Saturday, December 5, 2015

New Mexico Dragonfly Blitz - Day 4

The plan for Sunday, August 30, was to visit The Nature Conservancy's Mimbres River Preserve, appropriately located on a former ranch along the Mimbres River. The morning dawned bright and warm, but a violent thunderstorm had run over City of Rocks State Park the night before, and many of those camped there were literally swamped by water gushing through their campsites. So, we had fewer party members as a result.

The preserve is located off highway 35, but the entrance is not terribly conspicuous. A wonderful old barn marks the trailhead, and it is a short walk to the edge of the Mimbres River.

We did not see any new dragonflies or damselflies, but there were plenty of other insects to catch our attention. A Questionmark butterfly was basking on the trunk of a cottonwood, for example.

Questionmark butterfly

Caterpillars of the American Dagger Moth, Acronicta americana, were abundant in the vicinity of box elder trees.

American Dagger Moth caterpillar

Largid bugs, Stenomacra marginella, were in extreme abundance on the foliage, stems, and flowers of Seep Willow, Baccharis salicifolia, along with aphids and insects attracted to aphid honeydew (the sweet, sticky liquid waste product of aphids).

Largid bugs mating

I also found a specimen of Yarrow's Grasshopper, Melanoplus yarrowii, a species I had not seen before.

Yarrow's Grasshopper (male)

Would you believe there was a mushroom sprouting in the riparian zone? The contrast between the moist, shady riverbank and the arid grassland adjacent to it was quite stark.

"Shaggy Mane" mushroom

One of the more colorful finds of the morning was this lovely orange owlet moth,Chrysoecia atrolinea.

Owlet moth, Chrysoecia atrolinea

From the Mimbres River Preserve we progressed up the road to Bear Canyon Reservoir. There, we picked up some of the more common and widespread dragonfly species that had eluded us until then. That included a Widow Skimmer and two Eastern Amberwing dragonflies.

Some of our best photo opportunities for Flame Skimmers came here, too.

male Flame Skimmer

Meanwhile, I found the Ridged Grasshopper, Conozoa carinata, occupying the parking area.

Ridged Grasshopper

Also conspicuous were a couple of Plains Lubber grasshoppers, Brachystola magna, the largest grasshoppers in that area of New Mexico.

Plains Lubber grasshopper

Did I mention that Heidi also fished a Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus, out of the lake? These large assassin bugs are always a treat to find, especially here in the west where they are less common than in the plains and canyons of the southern Midwest.

Wheel Bug

Bear Canyon Reservoir was our last "official" destination, and from there we all went our separate ways, concluding a most successful event in every sense of the word. We found lots of interesting species, some of them county records, and made many new friends. This could well become an annual event.

Heidi and I decided to go back to City of Rocks State Park to explore some more, and find some geocaches. We were rewarded with some spectacular wildlife. Heidi has very sharp eyes, and she spotted a pair of Great Horned Owls in one of the few trees scattered between the rock formations.

One of two Great Horned Owls

We also saw a couple of Northern Mockingbirds, Canyon Towhee, and Blue Grosbeak.

Another stand of blooming Seep Willow near the park's campgrounds was humming with insect activity, including Queen and Bordered Patch butterflies, tarantula hawks and other spider wasps, scoliid wasps, and various flies.

Queen butterfly

Thomas' Two-striped Grasshopper, Melanoplus thomasi, caught my eye due to its rather large size, and the fact that it is blue!

Thomas' Two-striped Grasshopper

We decided to drive up the Observation Road to get a scenic view, but I was quickly distracted by the variety of grasshoppers living on the top of the hill. Heidi managed to spy something even more cryptic: a Texas Horned Lizard. Make that two Texas Horned Lizards. These remarkable reptiles are specialist predators on harvester ants.

One of two Texas Horned Lizards

I could do an entire blog post on the grasshoppers I found in about an hour on that hill, but here is some eye candy to give you an indication of the diversity.

Regal Grasshopper,Melanoplus regalis
Rainbow Grasshopper, Dactylotum bicolor
Wheeler's Blue-winged Grasshopper, Leprus wheeleri
Great Crested Grasshopper

Our entire experience in southeast New Mexico was highly enjoyable, and we still had the evening to come and the drive back home to look forward to. Stay tuned, there is more excitement to come.


  1. Very enjoyable! Winter here in Michigan, and so I am pretty much forced to lanquish, fiddling with my camera equipment and longing for next summer.


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