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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



Late Migrant Warbler
 In spite of the name American Redstart, this species is only reddish on adult spring males, the females and young males have yellow, not red. It is one of our more common, migrant, non-breeding warblers. In October, most, but not all warblers have migrated south so seeing this young male redstart at HQ was a treat.  The name comes from a corruption of the Old German name, rothstert meaning "red tail" but the European bird for which our redstart is named is not related to this species. Coupled with the fact that only males have the red-orange in its tail and you might begin to wonder if this is a good name for this species. In Cuba this species is named "candelitta" or in English "Little Torch" perhaps a better name for this species.  The small black mark on its face combined with the yellow base of its secondaries is an indication it is an immature male.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/28/2016

Rock Pigeons on Chico
 Rock Pigeon, formerly called Rock Dove, is rarely mentioned in posts because they can be abundant in cities in all of our Lower 48 states.  They are non-native, first thought to enter North America in 1606 in a domesticated form but escaped birds soon became feral. They have been domesticated for thousands of years, native to Asia, Europe, and North Africa and exist in a variety of color forms.  This species is still rare on the Chico and this bird (photo) is in its natural color form.  They have a homing instinct and when released blindfolded they apparently can use electromagnetic fields to return to their home location. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/28/2016

Pheasant Over Glass
 Not native to Chico, Colorado, or North American, Ring-necked Pheasant remains one of the most beautiful birds. Surprisingly, one flying low over Rose Pond.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/27/2016

Migrant Cranes
 Of the 15 species of crane worldwide, Sandhill Crane is the most numerous and it makes an annual fall appearance on the Chico in October where numbers are sometimes high.  A smallish flock (55) flew over Rose Pond this afternoon on their way south to as far as Mexico.  The larger Greater Sandhill Crane  breeds in northwest Colorado but this smaller Lesser Sandhill Crane is the one we most often encounter on the Chico. Some Sandhill Cranes breed in Siberia, move over open ocean of the Bering Sea and migrate south into California or into New Mexico, Texas or Mexico.  If you are outside during their flights, their calls are unmistakable and without a doubt one of the coolest sounds in nature.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/27/2016

Exploring Different Habitats
 One of the species infrequently encountered in Colorado, unless a specific grassland type habitat is searched, is Chestnut-collared Longspur.  On the Chico, this species, named for the very long claw or spur on the hind toe, is fairly easy to find in a very particular habitat type.  Chestnut-collared Longspur usually never flock with other longspur species but it is commonly found in September and October mingled in with Horned Larks by water troughs where water is spilling to form a small pond.  The area usually will be in short grass or bare dirt where the longspurs can see any potential threats. They feed on the ground where they are almost impossible to see so waiting patiently by the water will sooner or later reveal a small flock of Chestnut-collared Longspurs, sometimes adults mixed with juveniles so they may look a bit different.  The calls are distinctive and, if an adult male is seen, the white shoulder patch, bordered with black is good for identification help. If a male is seen, a varying amount of black will be seen on the breast which will turn rich black as the feather tips wear later in the year. The tail is mostly white with a black triangle of black in the middle.  All longspurs are very flighty but if coming to water they will return, often flying quite low as if inspecting closely where they want to land.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/20/2016

Red-tailed Hawks
 Red-tailed Hawk is the most common Buteo or broad-winged type of raptor in Colorado and on the Chico where it is a resident. In spring and fall, the common light morph types are joined by migrant and/or wintering subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk that could be any one of the following types, Harlan's, Krider's, Eastern, rufous morph, dark morph Western.  They all look different and have variable coloration, but with a good photograph the subspecies or color morph can often be determined.  Yesterday, this Western dark morph Red-tailed Hawk was circling over the banding station, gaining altitude for its continued journey south.  Notice the dark brown head, breast, and belly with the dark brown extending out on the underwings, the dark subterminal tail band and the even width of the dark tail bands. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/20/2016

Mountain Bluebirds on the Plains
 Like the Cathrus thrushes, see following post, bluebirds are also in the Thrush Family.  If you compared the habitat where Mountain Bluebirds breed with Chico's prairie grasslands the habitats are similar if you ignore the absence of trees on the plains.  Mountain Bluebirds are cavity nesters so they breed in the mountains but only where there are open grasslands nearby.  So, it isn't surprising in fall migration to see flocks of bluebirds, here Mountain Bluebirds, taking advantage of the abundant insects in the grasslands.  
Posted by Bill M. on 10/14/2016

Hermit Thrushes
 Although American Robin is a common thrush on the Chico, another group of thrushes, the Cathrus thrushes are common as migrants and are both the earliest arrival in the spring among that group and the latest fall migrant (rarely spending the winter in Colorado). A Hermit Thrush was skulking by the big willow near the banding station yesterday and somewhat unusual it moved into the light.  A close look at Hermit Thrushes, named because they are often seen as a single bird in the dark woods during summer months, will reveal there are three groups of Hermit Thrushes that vary in size and coloration.  The breeding type in our Interior West are the grayest overall with a thin bill.  Ones found in the Pacific states are smaller, dingy brown with olive flanks. The type breeding due north of Colorado and found in the East are called Taiga or Eastern types, having larger bills like this one and in all ages have buffy tips (photo) on the greater wing coverts and buff flanks. Representatives of all three types are banded each spring on the Chico. All three Hermit Thrush types can be separated from its congeners (Veery, Gray-cheeked, and Swainson's Thrush) by the reddish tail contrasting with the back coloration.  The tail is often raised slowly as Hermit Thrushes forage. 
Posted by Bill M. on 10/14/2016

Bird Grasshopper
 Bird grasshoppers like this Spotted Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca lineata) are large (2.5 inches) and can fly a long way which might be why they are referred to as "bird grasshoppers".  They are still alive even after a couple cold nights and are easily found in the fields behind the banding station where the Russian olives have been hydroaxed but apparently not found in Chico native grassland habitats.  There are 10 species in the U.S. but the common one in Asia, Europe, and Africa, Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria), is more well known because unlike the U.S. species, that species form huge flocks and causes major damage to crops giving rise to the term a plague of locusts.  Locust is a name given to the young of swarms of grasshoppers.   
Posted by Bill M. on 10/14/2016

Heron Food
 Adult tiger salamanders are beautiful but... before becoming adults, tiger salamanders have gills and fins and swim in water like small fish.  It is in this dull larval stage they can become concentrated in stock tanks where Great Blue Herons, could, if they were present, get quite a large meal without much effort.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/01/2016

   
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