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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Colors of Summer

It really feels like summer around here lately. Massive thunderheads have been building up every day for the last week or so and most days there will be a little splash of those monsoon rains at least around the mountains every afternoon. New butterflies for the season are appearing along with lots of different dragonflies and more of those baby birds that have recently fledged.

Last weekend and then again early this week, I’ve made the rounds of some of the good spots for butterflies up in the Sandias. At a spot Rebecca found last year to be pretty dependable for Colorado Hairstreak, there also have been large numbers of Tailed Copper this year.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

Rather striking from the side, they’re even more incredible from the top. We’d mostly see males on our first visit that are kind of a uniform goldish brown sometimes with a purplish sheen, but I also had a female (below) with that vivid dark patterning.

Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota)

We did look pretty hard for those Colorado Hairstreaks, too. I still haven’t spotted one yet, but Rebecca saw one in each of the two places we looked; the first open in the sun showing off a brilliant purple that I didn’t get on quickly enough before it flew off. I did manage to get a quick side shot of the second one and will surely head back up there to try for another one.

Colorado Hairstreak (Hypaurotis crysalus)

Couple of other interesting sightings while we were waiting for the Colorado Hairstreaks to come out. First we noted quite a few tussock moth caterpillars on the oaks (and many caterpillars and cocoons in the restrooms and picnic shelters) – pretty cool when you get a close look at them, but I’ve heard they sting so it’s best to keep your distance.

Tussock Moth Caterpillar

The tachinid flies are out again for the summer, too, and there were plenty of these really wacky looking flies working the oaks as well.

Repetitive Tachinid Fly

We also had a female Warbling Vireo holding a caterpillar hopping all around the oak we were searching for butterflies, and finally spotted her nest with at least one little one in there. Moments later, quite close by we saw that one of them must have just fledged and seemed a bit annoyed at our visit.

Warbling Vireo

It had been a couple of years, but I drove part of the way down from Balsam Glade toward Placitas, where there’s a patch of James’ Buckwheat we’ve seen Square-spotted Blue in the past. Lots of Tailed Copper there, too, but an unexpected treat to see the buckwheat in bloom and drawing in a few of those butterflies to nectar.

Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides)

Coneflower has started blooming all up the mountain, and always draws a few good butterflies. One that I’d been waiting to see return for the summer, but so far in much lower numbers than I remember, is the Northwestern Fritillary.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

It’s another one of those butterflies that looks at least as colorful from the side as it does from the top.

Northwestern Fritillary (Speyeria hesperis)

This year has seen an incredible number of Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies flying around, but all of a sudden we’re also starting to see its cousin, the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis).

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

This one is told from others in the genus by those two large eyespots and that little spot of white surrounded by pink in the forewing.

Coneflower seems to attract most butterflies, but this is the first time I’ve seen Hoary Comma come to it, and two of them to the same flower!

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Down by the Rio Grande, a good variety of damselflies and dragonflies are flying again. It’s always fun trying to identify them, and they often seem to pose nicely for rather nice photographs. In particular, the Audubon Thursday Birders last week spent the morning at Pueblo Montano Open Space, where we had a good number of birds but also had lots of dragonflies, including those shown below. One of the more common ones is the Widow Skimmer (the male has those white patches on the wings).

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

I always see plenty of Blue Dasher out there, too, whose white face nails down its identity from several otherwise similar dragonflies.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Not quite as common to see and even more uncommon to see perched rather than flying back and forth is the Twelve-spotted Skimmer, who posed rather dramatically for me.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)

Very special as I have so rarely seen it, is the Eastern Amberwing.

Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera)

Walking along the irrigation ditch with the Thursday Birders, Rebecca spotted a cool sphinx moth, a nice sighting as this was our first outing with the group since that moth-focused trip to Ohio for Mothapalooza 2017 the week before I talked about in my last blog post.

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx occidentalis)

Pueblo Montano was so good for birds and other things that day, I went back again the next day to get a few more pictures. Yellow-breasted Chats were much more visible than normal on both days; this is the best picture of one that perched pretty close.

Yellow-breasted Chat

It was also fun being serenaded by this female Summer Tanager on the walk back to the car.

Female Summer Tanager

In one of those moments when you just had to be there to see it, a Black-chinned Hummingbird paused to investigate this sunflower-like flower.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Both days, we’d see several Wood Duck families practicing paddling along the ditch.

Wood Duck

Roadrunners seem to be enjoying summer this year, too, with quite a few of them being spotted this month, often showing off the latest lizard they’ve managed to snag. This guy had just missed one at the Albuquerque Academy on the Fourth of July, but made for a fun picture showing off that mohawk haircut and flashing its good ol’ red, white, and blue eyeliner.

Greater Roadrunner

For the last six years, I get to lead the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to look for nesting Mississippi Kites in Corrales, and so once again I’ve made a couple of scouting trips recently looking for them. These guys migrate to South America for the winter and then head back in late spring to nest, usually more like Texas north to Kansas or the southeastern states, but some head up the Rio Grande just about this far north. So far this year, I haven’t found any nesting but was surprised to see five first-year individuals in a single tree on my first visit, and three just last week in the same area they’ve used every year. Here’s a shot of two of them way at the top of a very tall tree.

Mississippi Kite

Hopefully, they’ll still be around in a couple of weeks for this year’s Thursday Birder trip, and maybe I’ll even luck into spotting a nest by then. While looking for nests, I did see a Cooper’s Hawk tending her little ones in the same area on my first visit, but by the second visit they’d fledged and it was fun watching two of the young ones fighting over some kind of snack they’d found on the road. One finally took the prize and spent several minutes loudly announcing its success between bites.

Cooper’s Hawk


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Midnight Mothers

Just back from almost a week in Ohio attending Mothapalooza 2017. Our butterflying friend, Linda, has attended all five of these annual events and has regularly recommended we check it out, so this year Rebecca and I signed up and flew out there for it. Quite an interesting and informative experience that was very well-organized and held at the Shawnee Lodge and Conference Center near Portsmouth, Ohio. The primary focus of the event was on the incredible variety of moths that would be attracted at night by black lights set up in a number of locations near the lodge and out in the forest. Running from 10pm to 2am, expert “moth-ers” would set up their lights and identify many of the creatures attracted to them, including moths, some crazy cool beetles and other night-flying insects. Several vans were provided to drive among the various sites and these enthusiasts would keep at it well into early morning. Being new to all this, we’d manage to visit a couple of different sites but only lasted until about midnight. During the days leading up to the midnight mothing, we’d join field trips led by a number of experts in different subject areas, slowly making our way stopping to examine any number of different insects, butterflies, birds, and plants that crossed our path. Later in the evening, the conference featured several excellent talks focused on different aspects of moths and their caterpillars.

During those day trips, we’d end up adding new species of butterflies to our life lists; for me these included the Harvester (the only carnivorous butterfly in North America and one I’d been wanting to see for quite some time), Southern Cloudywing, and Eastern Comma. I spotted one we’d seen before that got everyone excited and must be unusual for Ohio, the Golden Banded-Skipper.  It posed nicely for several minutes on a nearby tulip poplar leaf for everybody on the field trip to get a good look.

Golden Banded-Skipper (Autochton cellus)

On our last field trip, one person in our group spotted that Harvester in a very good butterfly location (Pond Lick Road) we visited several times and where it had been seen by others the day before. Unlike most butterflies in my experience, this guy just sat there the whole time we were there and let me get quite a few photographs from a fairly close distance.

Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius)

I’m guessing Harvesters aren’t quite as rare as I thought, since the locals seemed much more excited spotting an American Snout, a butterfly often seen in good numbers in Texas and New Mexico.

American Snout (Libytheans carinenta)

All told, we’d see nearly 40 butterfly species many of which we rarely if ever see in New Mexico. Some of my favorites included the Common Wood-Nymph (which isn’t nearly as colorful out west),

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

American Copper, flying around a large field of very short grass that I wouldn’t have expected to have any butterflies,

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

Spicebush Swallowtail,

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

and Zebra Swallowtail, neither of which ranges as far west as New Mexico.

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

Other goodies on the butterfly list included Great Spangled Fritillary,

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

Little Yellow,

Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa)

large numbers of Red-spotted Purple,

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

Northern Pearly-eye,

Northern Pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon)

the tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue,

Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas)

Common Roadside-Skipper, whose identity eluded us for a few minutes,

Common Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes vialis)

and at the Chilo Locks on the drive back to the Cincinnati airport, Peck’s Skipper.

Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius)

Of course, the main point of this event was seeing what showed up at night drawn to those black lights. Of all the different moths that appeared, one of my favorites was the colorful Io Moth, which is apparently seen regularly but was completely new to me.

Io Moth (Automeris io)

Some of the other crowd pleasers were some of the larger moths in the Saturniidae family, including the very cool Luna Moth,

Luna Moth (Actias luna)

the Polyphemus Moth,

Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

and the Promethea Moth.

Promethea Moth (Callosamia promethea)

There is an amazing variety of size, shapes, and colors among moths and an astonishingly large number of species. It seems not at all unusual to have new, undescribed species turn up, which I suspect may draw people to this hobby.

A couple of the other ones we’d see turn up at the different locations we visited included the Rosy Maple Moth with its crazy pink color,

Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda)

and the Giant Leopard Moth.

Giant Leopard Moth (Epcantheria scribonia)

Others that caught my eye and I was able to identify included the Tuliptree Beauty,

Tuliptree Beauty (Epimecis hortaria)

and these two guys.

Virginia Creeper Sphinx & Banded Tussock Moth (Darapsa myron & Halysidota tesselaris)

Now and then, in addition to all those moths, a few other interesting insects would be attracted by the lights, including a huge Eastern Hercules Beetle and this rather large Stag Beetle.

Stag Beetle (Lucanus capreolus)

Really quite an interesting trip, not only adding a few more new butterflies to my list, but also fun getting a good introduction to this new dimension of moths and their caterpillars along with a few other new insects.







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Time Flies

Amazing how time flies by sometimes and two weeks have now passed since my last update. Although I have been getting out pretty regularly as usual, it’s been rather hot and dry lately and I haven’t been seeing all that many birds and butterflies in most of my usual places. Birds have been busy nesting and keeping fairly quiet and out of sight it seems. Most of the wildflowers that butterflies nectar on have faded away and the damp areas they use to collect salt have dried up. The good news is all those new baby birds have started fledging and flying around, and our summer monsoon rains should kick in over the next couple of weeks and new butterflies start appearing along with the summer wildflowers.

A highlight for me during the last two weeks was a float trip down the Corrales stretch of the Rio Grande organized by Kim Score for Central New Mexico Audubon Society. About a dozen of us gathered at the Alameda Bridge at 5am on June 18 to first drive to Bernalillo to pick up kayaks and canoes, and then drive to the put in spot in North Corrales. On the river by 6:30am, we spent the next four hours floating easily down the river hearing and seeing a good 50 bird species over 8.5 miles, including a ridiculous number of Yellow-breasted Chats and Common Yellowthroats and at least 4 Gray Catbirds (a bird I’ve rarely seen in this area). Excellent day and something I’d been wanting to do for a really long time-next time I might even take a few photos.

Several times in recent weeks has seen me heading around to the east side of the Sandias checking out bird and butterfly spots from Ojito de San Antonio Open Space (~6600 ft, 2012m) all the way up to Sandia Crest (10678 ft, 3255m). One of those spots, Capulin Spring, is full of blooming purple penstemon just now attracting large numbers of swallowtail butterflies, including both the Two-tailed

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

and the Western Tiger Swallowtail.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

While there on one visit, I ran into birding friend Gale Owings who pointed out a Plumbeous Vireo nest near the parking lot, where the mother would fly off and soon return with something for the three little ones to eat.

Plumbeous Vireo

On the path to the spring, a Hermit Thrush posed for me while I could hear the marvelous song of several more of them calling to each other from the nearby trees.

Hermit Thrush

Several good birds flew in for a drink or a splash there at the hollowed out log on all my visits, but there were always other birders watching so I didn’t stay long or try for many photographs. Up at the Crest, it was good to see a nice display of wildflowers near the Crest House with a lots of butterflies stopping by to nectar. New for the season and never seen that often around here was a Black Swallowtail, of which I’d see at least one at several spots along the route on different days. Most seemed a bit beat up and this is the best one of them I saw.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Among the other butterflies at the Crest one morning was an Acmon Blue. I’ve occasionally seen them around since April this year, but had hoped to see the similar Melissa Blue which should also be flying now.

Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon)

Several other tiny butterflies are also seen regularly these days, including this fresh Reakirt’s Blue showing off its ‘bling’ in those hindwing spots along with that distinctive row of black spots surrounded by white in the forewing.

Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)

Juniper Hairstreaks also have been quite common in most locations this year.

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

Near Bill Spring, we’re starting to see Taxiles Skipper again, this one a male on a wild geranium flower.

Taxiles Skipper (Poanes taxiles)

On one visit there, several Hoary Comma butterflies were investigating something tasty along the trail, one of which let me approach close enough to photograph.

Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis)

Early this week, I made the rounds at Rio Grande Nature Center and Los Poblanos Open Space. At the Nature Center, an Ash-throated Flycatcher posed for me from its perch high up in a Russian olive,

Ash-throated Flycatcher

and later at Los Poblanos Open Space, a Painted Lady seemed to be enjoying a Coneflower in the community garden.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

I’d forgotten until a friend asked about one today that the dragonflies and damselflies start appearing in large numbers and a variety of species about this time every year, and sure enough, saw a rather unusual one in Embudito Canyon this morning, a White-belted Ringtail.

White-belted Ringtail (Erpetogomphus compositus)

I’ll certainly need to start looking around closer for more of them, and imagine I’ll start seeing more of those birds and butterflies if I just keep looking.


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