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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

Happy Halloween
A porcupine on the ground in the Russian olives.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/31/2012

Pine Siskin
The moutain finch, Pine Siskin, was in with a flock of House Finches searching for food.  So far a number of mountain species have been at the Chico, Mountain Chicadee still around in small numbers.  Other wintering species, especially American Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Juncos are arriving in decent numbers but it is still the waterfowl such as Redheads that dominate the Chico habitats. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/31/2012

Ruddy Ducks on the Move
The small Ruddy Duck, named for the deep rufous coloration of the male, was in good numbers at both headquarters and at Upper Twin Pond.  Ruddy Duck is a member of the stiff tailed duck group (see photo) and when they fly they drag their tails as they make a long run across the water in order to lift off.  During courtship the bright powder blue bill of the male stands out as does his habit of blowing bubbles and slapping the water to try to attract a mate.  Ruddy Duck is mostly a southern species and they often are found without the company of other species.  This female or young bird is in its characteristic pose with stiff tail sticking straight up.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/26/2012

Nelson's Sparrow Still Present
Every photographer wants the perfect, uncluttered image of an attractive bird. The latest Ranch record of the very attractive Nelson's Sparrow is no exception and there have been some excellent photographs taken of the Chico bird.  But those great photographs are a bit misleading because this bird spends most of the day foraging and mostly hidden in the bulrushes.  Although you can frequently see the vegetation move it is only on occasion that the bird can be seen and most of the time an observer only sees a part of the bird.  Today the Nelson's Sparrow was seen by about 8 people, those who couldn't make it on the weekend.  The Nelson's Sparrow spent most of its time feeding on the ground or slightly above ground but here preening after bathing in the shallow part of Upper Twin Pond.  For anyone waiting to see this rarity, the cold front approaching Colorado might provide the impetus for this individual to continue south the Gulf Coast marshes where it will hopefully enjoy a smorgasbord of aquatic treats.  October 24 is the opening of duck season and Upper Twin is a popular place to hunt.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/22/2012

#332 - Nelson's Sparrow
The latest addition to the Chico Basin Ranch bird list is the little sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow (formerly Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow) is closely related to the LeConte's Sparrrow (below).  It was found on Friday afternoon by Rob Hinds.  Today, 23 birders (many from the Denver area) met at Chico Headquarters and then we drove to Upper Twin Pond to try to find this skulking rarity (only four previous records in Colorado).  After a few hours of searching for it elsewhere, it was located within 200 feet of where the group parked.  Everyone saw the bird and it was photographed by all of the many photographers in the group.  What surprise will be found next?
Posted by Bill M. on 10/20/2012

LeConte's Sparrow
Last September I found the first Pueblo County and first Chico record for LeConte's Sparrow below Upper Twin Pond dam, but I was equally surprised when one showed up again this year. Like last year's bird this one was a bird born this year and it was molting.  It had partial juvenile plumage and some adult feathers too so technically it was in suspended preformative plumage.  Regardless, the bird is part of a sparrow group known as Ammodramous sparrows and all but one in that group are real skulkers, spending most of their time foraging hidden in grasses, reeds, or sedges on the ground.  So, the trick is to prepare for getting wet feet or to wear rubber boots and then walk around where most people would not ever think about going.  Seven birders have seen this bird in the wet meadow sedges so far but only after it flushed up momentarily to a tree.  This photograph was carefully trimmed in Photoshop to remove all of the surrounding twigs the bird was hiding amongst.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/19/2012

A Wren in the Sedges
LBJ, Little Brown Job, and a real skulker at that.  For the 2nd year in a row a Sedge Wren was found in a wet sedge marsh below Upper Twin Pond dam.  It came out of the wet sedge and flew into taller rushes where it did not want to leave.  Even though I was only a few feet away it was still very diffucult to see well.  This is a rare species in Colorado or probably just rarely seen as they breed due north in the Canadian Provinces.  Their secretive behavior, wet habitat preference, and dull coloration prevent them from being detected on a regular basis.   Formerly known as Short-billed Marsh Wren as distinguished from the more common Marsh Wren (formerly Long-billed Marsh Wren).  Only the 3rd Chico record, a species that has never been banded here.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/16/2012

Rare Red Crossbills

Today's three Red Crossbills represent only the 2nd time this species has been recorded on the Chico even though they breed in our Colorado mountains.  Red Crossbills have evolved to exploit conifer cones (pines, firs, spruce, and douglas-fir) cones using their crossed mandibles to extract conifer seeds from the cones.  Each of the 9 subspecies of crossbill is thought to exploit a different species' cones.  When its preferred food type doesn't produce seeds, crossbills are known to wander even onto the plains in search of food.  I have seen them feeding on the side of a road where sunflowers were present.  The Chico three perched atop a tall cottonwood in the sun and then flew off to the south.  Three or four of the crossbill subspecies have been recorded in Colorado with their flight calls being distinctive enough for some to tell each subspecies apart.

Posted by Bill M. on 10/16/2012

Blue-winged Teal
A small group of the early migrant, southbound Blue-winged Teal were feeding in the small headquarters pond.  The pond is covered with the nutritious (to a duck) pondweed.  Ninety-five percent of North America's Blue-winged Teal migrate out of the U.S. and Canada, many wintering as far south as 7,000 miles from its breeding area based on a band recovery from Peru. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/08/2012

Three Winter Wrens
One of the smallest passerines in North America, three Winter Wrens were at the banding station and all three were caught and banded.  These three birds represent only the second or third time this species has been recorded on the Chico. Their short tail has given them the nickname "Stub-tailed Wren".  They breed in the northern boreal forests often where there is little light and often along a very small stream where they often nest in a hollow depression under a cutbank, almost impossible to find even after watching them disappear there.  Their full song has to be heard to be believed, a loud rapid series of high-pitched warbling notes. A few do winter in small numbers in Colorado, the remainder heading farther south. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/06/2012

Black-billed Cuckoo - Very Rare
Sometimes luck is on your side.  While birding with 5 other people south of HQ, I saw a cuckoo fly out of the marsh (shouldn't be in the marsh) and land in a tree.  We all had good looks before it flew off and Brandon Percival was able to capture it in pixels in flight showing the long tail.  Today's bird was only the 2nd time it has been seen on the Chico and it is generally a rare bird in Colorado.  Everyone is still celebrating their sighting of this rarity.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/05/2012

Blackburnian Warbler - One of Many Mirgrants Today
Blackburnian Warbler is rare on the Chico.  The perfect weather condintions grounded a number of birds and they were actively feeding on any insect they could find.  This beautiful warbler and long distant migrant winters in the South American Andes from Colombia and Venezuela south into Ecuador and Peru.  All who saw it today were fortunate to pick the right day to bird the Chico.

Other birds seen today were two Black-throated Blue Warblers, a Townsend's Warbler, a Northern Parula, a Summer Tanager, two Philadelphia Vireos, at least four Swamp Sparrows, seven Long-billed Dowitchers, many Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Gray Catbird, two Harris's Sparrows, three Winter Wrens, and many other species including the 2nd record of Black-billed Cuckoo for the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/05/2012

Friday, Oct 05, 2012
Unless you were working inside with the windows shut it would have been difficult not to witness the large migration of Sandhill Cranes today on the Chico.  Often migrating at over 10,000 feet, the low ceiling forced these large birds lower and the cold front pushed them south.  Their loud bugling calls alerted us to them flying close.  Some Sandhills breed in Siberia and they must fly across the Bering Strait before heading south and southeast.  Many will winter at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico while others will continue south into northern Mexico for the winter.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/05/2012

Woodpecker Territorial Confrontation
A male Downy Woodpecker (left) and a male Ladder-backed Woodpecker were attempting to chase the other species out of a good winter territory.  It looked like the Downy Woodpecker won this battle  when the Ladder-back flew to the cholla grasslands.  The confrontation lasted a couple of minutes.  In this Siberian elm there are a few fresh sapsucker wells which equals a good meal without pounding on the tree bark attempting to locate grubs or other tasty treats.  Interspecies battles are uncommon to the best of my knowledge. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/04/2012

Swamp Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow is an uncommon migrant and occasional wintering bird on the Chico.  As the name implies it is most often linked to wet habitats and this one was in the ditch to the south of the banding station. They are skulkers who often walk on the ground in dense cover but their call note sounds very close to an Eastern Phoebe which is how I detected this one.  They frequently respond to pishing imitations and will sometimes pop up to see what is going one like this one did. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/04/2012

Another Black-throated Blue Warbler
This distinctive warbler was foraging at mid-height near the small pond at HQ.  As mentioned earlier, the majority of the individuals of this species winters among the islands of the West Indies and in the Bahamas. But, there is a small population that winters on the Caribbean coast of Mexico south to Panama.  Maybe the three birds detected on the Chico this fall are heading there. 

Posted by Bill M. on 10/04/2012

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