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November Butterflies

Friday, November 23, 2007

In 1992, when Bill and I first explored Bosque del Apache, we met a woman named Cathie Sandell. She "got" us and knew where to send us to watch birds, take in the New Mexico scenery, and get our heads cleared out. "Go up NM 107 to Magdalena," she said. "If you have time, check out Water Canyon." We did, and it was one of the most magical days of our lives. We've run into Cathie since while speaking in New York for the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs, when Liam was an infant, and it was a pleasure to see her again at Bosque. What a gift she gave us with that one suggestion.

So it was with great pleasure that we agreed to lead two field trips to Water Canyon, which we remembered as one of the quietest places we'd ever been. The weather this trip was magnificent, warm and sunny, and Water Canyon where the sun warmed its lower reaches was birdy, birdy, birdy. We joined renowned local naturalist Mary Alice Root and 30 eager birdwatchers to explore its natural history. It's usually difficult to bird with such a huge group, unless you're on a paved road, and then it's a blast. We were brought up short by an acorn woodpecker perched on an exposed snag, pulled our car caravan over, and pretty much stayed there at the base of the canyon, watching bird TV, for the rest of the morning. It was a showcase of NM winter residents: scrub jays, mountain chickadees, western bluebirds, bushtits, acorn woodpeckers, red-naped sapsuckers, common ravens, canyon towhees, chipping and white-crowned sparrows, gray-headed juncos, Cassin's and house finches and the like. They were all coming in to drink at a watering trough in a rustic corral, so we parked ourselves and enjoyed the show. First rule of birding with a big group: When you find birds, stay with them!
This is a mountain chickadee. I'm proud of this shot, since they're a bit tough to catch at rest. Love those head stripes! They're cute and confiding little birds, and they tend to forage quite low, making them ideal subjects for amateurs. It is such fun to see the Western variations on the chickadee theme.

Because Bill and I were as busy as a couple of long-tailed cats in a roomful of rocking chairs, we spent most of our time pointing out birds and didn't get to shoot too many bird pictures. Butterflies are easier to approach, so I contented myself documenting the amazing array still flying in late November. Our local guides were incredulous to see so many butterflies at this late date, and we speculated about the realities of global warming even as we enjoyed them.
Here's a red admiral, one of my favorite feisty butterflies. I've had red admirals hit me in the chest or forehead, defending a favorite sunspot.
We often get buckeyes, a hardy migrant, in October in Ohio, but here they were in November in New Mexico! Go buckeyes! (That was for Kathi, who knows what a hopelessly lame sportsfan I really am).
Clouded sulfurs were common even on frosty mornings, and I was delighted to add a new butterfly to my life list, the dainty sulfur, Nathalis iole. This multiple-brooded cutie, our smallest sulfur, flies almost year-round in the Southwest. I had to hang on to this picture of it and key it out in my Kaufman guide when I got home. Just another reason to love digital cameras!
For sexy, though, it's hard to beat the California (Arizona) sister, Adelpha bredowii. It loves oak canyons, and acts a bit like the related red-spotted purple of the east, feeding on fermenting fruit and droppins, and basking in the sun. I was clinging to a slidy rocky slope, trying to get a better angle on its beauty, but had to be satisfied with this shot.We're home, after leaving Arroyo Seco at 6 AM Thanksgiving day. We got in at about 9 PM after wrestling with a taxi and a dead van battery (booring) to a verra happy, kennelstinky Chet Baker. He immediately gremlined under Phoebe's bed and roo-rooed at us. He's had his morning bath just now and is lying like a puddle of India ink on the sunny living room carpet, smelling of shea butter baby shampoo. The washing machine is churning away in the basement and clothes are flapping in the cold November sun. It's good to be home.

So much happened on our Water Canyon field trips that I'm going to save the rest for a second post. Stay tuned for bushtits!



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