Saturday, January 9, 2016

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

The wildlife refuge in the news right now is Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote southeast Oregon. I just wrote a post about the armed occupation taking place there over on my Sense of Misplaced blog. All our national wildlife refuges belong to all U.S. citizens, though, and one of my new favorites is Bosque del Apache NWR in central New Mexico.

Sandhill Cranes from a previous visit

After the conclusion of our participation in the dragonfly blitz near Silver City, Heidi and I took a leisurely two-day drive back home, passing through the refuge on the way. We hoped we would see some migrating birds, as well as more dragonfly and damselfly species. Birds were rather scarce compared to late in fall when waterfowl and huge flocks of Sandhill Cranes make the refuge a big draw for birders. We did manage a few nice insects, though.

Say's Phoebe, a common songbird here

There is a $5.00 entrance fee for the refuge, but an annual pass is only $15.00, both obtainable from the visitor center. The headquarters is a good place to start anyway, as they have feeders for both songbirds and hummingbirds, restrooms, and one of the best nature-themed gift shops I have seen anywhere.

Twin-spotted Spiny Lizard, Sceloporus bimaculosus, guarding the restroom at headquarters

One of the most popular stops on the refuge is a boardwalk around part of the marsh that is nearly always flooded. At the end of the boardwalk a trail takes you into dune habitat with a variety of desert shrubs and wildflowers. There, I found Hayden's Grasshopper, Derotmema haydeni, a very common species of band-winged grasshopper with red or yellow hind wings that it flashes briefly during short flights after it is startled. Otherwise, this small insect is so cryptic as to be nearly invisible on the sand.

Hayden's Grasshopper

Also encountered on the dunes was a female sand wasp, possibly Bembix sayi, hard at work on her nest burrow. She disappeared so quickly into her tunnel that I only got one shot of her.

Sand wasp

Butterflies are also in abundance on the refuge, and Heidi was lucky enough to spot this pair of Reakirt's Blues, Hemiargus isola, in copula on a low-growing shrub.

Leaving the dunes and returning down the boardwalk back to the car, we finally found some dragonflies other than the abundant Variegated Meadowhawk, Sympetrum corruptum. Heidi spotted a specimen of the White-belted Ringtail, Erpetogomphus compositus, perched on a cattail blade overhanging the water. The insect's distance and angle from the boardwalk, coupled with breezy conditions, made it a real challenge to get any pictures.

White-belted Ringtail

Closer at hand we found a male Eastern Amberwing, Perithemis tenera, flitting and perching among the cattails. This was a species we saw on the dragonfly blitz, but not as clearly as here. I was surprised they were so uncommon.

male Eastern Amberwing

As territorial as any male dragonfly are males of the Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus. These are the famed mimics of the Monarch, but with a little practice one can easily distinguish them. The submarginal semi-circle line across the hind wing is one obvious clue. The male Viceroy also patrols a territory and perches frequently, something the larger Monarch does not do, at least with any dependability.

Viceroy butterfly

A trail parallels the road on the side of the marsh opposite the boardwalk, and it is always worth a look-see. This time I was rewarded with observations of a Campestral Grasshopper, Spharagemon campestris. This is a fairly large band-winged grasshopper with yellow hindwings exposed in flight, and a bright orange tibia on each hind leg.

Campestral Grasshopper

Pushing onward around the southern loop road, heading back north now, I spotted an enormous female Black & Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia, from the car. These arachnids can be surprisingly cryptic in the right circumstances, but this one was in bright sunlight with blue sky behind her from my vantage point in our Saturn. I got out to get this close-up.

One dragonfly that had so far eluded us was the Roseate Skimmer, Orthemis ferruginea, mature males of which are essentially hot pink in color. We finally found a small population in a muddy, quickly shrinking wetland off the side of the road.

Male Roseate Skimmer

It is always amazing to me how an old, tattered dragonfly can still be basically unimpaired, and able to fly as swiftly as its totally intact brethren.

The wetlands were also hosting a handful of Killdeer plovers, and a single Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper in winter plumage

Also present in the neighborhood was a spreadwing damselfly, Lestes sp., which I cannot identify beyond genus. Maybe one of my followers here can tell us.

Farther up the road we encountered a female Roseate Skimmer that landed in a cottonwood tree. They look hardly anything like the males, and have a distinct flare near the tip of the abdomen.

female Roseate Skimmer

I always look forward to finding patches of blooming milkweed (Asclepias spp.) in this part of the country. The flowers are a magnet for all manner of insects, especially butterflies, bees, and wasps. Heidi is understandably hoping for minimal milkweed because she knows I am going to be at each little oasis for a l-o-o-o-ng time.

Female scoliid wasp, Campsomeris sp.

I tried to be efficient, but there was so much diversity: tarantula hawks (Pepsis sp.), a nice thread-waisted wasp (Sphex ashmeadi), weevil wasps (Cerceris sp.), and scoliid wasps (Campsomeris sp. and Triscolia ardens), plus Bordered Patch butterflies (Chlosyne lacinia).

Bordered Patch butterflies

Alas, time had come to get back on the road home, and storm clouds were rolling in anyway, as we expected they would by mid-afternoon. A convention of swallows bid us farewell from their perches in the middle of yet another pond.

Bosque del Apache is highly managed, as most refuges are, to accommodate migrating waterfowl. Consequently, there may be little water except during late fall, winter, and early spring. Bear that in mind if you are looking for aquatic life, and time your visit accordingly.


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