Summer in Passing

October 2021

By Steven J. Cary

I confess to being a bit winded after my adrenaline-fueled mid-September adventures in southern New Mexico. Exhaustion is a familiar feeling for me at this time of year. All summer long I am at full attention, going full bore, as I try to maximize my own personal observations while fielding ID requests and BAMONA submittals from so many friends and colleagues, as well as minding the home front: house projects, vegetable gardens, and family travel. All good stuff, but the wind leaves my sails as summer evaporates. Marcy can tell you . . .

Back in Santa Fe now, days are rapidly shortening, temperatures are cooling, landscape plants and vegetables are senescing. And butterfly life seems more normal, which at this time of year here means we’re largely back to the winter hibernators, which I highlighted last time, and a few of the most common, widespread species that just keep going until cold weather shuts them down. And I hope that will be soon because, well, just because. We need a decent winter.

Of course, southern New Mexico is still producing butterflies where moisture remains. Here are some juicy examples. Judy Yellon found Pygmy Blues to be thriving in the Las Cruces area.

Western Pygmy Blues (Brephidium exilis) Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, Dona Ana Co., NM; September 29, 2021. (Photo by Judy Yellon)

In Grant County, multiple observers have reported a good crop of Apache Skippers (Hesperia woodgatei), a fun regional endemic. Elaine Halbedel crowed about the abundance of Nokomis Fritillary (Argynnis nokomis nitocris) in the Pinos Altos Mountains. Christopher Rustay extended that area’s “sulphurous” summer with his photo-capture of Orange-Barred Sulphur (Phoebis philea) below. This was a blessed relief of sorts from the recent summer blizzards of the more routine sulphurs. And look at what good condition it is in . . . hardly a scale is out of place and the scalloped margin seems fully intact.

Orange-Barred Sulphur (Phoebis philea) Pinos Altos Mountains, Grant Co., NM; October 2, 2021. (Photo by Christopher Rustay)
Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) Las Cruces, Dona Ana Co., NM; October 10, 2021. (Photo by Meg Freyermuth)

Meg Freyermuth of Las Cruces photographed yet another Great Southern White siphoning nectar from marigolds in her backyard. That’s the second one this year, which is two more than had ever been documented in New Mexico in all of ancient and modern history. That first one was from Las Cruces, too, back in 1973. Then CJ Goin got one about 6 weeks ago, also in Las Cruces. Of course, that’s where the observers are . . .

I truly have spent a lot of blog time blathering about Las Cruces area butterflies and butterflyers this summer. It just worked out that way . . . there was lots of cool stuff to talk about and lots of local folks (some veterans and some new observers) sharing their butterfly stories and taking excellent butterfly pictures. And I suspect that butterflies will continue to be better than normal in that area for a few more weeks, weather permitting.

Maybe next year will be Farmington’s year . . . I think they are overdue!

In Northern New Mexico, the end of summer and the close of this year’s butterfly season was punctuated with sadness in the passing of Marion Stelts. Marion was an accomplished birder, butterflyer, and nature photographer who resided in Los Alamos. Five years ago, Marion was the first to photo-document the Question Mark butterfly in Los Alamos County. His photo below is spectacular: simultaneously sharp and soft, with considerable depth of field.

Per Rozelle: Question Mark (Black form) on Pueblo Canyon Bench

I did not know Marion well, but he was very well known and much respected by his Los Alamos area colleagues. I did have the pleasure of being in the field with Marion this past May as part of a small group that was searching stands of kinnikinnick for Brown Elfin and Hoary Elfin in the Jemez Mountains. Along with his heavy, professional camera, he shouldered a portable oxygen rig and needed help navigating the terrain, which I was happy to provide. That he persisted so cheerfully despite the evident burdens and obstacles spoke volumes about his undying passion. That the group was patient and encouraging spoke volumes about the high regard in which he was held.

Marion was waiting for Ramie to get ready for the hike. He is actually leaning on the cactus. It is a fishhook cactus so the thorns bend over like a fishhook. It is not painful to lean on it! We were looking for the elegant trogon on this walk. The trogon were smarter than we were and we resting comfortably in the shade on this hot afternoon!

We did see some birds we haven't seen before.
Marion and his camera in southern Arizona. As Rozelle Wright explained, “. . . he is actually leaning on the cactus. It is a fishhook barrel cactus so the thorns are recurved and it is not painful to lean on it! We were looking for the Elegant Trogon on this walk. The trogons were smarter than we were and were resting comfortably in the shade on this hot afternoon!” (Photo by Ramie Stelts)

Marion will be dearly missed. Thank you, Rozelle, for your help in preparing this brief tribute.

Finally I want to offer a special nod of gratitude to Rachel Landman, PEEC’s Marketing Manager. Along with her regular duties, Rachel makes my life as a crusty, rookie blogger a piece of cake. She reviews all my draft posts, offers useful suggestions, and re-arranges the graphics in appealing ways because I am too dense and impatient to figure it out for myself. And she does it all cheerfully. Thank you Rachel :^)

12 thoughts on “Summer in Passing”

  1. We will miss Marion Stelts and thank you for the nice tribute. I knew him very well and he updated us with his fabulous pictures he took regularly from his yard too!
    The picture sent by Ramie is really nice addition.
    Still I am having hard time to think Marion is not anymore with us! It happened so sudden.

  2. Thank you so much for this (and your previous) blogs. It’s great that so many butterflies are being seen in the southern part of the state. Thank you particularly for your lovely tribute to Marion. I will print it out and take it to show Ramie.

  3. Is the dainty sulphur the last one to “go” as winter takes over? We keep seeing them

    Sulphurea and whites also are still around as well as admirals

  4. I find these postings from all over the state very helpful since I am not familar with those other than what is down here around Las Cruces. I am expanding my horizons!
    Thanks for doing this!

  5. Steve, I always refer to you as New Mexico’s butterfly expert. And that’s the truth! I am grateful that you share your knowledge about our state’s butterflies in these posts.
    Thank you very much.

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