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

Chico's Most Common Raptor
Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in the U.S. Their numbers increased when dense forests were thinned and where grasslands changed enough to allow tree clumps to grow.  The global population estimate of this species is 2 million birds.  They are generalists and can take a variety of prey but mostly rodents, hares, and reptiles including rattlesnakes and bullsnakes.  Their feet are not big enough to take prairie dogs except young ones.  In this photograph there is no evidence of a red tail, the primary characteristic used to I.D. this hawk. The speckled white on the back (scapulars) helps in identification. Young birds have banded tails, so this bird was born late this spring.  By next fall it should support a rufous tail as in adults. Red-tails come in a light morph, dark morph, rufous morph and just east of us are a very light subspecies called Krider's Hawk.  In addition, Red-tails from Alaska winter in the area and those with mottled tails are called Harlan's Hawks and once were considered a separate species from Red-tailed Hawk.  Pictured here is a juvenile light morph Red-tailed Hawk of the western subspecies (heavy belly band). 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/24/2013

Coot and Duck Hunting Season Dates
Fall duck and coot season in all of El Paso and all of Pueblo County runs from 10/23/13 - 1/26/14.  On the Chico the popular hunt areas are Upper Twin and Rose Ponds.  Decoy spreads were visible at Upper Twin on the 23rd.  Other than about 20 American Coots, very few duck species were seen there.  However, at Big Johnson Reservoir in El Paso County, private with no hunting permitted, seemingly every inch of water was taken by grebes, coots and a variety of waterfowl including Canvasbacks, Redheads, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Mergansers, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallards, and Northern Shovelers. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/24/2013

Teal in Stock Tank
The small duck, Blue-winged Teal migrate early.  In flight, their blue speculum is obvious in both male (front) and female (behind) birds, but while sitting on the water they blend with marsh vegetation where they are usually found.  Yesterday, however, a small flock of teal visited one of the Chico stock tanks perhaps knowing that teal season had not quite ended.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/17/2013

How to I.D. a LBJ
LBJ = Little Brown Job and in grassland habitats there are plenty to look at, most in winter being Horned Larks.  This bird has a strong face pattern, short wings, very short primary projection (longest wingtip minus longest secondary) and there seems to be black feathers showing beneath the whitish belly feathers.  The tail is a very good clue because it has white outer tail feathers surrounding black inner feathers.  No sparrow has this combination.  Some longspurs do.  The short wings eliminate two of the longspurs, Smith's and Lapland (long distant migrants needing long wings) leaving Chestut-collared and McCown's.  Longspurs slowly wear off most feather tips through the winter as opposed to molting into breeding plumage.  If you can image the belly with the black feathers of spring and not the buffy/white tips you can identify this bird as a juvenile male Chestnut-collared Longspur. Scroll down to see what is will look like in April.  They are the smallest of the four longspurs and are uncommon migrants on the Chico.  Here, photographed out in the western edge of the sand on 16 October.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/17/2013

Sandhill Cranes Head South
Predictable with the onset of strong cold fronts in October, yesterday witnessed a small push of Sandhill Cranes (four flocks with a total of about 80 birds) on the Chico.  Some will head south into Mexico but many will winter in the large grassland areas of New Mexico including Bosque del Apache NWR, whose annual November crane festival is popular with birders.  The one whitish bird in upper left center is not a Whooping Crane, but likely a leucistic individual. Some birds passing overhead at the Chico will have flown across the Bering Strait from Siberia before they turn southeast and then south. Both Greater and Lesser supbspecies of Sandhill Crane pass through Colorado both in fall and then again in the spring, a very few stopping to breed in NW Colorado.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/13/2013

Cow? birds
Historically, Brown-headed Cowbirds were limited to open grasslands of central North America. When land was cleared as settlers moved West, so did Brown-headed Cowbirds so that now this brood parasite is found in all of the Lower 48 states and in many Canadian Provinces.  Over 220 bird species have had their nests parasitized by this brood parasite and two bird species, Kirtland's Warbler and Black-capped Vireo,  would likely become extinct without extensive trapping and eradicating cowbirds during the breeding seaseon.   Horses are not a host species for Brown-headed Cowbirds, here three cowbirds looking for food items on this, and on other horses' backs.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/13/2013

The world's four longspurs are not sparrows, but in their own family along with Snow Bunting, which isn't a bunting.  McCown's and Chestnut-collared longspurs are moving south ahead of Friday's cold front.  You won't find them in the trees.  Instead, drive slowly (high clearance vehicle) on the 2-tracks that head to the east.  Listen for them in flocks of Horned Larks.  Once their characteristic rattle call is heard, try to get a good look at the tail pattern.  Both species have mostly white tails.  McCown's (above) has an inverted black "T" on its tail and Chestnut-collared (below) shows more of a black triangle although they will be lacking striking colors like in above photos because most will be drab, immature birds.   McCown's has a stout pink bill with little face patter and a wide whitish supercilium.  Chestnut-collared has a small gray bill and is the smallest of the longspurs.  Not easy to I.D. at this time of year so try to learn their calls and hopefully get a good look at their tail pattern. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/03/2013

Dragonfly Season Comes to a Close
As cold weather approaches most Chico dragonflies and damselflies have migrated or perished.  A couple exceptions, this old, worn Western Pondhawk male consumes a Familiar Bluet.  Notice the bluet's wings have been clipped off by the powerful jaws and the pondhawk starts to dine starting with the damselfly head.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/03/2013

Fall Shorebirds
Looking for mud in which to feed, a flock of Long-billed Dowitchers continues south over Upper Twin Pond.  Identified by its long bill that is twice the length of its head and by its distinctive keek call when flying and feeding. Long-bills breed in tundra regions and they migrate mainly west of the Mississippi River, spending the winter  along Pacific and Gulf Coasts into Mexico. They undergoe a full wing molt during fall migration.  They are one of the latest fall shorebirds.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/03/2013

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