, I have photographs of 162 species on my Butterflies of New Mexico page, just over half of those that are possible. Adding in a bunch from trips to Ohio and Florida this year brings my US list to 458 species, with photos of most of them on my US Butterflies page. Things get a little fuzzier when I start on the neotropical list from trips to various places in South and Central America, but I was still a little surprised to realize my Neotropical Butterflies pages now have 3003 photos of about 1200 species.

The day after I was in Embudito, I stopped by the parking lot for the next major canyon to the south, Embudo. A few of the chamisa were in full bloom, and one bush in particular got my attention first seeing another Bordered Patch there, and then the longer I looked the more species appeared.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

It’s pretty unusual around here to see more than one or two species sharing the same nectar source, but while I was there Common Buckeye, Echo Azure, Reakirt’s Blue, Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, Gray Hairstreak, Variegated Fritillary, Painted Lady, and Western Pygmy-Blue showed up.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

It’s been a good week for seeing a few odonates about as their season also winds down, including this female Variegated Meadowhawk in Embudito,

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

and both male and female American Rubyspot (this one’s a female) on the Rio Grande near Alameda Open Space.

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)

While I was wandering around Alameda, I also managed to scare up a Great Blue Heron who’d been standing in the river close to shore and had a Black-crowned Night-heron fly into a nearby tree.

Black-crowned Night-heron

Earlier that morning, I’d gone to Piedras Marcadas Dam. It had large numbers of Monarch butterflies migrating through about this time last year, so I wanted to check on them again this year. With all the rain last week, it was a bit more obvious why this normally dry area is called a dam since shallow ponds now covered most of the area. There were indeed a few Monarchs about, although the milkweed was past its prime and mostly underwater. More interesting was hearing and then seeing a Belted Kingfisher and flushing a Wilson’s Snipe, both of which must have been drawn to the area by its newly-formed wetland status. A Steller’s Jay also appeared that day – normally only seen in the mountains, there have been several reports of them being seen in town and along the river in recent weeks. Adding to the surprises that day was this Great Horned Owl that caught my eye from pretty far away as it flew up from the ground into a low tree.

Great Horned Owl

Getting closer in hopes of a better picture, I noticed a mallard duck at the base of that tree acting very oddly and obviously in distress.  Wondering if the duck was just caught in something like fishing line or some such, I looked at it closely and tried to get over to it, but the mud was just too deep.  The owl sailed away into another dense stand of trees nearby and there was nothing I could do for the duck, so I turned around and headed back to the car. Only later that afternoon did it finally hit me the reason the owl was on the ground was because it had probably just attacked the duck and was about to go in for the kill when I showed up, and that’s why the duck was in such bad shape. I’d had no idea Great Horned Owls went after ducks as prey, but reading about them at home later it seems that in addition to small mammals and invertebrates, they’ll also go after birds (even the larger ones like Canada Geese, pheasants, and even Sandhill Cranes!). I’ll bet both the owl and the duck were quite surprised to see each other there that day and imagine it made quite a good meal for the former.


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Last Days of Summer

This Friday is the Fall equinox, the first day of autumn, and summer seems to have gone by pretty quickly this year. The weather has been quite nice lately with warm sunny days and pleasantly cool nights, kicking into bloom all the sunflowers and asters with the chamisa and changing leaves of the aspens and cottonwoods only a few short weeks away. The birds have been awfully quiet out there lately; certainly still around but making few noises and often hiding in the foliage. Butterflies have been a little hard to spot, too, with little or no water in the streams and not all that much nectar around. But, like always, all it takes is getting out there everyday to spot something worthy of a photograph.

Way back on the last day of August, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed west out to La Ventana Natural Arch and The Narrows in El Malpais National Monument, a trip I led since Rebecca was still under house arrest with her broken leg. For not having gotten out in advance to scout the area and with the birds being so secretive at this time of year, it was a pleasant surprise to tally 37 species among the 20 people on the trip. Fun for me was also seeing a mating pair of Dainty Sulphurs, a common enough butterfly but not one I’d seen mating before.

Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)

Bird of the day for most of us, and one we’d see at both locations was the Hepatic Tanager, a slightly different red and darker bill in comparison to the Summer Tanager we regularly see in the Rio Grande bosque all summer.

Hepatic Tanager

A few days later on one of several trips to Embudito Canyon this month, there were very few butterflies to be seen other than the Arizona Sister, of which three individuals had all found the one damp spot I noticed along the streambed.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia)

On another day there, I’d see the first Western Pygmy-Blue of the season, a very small butterfly but quite well-marked.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

Up in the Sandias a couple of days after that, there were some wildflowers about but still pretty quiet for both birds and butterflies. I did get an okay shot of what I assume is a young or female Wilson’s Warbler that morning.

Wilson’s Warbler

That Sunday was a nice morning to wander around Pueblo Montano Open Space near the Bosque School, where it seems the Painted Lady butterflies that have been around all year in good numbers were still flying.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

There was also an immature Black-chinned Hummingbird willing to pose nicely for me.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

My biggest surprise, however, was near the end of my walk when I spotted a pair of Green Herons on a nearly dry ditch. One had stretched its neck and looked so much larger than the other I wondered if it might’ve been something different like maybe a most unusual American Bittern? Managed to get a picture of it that later the experts easily identified as just another Green Heron. Here’s a picture of the one sitting in more like their usual posture.

Green Heron

I’d missed the Audubon Thursday Birder trip on September 7 to Manzano Pond and Quarai National Monument, but heard they’d seen the rather uncommon Northern Waterthrush. The next week’s trip was to Poblanos Fields Open Space on the east side of the Rio Grande from Pueblo Montano Open Space. My expectations were not high that morning for seeing many birds since it had been so quiet everywhere else recently, but sure enough while we didn’t see large numbers of birds (no goldfinches with all those sunflowers around?), the group would not only end up with a respectable total of close to 20 species but have 3 that were quite unusual to see in that area. The first was a Peregrine Falcon perched high in a distant cottonwood but distinctly identifiable especially through good friend Lefty’s scope. Soon after he’d be the first to see a Barn Owl fly near the garden area, where it would disappear until dashing off to another hidden spot. While that area is my “go to” spot for Western Screech-Owl during breeding season, none of us had ever seen a Barn Owl there before. The third species, bird-of-the-day for most of us, had everybody scratching their heads for a minute until a visitor from Austin with our group quickly called it out as an Eastern Kingbird. New for me in New Mexico, it hung around long enough for everybody to get great looks at it.

Eastern Kingbird

I returned the next day hoping to maybe see any of those birds again, and while I didn’t see any of them there was a pretty good look at a Swainson’s Hawk,

Swainson’s Hawk

the coyote we’d seen hiding in the fields the day before crossed right in front of me,


and I got a couple of pictures of the Globemallow Leaf Beetles we’d seen the day before.

Globemallow Leaf Beetle (Calligrapha serpentina)

A few days later, I checked out a few places south of town for birds and butterflies. First stop was “Owlville” near Los Lunas a friend had asked about earlier that week. He’d seen a couple of Burrowing Owls on his visit, but others hadn’t been seeing them lately. Now that breeding season’s over and they tend to migrate further south later in the year, I didn’t expect to see many, but it seemed worth a visit on my way to Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. Arriving there reasonable early (8:30 am), three of the owls were up and looking around, but staying pretty close to their burrows where it wouldn’t be too surprising they’d cool off in the heat of the day.

Burrowing Owl

My other two stops weren’t particularly productive, with the Belen Marsh much smaller and drier than on other visits this year and also unusually quiet at Whitfield. At Whitfield, there was an Osprey sitting in a distant tree, a bird I hadn’t seen there before and it might have been a little too early or cloudy for many butterflies to be out. One of my reasons for going there was to look for Monarch butterflies and maybe the Bordered Patch that we’ve seen there before at about this time of year. Didn’t see either of those butterflies, but there were a number of Queens flying about attracted to the seep willow just coming into bloom.

Queen (Danaus gillipus)

Oddly enough, on an afternoon visit today to Piedras Marcadas Dam (where I’ve checked for Monarchs at least 3 times this week), I’d see a Bordered Patch for the first time in town, and a good dozen Monarchs whose migration must finally be underway.

Monarch (Danaus gilippus)

It was fun later that evening sitting out on my porch to have two Mule Deer wander through the neighborhood; here’s one of them who’s either looking at me or that Scaled Quail up on the cholla in the foreground.

Mule Deer

Back to Embudito yesterday morning, where it was a treat to spot a Canyonland Satyr, quite common last year but rarely seen this year,

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida)

and a very fresh-looking Mylitta Crescent.

Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta)

Rufous Hummingbirds and Black-chinned Hummingbirds also were still quite numerous in the canyon, despite reports I’d seen recently saying the hummingbirds have disappeared on their migration. I’d also been hearing that Green-tailed Towhees were just being seen everywhere this year, but still hadn’t seen any for sure after targeting them on several of my recent outings. Running into friend Karen that morning, she mentioned seeing all those hummingbirds and the Arizona Sister butterflies I’d also see there, but when I said I’d gotten a quick look at a Green-tailed Towhee over there by the hackberry trees she said she’d already seen six of them that morning!  Paying a bit more attention on the way out finally paid off with a nice look at one of them perched up in a bush rather than skulking along the ground where I’ll usually see them.

Green-tailed Towhee


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Panama Butterfly Trip

Whoops, the entire month of August zipped by without my getting around to updating my blog. The first half of the month was busy down in Panama looking at butterflies, and most of my time since then has been spent going through the 1700+ photos that made it home with me, deleting the really bad and duplicate ones, processing about 300 that survived the cut, and then working on most of those to identify the butterfly species in them.  The trip was with the Canopy Family’s “Panama’s Brilliant Butterflies” tour based out of the Canopy Lodge, Canopy Tower, and its extension to the Canopy Camp in the remote Darien Province.

This was my fourth (and Rebecca’s third) trip to the Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower, and we’d hoped to have our Houston butterflying friend, Steve, along for his first visit. The three of us had first heard about this butterfly-focused tour last Fall during the NABA Meeting in the Lower Rio Grande Valley where we met their resident wildlife biologist, Jenn Sinasac. Jenn expected to co-lead the trip with Tino Sanchez, their butterfly expert who’d guided Rebecca and I around the Canopy Lodge area on an excellent trip in 2013, and told us about this trip also going to the new Canopy Camp that I’d been wanting to visit since it opened in 2014. Unfortunately, Steve had to drop out the day before his flight when he realized his passport was about to expire. And when we got there, we first heard that Jenn would not be joining us for the tour since she’s just a few months away from having a baby and staying close to home near Panama City these days. Luckily, Linda Harrison, a volunteer consultant to the Canopy Family and butterfly expert in her own right, joined us to co-lead the trip with Tino.

Everything went smoothly on our flight to Panama City and after a night at the Airport Hotel Riande, we met new friend Lisa from DC, who’d be with us for the whole trip, and headed out the next morning for the Canopy Lodge. One of the very first butterflies we’d see and one of the most spectacular, the Lampeto Metalmark, was in a bush near the Canopy Lodge dining room for us to see as we first arrived.

Lampeto Metalmark (Caria mantinea lampeto)

Later that day, we’d be joined by six birder/butterflier friends from Indiana who’d just come from birding at Canopy Camp and would be with us at Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower. A little surprising to me, as we left them at the Canopy Tower, we picked up nine new friends in Panama City to join us  for the 5-day Canopy Camp extension; three from the Austin, Texas area, a couple from Georgia, and two couples from Florida. I recognized one of the Florida couples, but couldn’t quite remember where I’d seen them before – turns out we’d run into them a couple of times on our South Florida trip this past May.  Usually on organized trips you’re with the same group the whole time, so it was a little work for me learning a new set of names – how tour guides manage to memorize everybody’s names on Day 1 has always amazed me.

In four days at the Canopy Lodge, we’d head out to various habitats and start picking up a good number of butterflies for our list. On Las Minas Road just up the hill from the Lodge, a Malachite posed calmly for me for several minutes.

Malachite (Siproete stelenes)

Most of the butterflies we’d see aren’t seen at home, although we can see the Malachite fairly regularly in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and sometimes will see Blomfild’s Beauty there, although I don’t recall ever seeing one as fresh as this.

Blomfild’s Beauty (Smyrna blomfildia)

Near the Canopy Lodge is where we’d see one of the few daggerwing butterflies for the trip, a Glossy Daggerwing.

Glossy Daggerwing (Marpesia furcula)

In addition to butterflies, we couldn’t help but start to notice a variety of other interesting insects, animals, birds, and other sights. For example, this is a pretty crazy-looking grasshopper we saw at Altos del Maria in the highland cloudforest above El Valle de Anton where the Canopy Lodge is located.

Piezops ensicornis

Off to the Canopy Tower for the next three nights. At the Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower, but fortunately not so much at Canopy Camp, we got a good idea of why this time of year is called the “Green Season.” My four visits to Panama have all been in July and August – a little bit of rain is to be expected sometime during the day, but that has never really impacted my plans. This trip, however, we did have a couple of days where we had to cancel our planned activity and it tended to be a bit cloudy and a bit dark for photography. One of my better butterfly pictures during our stay at the Canopy Tower was this Great Eurybia.

Great Eurybia (Eurybia patrona patrona)

At the Canopy Tower and later at the Canopy Camp, each night the staff would set up a blacklight and white sheet to see what manner of moths and other insects it would attract. One of the more dramatic ones showed up the very first night we did that, a moth that looks similar to an Io Moth (Automeris io) we’d seen in Ohio in July.


One of the attractions of staying at the Canopy Tower is getting to look out over the forest canopy, where a number of butterflies spend their time and are rarely if ever seen close to the ground. Among these were the Imperial Arcas (Arcas imperialis), Mexican Arcas (Arcas cypria), and the similar Regal Hairstreak (Evenus regalis). My camera just didn’t have the reach to get good shots of those guys, but we got nice looks at them through spotting scopes and others got some excellent photographs with their long lenses or by digiscoping. I did get an okay picture (despite the gray clouds) of a Mantled Howler resting in a Cecropia tree just outside the dining room window on the upper floor (and that night would get a fairly close look at a Three-toed Sloth busy feeding in another Cecropia tree).

Mantled Howler

Of the six butterfly families, here in New Mexico we rarely see only a very few species of metalmark (Riodinidae), but in the neotropics one can see dozens of species and they seem fairly common. One that we’d see in the area near the Canopy Tower that was new for me was the Northern Mimic-Metalmark, typically resting as many metalmarks do under a leaf.

Northern Mimic-Metalmark (Ithomeis eulema imiatrix)

Other goodies from that part of the trip included seeing a Striated Heron family of two adults and their three little ones during a day trip along Pipeline Road,

Juvenile Striated Heron

and later that day further into the forest along Pipeline Road a Streak-chested Antpitta, normally quite well hidden in the forest but this one stayed close to the road while our crowd of photographers clicked away.

Streak-chested Antpitta

The places we visited around the Canopy Tower also turned up our first Passion Flower

Passion Flower (Passiflora menispermifolia)

and Poison-dart Frog,

Poison-dart Frog

both of which would turn up again when we got to Canopy Camp, and another way-cool grasshopper.

Red-eyed Grasshopper (Coscineuta coxalis)

After three days at Canopy Tower, we departed quite early in the morning stopping first at Airport Hotel Riande to pick up everybody for the long drive to the Canopy Camp for the five night extension. Along the way, we made a stop just past the bridge across Lake Bayano and found an incredible concentration of owl-butterflies,

Pale Owl-Butterfly (Caligo telamonius)


Gray Cracker (Hamadryas februa)

beauties, and several other butterfly species. Among these was a new one for me, the small but incredibly colorful Glorious Blue-Skipper.

Glorious Blue-Skipper (Paches loxus)

Later that week, we’d see another Blue-Skipper, this time the Striped Blue-Skipper.

Striped Blue-Skipper (Quadrus contubernalis)

After about an hour there, we next stopped in Torti at the delightful Hotel and Restaurant Avicar for lunch, seeing a few butterflies and some huge beetles while wandering around the property.

Giant Metallic Ceiba Borer (Euchroma gigantea)

It was raining as we pulled into Canopy Camp that afternoon, but it soon stopped and we settled into our fancy safari tents before setting out to look around the grounds. Spotted on a passionflower vine in the clearing was one of the more bizarre-looking bugs I’ve ever seen,

Crazy Cool Bug – Flag-footed Bug (Anisocelis flavolineata)

and the next day we’d see several pretty amazing caterpillars including this huge one I’m told is some kind of sphinx moth.

Sphinxmoth Caterpillar

Here is another fascinating caterpillar seen maybe a day later on one of our outings, but I’ve no idea what species it might be.


During our stay at the Canopy Camp, we’d hear and sometimes see more Mantled Howler Monkeys, but also had a couple of White-faced Capuchins and a few Geoffroy’s Tamarins hanging out in the trees.

Geoffroy’s Tamarin

Several times while out looking for butterflies, someone would point out a walking stick insect, some of which were quite large and all of which blended remarkably well into the surrounding foliage.

Walking Stick

Our new friend Lisa had quite a thing for dragonflies and damselflies, so everybody kept an eye out for them calling her over to see whenever one was spotted. She’d gotten to see several of her target Helicopter Dragonfly, but also had plenty of other species. This one I think is some kind of darner, but I have no idea of the specific species over the course of the trip.


And of course, there were lots of spiders anywhere we went, many different species of various colors and sizes. This picture was kind of fun since close up you can see it spinning out silk for its web.


A couple of the other butterflies we’d see on our daily outings near the Canopy Camp included the Dusky-blue Groundstreak,

Dusky-blue Groundstreak (Calycopis isobeon)

Moon Satyr,

Moon Satyr (Pierella luna)

and Violet-washed Eyed-Metalmark.

Blue-patched Eyed-Metalmark (Mesosemia carissima)

Two days before we were due to head back to Panama City for the trip home, we drove to Rio Tuquesa to take a boat ride down the river to Nuevo Vigia, a village of the indigenous Embera tribe. The riverside was quite busy with a large number of large hand-carved dugout canoes (piragua), most full of plantains brought in for the market. Next to some of the boats a few of the local people were bathing in the river, shampooing their hair, and even brushing their teeth while all this activity was going on around them. Us tourists, of course, were provided fluorescent orange life vests for the perilous journey ahead and then were to wade out into the river to climb into our piragua. Not having any boots and wanting to keep my feet dry, I managed to hop into one without too much trouble. Unfortunately, when Rebecca tried next, she lost her footing and somehow smacked her leg hard against the side of the boat.  Not a good thing as it became clear she’d hurt herself pretty bad and wouldn’t be able to put any weight on that leg let alone walk, and ended up spending the rest of the day sitting in the boat while the rest of us wandered around the woods and the village. Here’s a sweet picture of a little girl in the village who just had to show us her pet Blue-headed Parrot.

Local Girl with her Pet Parrot

Rebecca took this development amazing well, never once complaining about what was surely a rather difficult situation for the next few days. There was no medical help available anywhere in the area, and somehow she managed to get by on an old pair of crutches somebody turned up when we made it back to Canopy Camp, and Linda’s husband, Jerry, picked up a walker for her when we finally got back to Panama City. Folks at the airports we went through on the way home had a wheelchair for her and whisked us through check-in, and after hopping down the aisle to her seat, the flights home went reasonably well. On Sunday, after finally getting back home late on Saturday, we got to an urgent care facility for an x-ray, and two days later she had surgery for what turned out to be a broken tibia. She’ll be sitting around at home recuperating for the next couple of months, but seems to be hanging in there okay.

We’re still compiling the list of the more than 350 species of butterflies seen on the trip, and close to 60 of the 160 species I photographed were new for me, including the poorly-named Pale-clubbed Hairstreak.

Pale-clubbed Hairstreak (Theritas hemon)

Aside from Rebecca’s unfortunate accident late in the trip, our friend Steve having to miss it altogether, and the weather being a little “greener” than expected, overall it was another excellent trip and fun getting to share it with all those new friends we hope to see out there again sometime in the future. If anybody’s interested, more pictures from the trip are now online at




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Summer Sightings

Almost into August and lots of good sightings over the last couple of weeks. A trip to the Sandia Crest and a few other butterfly spots in the Sandias a week ago Friday turned up a couple of new butterflies for the year and ones we don’t see very often, including the Milbert’s Tortoiseshell right at the Crest,

Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti)

and a Pine White along the road from Balsam Glade toward Las Huertas Canyon and Placitas.

Pine White (Neophasia menapia)

We usually see the Pine White flying quite high near the top of tall ponderosa pines, but now and then they do drop down close to the ground. This one’s a male and the female has stronger black markings and thin red around the edge of the wings. At that same spot, a Tailed Copper, which seem present in unusually large numbers this year, was also checking out the coneflower.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

I’ve seen plenty of tussock moth caterpillars this year, too, usually on oak leaves where several recent visits have been unsuccessful in spotting another Colorado Hairstreak – crazy looking caterpillar I keep trying to photograph to capture everything its got going on.

Tussock Moth Caterpillar

A couple days later, a quick trip to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area turned up a few worn Bordered Patch butterflies, one we usually see down there in the summer but rarely anywhere else. Among a few other butterflies there was a Viceroy, which I see less often than the similar-looking Queen or even the Monarch.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

On the way to Whitfield, of course I had to take a look at “Owlville” in Los Lunas, where there are still a number of Burrowing Owls although the young ones are growing up fast,

Burrowing Owl

and there were a number of young Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet at the Belen (or “Taco Bell”) Marsh.

American Avocet Juveniles

This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was the annual visit to the Simms Ranch and potluck at the home of Bonnie Long and Don Giles. The Simms always put on an interesting presentation on their study of bluebird nesting on their property, and Bonnie on her nest boxes. After visiting at the Simms, the group heads over to Bonnie and Don’s house for a wonderful potluck lunch. Bonnie and Don have hosted this event for at least the last fifteen years, which the group surely appreciates. Both homes also make it a point to keep a large number of hummingbird feeders filled, attracting an incredible number of four different species of hummingbirds. A real treat for me was the one that’s much less commonly seen than the others, a Calliope Hummingbird with its fabulous neck feathers.

Calliope Hummingbird

The Broad-tailed Hummingbird is no slouch in the category of showy feathers either.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Oddly enough, I didn’t get pictures of any of the Black-chinned Hummingbirds, which are usually the most common species in town, but did get a few of the Rufous Hummingbird that always seems to show up right on the Fourth of July.

Rufous Hummingbird

The weather that morning was most unusually cloudy with even a few drizzles, and interesting to push the limits of my camera trying to get some of those pictures. I’d set the shutter speed to 1/2000 second to try and freeze those wings, didn’t think to try using a flash, and to expose the pictures adequately, the camera cranked up the ISO from my usual default of 320 sometimes as high as my maximum setting of 6400. Pictures came out pretty well and not nearly as grainy as I would’ve expected.

The sun did break out about halfway through lunch, and most of us had a little time to wander around looking for a few more birds and other wildlife. Rebecca spotted our first Western Pygmy-Blue for the season, a way tiny butterfly with lots of bling.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

A treat awaited me at home that afternoon. There are maybe a dozen small Strawberry Cactus in my yard that once every summer all come into bloom for a single day. It seems there is some event that triggers blooming, which usually happens a few days after our first good rain.

Strawberry Cactus

The next aftenoon, Rebecca and I checked out Otero Canyon and Cedro Creek for butterflies. There had apparently been some pretty good rain there on the east side of the mountains recently and evidence of some fairly significant flash flooding particularly along Cedro Creek, so it seems a lot of the wildflowers might have been taken out. All that rain left some good amounts of standing water, bringing out some of the dragonflies in the area.

Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)

Still we saw a few good butterflies, such as the Orange Sulphur,

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

Sleepy Orange,

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

and Dainty Sulphur.

Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)

Stopping at the Tijeras Ranger Station on the way home turned up a couple of the more usual suspects who also posed nicely for their portraits, including a Juniper Hairstreak

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

and Two-tailed Swallowtail.

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

This morning it was off on a final scouting trip to Corrales for this week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip. Every year, we tweak the date a little hoping to find the Mississippi Kites nesting during our visit. The good news for this year is the birds are still around in the area they’ve been for more than five years now,

Mississippi Kite

and while I still haven’t found a nest this year, there was a young one crying loudly until Mom showed up with a little snack.

Mississippi Kite

The young Cooper’s Hawks I first saw nesting there awhile ago are also still around and looking more grown up on every visit.

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk


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