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

Sunday, Nov 09, 2008
Lapland Longspur
Lapland Longspurs are only in Colorado in the late fall, winter, and very early spring.  As the name implies, Lapland Longspurs breed in the high Arctic tundra habitats where they are the most common breeding bird and quite easy to see.  However, this large, strong-flying sparrow is harder to see and identify when in its winter range.  

Lapland Longspur does have a distictive flight call, a dry rattle interspersed with tew notes, and therefore they are often heard long before they are seen.  They are almost always seen in Colorado with flocks of Horned Larks.  The best way to see one at Chico is to find a stock tank that also has water that has been pumped into any nearby depression.  The large flocks of larks which usually have a few Lapland Longspurs must eventually come to drink.  Horned Larks are mostly tame, but you have to be very patient for longspurs to land, as they are easily spooked with even the slightest of movement or noise.

As mentioned here before, on Chico, three species of longspurs have been recorded with Laplands the most likely to be seen in winter, and the last of the three to arrive.  If not heard, separation of winter birds requires a close look.  In the photo, notice the well-defined auricular (cheek) patch with the strongest and darkest marking on its rear edge.  In addition, the three tertials (innermost flight feathers and prominent on birds at rest) are noticeably reddish (just above and to the sides of the base of the tail).  Only Lapland Longspurs have these rufous feathers on their folded wings.  Although only suggestive in this photograph, Lapland Longspurs also have very long wings compared to the two other Chico longspurs, McCown's and Chestnut-collared, because unlike the two latter species, Laplands are long distant migrants.

Posted by Bill M. on 11/09/2008

Sunday, Nov 02, 2008
Migrant Northern Shrike

During years when the vole population crashes in the far north, Northern Shrikes invade south looking for food.  Last week two Northern Shrikes were found on the Chico and both were juveniles (top two photos).  Juvenile shrikes can be told by the vermiculations on their breasts. 

Of the approximately 29 worldwide species of true shrikes, two species breed in North America and the smaller Loggerhead Shrike breeds on the Chico.  Junvenile Northern Shrikes  come in two colors, brown (above) and gray (middle).  Adults (bottom) are a light gray and their bills are noticeably longer and the bill more hooked than on Loggerhead Shrikes (archived photo).

During irruptive years, Northern Shrikes can be found as far south as Florida and the Bahamas, and although there are few records on the Chico, it may be a case of them being overlooked as they are regular wintering visitors in Colorado.  This year maybe Northern Shrikes will be found together with resident Loggerheads, competeing for the same small songbirds, rodents, and large insects, which both speices impale on sharp branches, thorns, and barbed wires, thus their other name, butcher bird.

The common theme in the three photos is the upright posture on an exposed perch.  The latin name for this species is Lanius excubitor.  Excubitor is a sentinel, and this interesting species is often seen perched, looking as if it were a sentinel.

Posted by Bill M. on 11/02/2008

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