Monday, Nov 26, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

Three dogs greeted me this morning when I arrived, even more friendly than usual.  When Aidan came out to feed them a treat, I realized they didn't like me more, but instead expected more than their usual petting.

As far as birds, migration has come to a screeching halt, except for a variety of ducks on HQ Pond and an increase in the number of raptors, an indication that there are a lot of rodents this year.  I did find a White-throated Sparrow which is rare on the ranch in migration.  I hope that it stays for the winter.

Colorado's smallest Woodpecker and a widespread species, Downy Woodpecker, hammered on old weed stalks, allowing me to approach within a few feet.  Inside the hollow stems of the large giant ragweeds are insects that this small woodpecker extracts with its long tongue, after its chisel-like bill has drilled an opening in the stem.

I found 6 Long-eared Owls near Ruth's tree, all visible in one binocular field.  There could easlily be more at the roost, but I didn't want to flush them, so watched them from the outside of the dense olive grove, as they compressed their bodies to make themselves look more like tree trunks than birds.

A beautiful rufous morph Red-tailed Hawk, an uncommon color morph of that species, was perched on the Dead End sign along the entrance road.

Thirteen pronghorns lounged in the alfalfa field, with one big buck seemingly watching over his flock.

Posted by Bill M. on 11/26/2007

Monday, Nov 19, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

Dawn and her kids were lucky to see an adult and subadult Bald Eagle which is a rare species on the ranch in winter.  Bald Eagles are scavengers, often pilfering prey from other smaller raptors.  It was the stealing that caused Ben Franklin to lobby for Wild Turkey to be our national symbol and not the eagle that Ben ridiculed for being a scavenger.   


During winter, Bald Eagles are common in Colorado and are found close to large concentrations of waterfowl, especially in areas where hunting occurs.  It takes between four and five years for a Bald Eagle to obtain its white head, but the white tail usually appears after three years.  Bald Eagle is a true fish eagle which separates them from the distantly related and more common Golden Eagle. 


Bald Eagle was listed as Endangered on the Endangered Species List until this past year when it was de-listed.  Historically, indiscriminate use of pesticides and especially DDT caused the gland that produces egg shell to produce a reduced amount around the eggs.  This egg shell thinning occurred in many birds at the end of the food chain, and especially in raptors, with Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon being the two species most affected.  Whenever these birds of prey attempted to incubate their eggs, the thin eggs broke, killing the young chicks.  The current ban on DDT use in the U.S. has led to the rapid recovery of our national bird and other large raptors.    

Ben Franklin suffered from anthropomorphism, giving human qualities to other animals, something we all have done.  Although people tend to identify birds as good, bad, cute, or ugly, all animals do what they were created to do, find food, nest, reproduce.

Posted by Bill M. on 11/19/2007

Monday, Nov 12, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

The birding was very slow today, but I did find a new owl roost.  Long-eared Owl is named for the long feather tufts at the top of the bird’s head.  Smaller than Great Horned Owl, Long-ears roost in some of the denser stands of olives on the Ranch.  They  often roost in the same tree as Barn Owls, however Barn Owls perch near the tree top, while Long-eared Owls are found low in the densest tree branches, often close to the trunk. 


This past spring, I found a nesting Long-eared Owl at the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory’s Banding Station near Holmes.  Every person who watched a banding demonstration also saw a female Long-eared Owl on her nest, and later in the season, visitors were lucky in being able to see three young owlets, their heads often peaking over the edge of the abandoned squirrel nest. 


Chico Basin Ranch is one of the best places in Colorado to see Long-eared Owls because of a known large winter roost near Ruth’s tree.  Most winters there are at least 15 birds in the roost, although I haven’t found them there yet this fall.  At Chico, the Long-eared Owl’s favorite food item seems to be the very common kangaroo rat with wood rats probably being a close second. 


In the photo notice the elongated look of the owl,  its method of increasing its camouflage. 


Posted by Bill M. on 11/12/2007

Wednesday, Nov 07, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

A small invasion of the big woodpecker called Northern Flicker is occuring.  While many flickers can be seen eating the fruits of Russian olives, other birds are doing what they do most often, digging in the earth for bettles and ants.  Flickers, named from their habit of flicking their wings, are generalists, but they spend more time on the ground feeding than they do hammering on the bark of trees.  The coloration under the wings and on the shafts of their tails  reveals a mostly red-orange coloration.  Farther east, the red coloration is replaced by yellow, so that on the East Coast there are only yellow shafted birds.  Not too long ago, there were two separate species, based on coloration, Red-shafted Flicker and Yellow-shafted Flicker.  However, research has shown that there is a very large zone of hybridization along the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, where many flickers have characteristicts of both subspecies.  Therefore, in Colorado the flickers are now called Northern Flicker.  Although most birds here show characteristics of red-shafted birds, there are sometimes yellow-shafted individuals seen on the ranch.

I hiked in search of the Blue Hole, following Chico Creek to the northern boundary of Chico Basin Ranch.  Although I never found Blue Hole, I saw a single Bewick's Wren, rare on the ranch.  It was foraging in the dense tamarisk thickets along Chico Creek.  Another uncommon bird here, Canyon Towhee, was encountered farther upstream.

At HQ, a lone female Great-tailed Grackle joined the big flock of European Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds, taking advantage of the waste grain in the pens.  Another rarity, a single Bushtit foragged in the trees at the HQ.

Female and young mule deer  frequent the olives between Holmes and the Casita but today  a 4x4 buck, neck swollen because of the season, shadowed the herd.  I last saw it with head down charging either an unseen buck or maybe the charge was part of the rut. 


Posted by Bill M. on 11/07/2007

Monday, Nov 05, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

Duck migration is underway.  Cold fronts push migrating waterfowl south along traditional flyways.  This is a time when both hunters and birders visit the reservoirs.  The Canvasback is my favorite duck, named for its white sides with fine wavy lines, similar in color to canvas sail material.

Elegant Canvasbacks, sometimes just called Speed, are one of the largest ducks and one of the fastest fliers.  As the birds grow older, the intensity of the red eye coloration gets brighter.  An uncommon bird in migration at Chico, it is a favorite of hunters and birders alike.  Its unique, large sloping bill and coloration of the males, make identification of this species quite easy.  Sincce the 1980s Canvasbacks have changed their migration patterns and feeding habitats, as their favorite food, plant tubers, have been in decline along traditional migration routes.  Best seen in early Spring and October/November on the Ranch.

Posted by Bill M. on 11/05/2007

Friday, Nov 02, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

After a slow early morning of birding, that however did include a small flock of Canvasbacks at Upper Twin Pond, I drove out to the Whipple Pasture Burn.  I was surprised at how hot the fire had been, but was even more surprised that there were birds feeding inside the burned area.  Horned Larks were in small flocks here and there and a small flock of Western Meadowlarks had nowhere to hide.  The biggest surprise was seeing five Curve-billed Thrashers probing in the soil and also exploring the bases of burnt cholla, with unburned habitat nearby.  Cholla grassland is the habitat Curve-bills require, but they are usually more reclusive, here there gray brown bodies quite visible in the blackened vegetation.  Two black-tailed jackrabbits bounded away, sending small ash plumes spiraling upwards in the brisk wind.  I found coyote burrows inside the burn at two different locations, but no tracks.  They surely moved to a different location.

I went out to Black Squirrel Creek Marsh, southeast of the intersection of May Camp Road and the main road.  An American Pipit, rare here in migration, and a flock of Horned Larks that also contained three rare Chestnut-sided Longspurs came to the muddy shore to drink.  American Tree and White-crowned Sparrows, both common wintering birds, were in small flocks in the rabbitbrush and greasewood. 


Posted by Bill M. on 11/02/2007

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