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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

Bird Dog
 In Ontario and the eastern U.S., biologists now believe a new species has evolved over the past 200 years that is 75 percent coyote, 10 percent wolf, and 15 percent dog. Coyotes don't like to hunt in the woods, but that is the preferred habitat of wolves. Called coywolves, the new "species" has more muscle, larger jaws, and longer bones and are capable of taking down a deer.  Usually, hybrids are less adaptive, but not this one; stronger and more adaptable to their environment.  

This pure coyote was in Black Squirrel Creek and was likely hunting Scaled Quail, black-tailed jackrabbits, or desert cottontails.  The sand hills in the area are perfect for their dens as they have a good view of anything approaching from afar.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/30/2015

This is one of the best landmarks on the Chico and a favorite elevated bird perch.

Lots of Mountain Bluebirds on the move, heading south after the latest storm. 

Posted by Bill M. on 10/23/2015

White-throated Sparrow Arrives
 White-throated Sparrow is a regular but an uncommon wintering bird on the Chico.  The best place to see them is associating with the abundant White-crowned sparrow in weedy fields or woodlots with plenty of cover. They feed mostly on the ground searching for seeds.  They come in two color morphs, tan-striped and white-striped with this one being a white-striped bird.  In spring and on their breeding grounds to the north and east of Colorado, their loud, clear-pitched "Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody" is one of the easiest bird songs to learn. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/19/2015

A Few Burrowing Owls Remain
 The migratory Burrowing Owl generally leaves the Chico by mid-September and often much earlier.  With the mild fall temperatures a few have remained in occupied black-tailed prairie-dog colonies.  Duke IV told me about a few he had seen and this one was quite cooperative out in the cholla grasslands to the west. Unlike most of Colorado's owls which are resident, Burrowing Owls head south for the winter because much of their food supply is insects and because they would be buried by any major snow storm.  They are rarely found in anything other than an active prairie-dog colony.  Because they mostly perch on the ground, Burrowing Owls need a relatively grass-free environment in order to see approaching coyotes, swift foxes, and other potential predators.  When alarmed they have a unique low flight that will take them to a cactus perch where their keen eyesight follows any potential predator. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/19/2015

Late Fall Migrant - Hermit Thrush
 As the common name implies, Hermit Thrush usually is seen in migration in a small patch of forest by itself.  They migrate exclusively at night using their internal compass that they set based on the position of the sun in late afternoon.  They can fly through the night until their fat level drops to the amount it was the morning before take off.  Hermit Thrush is a very common breeder across the U.S. and Canada in mountainous coniferous forests.  The red tail that is pumped on occasion which contrasts with the back coloration is used for identification to separate it from its close relatives.  This species winters in our southern states, throughout Mexico, and as far south as Guatemala.  It is sometimes found in the winter in Colorado. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/19/2015

Sprague's Pipit Habitat
 One of the beautiful places on the Chico is the shortgrass prairie in the eastern sand hills with distant view of Colorado's Front Range.  Here a portion of the MAMBOS, Monday Morning Birders, looking successfully for the latest new ranch bird, Sprague's Pipit, a very rare fall migrant on the Chico.  Photograph courtesy of Beth Payne
Posted by Bill M. on 10/16/2015

Sprague's Pipit I.D.
 The Colorado Springs' Monday Morning Birders group cast aside tradition to come look for a Sprague's Pipit on a Thursday. Although the wind made viewing difficult, we all had prolonged views of a perched bird.  The large eye on a blank face, longish bill with pinkish lower mandible, streaked crown and back, short tail with white outer tail feathers, light buff breast with streaks only on the upper breast, puffed out chest, white wing bars, plus tail was not pumped, all make this a Sprague's Pipit, a bird named for Issac Sprague, a skilled botanical draftsman who accompanied John James Audubon on his 1843 Missouri River trip.
The preferred habitat for Sprague's Pipit is shortgrass prairie on rolling hills which is the habitat where these birds were found; previously seen in, but as yet undocumented for El Paso County.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/15/2015

New Chico Bird - #335
 Sprague's Pipit is endemic to the Great Plains. It is rarely seen in  the U.S. on migration, possibly because birders don't often look at birds in the rolling hills with short grasses such as the ones on the northeastern part of The Chico.  This is a dull bird but very high on many birder's "want to see" list.  Sprague's Pipit range map shows them barely entering Colorado on their migration south so the best place to see one is on their breeding grounds in the Dakotas. Recently, birders have found a spot to see them in Colorado in October, a place called "Pipit Hill" on the Colorado/Kansas border.  Because Sprague's Pipit has mostly been seen on rolling hills in Colorado, I went to a spot on the Chico where I thought they might occur and there were about 6 of them flying in groups of ones and twos sometimes flying close overhead.  A loud one- or two-note call alerted me to their presence. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/14/2015

Bird Food - Katydids
 Not all green hopping/flying insects found in grassy meadows are grasshoppers. Although katydids look like grasshoppers they are more closely related to crickets. The songs of katydids are unique and one such song gives the group its name.  Katydids have very long antennae and females are easily separated from males by their ovipositor (egg-laying structure) seen here but not found on males. Katydid ovipositors are shaped differently in different species but they are all used to penetrate the soil where the female then lays her eggs. Grassland birds do not care if they are eating a cricket, a grasshopper, or one of these attractive meadow katydids.  
Posted by Bill M. on 10/06/2015

Raptor Migration Continues
 Northern Harriers are easy to identify from a distance because of their unique flight and hunting style plus the shape of their wings and face. When hunting, Northern Harriers fly low and use their owl-shaped face to funnel any noise from the grasslands into their slightly offset ears.  They glide or occasionally flap and tilt from side to side, their white rump easily visible.  When perched their long legs stand out. Males are separable too, their gray and white plumage gives them the name "gray ghost". Females are brown with a brown-streaked breast on a buff background.  Juveniles, like this one, are rufous underneath, at least until winter when they become harder to separate from adult females. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/06/2015

Thursday, Oct 01, 2015
 Although this image was taken in Prowers County, I found an adult male Red-bellied Woodpecker  perched on a dead branch on the north side of Rose Pond in late September. During the same time period, this species was reported in northeastern El Paso County and two more in counties further north.  Red-bellied Woodpecker is an eastern species and they breed in the easternmost Colorado counties, the ones with dense woodlots.  But, this is only the second record of Red-bellied Woodpecker for The Chico.  Red-bellied Woodpecker is a southern species but is rapidly expanding its range to the north where it will visit bird feeders and can be present in any woodlot of considerable size.  All woodpeckers have a distinctive territorial drumming sound made by rapidly hammering on a dead tree branch with their bill, the dead branch amplifies the sound.  Hopefully one day this species may become resident on the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/01/2015

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