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Birding at the Chico

The Chico Basin Ranch is a major flyway for migratory birds, due to the abundant springs, lakes and bird habitat on the ranch. The ranch works closely with Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and has over 300 birds on the ranch bird list. Many people come to the ranch in the spring and fall to bird.

Bill Maynard is one of birders that comes most frequently. When we asked him if he would keep the ranch birding journal, he was pleased and agreed to do it. Thank you Bill! Bill has taught high school biology, worked as a naturalist for the National Park Service and as a biologist for a variety of government agencies. He has also worked for the American Birding Association at their national headquarters in Colorado Springs. 

Click Here to download the Ranch Bird Checklist

Click Here to download the Birding Trail Map (4mb PDF)

Click Here to download the Ranch Dragonfly and Damselfly Checklist

Time for Phalaropes
 The three species of phalaropes are shorebirds who forage mostly on the water's surface where there is a midge hatch occurring. First to appear at Chico are Wilson's Phalarope followed by Red-necked Phalarope (photo).  Phalaropes are in the shorebird family and females are more brightly colored than males which suggests something interesting goes on during breeding. After laying eggs females rarely return to the nest.  Males assume all the duties of incubating eggs and raising the young. An uncommon bird in migration most migrate offshore during spring and fall migrations and they breed in the high arctic of Alaska and Canada. While feeding, Red-necked Phalaropes spin in a circle creating a vortex which brings invertebrates to the surface where the phalaropes glean food or they use their very thin bills to probe just below the surface of the water.  Red-necked is the smallest phalarope. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/22/2017

Pikes Peak Birding and Nature Festival
 Over a two day period three groups of 15 birders plus leaders were taken to the best birding spots on the Chico. Over 100 bird species were tallied and I heard only positive comments about the experiences.  Probably the most exciting bird was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, the State Bird of Oklahoma but rare in Colorado with 3-4 sightings over the past 15 years on Chico. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are stunning especially when they fly with their super long tails spread open. The one spotted at Rose Pond was fairly close to the dam and seemed to be catching grasshoppers and other insects found close to the ground. When flying, their peach-colored underwings and flanks are amazing as is their crimson axillaries (arm pits).  It is one of the most beautiful birds breeding in the U.S. Its breeding range includes only a few states from western Missouri, Arkansas and parts of Louisiana west to Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/22/2017

Rare Bird - Golden-winged Warbler
 A female Golden-winged Warbler was found on Sunday in the willows below the small headquarters pond.  It was still there on Monday.  This bird is uncommon in its range, mostly northern Midwestern states. It's problem is its closest relative Blue-winged Warbler.  Both have similar songs, bee-buz for Blue-winged and bee-buz-buz-buz for Golden-winged. Also, they even sing each other's song at times. Blue-winged Warbler has been encroaching and out- competing in Golden-winged Warbler habitat and so seeing Golden-winged on the Chico was a big and pleasant surprise. This one, no black bib, is a female which makes it even more chickadee-like than it already is. The genetics is quite interesting with 2nd generation backcross hybrids having names, Brewster's Warbler and the rarer Lawrence's Warbler a bird with recessive traits. Many people came on Sunday and Monday and were successful in viewing this rarity and as a result more rarities were also found in the area. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/15/2017

Watch Your Step
 Hawk food for sure but the annual warning here to watch where you are stepping on warm days. I didn't because it was April and only 60 degrees but luckily this prairie rattlesnake coiled and shook its rattle in its warning defense. Snakes including the prairie rattlesnake are defenseless against the sharp talons of predatory birds of prey who obtain a good meal after catching one of these. The forked tongue increases the surface area where chemical receptors help these snakes analyze potential food or potential predators nearby.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2017

Big Bad Bird Predator
 This winter I reported up to 14 Long-eared Owls were roosting in the banding station woods. The need to keep out of view from both above and below and a need for a horizontal perch keeps their wintering locations to a minimum. When that many large birds roost side-by-side they will eventually be seen by birders and bird predators. In this case a large bobcat has been seen walking in the areas where the owls had a winter roost but what the bobcat doesn't automatically know is that the Long-eared Owls were only wintering so this one was in for a surprise when it visited the roost.  Two bobcats have been seen off-and-on in the banding station net lanes, even during the afternoon like this one.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2017

 One of the warblers that is an annual spring migrant on the Chico, Ovenbirds are necessarily dull in plumage because they nest on the forest floor building an oven-shaped nest, a character used for naming this species. They are best know for their loud songs, singing "teacher teacher teacher" for long periods.  The orange crown stripe is sometimes visible and the breast spotting is reminiscent of thrushes.  Its scientific name, Seiurus aurocapillus comes from Greek words meaning to shake its tail, a characteristic to look for as they walk on the ground. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2017

One Of Our Dullest Sparrows
The dull sparrow named for John Cassin, a Philadelphia ornithologist,  is far more often heard than seen.  That is until breeding season when males sing from either a song perch like a cholla cactus or by skylarking.  When skylarking these sparrows are easy to see as they flutter their wings as they drift towards the ground trying to attract a mate. Although described as a dull sparrow, a closer examination proves the opposite to be true, the beauty subtle, not bold.  This bird is a Chico specialty and numbers vary from year to year. They are back in the cholla grassland, the males heard from some distance away.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2017

Who's The Most Colorful?
 Male Bullock's Orioles are loud and brightly colored yet are surprisingly difficult to see well except when they first arrive from the tropics to breed on the Chico.  Related to meadowlarks and grackles, the feature that all Icterids have is a strong, straight and pointed bill. Most passerines have 10 primary feathers on each wing; not so the Icterids which only have 9.  Bullock's Orioles place their nests far out on thin branches hanging their basket-shaped nest away from predatory fox squirrels and tree climbing snakes.  They often find colored twine to line their nests making finding one of them easy.  Bullock's Orioles just arrived two days ago.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/07/2017

Polyandry and Phalaropes
 If a male shorebird is going to incubate eggs then he will be less brightly colored than the female.  In Wilson's Phalarope (and in other phalaropes) females are the more colorful gender and they mate with more than one male (polyandry).  Here a female hunts for midges floating on the surface tension of the little visited Vega Pond where one can study dragonflies while watching these interesting shorebirds who often hunt on the water surface, spinning to bring aquatic insects up to the top of the water column. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/07/2017

Magnolia Warbler
 The name is deceiving in that Magnolia Warbler in a northern species breeding mostly in Canada and northern U.S. and may never see a magnolia tree.  It is seen most years in spring migration on the Chico and today was a good day as the one seen early eventually found a mist net so it was banded. On their breeding grounds Magnolia Warblers prefer second growth deciduous woods and coniferous forests.  Like Yellow-rumped Warbler, Magnolia Warblers also have a yellow rump.  Its long tail is a feature to look for but the striking color pattern is unmistakable and makes it a favorite of birders who get a chance to see one. While feeding it often prefers low vegetation where it sometimes can be seen spreading its tail while foraging. David Sibley, who was featured last year at the birding workshop at the MZ, painted a Magnolia Warbler for the cover of his field guide to the birds of North America. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/05/2017

The Fastest Bird
 When in a stoop, Peregrine Falcon is faster than any other land or sea animal including cheetahs, traveling at speeds clocked at over 175 mph. In migration they follow flocks of shorebirds which they dive upon in a missile-like flight. In urban environments they often prey on pigeons but on the Chico this one killed a Western Meadowlark that was foraging in a pasture.  Unlike other raptors who use thermals for gliding during migration, Peregrines use powered flights and have been observed flying miles out over the open ocean. Once listed as endangered, Peregrine Falcons now breed on cliffs along Colorado's Front Range including in El Paso County and are found throughout the world sometimes nesting on ledges of office building and bridges.    
Posted by Bill M. on 05/02/2017

Raptor Food - Spotted Ground Squirrel
 This mammal is common on the Chico but it is only seen in warmer months hibernating from late July until the end of April so its life is mostly spent sleeping in burrows.  One of the smallest ground squirrels, Spotted Ground Squirrel has random light spots and a light belly and it burrows in sandy soils so it is common on the Chico.  Burrows are used for both protection and for storing food.  Spotted Ground Squirrel is a prey item for migrant and resident raptors including both falcons and Buteos. These ground squirrels are active throughout the day feeding primarily on grass roots but switching to grasshopper nymphs in mid-summer months.  
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

Welcome Back
 The Mimid Family is composed of mockingbirds and thrashers, birds whose songs imitate other bird songs.  All members of this family are loud singers and a few of them like this Brown Thrasher are beautiful and big.  When a bird is this large and this brightly colored one would assume it would be easy to see, but instead loud singing birds are often in dense brush where they are often difficult to view.  This is one of the fine looking breeding birds on the Chico, a few who have just returned north from spending a winter in a warmer climate. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

The Tanager That Is Not A Tanager
 One of the most beautiful birds in North America is called Western Tanager, a bird breeding in Colorado mountains, but not on the plains, and as the name implies it is a western U.S. species nesting in coniferous and mixed woodland mountain forests.  They are regular spring migrants on The Chico but this one was a week or so early appearing at the willow grove near headquarters.  When birds were originally classified into family groups, taxonomists often used bill shape to aid in placement.  All North American birds with the name tanager are now known not to be members of  the Tanager Family but instead they are now placed in the Cardinal Family.  All members of this group eat insects and insect larvae during summer months spent in the U.S. but switch to a fruit diet when they leave and return to the tropics or subtropics where they spend most of their lives. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

Bird Food - Tiger Beetles
 Unobserved by most humans, but not to birds who forage on the ground, tiger beetles are beginning to emerge from burrows.  Some tiger beetles live two years spending their first adult year in burrows during winter months.  Many tiger beetle species feed on ants.  This one is appropriately named Cow Path Tiger Beetle (Cicindela purpurea) and are quick to take flight often landing in grassy areas. This is the first time I have seen this species on The Chico.  They have both a green and a dark purplish color phase and are found in all but our southern states.  
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

Our Largest Sparrow
 Closely related to the common wintering White-crowned Sparrow, the largest sparrow in North America, Harris's Sparrow, was feeding on the ground next to the Leather Shop, feeding with other Zonotrichia sparrows.  This uncommon species is molting, the black feathers of a breeding bird beginning to appear. This bird breeds in dense willows above treeline in the northernmost reaches of arctic Canada. Its closest relatives are White-crowned Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2017

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