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

Barn Owl on the Move
There was a juvenile, more rufous than usual, Barn Owl within 60 feet of where a Long-eared Owl was roosting 2 days ago.  It must be a very productive fall for rodents. Seeing two voles in the daylight hours sort of points to that being true which is likely why these larger owls are being seen in the daytime.  The Barn Owl flew and landed on another very low perch at Rose Pond.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/23/2014

In 2013 bird banders caught 9 Long-eared Owls at the Banding Station but during the spring of 2014, zero were sighted.  But, on 21 October, I found a fall migrant at the Rose Pond.  Compared to the resident Great Horned Owl, Long-eared Owls are much thinner with narrower faces and longer "ear" tufts.  They perch low and elongate their bodies attempting to look like a vertical branch.  Hopefully this one stays around as this is a good year for kangaroo rats and other rodents upon which this owl feeds.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/22/2014

First County Record
While looking for birds it is easy to become distracted by insects.  With temperatures above 70 degrees on 21 October, a number of very late damselfly and dragonfly species were flying around the Rose Pond sedge meadows.  One, this Black-fronted Forktail (Ischnura denticollis), was my first ever sighting and it is now the first record of this mostly western marsh species for Pueblo County.  It is tiny, only 0.9 inches in length and one of only two North American forktails to lay their eggs while flying in tandem. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/22/2014

Cranes Heading South

For me the first sign of fall is the southbound migration of Sandhill Cranes. Today on the Chico I heard at least 7 flocks of cranes flying overhead, most of them very high in the air.  The flocks had as many as 200 birds but these low fliers was a group of only three birds.  Many will stop at places like Bosque del Apache NWR in central New Mexico but some will continue south into the grasslands of northern Mexico. 

Posted by Bill M. on 10/17/2014

Chestnut-collared Longspurs
Some of the species birders want to see are longspurs with only four species occuring in the world and all of them have been seen in Colorado.  Three species have occured on Chico but unless you put in the effort you probably won't see any.  First, find a spot that has a prairie-dog town where there is a stock tank spilling water.  Those two ingredients attract big flocks of Horned Larks and with the big flocks there are almost always longspurs in the fall and early winter.  Here a drab, first year male Chestnut-collared Longspur taking a drink.  The tips of its breast feathers will wear off during the winter and the result will be a beautiful spring bird whose plumage will  look nothing like this.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/07/2014

Barn Owl on Day Roost
Now that bird banding is completed for the fall season, at least one of the resident birds has the woods almost to itself.  Here a Barn Owl sleeps through daylight hours.  Interesting that there are two Great Horned Owls that roost less than 1000 yards away.  Great Horned Owls have killed Barn Owls in past years based on two piles of Barn Owl feathers in the vicinity of this owl. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/07/2014

Not All Bluebirds Are Bright Blue
A flock of Mountain Bluebirds were foraging along the entrance road to the Chico late this morning.  Most of them were females whose drab plumage sometimes causes I.D. problems, at least until they fly.  Because of the low evening temperatures, many insects were forced to the ground where the bluebirds could be seen foraging before returning to their fenceline perches with their food items.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/03/2014

The Fiercest Avian Predator

Because it has such a diverse prey base and also the most extensive range with the most variation in nesting sites of any American owl,  Great Horned Owl is a very common species. A pair even nest on a balcony of a Colorado Springs motel but this one is on a roost at The Casita.

Their huge eyes include many rods giving it exceptional night vision.  If you see one during daylight hours, obseve a Great Horned Owls' head flexibility enabling it to swivel more than 180° making it capable of looking in any direction without moving the rest of its body. Its hearing is acute as seen by observing the shape of the facial disc with soft feathers directing sound waves to its ears. Because of the extreme softness of Its feathers, Great Horned Owls have silent flight, not a good outcome for any prey.  They mostly hunt from a perch and they are considered to be perch-and-pounce hunters. They are capable of taking prey items larger than themsleves and their tallons are equipted to sever the spinal column of any prey species.  Like all raptors, Its hooked beak tears meat from the bones of its prey.

Posted by Bill M. on 10/03/2014

Tan-striped White-throated Sparrow
There is only one subspecies of White-throated Sparrow but there are two color morphs, tan-striped (above) and white-striped. One of the interesting facts about these birds is that a tan-striped male only breeds with a white-striped female and a white-striped male only breeds with a tan-striped female.  White-striped males  sing more frequently and they are more aggressive than their tan-striped counterparts.  White-throated Sparrows are annual migrants and occasional winter visitors to the Chico. 

Tomorrow, Friday, is the last day of bird banding for 2014. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/02/2014

The Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush is one of the most widely distrbuted forest-nesting migratory birds of North America but its retiring nature (hermit) means it is not always easy to see. This species is the only forest thrush whose population has increased or remained stable over the past 20+ years.  They migrate at night but only when the air temperature is at least 21 degrees C and their fat reserves get over the 1 rating for fat. When seen well, their rusty tail always contrasts with head, neck, and back coloration.  There are 12 recognized subspecies and most winter in Mexico or Central America so they are the last thrush species to leave in the fall and the first to arrive in the spring.  This one came out in the open for a few seconds where it was easy to observe its characteristic wing flicking and tail raising.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/02/2014

Specialized Fish-eater
The Belted Kingfisher is a specialized feeder, plunge-diving bill first into small lakes for small fish.  The belted part of the name describes the breast markings, two bands on females and one on males.  They breed inside steep river banks in hollow dirt cavities and there they are often a few feet in from the edge.  Not common in most years at the Chico but lately one or two have been seen daily at either headquarters pond or Rose Pond. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/01/2014

Ricky or RCKI
Every bird is given a 4-letter code to make recording their sometimes long names a lot simpler.  Some of the codes, like RCKI, is known by all birders because the code name sounds like the name, Ricky.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets breed in the Colorado mountains and are sometimes quite common in migration on the Chico. Nine of them were banded today at the Chico/RMBO banding station.  Warbler-like in appearance and bill shape, they are not warblers.  In their coniferous forest homes they can be heard singing their loud, high-pitched song..."see see see, look at me, look at me, look at me."
Posted by Bill M. on 10/01/2014

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